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[Updated] May ET Film Blog: The Subject is...

by poemless Sat Apr 26th, 2008 at 10:06:06 AM EST

Update: Sven is wrong. Watching a movie and reading a couple of articles is NOT work. So PLEASE do not feel intimidated or overwhelmed. We're talking about movies here. It is meant to be ENJOYABLE. And it's a really painless way to learn about another culture. It's fun, in fact. So, I really hope you will give this a chance. I think it can be totally worth whatever "effort" you put into it!

Contemporary Russian Film (1991-) : Everything But the Kitchen Sink

I know everyone decided to nix the ET Film Blog Series, but I'm always the person who stays after they've started putting the chairs on the tables.  So I'm going to still do mine.  It's for May (date tbd), so you all have a month to prepare.  And just to make sure you all show up for the final exam, I'm going to use this diary as office hours where you can drop by and tell me what movie you plan to see.  I like office hours...

Anyway.  I was originally thinking of limiting the May Film Blog to "The Cinema of Alexandr Sokurov."  But I am worried about what is available to everyone in the ET diaspora.  I also want it to be a learning experience for me.  So, like, why write about what I already know?  

Promoted by Migeru


 
I've chosen as the topic for May's Film Blog "Contemporary Russian Film: 1991-Present."  There are many good reasons for this, including, in no particular order:

  1.  If you are on ET, you live somewhere with Internet access, and if you live somewhere with Internet access you can also access at least one Russian (and loose definition thereof) film made in the last 17 years. Accessibility should not be an issue.

  2.  Backing up, "Russian" film because that's what I like to write about, that's what I have a degree in (I lied about not wanting to write about what I already know) and because the Russian Film Blog blogrolled ET so I feel pressure to produce.  Also, because they are the best.  Russian filmmakers.  To paraphrase Fran, "Russia has the best films and filmmakers!  Why would we want British ones in our diaries?"

  3.  It seems one of the big hurdles preventing the success of earlier ET Film Blogs was their focus on one or two films.  If you'd not seen that film, you could not really participate.  This way if all you can get your hands on is Burnt By the Sun or Russian Ark, you can participate; if you've taken my advice and already rented "4", Vozvrashchenie, or Father and Son, you could participate; if Brother or Nightwatch is more your cuppa, you can participate; and if you live a charmed enough life to have already seen the Irony and Fate sequel, 12, You I love, The Mermaid, or Aleksandra, you can generously share your wealth with us.  I think opening up the topic may be more effective.  Not only will participation be less limited, but the possibilities for discussion as well.  For guidance, I will suggest some reading which you can think about in relation to the film you see.  In the actual Film Blog, we can talk about what we liked, hated, learned, about themes, styles, etc. in the comments.  

  4.  I lied.  I don't know anything about contemporary Russian film.  I can tell you about Eisenstein and Vertov until you have no choice but to strangle me.  But anything actually made in my lifetime?  Er... Dunno.  Maybe no one knows.  Maybe we will be in the avant guard of post-Soviet film theory and criticism!   It's a strange time.  When film first showed up, Russia embraced it passionately and was responsible for some of the most innovative and insane filmmaking.  Lenin came along and was all like "Из всех искусств важнейшим для нас является кино," and what he meant by that is, "for us (Russia) cinema is the most important of all the arts."  (Take that, painters!)  Why?  Agitprop, my friends.  Art+Brainwashing=Glorious Soviet Union.  Then he died, and Stalin started scaring filmmakers and ditched a lot of the art side of that equation and left the world the gift of Socialist Realism (and we're about as thankful for it as we are for most of what he left us....)  Krushchev was a little nicer, and so Tarkovsky was able to make some incredible films, so incredible that even now, pretty much every review of new films from Russia I read are some variation of "in footsteps of Tarkovsky," "the anti-Tarkovsky," or something in the middle.  Then what happened?  I'm not sure.  Fall of Soviet Union, chaos and anarchy, which oddly produced a strikingly good film about pastoral but kinda evil Stalinist Russia and put Nikita Mikhalkov on the map.  Now, stability with a dash of authoritarianism.  What's the New Russian Film interested in?  Let's find out!

