Thursday, May 31, 2012

Remembering Victor Serge

It is very nice to see the work of Victor Serge being reprinted by New York Review Book Classics.  They have a literal treasure of trove of obscure titles, including those of Platonov and Yuri Olesha, among many others, and not just from Russia.  But, Serge's work stands out, as noted by Christopher Hitchens in this article he wrote for The Atlantic in 2003.  In Hitch's words,

After Dostoyevsky and slightly before Arthur Koestler, but contemporary with Orwell and Kafka and somewhat anticipating Solzhenitsyn, there was Victor Serge. His novels and poems and memoirs, most of them directed at the exposure of Stalinism, were mainly composed in jail or on the run. Some of the manuscripts were confiscated or destroyed by the Soviet secret police; in the matter of poetry Serge was able to outwit them by rewriting from memory the verses he had composed in the Orenburg camp, deep in the Ural Mountain section of the Gulag Archipelago.

A great place to start is with Memoirs of a Revolutionary.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Chernobyl Project

It was only a matter of time before someone thought to use the abandoned town of Pripyat for a horror movie, at least there appears to be some good footage of the old Chernobyl workers' village, and Dimitri Diatchenko looks quite convincing as the 'extreme tourist guide' Uri.  Diatchenko is known mostly for his muscle, but apparently is quite a guitarist as well.  The story is by Oren Peli, who had his own 'Blair Witch Project' in Paranormal Activity.  This project came with a much bigger budget, but hasn't received glowing reviews.  Unfortunately, a script doesn't mean much in Hollywood, but it seems Oren's name does judging by the trailer.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Method to the Madness

Watching A Dangerous Method the other night, I couldn't help but think there was some connection between Freud and Stanislavsky, especially since David Cronenberg drew more from Christopher Hampton's play, The Talking Cure (2002) than he did the book by John Kerr.  Very well acted film.  Others have strove to draw connections between the two, notably Donald Freed in his series of lectures on Freud and Stanislavsky, published in 1964, but it seems that they arrived at their famous methods independently with no communication between them.  Hard to imagine, since the two had to at least be aware of each other.

The most interesting aspect of the film was the role Sabina Spielrein played in Jung's and Freud's lives, notably Jung's life.  Spielrein was the first woman psychoanalyst, and brought Freud's method to the Soviet Union in the 1920s.  By this time, Stanislavsky's method acting was well established, but just the same one wonders if the two came in contact with each other.  Spielrein's interest was mostly in children, and she served as the pedagogical doctor of the Third Internationale.  Unfortunately, very few pictures of Spielrein available on the Internet.  Of course, Keira Knightley makes for a most fetching appearance on screen.

While Spielrein had been reduced to a footnote in history,  Freud's and Stanislavsky's methods live on.  It seems only appropriate that Hampton and Cronenberg would turn to method acting in the play and film.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sokurov's Faust

It seems that Alexander Sokurov had to appeal to the highest authority in Russia to get the financial support he needed to complete his final installment in his great "Power" tetralogy.  Vladimir Putin would seem an unlikely patron for Sokurov, who has long bucked authority ever since completing his studies at VGIK in 1979.  But, after an hour's discussion at Putin's country retreat, Sokurov had his backer.  Sokurov claims Putin was drawn more to the subject matter of the movie than to him, one can't help but think that Putin saw in Sokurov the international recognition he brought to cinema.  After all, Putin is more a power player than an auteur.

Whatever the case, we should all be thankful Sokurov got the opportunity to complete this marvelous film, which takes a whole new look at the Faustian bargain, seeing it more as a power game than a question of spirituality.  This might put off some Faust fans, but I think most will be mesmerized by the way in which Sokurov explores his subject, portraying Faust not as some Romantic but rather as an exceedingly rational man obsessed with knowledge, and determined to understand the underpinning of the universal order.

The film opens with Faust, as played by Johannes Zeiler, opening up the body of a man in search of his soul.  An amusing dialog takes place between Faust and his assistant Wagner (Georg Friedrich) as to where the soul might be located.  A disgruntled Faust has the dissected body carted away and goes to his father for a handout to keep him going, but his father shuns him, regarding his son's experiments as fruitless.

The devil is less a Mephistopheles than a devilish little pawnbroker, played to great effect by Anton Adasinsky, who leads the good Dr. Faust around a labyrinthine Medieval village, tempting him with Margarete, played by the radiant Isolde Dychauk, and eventually getting the doctor to "autograph" a book for him in blood for a taste of the sweet Margarete.

There is virtually constant movement in the film, as in Russian Ark.  Sokurov gives the viewer little rest visually or in following the cascading subtitles, as he presents the dialog like a stream of consciousness, pulling from the lines of the play, inserting his own subtexts and even providing an amusing cameo by Chichikov and his manservant Selifan on the road from Russia.  There are many subtle role reversals as you wonder who is leading who in this existential quest.