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Tag: Michael Craig

New Venue for premieres

A few days ago we had a meal nearby where we live on Krasnaya Presnaya. Afterwards we took a walk around an area nearby which is tucked behind the main road. It was like a revelation – lots of restaurants and cafes rebuilt into an old industrial light engineering quarter. We also found a good venue there for exhibitions and premièring films. Quite large and with good facilities. They were having a mental health film festival there and so we spent a little time walking around looking at the paintings on the wall. A gallery runs around one of the edges. I think it would be a great place to première some of my smaller films. Not pompous or grandiose, just the right ambience for some of the films I have made – maybe even for the Eisenstein film.

 

David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde – screening in Moscow

I forgot to give an update on the screening of 

David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde

 which took place on the 7th April 2018 at the Museum of Chuseyev in Moscow as part of the Sogetsu Ikebana exhibition marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the school by 

Sofu Teshigahara

. There was a mad scramble to get the translation and subtitles in Russian finished before the screening. The text is quite philosophical and technical in places so that held up the translation a bit.  Most of it I was able to complete myself up to a point but then it all had to be checked and corrected and then put up over the original film. We managed to get something pretty much decent ready in time with one or two problems here and there but no one seemed to notice. 


As always a screening is nerve wracking experience and this was no exception. Also it is the first time I have screened one of my films in Russian to  a Russian audience. 

David Burliuk

 is unique because not only is he the “Father” of Russian futurism but he left Russia and spent 2 years in Japan up until 1922 before finally emigrating to America where he lived for the rest of his life with his family.

 
At the end of the film there was a long question and answer session about the film and about our journey to the island of 

Ogasawara,

 also known as the Bonin Islands,where we filmed. Burliuk spent several months on the islands during his stay in Japan. There is a book I wrote about our visit and the islands themselves – Journey to Ogasawara.


The film was warmly received  and there was strong interest in the other films in the series about the Russian Avant-garde as well as requests for an updated Russian translation of the book 

Journey to Ogasawara.

The Russian Theatre Film Series book – published and available:

The Russian Theatre Film Series

 book – published and available:

 

It’s difficult to find an appropriate description of the book “The Russian Theatre Film Series”. Essentially it is an account of an arts documentary series with all its pitfalls, successes, limitations and achievements. The three films which have so far been completed are:

Meyerhold, Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde

 

Stanislavsky and the Russian Theatre

 

Vakhtangov and the Russian Theatre

This book is part of the overall project – The Russian Theatre Film Series and is a milestone and a marker in this developing project. It is also a commentary on what it means to make an independent arts documentary film series in a foreign country namely Russia. Not so much from the technical point of view although there is plenty of technical aspects covered but more from the point of view of a kind of interior process. It is an expedition into the phenomenology of film-making, what obstacles have to be overcome, both physical and technically but more importantly some of the lived experience of film-making. For some people making independent films is a way of life in the same way that for others theatre is a way of life or acting is a way of life or painting or whatever is a way of life. You can’t live without it or outside it. The fact that you have to spend a year or two of your life on each film means that it is a life decision. So it has an existential element and this quality of film-making is explored in the book. How the series came about, what were the thought processes involved in the development of the series, which influenced the series overall – who helped who didn’t, why things went wrong and why they went right. The book is a staging post on the way to further developments clearing the ground before moving forward to the next phase – a book about

The Fairground Booth

 

 

 

“The Fairground Booth” and “Petrushka”

This post is a fragment from a chapter of the book which will be published some time next year. The context is a comparison between the ballet “Petrushka” and “The Fairground Booth”. Both share roots in the Russian fairground and the figures of the commedia dell’arte. To understand a play like The Fairground Booth which has no plot, no characters, no real sense of forward movement or natural time and broke from the traditions of realism and naturalism, requires an approach to Russian culture which moves beyond its surface reflections. When, as Bakhtin states, Dostoevsky’s work embodies elements of carnival, (something which is not immediately associated with Dostoevsky), then it becomes clear why it is possible to find clues to the meaning of “The Fairground Booth” in works of literature as various as “The Brothers Karamazov” and The ballet “Petrushka” and vise a versa.For those seeking unadulterated cultural forms this approach may be disappointing. However it is in this spirit, if we understand the play itself as a mask, that “The Fairground Booth” will reveal itself. The essence of this play is that it embraced contraries and opposites and did so deliberately in order to open up theatre to some kind of change or reconstitution, something which was desperately needed in theatre at the time and was pursued by Stanislavsky, Meyerhold and Vakhtangov each in there own fashion. New modes of thought born of a new age called for new modes of expression. But where to find these new myths and new forms. Blok turned to the tradition of the fairground with its timeless puppets and the Italian comeddia dell’arte with its eternal masks and together with Meyerhold they forged the beginnings of a new theatre.