My point there was not to bastardize the great and glorious history of Russian film.  It was to illustrate the 1 thing (maybe 2 things) you need to know before May:

  • Russian film has, from its infancy, been inextricably linked to the political climate.  Documenting the Romanovs, letting the Chukchis know they're now part of the Soviet Union, glorifying the authoritarian leader and peasants and factories, reclaiming oppressed spirituality, asserting humanity, lamenting a crushed dream, etc.  The movies don't EVER get made in a vacuum.  

  • Which is NOT to say all Russian films should only be looked at for their ulterior political motives.  Frankly, the opposite is true.  Or more interesting anyway.  Lots of just fantastic art, lots of philosophy, lots of spirituality.  Just keep these things in mind.  There is always a political motive, even if the motive is to not have a political motive, but that's rarely the most interesting part of the these films.

I.  Pick a movie.

You can choose any film you want to, so long as it is Russian and made after 1991.  Don't know where to begin?  Below are links to the films I mentioned above.

Award-winning, probably at a store or library near you:

Burnt By the Sun (Mikhalkov)
Russian Ark (Sokurov)

Artsy films I've already discussed here at ET:

4 (Khrzhanovsky)
Vozvrashchenie (Zvyagintsev)
Father and Son (Sokurov)

Mainstream action flicks:

Brother (Balabanov)
Nightwatch (Bekmambetov)

Recent films with a lot of hype surrounding them:

Irony and Fate: the sequel (Bekmambetov)
12 (Mikhalkov)
You I love
The Mermaid
Aleksandra (Sokurov)

Or pick something else.

II.  Learn a bit about the subject, or, "Knowledge is power."

Technically no one has to do anything.  But if you have the time, take a peek at some of these sites.  In seconds you'll have a feel for some of the basic themes and motives and histories and stuffs which will help you better understand all kinds of references and such.  You know, the same reason you had to learn Greek mythology...

Resources:
Russian Film Blog  They like us.  Go say "Hi." Or "Privyet."
Kino Kultura  Reviews galore for when you see a film and are like, "Whaaa?"  They can help you out with that.
KinoEye Archives  Archives.  Get lost in em.

Context:  It's everything.
An article on the New Russian Cinema.
Interview with crazy man who wrote "4"
Will Be On Test!!!  I was hoping to find a nice practical excerpt from "Sculpting in Time" for you to read.  I didn't immediately, and gave up, but know you will be more patient, find it, and read it.  You over achievers, you!

Because some of you think you will do well if you say what I would have said, here is what I have said:
Vozvrashchenie
4

Ok.

So, get your comments on, Cinephiles!

Display:
I'm going home to watch, The Island.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0851577/

After America's Next Top Model... ;)

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Apr 16th, 2008 at 06:38:50 PM EST
After America's Next Top Model... ;)

Your guilty pleasure?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Apr 16th, 2008 at 07:36:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Did you get your hands on Izgnanie yet?
by Sargon on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:04:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No.  Some of the reviews I've read have said it is just more of the same.  Which might not be so bad, since I really loved the other one.  But no, not yet.  

Ia Liubliu Tebia is next on my list...

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 10:48:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This all seems like a shitload of work, Miss.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Apr 16th, 2008 at 06:53:26 PM EST
Watch a movie and surf the web?  You probably think sleep is work too, huh?

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Apr 16th, 2008 at 06:55:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm just trying to keep up with my multit-asking daughters...

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Apr 16th, 2008 at 07:08:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
aren't  children designed to be multi-asking?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Apr 16th, 2008 at 08:37:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well spotted - for an owl

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 10:09:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm, frankly, baffled by how kids multi-task nowadays, carrying on instant message conversations while watching television and sleeping with their teachers and talking on the phone and sending texts.  It sounds exhausting.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:47:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
come on, eating popcorn is hard work, unless you have someone there to feed it to you.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Apr 16th, 2008 at 08:38:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
movies? Watching movies are easy.  Picking the movie is hard.  I suspect finding the movie might be hard.  But watching it?  

