Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Time to Come Home, Zhivago

Interesting piece from the New York Times on the revival of Russian classics in Moscow, with particular attention to Dr. Zhivago.  It really has been a cultural renaissance and I can't recommend this new television version of Zhivago enough, as it is extremely well done.

Hard to imagine trumping Bondarchuk's War and Peace, but a new serial version is apparently in the works.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dr. Zhivago: The Mini-Series

I imagine most people remember the classic MGM version with Omar Sharif and Julie Christie.  However, in what has become an ongoing effort to reclaim its classics, Russian television presented an 11-part series in 2006, with the great Oleg Menshikov in the title role. Really looking forward to seeing it.  Here is the trailer and a clip from the series.  Whole different feel to the novel.

Pevear and Volokhonsky are coming out with a new translation in October.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Being Faithful to the Idiot

My wife and I watched Bortko's The Idiot. Bortko takes the novel scene by scene, with only a few liberties mostly for the sake of clarity.  The casting is excellent, but I have to say that Inna Churikova steals the show with her excellent portrayal of Lizaveta Prokofyevna, the matriarch of the Epanchin family.  She is shown in the picture counseling the Prince.

I thought Bortko was spot on in the first have of the series, but somehow lost control of the Prince in the second half.  Of course, such a character is very hard to pin down.  My wife said it just about proved the ruin of Yuriy Yakovlev, who had a nervous breakdown after filming a much shorter earlier production (1958).  His performance vaulted him to fame in Soviet cinema.  You can see Yevgeni Mironov struggle with his role in the second half, playing the Prince much too pensively.  You don't so much get a sense of the Prince's anguish as you do his confusion and woeful indecision with the events swirling around him. 

Vladimir Mashkov was excellent as the Prince's dark "double" Rogozhin.  I've enjoyed Mashkov in other movies, particular The Thief (1997).  Lidiya Velezheva was also very good as Nastya, capturing her haugthiness and sudden mood swings very well.  Olga Budina seemed to struggle with her role as Aglaya, afflicted by the same insecurity as Mironov at times.

Konstantin Klioutchkine has written an interesting piece on this television production for Kinokultura.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Archbishop's Dostoevsky

A stumbled across this title, Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction, by Rowan Williams, which A.N.Wilson gives very high marks,

We need a guide who combines the gifts of a literary critic and a trained theologian to work out how far the novels of Dostoevsky can be used as vehicles for such explorations. We also need a guide who is deeply versed in the ethos and spiritual traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church to place Dostoevsky, and the tormented exchanges of his characters, within some intelligible historical framework. Luckily, the Archbishop of Canterbury combines all these qualities, and more. 

Here's more.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Last Days of the Imperium

I currently find myself reading Ryszard Kapuscinski's Imperium that takes one on a journey through the final stages of the Soviet Union, visiting many cities far and wide and giving one a decaying portrait of this failed state.  Kapuscinski is a Polish foreign correspondent who has written many excellent accounts including books published on Angola (Another Day of Life) and Iran (Shah of Shahs) through Granta.  He has a wonderful wit and sense of irony as well as fantastic descriptive sense, leading the reader through various former Soviet cities much like the fictional Marco Polo in Invisible Cities.  If one is looking for an engaging and initmate view of what it was like in those last days of the Soviet Union -- this is it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tolstoy and Gandhi

One of the more interesting connections was that between Tolstoy and Gandhi, as captured in a handful of letters between them.  Gandhi had been so inspired by Tolstoy that he started the Tolstoy Farm in South Africa.  Tolstoy became a Universalist in his spiritual beliefs, as embodied in his Confession.  This is no doubt one of the reasons Tolstoy has become so universally beloved, and the inspiration to many people around the world.

Maude's Tolstoy

I couldn't resist posting this wonderful 1910 New York Times review of Aylmer Maude's Life of Tolstoy.  Be patient with the downloading time.  This large spread covers a lot of territory and is filled with wonderful illustrations.  Aylmer and Louise Maude were the Pevear and Volokhonsky of their time, although I don't think any translators or biographers have come close to the level of devotion the Maudes had for Tolstoy.  Unfortunately, in his Lectures on Russian Literature, Nabokov was none too kind on the Maude translations, preferring his own which he used in lectures, but were not made available to a broader public.