The examination of the ballet “Petrushka” has led us to a wider contemplation of the Fairground Booth itself. We can go a little further and examine some of the paintings and works of the artists of The World of Art movement with Benois as one of its leading figures and the author of the libretto of “Petrushka” in relation to “The Fairground Booth” in which the figure of Pierrot and the Russian version Petrushka are on some levels interchangeable. There is a painting which caught my eye partly for its apocalyptic character by Dobuzhinsky called “The Kiss”. It shows a couple embracing against a futuristic apocalyptic background, a city-scape shrouded in mist and smoke and self combustion. It is strangely alluring and threatening all in one glance. The naked couple is reminiscent of Rodin’s “The Lovers” but more in keeping with Klimt’s “The Kiss”. It is not immediately connected with carnival until we look a little further.

Such images crop up in many paintings by members of The world of Art movement and are connected with the themes of the fairground and the comeddia dell’arte. For instance there is a painting by Konstantine Somov called “Death and Harlequin” 1907, which shows a skeleton dressed in a sable cape with what looks like silver teardrops sewn into it. Harlequin thumbs his nose at Death, the female skeleton figure, (much like Petrushka thumbs his nose at the magician at the end of the ballet after he has been killed by the Moor and reappears as a ghost). In the middle distance behind Death and Harlequin is a couple dressed in contemporary evening wear, kissing passionately. Its not a great looking work of art in the style of Rembrandt for instance using richly variegated paint surfaces and is more in the decorative ornamental style which was so popular at that time then and related to The world of Art’s involvement in theatre. The scene is repeated in various guises in other paintings by Somov especially a colour sketch for a theatre curtain for The Free Theatre in Moscow in 1913. In this sketch all the elements of the commedia dell’arte are present, The devil, harlequin, Pierrot, a young woman to the side in a pose of melancholic meditation and in the centre a man and a woman trying to reach out to each other but are separated by the break in the curtain. This separation reminded me of the author in “The Fairground Booth” (who in this sketch appears perhaps in the guise of a bald bespectacled man, the only figure not in a mask) who trying to bring together Columbina and Pierrot but are separated by the set of the theatre flying away before they can renew their relationship and join together. Above the whole scene cupids and figures from Greek mythology languish in the clouds above. These coincidences are further underlined by one curious fact which is common to many of these paintings. The theme of unobtainable desire. Many times there is a couple who is estranged and alienated from one another. Something is wrong or amiss despite the merriment of the carnival and despite the passion surrounding the kiss . In all the paintings depicting carnival and the harlequinades there is an underlying disquiet or even violence, as in “Columbina’s Tongue” 1915 where Pierrot is threatened with a stick by a Harlequin like figure, who is poking out from behind the giant skirts of an over-sized Columbina dominating the entire canvas. The passion is called into question by for instance in Somov’s Death and Harlequin by the appearance of Death in the foreground. With Dobuzhinsky’s version the towering city of chimneys belching steam and the overwhelming skyscrapers leaning at odd impossible angles and the old symbols of the city are being engulfed in flames, angels are falling ( the angel on top of the column in St Petersburg on Palace Square). The white skyscrapers (white being the colour of the apocalypse) seems to be growing out of the destruction.Here an odd conjunction occurs which has been touched on earlier and Dobuzhinsky’s painting embodies this connection.