Maybe poemless will assign me one that she thinks I'd like ... (that's findable).   I promise to watch it.  

by Maryb2004 on Sun Apr 27th, 2008 at 12:32:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm EXTREMELY hesitant to assign one film for a few reasons:

  1.  As sure as I do, you won't be able to find that particular film where ever it is you get your movies from, and then you won't watch it, and then you won't watch anything...
  2.  Different people have different tastes, like different genres.  The idea is to find something that interests you, not me.  

If anyone is having difficulty finding anything at your local store or library, Netflix has a good many of these movies, even some of the more obscure ones.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 11:20:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm in.  I just got a copy of Vozvrashchenie last week and haven't watched it yet.  And I welcome any excuse to watch Burnt By The Sun again, so I'll obtain that somehow too.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:09:49 AM EST
Oh good.  You were one of the people I was concerned about not having access to a lot of these movies.  

Enjoy your films!

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 11:22:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If people who are interested in participating or have encouraged me to do this could recommed this diary, I'd appreciate it.  Not because it is a brilliant diary, but so that it has some visibility and does not disappear before people have had a chance to find out about it.

In the meantime, I'm going to see if I can get this in the series or debates box since it is an ongoing thing...

Thanks so much!

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 11:20:39 AM EST
I'll try to find and watch some of them, just to support you...

What day in May do you plan your diary? I might be in the north of New Caledonia and little chance to get a proper connection...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 04:28:12 PM EST
I don't know what day it will be.  I'm still dealing with my brother's brain situation so really, everything is tbd these days.  But like all diaries here, it will probably hang around for a while over a period of days, so everyone who wants to should have a chance to participate.  It's not as though diaries disapper -poof!- when the clock strikes midnight.

Curious: which movie do you think you will watch, what looks interesting to you?

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 04:51:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know; Which one do you recommend?

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 05:06:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What types of movies do you like?  Some people cannot stand arty films (I have a high tolerance for them).  Nightwatch was recommended to me, but I barely made it through the first half hour.  Everyone loves Burnt by the Sun.  I've recommended Vozvrashchenie to death, but have nothing more to say about it, really.  

You could just go to the video store and find some random movie (Russian, newish) and watch it.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 05:12:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lenin was right, you know.

Film sure beats books.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 12:59:10 AM EST
Here is the reason why film was the most important of the arts for Lenin:  A significant percentage of the population, at least outside the urban centers, was illiterate.  Film was used document & explain the Revolution and the various peoples and places throughout Russia and the new USSR (which some people weren't even aware they were living in), and then the reels of this "agit-prop" were loaded onto trains and carted around the gigantic country and shown to people to inform them of the Revolution, call them to arms and educate them about other parts of the USSR (Russian Far East, Ukraine, etc.).  It was just about the only effective method of creating a unified Soviet identity & cause in a largely agrarian and multicultural land.  These little documentary newsreels films were usually accompanied by whole to-do, town gathering with speeches and pamphlets and recruiters and who knows what else.   Like the circus was coming to town.

There wasn't exactly the sense that this agitational propaganda was a bad or nefarious thing.  The filmmakers originally had an amazing deal of creative license and truly believed in the Revolution.  The whole idea of using art in this proletarian uprising was felt to be quite brilliant and modern and noble ... and cool.  And it was used to make the agrarian and native peoples feel part of the same community as those living in Moscow or Petersburg, and as equals.  

To say it was just indoctrination is a little unfair.  I'm confident the filmmakers of the time felt a lot like the bloggers of Daily Kos do today.  Giving the little people a voice, informing the citizenry, changing the wold ...  solidifying a movement.  And it was pretty brilliant of Lenin to see how he could use this medium to his advantage.  All he needed was eager filmmakers willing to work for nothing in the name of the Revolution, which were not in short supply, and some trains.  And bingo, you've got yourself a strategy for canvassing the whole Eurasian part of the world.  It worked.

