Soviet filmmaker Eisenstein, new film about him


This video says about itself:

Eisenstein In Guanajuato – Official Trailer

8 February 2015

A film by Peter Greenaway, 2015, Netherlands/Mexico/Finland/Belgium, 105′

On 27 July 2015, I went to see the film Eisenstein In Guanajuato.

In this film, movie director Peter Greenaway reconstructs the stay of his famous Soviet colleague Sergei Eisenstein in Mexico in 1931. Eisenstein then made recordings, intended for a film on Mexico and the Mexican revolution, entitled ¡Que viva México!

In his reconstruction, Greenaway had to consider that some of the facts in this part of Eisenstein’s life are known. Some others are not certain, but maybe, with some fantasy (Greenaway made a feature film, not a documentary), might be deduced from known facts. And many other things about Eisenstein’s Mexican episode are completely unknown.

Greenaway’s film ‘plays fast, loose and salaciously with the facts’, according to film critic David Robinson.

Robinson points out, inter alia, that Eisenstein was a workaholic, while Greenaway depicts him as hardly ever leaving his hotel bedroom. Eisenstein did not drink alcohol, while Greenaway depicts him as drunk.

The central theme in Greenaway’s film is that Eisenstein was a virgin, until his initiation into gay sex in Guanajuato at 33 years of age. Very improbable, according to Robinson.

Was Eisenstein gay? Maybe, we don’t know for sure.

However, there are so many and such obvious inaccuracies in Eisenstein In Guanajuato that, rather than being results of Greenaway’s supposed ignorance or sloppiness, one may suspect that Greenaway included them on purpose to indicate the film is not about the historical Eisenstein, but about an Eisenstein of his own post-modernist imagination.

In post-modernism there is no historical truth.

Eisenstein as a film role in Greenaway’s work speaks about lots of famous filmmakers and other artists he supposedly had met. A list so long that it looks a bit incredible. Is this not really a list of Peter Greenaway’s favourites in film history and art history?

One can see that Eisenstein In Guanajuato is by someone who was originally a visual artist, and an admirer of the imagery of Eisenstein’s films. Greenaway’s imagery in this film is good. So is the acting. However, Greenaway undeservedly makes the issues in Eisenstein’s films, Russian revolution and society, Mexican revolution and society, etc. play a very second fiddle to aesthetics.

At least one review of this film has a historical inaccuracy of its own: Variety magazine in the USA writes that Lenin underwrote Eisenstein’s expenses while in Mexico. Lenin had died in 1924. While the Variety article also spells ‘Guadajuato’ which should have been Guanajuato.

Painter Kasimir Malevich, 1879-1935


This video is called Kazimir Malevich.

By Christine Lindey in Britain:

Exhibition Review: The epitome of radical art

Saturday 2nd August 2014

Malevich was an original thinker whose contribution to art theory more than compensates for a certain lack of intuitive flair and sensuous engagement with the act of painting, writes CHRISTINE LINDEY

In 20th-century Russia, rejection of the reactionary past by welcoming nascent modernity motivated both the artistic and political vanguards. Believing that the two were interdependent, Kasimir Malevich (1879-1935) embraced both with clear-minded passion.

Born in Kiev into a large Polish family, Malevich’s fragmentary art education lacked the lengthy academic discipline which formed most other pioneers of Modernism. Yet, like theirs, his early work looks like a crash-course in more recent “innovatory” styles.

The Tate Gallery’s Malevich exhibition duly begins with a succession of his Impressionist, post-Impressionist, folksy Symbolist and carelessly brushed Expressionist paintings, many being stronger in daring than accomplishment.

But he discovered his forte in 1912 once he arrived at the visual rigours of Cubism with its focus on form, line and space rather than colour and touch. Combining Cubism with Russian Futurism’s socially subversive subjects led to his first mature works. In them he faced the fundamental question: why should painting retain any contact with the visible world now that this was represented so accurately by the modern technologies of photography, film and photomontage?

In 1913 Malevich designed outlandishly “abstract” costumes and sets for the avant-garde opera Victory Over the Sun and a film of its recreation is screened in the exhibition.

Two years later he painted his first Black Square. So radical was this provocative statement about the absolute essence of painting that it has influenced generations of artists and remains contentious to this day.

“To reproduce beloved objects and little corners of nature is like a thief being enraptured by his leg irons,” Malevich declared. He called his new aesthetic Suprematism, wrote a manifesto and created arguably his best paintings in the following three years.

Flatly painted, simple geometric forms in black or bold colours are juxtaposed against an even white ground. Often composed diagonally, rectangles, triangles and circles speed across the surface with a dynamism echoing that of flying machines.

