Monday, October 19, 2009

For the Voice

This is one of the more interesting books of Russian poetry I picked up in recent years. Mayakovsky teamed up with El Lizzitsky to create this rather stark set of elemental poems that seemed to echo El Lizzitsky's ideas of prouns, or building blocks that could be used in art, literature and architecture.

Admittedly, I picked up the book more for El Lizzitsky than I did Mayakovsky. The idea of "prouns" have fascinated me, as they proved to be a major influence on early modernist architecture. El Lizzitsky traveled extensively throughout Europe, spending time both at the Bauhaus and in Rotterdam, where he came in contact with De Stijl artists and architects. It was an exciting time as literature, art and architecture all seemed to impact and shape each other, with many of the boundaries being removed.

El Lizzitsky would turn out to have a better fate than Mayakovsky under Stalin, who appeared to become very quickly disillusioned with the Soviet state, publishing such works as The Bedbug and The Bathhouse which satirically aimed at the petty bureaucratic society the great socialist nation had become under Stalin.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Generations of Winter

Several years ago I read Aksyonov's epic story of WWII Soviet Union. His literary family has mixed Russian and Georgian blood, and he moves between the two countries throughout the novel, in presenting his very engaging story of the Stalinist era. I can't say I remember it all that well now, but the war scenes were quite riveting as the father, a venerated general who had fallen out of favor with Stalin and put in jail, is brought back to the front line at Stalingrad to try to turn the tide in the war.

The book pretty much presents Stalin as a coward, but he isn't the focus of the story. It is more about the pervasive influence Stalinism had on life and how this former aristocratic family struggles to cope with the ever-changing times, and eventually revolts against it. The book has often been compared to War and Peace.

I dug up this review from the New York Times.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Urga (Close to Eden)

Probably my favorite Mikhalkov movie is Urga, which in its sparseness speaks volumes, reminding me quite a bit of Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala. This is a more modern tale as Mikhalkov juxtaposes a Russian truck driver with a semi-nomadic Mongolian family after he drives his truck into a river. What you get is a wonderful slice of life that is rarely captured on film.

Dark Eyes (Oci ciornie)

It has been years since I watched Dark Eyes. It made a pretty strong impression on me at the time. Marcello Mastroianni plays Romano, an Italian aristocrat, who recounts his tale of love and romance for a lovely Russian, and in turn Russia, to a fellow passenger aboard a cruise ship. The film captures the end of the Tsarist era, which Mikhalkov so much loves. Here is a clip that provides the introduction to the movie.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Andrei Rublev

Immediately suppressed by the Soviets in 1966, Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic masterpiece is a sweeping medieval tale of Russia’s greatest icon painter. Too experimental, too frightening, too violent, and too politically complicated to be released officially, Andrei Rublev has existed only in shortened, censored versions until the Criterion Collection created this complete 205-minute director’s cut special edition.

Interesting documentary on Tarkovsky.