Sunday, February 28, 2010

Many Turns of Events


Hans Holbein's painting of Christ after the crucifixion figured into Ippolit's confession toward the end of Part III, noting the human anguish depicted in the painting.  It was an odd confession as you figured from the way it was presented, hand written in a sealed envelope, to the Prince that it would somehow incriminate the Prince in some "crime," as earlier Ippolit and Keller had tried to challenge the Prince's inheritance in favor of Burdovsky.  Again, there was much reference to the idle aristocracy versus those whose labor counted for naught (not that any of them "worked"), but ultimately the confession had to do with Ippolit himself, who was dying from consumption and figured he had only a few weeks left in his short life.

Ippolit was all over the place in his confession as was this part of the book in general, yet somehow Dostoevsky manages to tie much of these loose threads together with the brooding Roghozin seeming to have some control over events.  It is noted that he appears mysteriously in person's rooms in the dead of night, as if an apparition, looking upon both the Prince and Ippolit on separate occasions and invading their dreams.

The chapter was really more a series of anecdotes and confessions told over the course of a long summer night, which seemingly as an afterthought it is noted is the Prince's birthday.  But, the Prince wasn't expecting any guests after spending the day and early evening with the Epanchins at the outdoor theater, where the music was overshadowed by the sudden reappearance of Nastya, who created an ugly scene with some count with the Prince stepping in to try to quell matters.  But, the Prince only ends up making matters worse, leaving Aglaya to fear the worst in that the Prince will be challenged to a duel, comically instructing him on the use of pistols.  He went home ostensibly to prepare for this duel, with Keller (now a friend) giving him further pointers.  He finds his terrace already filled with uninvited guests, drinking a case of champagne Lebedev had sold to him, and ultimately toasting the Prince's birthday when it is revealed.

I'm not quite sure how the martyred Christ figures into the narrative at this point, other than this particular painting appears to imply that death is final, at least in Ippolit's Nihilist view of the universe.  The Prince appears to be cast as the "poor knight" (Aglaya's term), who seems helpless in trying to stop the wedding of Roghozin and Nastya, which he feels will only result in disaster.  Much is revealed about Nastya's odd relationship with Aglaya, and how Aglaya has come to know so much of the Prince's situation and wants to confide fully in him.  Apparently, it is Nastya who is trying to bring Aglaya and the Prince together, as she feels only Aglaya can give him happiness.  But, Aglaya feels it is Nastya that the Prince truly loves and that Nastya loves him.  Instead, Aglaya asks the Prince to be her dearest friend, someone she can confide in completely and will keep her secrets, as she feels everyone treats her as a fool.  In turn he must confide completely in her.

Later in the day, the Prince meets with Nastya, as previously planned, with three letters Aglaya had given him to return to her.  But, it is as he fears -- she now plans to go away with Roghozin, who seems to take an evil pride in his victory.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Kurosawa and Dostoevsky

Interesting essay by Peggy Chiao on Kurosawa's early influences,

The themes, symbolism, and aesthetic forms of Akira Kurosawa’s films owe their origins to the ideas and sensibilities that captured his imagination as a young man. They include Marxism, which caught the attention of the Japanese intelligentsia in the twenties and thirties; classical Russian novels, which mesmerized the country’s cultural elite; impressionist painting, which rocked the contemporary art world; and the sport of kendo, which Kurosawa practiced as a young boy. 

Another major influence on Kurosawa was his elder brother, Heigo, who was addicted to the novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Maksim Gorky. Additionally, he introduced Akira to Western art and the auteur cinema of Fritz Lang, John Ford, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Sergei Eisenstein. Heigo, however, was to commit suicide when Akira was twenty-three years old. In his memoir Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa wrote about his brother’s profound influence on his development in art and literature, and especially in nurturing his passion for Dostoyevsky. Their only difference, he wrote, was that “my brother was pessimistic and negative, and I was optimistic and positive.” One time, Kurosawa met an actor who knew his brother, and the actor told him, “You are exactly like your brother, only he’s the negative, and you’re the positive print.”

From Dostoyevsky, Kurosawa inherited the concept of redemption. As had Dostoyevsky’s czarist Russia, Kurosawa’s Japan was going through momentous economic changes and had to brace itself against an impending catastrophe. The tortures of historical change produced in the artist a humanitarian ideal, to seek redemption through acts of self-sacrifice. In
Seven Samurai, the samurai display great perseverance in protecting the farmers, their social inferiors. In the closing sequence, as the farmers joyously plant rice seedlings and sing, the surviving samurai stand by their comrades’ grave, on a mound, and sigh, “The victory belongs to those peasants, not to us.”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Myshkin's dilemna

Wrapped up Part II the other night and have to say that Dostoevsky certainly has a comic's eye, although one senses the potentially tragic undertones.  For Dostoevsky the aristocracy seems to be one largely made up of capricious souls more obsessed with good manners than any profound sense of their being.  This is particularly true for the Epanchins, who comically wrestle with their emotions in one scene after another as he places them in very odd and unnerving situations that test the limits of poor Lizaveta Prokofyevna's endurance.