Uncompromisingly stark, these paintings defy and deny any connection with tradition.

Having arrived in Moscow in 1905, Malevich fought in the “battle of the brigades” in that year’s aborted revolution. He remained a lifelong socialist, joining the Federation of Leftist Artists in the February 1917 revolution.

It was no coincidence that by the period of war communism (1917-22) Malevich’s canvases became ever simpler, paling into white forms on white backgrounds. By 1919 they completely faded out. “Painting died like the old regime because it was a part of it,” Malevich said.

From the October 1917 revolution onwards Malevich’s career exemplifies the promotion of the avant garde to “high art” status by the young worker state, the first government in the world to do so.

Appointed Commissioner for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Art in 1917 and head of the experimental Petrograd Free State Workshops (SVOMAS) by 1918, Malevich became an influential art establishment figure.

From 1919 he continued to develop new forms of art education based on Suprematism in his own department at Vitebsk Art School. He organised his students and himself into a collective under the acronym UNOVIS (Champions of the New Art) and together they set out to improve daily life by exploring the essence of form, colour and volume as prototypes for practical application by engineers, architects and designers.

Having inspired many contemporaries these principles, which Malevich published in 1927, still underpin much Modernist design today.

Malevich’s return to figurative painting in the late 1920s may come as a shock as these works were long marginalised. This exhibition devotes two rooms to them, presenting them as surprising, ambiguous and complex reinventions of figuration. Yet it interprets his themes of peasant life as conveying the “dislocation, alienation and despair” of collectivisation policies.

By privileging the individual, avant-garde artist, the curatorial stance undervalues the urgency of the international left’s 1930s debates about the social responsibility of artists.

Malevich’s late experiments of blending Modernism with various forms of realism was part of a wider quest by Soviet artists to create an accessible yet modern art.

At his premature death from cancer in 1935, the city of Leningrad honoured Malevich by paying for the grand Suprematist funeral which he’d designed himself.

Malevich was a true radical and original thinker. His major contribution to art theory and education more than compensates for a certain lack of intuitive flair and sensuous engagement with the act of painting.

The exhibition is overly large so that it is difficult to absorb the numerous drawings and UNOVIS projects displayed towards its end. Yet, apart from its predictable anti-Soviet bias, it provides a meticulously researched and comprehensive survey of Malevich’s work. It has an unpretentious chronological organisation and its reconstruction of Malevich’s 1915 Suprematist exhibition is impressive.

A must for those interested in Soviet and Modernist art.

Runs until October 26 at Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG. Box office: (020) 7887-8888.

Opera about Holocaust in New York City


This video from the USA is called Houston Grand Opera’s “The Passenger“.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

The Passenger depicts the Holocaust and its aftermath in opera form

25 July 2014

Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 1968 opera The Passenger recently had its New York premiere as part of the annual Lincoln Center Festival. The performances showed that this challenging work, dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath, deserves a permanent place in the operatic repertoire.

Weinberg, born in Warsaw in 1919, narrowly escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland, arriving in the Soviet Union before his 20th birthday. His parents and younger sister were sent to the Lodz Ghetto and later perished in a concentration camp. Weinberg, who lived the remaining 56 years of his life in the USSR, was a prolific composer of symphonies, string quartets, operas and film music. Among his film scores was that for the award-winning The Cranes Are Flying.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

(Interestingly, one of Weinberg’s cousins, following the Russian Revolution, was the secretary of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Baku Soviet commune and was executed by counterrevolutionary forces in September 1918 along with the other 26 Baku commissars.)

In eight scenes over two acts, The Passenger tells the story of a prosperous German couple in the early 1960s, Liese and Walter, who have embarked on an ocean voyage to Brazil, where the husband, a West German diplomat, is to take up a new post.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

In the midst of what should be a time of satisfaction and happy anticipation, however, Liese observes a mysterious passenger onboard, and becomes convinced that this is in fact Marta, who as a young Polish woman was an inmate of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Liese was an Auschwitz guard, something she has tried to leave behind and suppress psychologically, and has never even spoken about to her husband.

The opera, with a libretto by Alexander Medvedev and music by Weinberg, then compellingly develops the theme of the Holocaust and its aftermath. The action takes place on two levels, both in its staging and in its time frame. The upper level is the ship itself, including Liese and Walter’s private cabin. Stairs lead to a lower level, the concentration camp barracks and the railroad tracks leading to the camp. The scenes alternate, forcefully depicting the memories that increasingly haunt Liese as the story progresses.

