Monday, October 15, 2012

Dear Anna

It certainly looks lavish, but I have to wonder about Joe Wright and Tom Stoppard taking on Count Leo in this new adaptation of Anna Karenina.  The last foreign attempt was an American adaptation fifteen years ago with French actress Sophie Marceau cast in the lead role and Sean Bean as Count Vronsky.  Now we get a British version with Keira Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the lead roles and Jude Law as Anna's jilted husband.

There really hasn't been a successful version of the novel.  The Soviet version from 1967 featured Tatyana Samojlova, best known for her role in The Cranes Are Flying.  There were earlier American attempts with Vivien Leigh in 1948 and Greta Garbo in 1935, but somehow Tolstoy's signature character has eluded actresses.

I like Keira.  I thought she was great as Sabina Spielrein in A Dangerous Method, but she is a very intense actress, and the role of Anna requires someone with a more quiet passion.  Her attempt at Lara in the British television production of Dr. Zhivago wasn't so good, mostly because she was miscast.  She would have been better as Tonya.

I thought Sophie Marceau came the closest to capturing Anna's enigmatic character, but the problem in making a film of Anna Karenina is that each time the directors truncate the story and focus almost exclusively on the love story between Anna and Vronsky, reducing the relationship between Levin and Kitty to the sidelines, when it is meant to parallel that of Anna and Vronsky.  The only attempt to tell the story in full was a Russian television adaptation from 2008, which was also a very lavish production.  Here'a clip.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


One of the most beautiful tellings of the Little Mermaid is this 1968 Soviet feature, русалочка, told from a contemporary point of view and in two different styles of animation.  My wife has long loved this version, although it doesn't make as much impact on our little one, who prefers the Disney version from a few years back.  Here is Rusalochka with English subtitles.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Oldest Surviving Soviet Sculptor Tells All

Nikolai Nikogosyan appeared to have many stories to tell when I saw him interviewed on the History Channel the other night.   Well into his 90s, Nikolai still looks spry and alert.  It was just too bad the host didn't see fit to translate what he had to say.  Instead, he showed a few of his more famous bronze castings.

Fortunately, there is this piece from Passport magazine, noting his 90th birthday in 2008.  Nikogosyan's work can be found all through the former Imperium.  Perhaps his most famous work is that associated with the New Building of the Moscow University, which he started back in the 50s.  I like his beautiful stone sculpture of Maya Plisetskaya pictured above.  He also has a wonderful hand for painting.

Much of his Soviet era work remains in place.  His contemporary pieces break free from the bonds set at the time.  Here is the artist at work.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Brothers Karamazov

"I'm a Karamazov... when I fall into the abyss, I go straight into it, head down and heels up, and I'm even pleased that I'm falling in such a humiliating position, and for me I find it beautiful."

I had been looking for a nice copy of The Brothers Karamazov, the only one of Dostoevsky's "Big Four" I haven't read.  The first English translation was by Constance Garnett, published in 1912, and served as the standard for decades.  I was tempted to track down a first edition of the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation from 1990, which received glowing reviews like this one from the New York Times.  But, this Folio Society edition, translated by David Magarshak, is a real beauty, replete with its own slipcase.

The volume dates from 1964.  Magarshak may not make the words "sing," as the reviewer raved of the P/V translation, but his translation is generally regarded as the most accurate.   The Folio Society updated this edition in 2008 with an even more engaging cover, and I assume the same translation.  Both editions are no longer in print, so you will have to hunt around for copies.  I found mine at

As far as film versions go, the epic Soviet version from 1969, directed by Ilya Pyryev, is the most highly regarded adaptation of the novel.  There was also a Russian television adaptation in 2008.  The best known English-language version dates from 1958 and featured Yul Brynner and Lee J. Cobb among others in this bawdy clip.  There is also a great German version from the Weimar years.