It has been argued that in his version of “The Kiss” Klimt represented the moment Apollo kisses Daphne, following the metamorphosis of Ovid’s narrative. I don’t know if this is the case or not but if we follow this logic then it can illuminate further some of the themes that have been explored earlier. Here the myth of the metamorphosis of a human being into a tree reoccurs.
In the metamorphoses of Ovid Daphne the daughter of the river god Peneus was the first love of Apollo; this happened not by chance
but by the cruel outrage of cupid. After an argument with Phoebus (Apollo), cupid shot two different arrows at cross purposes with one another. One arrow struck struck Daphne and the other Apollo. One was in love and the other would have none of it. Apollo pursues Daphne from an excess of passion and Daphne flees across the the land eventually appealing to her father to protect her. Scarcely has she finished her prayer and she is transformed into a tree for her own protection. Apollo even despite such a metamorphosis presses his lips to the wood with the warmth of his passion still aglow. 
Apollo doesn’t give up stating:
Although you cannot be my bride
you will assuredly be my own tree
O laurel, and will always find yourself
girding my locks, my lyre and my quiver too…
you will adorn great roman generals….
so you will be evergreen forever…
The first thing that strikes one here is the idea of an unobtainable love which is present as a motive in the legend of Narcissus and Echo in “The Fairground Booth”, Echo and Narcissus in their different ways, yearned for the unobtainable. It is also featured in the love scenes of the three couples in the play as well as Pierrot’s final estrangement from Columbina and is present in paintings and art from the The world of Art movement. Somov was homosexual as were several members of The World of Art movement and the idea at that time of unobtainable desire must have been particularly problematic but rich in material for him as an artist. For the lovers in Dobuzhinsky’s painting however there is a difference. While they are being engulfed in the destruction they somehow stand out from it, surviving in a fiery embrace, seemingly oblivious to the tempest around them. In another painting by Somov, Italian Comedy he depicts a carnival of masks with harlequin, Columbina and Pierrot. Above them almost unnoticed is a wall of arches with one of the column of the arches appearing as if it is about to metamorphosis into a demon monster ready to devour the merrymaking mask below.
It is worth recapitulating what has been said earlier with regard to the story of Attis and Blok’s interest Cattulus’s poem abut Attis and Cybele who changed Attis into a Pine tree, which henceforth became sacred. Attis gradually becomes and acts as a female. Then again Attis (in my opinion) appears as Ariel in “The Tempest” who was preserved in a pine tree on the island and is released from his suffering by Prospero. These themes, especially those which spoke of metamorphosis and transformation were a constant preoccupation with Russian artists and writers of the early twentieth century, delving into classical antiquity to illuminate their concerns with the present and future. Sometimes they are so hidden that one could be forgiven for seeing things where they do not exist. However, as always art always invites speculation. In one painting called “The Resting Comedians” 1914 by Sergei Sudeikin who as well as being an artist was also a theatre designer and at one time worked with Meyerhold in arranging the theatre House of Interludes (1910-1911. His art included many scenes taken directly from the fairground and harlequinades. Here the scene shows a group of travelling players resting in a forest glade by a lake. On the right hand-side is a figure which could be human or could be a mannequin – half puppet, half human but either way it is embedded into the tree almost as part of the tree and in its mouth there looks to be what I can only describe as a pine cone. Metamorphosis for symbolists was the essence of creativity as has been stated elsewhere and so it is not inconceivable that this small detail referencing a human being transformed into a tree is deliberate.
So why one might ask should we concern ourselves with paintings and graphic works from this time in relation to “The Fairground Booth”. The obvious answer is that many artists especially from The World of Art movement actively participated in theatrical design and production. However there is a deeper, more direct reason. “The Fairground Booth” presents us with an ornamental world not a real world and this was a conscious attempt to subvert realism and the naturalism of theatrical practice and develop new dramas and new theatrical forms. Part of this process was questioning the foundations of theatre itself. The Fairground Booth’s other title was “The Puppet Show” (from the puppet booths of the Russian fairground) and in both the play “The Fairground Booth” and the Ballet “Petrushka” the scenes resembled a picture gallery where the figures in pictures and drawings from bygone theatre jumped from their frames and became living entities before our eyes. This phenomena is literally performed in the ballet “Petrushka” when the magician brings Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor to life with the touch of his flute and they step out of their booths/boxes/frames and dance like any living animated creature. It is a comment on the creative process itself and also raises questions about the self and the view of the actors task as an autonomous free entity. Dance and movement as a component part of the theatrical and dramatic process was a new and fresh approach in theatre.

We began with the ballet “Petrushka” and in conclusion we return to the theme of dance which permeates all these works from “The Fairground Booth” to “Petrushka” and to those works which feature in one form or another carnival motifs. In this context we can highlight what can be called the Dance of Death, stalking the epoch before the Revolution and the first world war and which haunted the cultural milieu of Europe. It also appeared in its symbolist manifestations from Les Fleurs du mal of Baudelaire to Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” which is set during an Italian carnival. Poe’s plague ridden “The Mask of the Red Death” where Death visits the ball in the guise of a masked stranger comes to mind in this instance as well. For our purposes in explaining and revealing some of the themes which inform “The Fairground Booth” the dance of death is ever present. It is Columbina who appears at the beginning of “The Fairground Booth” as Death. For the mystics she is Death for whom they have been waiting. For Pierrot she is his fiance. This double interpretation paves the way for what is to follow, a series of ambiguous and multifaceted theatrical phenomena and doubling. This enabled Blok simultaneously to tip his hat to his symbolist leanings but also criticise them in this work of self parody, a trend which intensified up to and beyond the Russian revolution but abruptly ended when it was replaced by Social Realism as the dominant artistic movement in Russia in the early 1930s. It also gave Meyerhold a chance to experiment with new forms of theatre which entered the mainstream of Russian and Soviet theatre after the revolution.