We are soon introduced to Marta as a young concentration camp inmate. Her fellow prisoners include Tadeusz, Marta’s beloved, whom she finds after a separation of two years. Liese is the only character that appears on both levels of the opera, with the events of nearly 20 years earlier clearly seared into her memory. In her role as a camp guard, she threatens and taunts the prisoners, and in particular tries to take advantage of Marta and Tadeusz’s relationship for her own purposes.

The work explores the issue of the aftermath of the Holocaust, for both victims and perpetrators. The Passenger is set in the early 1960s, in the midst of the postwar economic boom in Germany, and also in the shadow of the Eichmann trial in Israel, which brought the issue of the Holocaust and its architects before a new generation of Germans as well as to a global audience. A generation of young people in Germany, as elsewhere, were radicalized by the war in Vietnam in particular as the 1960s unfolded and attempted to come to terms as well with their own traumatic national history. This was the period that saw the publication of some of the best-known novels of German writers such as Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll, as well as the first films of Rainer Maria Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorff and others.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

The historical issues are deliberately not spelled out in The Passenger. The story is presented without even settling the issue of whether the mysterious woman is in fact Marta, or perhaps only the vivid reflection of Liese’s guilty conscience.

The opera also does not portray Liese as a kind of stand-in for Germany as a whole, a symbol of collective guilt. It does, however, show the impossibility of ignoring the past. It raises the inevitable issues of the causes of the descent into barbarism. The portrayal of both the younger and middle-aged Liese suggests the self-satisfied layer of the middle class that finds itself, under definite social and political conditions, capable of the most monstrous crimes.

The opera is based on a novel by a Polish concentration camp survivor, Zofia Posmysz. Posmysz, alive and well at the age of 90, has been involved in the belated production of the opera, and appeared at the New York premiere.

Arrested as a young girl because of an association with an anti-Nazi group, Posmysz spent three years as a prisoner. Some years later, as a journalist on assignment in Paris, she thought she saw someone who had been a guard at Auschwitz. This episode led first to a radio play, which was later turned into a novel, in which the relationship is reversed, with a conscience-stricken former guard believing she has glimpsed a former inmate.

The novel became enormously popular in Poland. This was a time of political ferment following the working class protests in Poznan in 1956. The book was turned into a film— Passenger (1963)—by the talented young Polish director Andrzej Munk (Man on the Tracks, 1956), completed by colleagues after Munk’s untimely death in an auto accident in 1961. Somewhat later, Weinberg’s close friend and colleague Dmitri Shostakovich urged him to consider a project based on the novel.

Weinberg’s music is impressive, as we have had occasion to note in the past. It reflects his lifelong association with Shostakovich, whom he first met in 1943, when he was only 23 years old and Shostakovich himself was 13 years older. Highly dissonant at times, the score remains tonal and emotionally involving. The composer is especially effective in combining and alternating several styles while still adhering to a distinctive musical language.

The influence of Shostakovich is clear, but the music is not derivative. Weinberg depicts the growing apprehension and panic of Liese, the concern of her husband for his career prospects, and above all the suffering and heroism of the prisoners. The music is at times anguished, jazz-influenced in its depiction of some of the shipboard activities, and briefly but strongly lyrical in the reunion of Marta and Tadeusz.

If there is one major weakness, it is in the vocal writing itself. In an opera, this is of course an issue that can’t be overlooked. There were times, especially in the opera’s first act, when an emphasis on orchestral writing, and an imbalance between the orchestra and performers, tended to detract from the dramatic action. The second act was more affecting, especially the exchanges between Marta, Tadeusz and Liese.

Both Marta and Tadeusz resist Liese’s attempts to enlist their cooperation, even though it will mean their deaths. A high point of this act, and the climax of the entire opera, comes when Tadeusz, a violinist, is commanded to play the camp commandant’s favorite waltz, and instead defiantly performs the famous Bach Chaconne from the Second Partita for Violin, before being led off to his death.

Weinberg’s orchestration is masterful. Strings and winds are joined by powerful writing for the brass section, and above all, a percussion section that includes almost every imaginable instrument, including timpani, triangle, tambourine, whip, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, bells and glockenspiel.

The Houston Grand Opera production was also striking. Director David Pountney was responsible for the English translation of the libretto. The opera, originally presented in Austria in 2010, was staged in Houston last winter, and it is the Houston production, including the orchestra under Patrick Summers, that was brought to New York for three performances. The opera was first presented in Moscow in concert version in 2006, nearly 40 years after it was written.

The New York performances took place in the historic Park Avenue Armory, in a building dating to 1880 and for decades the headquarters of the 7th New York Militia Regiment, which had fought in the Civil War. The huge vaulted space of the Drill Hall, at the center of this building, is a music venue unlike any other in New York. The size of the space made some amplification of the voices necessary, a rare occurrence in the opera world. In this case it was carried off in so understated and effective a fashion that some listeners would not even have been aware of it. Although the opera was sung in English, the use of supertitles was also effective, as was the unusual placement of the orchestra, to the side of the two-tiered set.