It wasn't all perfectly innocent, of course.  

But whoever wrote the Wikipedia page on Soviet Cinema is a moron.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 12:12:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds to me like you should re-write that wikipedia entry, and let us know so we can help keep it up!

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 12:15:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is the reason why film was the most important of the arts for Lenin:  A significant percentage of the population, at least outside the urban centers, was illiterate.

Something the communists changed, I hasten to add.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 05:01:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Watching and reading is always a pleasure, it is the acquisition of the content that can be tedious.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Apr 26th, 2008 at 01:15:19 PM EST
I haven't had any problems using Netflix.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 11:21:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Does anyone have a good suggestion about where to download films from?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 02:38:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You could try Alluc.

But it is not the best selection, and for legal reasons it is a redirect site.

The Russian sites have everything, are grossly illegal, and have best quality. But you need to fiddle with eDonkey etc and sometimes RAR files.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 02:48:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Where? Not where, how! Peer-to-peer. Download μtorrent or whatever other torrent downloader runs under Linux.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 02:59:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My best computer for media right now is a MacBook - I'll look for a bittorrent client for Mac OS X.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 03:26:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for all of the great film links. Can't have too many of them.

Another good one is Filmschatten (http://filmschatten.blogspot.com)

Tons of good movies from all over the world, going back to the earliest days of silent movies. Including a lot of Russian ones from through the years.

If you want to see a really, really weird and fascinating piece of Eastern European/Russian film, check out this 1912 silent animation/stopmotion called The Cameraman's Revenge.
http://filmschatten.blogspot.com/2008/04/cameramans-revenge-mest.html

By someone called Wladyslaw Starewicz, who was Polish-Russian-French.  It's about infideity among insects (don't ask). Stumbled on it by accident. Very short, but quite a trip.

by mikep on Sat Apr 26th, 2008 at 03:10:05 PM EST
Has the date been decided yet? (Will you celebrate International Workers' Day or Victory Day? :-) )

Of those listed, I only saw Brother, but I plan to download both 4 and 12 until the film blog, and I guess later I must download a couple of others too unless they turn up in a cinema near me.

Also, I again recommend Kukushka by Aleksandr Rogozhkin - this is a film with three main characters (and almost to one else): a Finnish and a Russian soldier and a Sami widow, none of whom speaks the other two's language, who are stuck together at the end of WWII.

I don't know if a 1997 film counts as recent, but Prisoner of the Caucasus by Sergei Bodrov was memorable, too. Not an art film, but a cultural window, is The Rifleman of the Voroshilov Regiment from 1999 (which is not a war movie, but about a grandpa who is a veteran).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Apr 27th, 2008 at 01:28:02 PM EST
Kukushka by Aleksandr Rogozhkin - this is a film with three main characters

And, arguably, the landscape is the third main character...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Apr 27th, 2008 at 01:29:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Speaking of extreme sloppiness and short memory, I meant to write that "the landscape is the fourth main character"...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 02:05:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  1.  I haven't set a date.  My brother was expecting to have surgery sometime soon, but it appears that's been postponed.  So I am thinking some time around the 3rd week of May, to give people time to see their film.  May 19-23?

  2.  Did you like "Brother"?  I haven't seen it, but secretly want to.  Also, you don't have to download anything if you don't want.  You only need to have seen one movie.  Unless you want to see more!  Which is great.  I'm just encouraging people to see something, anything. :)  Later I can do an advanced course for people like you. ;)

  3.  I explicitly said "1991-Present" not "recent."  So any of the films you mention are fine.

Thanks for all of the suggestions!

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 11:10:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. OK from me...

  2. Brother was good, and entirely different from what I expected when sitting down for it. By "having to download", I meant that I am interested in and intent on watching for myself, but further down the list :-)


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 11:20:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
3) Extreme sloppy reading and short-term memory.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 11:20:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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