BTW, I've linked a couple NYT sites on Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in the margin.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Last Station

I haven't had a chance to see this recent movie, but  I see A.O. Scott didn't think much of it,

All well and good, but “The Last Station,” written and directed by Michael Hoffman and based on a novel by Jay Parini, is the kind of movie that gives literature a bad name. Not because it undermines the dignity of a great writer and his work, but because it is so self-consciously eager to flaunt its own gravity and good taste. 

but Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor is much more positive,

... one of the terrific things about writer-director Michael Hoffman’s “The Last Station” is that, as Christopher Plummer plays him, the old master is, of all things, a recognizable human being. He’s not an icon, at least not to himself and his adoring, long-suffering wife, Sofya, played with ravenous theatricality by Helen Mirren. The film is about many things – including the rise of quasi-socialist communes devoted to passive resistance that sprang up around Tolstoy in his final days – but it’s finally, and most successfully, about the amorous battle between the count and countess.

I'll leave it to others to cast their judgement on this film, until I have had a chance to see it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Light and Dark

I'm still trying to sort out the ending.  The story had to end tragically but was surprised that Rogozhin actually sought forgiveness in Myshkin after what he had done to Nastya, although I think that Dostoevsky intended the two to be read as one, along similar lines as The Double.  He kept Rogozhin a shadowy figure throughout the novel, ever lurking in the dark of the Prince's soul.  Try as he might, Prince Myshkin could not alter events and thus the fantasy world he had lived in upon returning to Russia crumbled before his eyes, leaving him at a total loss as how to reconcile himself with it.

Once again, Dostoevsky plumbs great depths of the human soul.  This is a psychological drama told in theatrical terms, perfectly suited for the stage.  Characters appear and disappear as if moving from the shadows of the stage.  I can see the "green bench" as the central stage piece.  In the final part, one gets the sense that Lebedev is orchestrating events, and may even be the narrator himself, although Dostoevsky treats the narrator as "we,"  with events pieced together from various accounts.

What beguiles me is the relationship between Myshkin and Aglaya.  It was obvious that Nastya fulfilled his vision of Marie, whom he described to the Epanchin girls in the first part of the novel.  Marie was a village girl who found herself outside the small Swiss community the Prince was convalescing in,and in whom Myshkin had great sympathy for and eventually "saved."  But, one doesn't know whether the Prince's stories are any more true than those of the General, who regales the Prince in stories of the time he served Napoleon as a 10-year old scribe.

Aglaya was fascinated with the Prince, but hard to say whether she really loved him anymore than he did her.  They seemed to be drawn to each other more out a shared feeling for some ideal world that neither of them could attain.  But, it was made all too evident in the final chapters that Nastya was the one Prince Myshkin loved and ultimately could not separate himself from, leading to his final fallout with the Epanchin family.

The odd part is the Prince still felt he could maintain a relationship with Aglaya, unable to understand Yevgeny Pavlovich's attempts to reason with him.  The Prince seemed to regard his planned marriage with Nastya as a formality, as though he were saving her from Rogozhin, and that his real affinities still lay with Aglaya.  Maybe Aglaya/Nastya is set up as a duality in the same way The Prince and Rogozhin are -- light and dark?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hakuchi 1951

For those who are curious, here is the first part of Akira Kurosawa's 1951 version of The Idiot.  It is broken up over 17 segments.

Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

Very nice to see that Joseph Frank's epic biography of Dostoevsky has been collected into one volume, albeit abridged.

The Poor Knight

What I find most fascinating about The Idiot is that nothing is straight up.  Dostoevsky leads the reader every which way, sometimes seemingly for no purpose other than to tell some anecdote, but in time he steers the reader back to the main story lines.

Not quite sure what the central theme of this novel would be.  Most reviewers say it is about "redemption," and certainly that is a major part of the stories being told here, but it doesn't strike me that Dostoevsky is looking for any clear cut resolutions, but rather exposing what he regards as gaping shortfalls in Russian aristocratic society and the various directions persons have strayed in an attempt to seek answers.

From all accounts, Dostoevsky was profoundly Orthodox in his religious beliefs, yet there is much about Nihilism and Anarchism in his novels that shows that he took great interest in these subjects, if for no other reason than to reject them.  Demons was a decidedly more political and religious novel, as he does seem to be looking for a new greater Russian state with a greater sense of faith in religion.  But, The Idiot is much more personal in tone, and a much more enjoyable novel in that regard.

I suppose The Idiot can be compared to Don Quixote, but it is by no means a direct interpretation.  Prince Myshkin may be comical in appearance and mannerisms, but he is certainly not comical in nature, and understands all too well what is going on around him.  There is so much lurking in the various subtexts as well, like that between the Prince and Aglaya which seems to go largely unsaid.  He paints such vivid characters that they take on lives of their own within the novel.

I would agree with this reviewer that General Ivolgin is much closer to Quixote, but I thought the connection between Myshkin and the General to be much looser than the reviewer implies.  The image above is from Nekrosius' play