The singers were uniformly excellent, particularly soprano Melody Moore as Marta. Tadeusz was sung by Morgan Smith, Katya by Kelly Kaduce, Liese by mezzo soprano Michelle Breedt and Walter by tenor Joseph Kaiser.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg is one of the “lost composers” of the twentieth century. Strictly speaking, he is not of the generation that came of age musically between the imperialist world wars, or whose career was interrupted by the rise of fascism during those decades, including some promising composers who perished in the Holocaust. Although Weinberg was younger and had a full musical career, the environment in which he worked was shaped by the tragedies of this era.

In connection with the belated appearance of The Passenger, little has been said about why it languished in obscurity for decades. Shostakovich was enormously taken by the work, but for reasons that were not spelled out, it was not staged, although many other works of Weinberg were regularly performed in the Soviet Union.

The Stalinist regime, which still used a heavy hand in cultural matters in this period, may have decided that an opera that focused on concentration camps and dealt with Polish victims did not mesh with its own continuous efforts to build up nationalist feelings. The authorities decreed that emphasis had always to be placed on the Russian and Soviet toll in the war, which of course was massive, to the exclusion of others. It was for this reason that Shostakovich encountered such official opposition to his 13th Symphony, subtitled “Babi Yar,” dedicated to the Jewish victims of Nazi extermination at this site in Kiev.

Weinberg’s life was shaped in no small part by horrific Nazi barbarism on the one hand, and the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution on the other. While he and many others found refuge in the Soviet Union, they also confronted the regime of the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, which used anti-Semitism for its own purposes.

British government insults World War II veterans


This video from Britain is called Arctic Convoys commemoration 22.08.11.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

WWII convoy veterans banned from receiving Russian bravery medal

Monday 14 January 2013

Heartless ministers today banned thousands of WWII veterans from receiving Russian bravery medals for their service on Arctic convoys.

Three thousand British servicemen provided vital supplies to the Soviet Union to aid their fight against nazi Germany on the eastern front.

The Russian government has recognised the men’s bravery on what Winston Churchill called “the worst journey in the world” and offered them Ushakov medals.

But the Foreign Office says the veterans can’t accept them because they are in line to receive a British medal for their service and because it was more than five years ago.

Veteran Fred Henley said the government’s decision was “insulting.”

Russian diplomats say they can’t award the medals because of “British red tape.”

From Associated Press:

Britain says no to UK arctic convoy veterans accepting Russian medal for bravery in WWII

By Gregory Katz, The Associated Press January 14, 2013 11:50 AM

LONDON – Reay Clarke, who risked his life on World War II Arctic convoys, doesn’t understand why the British government wants him and other elderly veterans to turn down a medal for bravery offered by the Russian government.

“I honestly feel sore about it,” said Clarke, 89. “I think it’s disgraceful that we can’t just say yes to the Russians and tell them to go ahead and issue the medal. I think they are kind and thoughtful to remember what we did. We should just say, ‘Thank you very much.'”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Friday that British sailors cannot accept the Ushakov Medal because they are in line to get a medal from the British government, and also because the events took place more than five years ago.

It is not surprising that the Russian government wants to honour — again — the sailors who participated in the convoys, which helped bring vital equipment to Soviet troops fighting a desperate battle against Hitler’s troops on the eastern front.

The weapons they delivered, including more than 7,500 fighter planes and 5,000 anti-tank guns, helped turn back Hitler’s invading forces, altering the course of the war, said Jacky Brookes, a manager of the Russia Arctic Convoy Museum Project, which plans to build a museum at the spot in northwest Scotland where the convoys were based.

“There were some 3,000 casualties,” she said. “Winston Churchill called it the worst journey in the world. Hitler was keen to sink as many of them as he could. It was an awful experience — they were attacked by U-boats, and ships, and from the air as well. Plus the weather was atrocious. A lot of people just perished from the cold.”

Brookes also feels the government should have allowed the men to receive the Ushakov Medal. She said about 400 are still alive.

“We think they should be allowed to wear it,” she said. “We support any recognition for these brave men, they fought so hard, and many gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

She said the Russian government had periodically honoured the Arctic convoy veterans from Britain and other nations.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced last month a medal will be created and awarded to veterans who were active on the convoys.

But Clarke frets that many veterans will pass away while the details are worked out.

“He’s taken an awful long time,” he said. “There aren’t many of us left.”