thefairgroundbooth.com

 

Kolomenskoe

I came to Moscow to live many years ago, more than 17. I had no firm idea about how long I would stay but after about nine months and some difficult times I had to make a decision to stay or to leave. It was a cold January and very few people would venture out into -20 unless they had to or unless they were like me – curious. The city felt still and quiet – the stillness enhanced by the deep snow which muffled the sounds of the city. At that time the city was less congested and crowded and so there were areas of calm which you could seek out to escape the noise and traffic. I remember walking around one such oasis of calm, Gorky Park by the Moskva River and stopping to watch a small boat chugging up river, breaking the ice. Long after the boat had disappeared a few miles up further on, small waves would gently snap open and dislocate the ice on the surface of the water with a distinctive rhythmic crack like glass being cut and broken into pieces.

A few days later I took the metro to a place called Kolomenskoe, an old monastery estate in grounds which stretch down to he river. The white towered Church of the Ascension of the Lord was constructed in 1529-1532 by order of Tsar Vasily III to commemorate the birth of his son and heir, Ivan the Terrible. It sits on the crest of the high river bank which sweeps down some thirty metres or so to the river. Paths criss cross and spiral down and around the extensive bank from where there is an open vista of the city over to the left looking across the river. Directly in front, on the far side of the river is a water works or sewage works which is surounded by what seemed like flat marsh lands. The young Peter the Great, who lived here for much of his adolecent life, would organise war games with his friends using fireworks and mock up weapons, practising tactics and battle plans which he would later use for real to develop and forge a new Russia.

I found a path which went along the top of the bank away from the main territory of the estate through a wooded area past some old abandoned houses and a school. At the far end of the path, maybe a kilomtere away, I could see that the path opened out onto a highway. Cars could be seen cutting across the opening in the tree lined path. I decided not to walk to the end but decided to return at another time to see where the path connected to. This air of mystery is part of Moscow’s allure, you never know what you will discover around the next corner. I turned back to the main part of the estate realising it was getting late.

The winter sun had tinted the snow the colour of a blood orange. The question going around my head was what to do: to stay in Russia or return home and if I did stay in Moscow what would I do here. In a flash as I gazed across the snow covered slopes now almost red in the late setting sun the answer was clear. I would stay and it didn’t matter what I would do here, that question would settle itself. It was a sudden feeling of relief, a culmination of weeks of indecision. Moscow stretched out before my eyes literally and metaphorically, this would be my home – a strange feeling and what was even more strange was that it felt quite natural – no doubts – as if I had made the decision a long time before which obviously I had.

Light at the end of the tunnel. Film updates

 Autumn – Moscow. The dark evenings come earlier and earlier with every passing day. Coming to the end of the edit on The Japanese Garden – Landscape and Meaning. Still not entirely happy with the title. However I don’t want anything to prosaic which might be misleading. Writing something which will introduce the film as a kind of announcement of release. Work has piled up behind this film including The Stanislavsky Documentary film “Stanislavsky and the Metamorphosis of Russian Theatre” and some related writing projects which I am working on. There is no other way however to make progress otherwise the quality of the film suffers if you try and rush things. Today manged to get to grips with and complete some computer graphics and effects which have been giving me difficulties. I feel like I haven’t been out for days although this is not true. The feeling with this film is that I have been ensconced in a long tunnel neither looking right or left and despite the pleasure and experience I have derived from this film I really want to get it finished and move forward with other projects.

I tried to contact the Utsunumiyo Museum in  Japan with regard to selling the film “Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Avant-garde” as part of their exhibition “Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova”. Its was difficult to negotiate with them but I will ask Akira Suzuki to help with the negotiations.

The Moscow Garage and Meyerhold Film -Reprise

Excellent news about the film “Meyerhold Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde”. The film has been selected as part of the “100 years of performance” in Moscow along with films byYoko Onoand other film makers, which is being held at the Garage in Moscow. The exhibition is a 100 year history of theatre using film and video installations.The Garage is a new venue for modern art in Moscow. It is a converted bus garage which was designed by the grat Russian avant-garde architect and artist Konstantin MelnikovContinue reading

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