Of her daughters, Aglaya, is the most interesting.  A real beauty much along the same lines as Nastasya Filippovna Barashkov, who likewise seems to have a hold on Prince Myshkin's emotional strings.  Part II ended with Lizaveta demanding to know the extent of the Prince's interests in her youngest daughter.  The Prince insisted his feelings were Platonic, but one senses there is more to be said on the matter in later chapters.

Nastya played a relatively minor role in Part II after having been such a big part of the action in Part I.  We find out that she continues to elude Rogozhin's advances and still seems to have a pretty strong hold on Myshkin's imagination.  In a pivotal scene between Rogozhin and Myshkin, Rogozhin says that she truly loves the Prince and not himself but that eventually he will win.  Rogozhin had seemed to be following the Prince upon his return to Petersburg leading to a suspenseful scene in the dark corridor of a hotel.

But, halfway through the book it really is hard to gauge the seriousness of Dostoevsky's intentions.  Rather, I get the feeling he is playing the situations more for comic effect as he did in The Village of Stepanchikovo.  Prince Myshkin appears to have a  noble soul, but Dostoevsky casts doubts on his title character, making the reader wonder, as the Epanchins do, what it is that Myshkin is after.  Myshkin himself doesn't seem to know.

Interesting to see that Kurosawa made an adaptation of The Idiot in 1951.  Here's a clip.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

 I had a long weekend and read the first half of The Idiot.  It had taken a couple tries to get through the first few chapters, but with some quiet time I was able to finally get into the story.  Dostoevsky certainly had a theatrical sense in his choice of characters and confrontations he sets up.  The first part all takes place in the course of one day and one can easily see this acted out on stage as "The Prince" makes his odd and very entertaining return to Petersburg.  His epilepsy is taken as idiocy but those around him soon learn of his remarkable ability to cut through situations as he endears himself to a Russian aristocratic family, the wife apparently being some distant relation.

If you haven't read the novel, I don't want to give too much away as Dostoevsky relies heavily on suspense to carry the action.  His nemesis proves to be Rogozhin, who he unwittingly falls into confrontation with over the lovely Nastasya Filippovna, who turns out to be even more eccentric in her behavior than Rogozhin.

I'm just about through Part II which focuses heavily on how the Prince comes to inherit a sizable fortune, soon finding himself being taking advantage of by a rather odd group of Nihilists who break up an enjoyable afternoon tea he was having with the Epanchins at a dacha outside Petersburg.  Dostoevsky loves setting up complex confrontations and this one goes on a bit too long for my taste, but a lot is found out about the characters one and all.

Curious to get some feedback.  Will post more as I read.

On a lighter note.  This is a great series of animated shorts over the last five decades.  But, for some reason, my personal favorite Penguins (1968) didn't make the cut.  Don't worry about the Russian titles and narrative.  You will be able to follow the story without text.  Another classic, included in the second compilation, is Hedgehog in the Fog (1975).  Translations included.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

¡Qué viva México! is probably one of the more audacious movies done by Eisenstein, which is saying a lot.  Eisenstein teamed up with Upton and Mary Sinclair to help fund this chronicle of the Mexican Revolution in1930.  Eisenstein became absorbed in his work, as he grew more and more fascinated by the cultural and political milieu of post-revolutionary Mexico.  He came in contact with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and many others, and eventually shot over 200,000 lineal feet of film before Stalin became curious why Eisenstein was staying so long.  In an effort to deflect attention away from himself he apparently blamed Mary Sinclair's younger brother, Hunter Kimbrough, for the delays, prompting the Sinclairs to pull the plug on the project.  Still, Eisenstein took his time getting back to the Soviet Union, touring the American South on a "30-day pass" from Texas to New York.  Sinclair held onto the film footage, eventually making it into a movie in 1934.  It has been released in various forms and under various titles.  Here is the first part of the version distributed by an Italian film company.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

In the Blue House

Years ago I read a novel, In the Blue House, that explored the relationship between Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky.  As the reviewer notes, it is kind of a clunky book, but it holds one's interest, if for nothing else than this fascinating Latin-Russian relationship that would end tragically, at least as far as Trotsky was concerned.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I am Cuba

There has long been a strong connection between Russia and Latin America.  In many ways the Mexican Revolution inspired the Bolshevik Revolution.  In turn, it would seem the Bolshevik Revolution inspired the Cuban Revolution.  This may be one reason why Mikahil Kalatozov chose to make Soy Cuba, which evocatively illustrates the rise of a new Cuba.  It is filmed in sparkling black and white and tells four interlocking stories that underscore the plight of the common man as he tries to rise out of the decadent world of Batista.  It was filmed in 1964 at the height of the Cold War, and while it can be viewed as agitprop, it is also very human.  The film has been beautifully restored and is available in various forms, including this handsome "cigar box" edition.  Here is a clip.