Ben Gazzara died on February 3, 2012 at the age of 81 from pancreatic cancer. IndieWire called Peter Bogdanovich who was Gazzara’s close friend and directed him in several films. You can read the full interview; and in the opinion of Bogdanovich, “they don’t make actors like Ben anymore“.
In his 60-year career as an actor, Gazzara also had a part in 1992 adaptation of Quiet Flows the Don by Sergei Bondarchuk, he played General Sekretov. You know that I have supported the film, even as it appeared on the Russian screens as a TV mini-series. But I’ll soon have the chance to watch the English version, and I’m really looking forward to that. Either way, I’m afraid the Russian audience was even more oblivious of Gazzara than it was of either Rupert Everett or F. Murray Abraham. Which is a shame.
I have been thinking recently that I barely wrote anything about Quiet Flows the Don in the last 2 years. Perhaps, I was unconsciously waiting for the exhibition of paintings inspired by the novel that is on display at the State Mikhail Sholokhov Museum-Reserve in Veshenskaya, Rostov Region.
The exhibition “Under the Don sky” comprises the work of Vladimir Begma, the Honoured Artist and the member of Russia’s Painters Union. In his own words, Begma first read Sholokhov works at the age of 11, and since then he never stopped coming back to them. The novels and short stories by Sholokhov “amaze you with how true to life his protagonists are, and how deep he gets under the skin of the period he’s writing about. His descriptions of Nature of our native Don region are lyrical and subtle, as is his understanding of the boundless micro- and macrospace“.
Grigory and his father, Pantelei (Vladimir Begma)
The exhibition is on from November 2 until December 31, 2011.
(written 5 Sept 2008) I am currently giving much thought to the importance of screen adaptations. I have to think simultaneously of the stage adaptations, too, because very often we are speaking about one and same text adapted to either stage or screen. The reason why I am so preoccupied with the screen adaptations is because I feel that particularly Russian cinema of today suffers from the lack thereof. At the same time, world’s cinema is probably just as deprived by the lack of attempts to put to screen the “old” or “foreign” narratives that exist out there.
To think about it, somehow it seems much easier to create a YouPorn channel, or to make a soft- or hardcore porn film, or to blend a pornographic content with some metaphysical or political discourse, than to actually put to screen the narrative of de Sade as it is. This is not to defy or to forget Pasolini’s Salo (that draws on 120 Days of Sodom), but de Sade was writing on the wane of the Age of the Enlightenment, and he was drawing on the hyperbolas of Rabelais and contemporary ideas of theatre, in particular. The scholars who pointed out to de Sade’s striking theatricality are correct in that they first find the place for de Sade in his own time, instead of dragging him all the way into the 20th c., openly linking Sadism to Fascism.
(120 Days of Sodom – French and English texts).
Another example is, obviously, Hamlet. A classical role, a secret dream or ambition of many film makers and actors alike. Olivier’s adaptation is Shakespearean, so much so that certain frames remind you of the Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Kozintsev’s film does not depart far from the Renaissance theme but at times can even remind the viewer of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Zeffirelli’s adaptation is an interesting go at understanding Shakespeare that has taken the director well beyond Shakespeare’s times, very close to Freud, but potentially not too far from the truth. The re-positioning of Hamlet’s soliloquy is a great achievement, in that we are invited to view Hamlet’s situation on a different dramatic level. Usually Hamlet’s soliloquy is followed by his dialogue with Ophelia in which he orders her to become a nun. We are left not with Hamlet but with Ophelia who is trying to cope with the evidence of the mental break of her beloved. In Zeffirelli’s film the dialogue with Ophelia precedes the soliloquy, so when Hamlet gets to his “to be or not to be” it is indeed the question, for at that point he is finally left totally alone.
However, all mentioned adaptations more or less faithfully follow Shakespearean notes; they are set in either medieval or quasi-medieval (~Renaissance) times. The adaptation by Kenneth Branagh is different in that it uses the full 1623 text, but brings it to life in the middle of the 19th c. Branagh chose the time for its state of political turmoil, sex and post-Napoleonic glamour. The problem, however, is that in 1848 The Communist Manifesto was published, not to mention many Revolutions that preceded and followed its publication. The political climate was far too different from the one in which Shakespeare produced his play. And the beginnings of psychiatry leave one suspecting that Claudius could easily send his nephew to the asylum instead of hiring two guys to spy on Hamlet. This could indeed be a great and masterful adaptation, if it adapted the text to the time. Instead, we have something of a family theatre that went too far – pretty much like the feast in Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel.
I deliberately took two different examples, one of a narrative (de Sade), another of a play (Shakespeare), to underline the difficulty of adapting a text to the screen. Many more examples can be cited, particularly The Death in Venice as it was written by Thomas Mann and subsequently adapted by Luchino Visconti. Visconti’s film was already criticised by Alberto Moravia who as yet acknowledged the doubtless subtlety of Visconti as the film’s auteur. Umberto Eco has a good sub-chapter on it in Mouse or Rat: Translation as Negotiation. It is worth a notice that Eco chose a Hamletian expression to illustrate the conundrum: there is, of course, a big difference between a mouse and a rat, but exactly what did Hamlet mean, and thus how to translate it into a foreign language?
We may think these linguistic nuances have no relation to cinema; in such case, however, we forget that a film is in itself a translation of a literary text into the language of cinema. It is a delicate and laborious process of finding a cinematic equivalent to verbal or visual metaphors. And here we have many more problems emerging that concern the crew, cast, and even the audience as the mediators between the source text and the target text. The 2006 premiere of the long-abandoned Quiet Flows the Don on the Russian TV comes to mind. Much of the criticism was based on the fact that the “foreigners” dared have a go at playing Russian characters. Strangely enough, a careful reader of Sholokhov’s novel will recall that the Cossacks positioned themselves vis-a-vis even Russians. If we take it to the letter, then the only true adaptation can be produced by the Cossack community. However, it has not yet been produced, whereas the problems that Sholokhov raised and discussed have not lost their importance more than 80 years later, whereby it is perfectly possible for the “foreigners” to relate to these problems and therefore have a go at playing out the source text to their, foreigners’, native audience.
This is all the better subject to think about as a Hollywood version of Master and Margarita is in the making. The fame of this novel is such that it is virtually unadaptable and that it sends a curse on its makers. Given the number of diabolic characters in the novel, both in proper and figurative sense of the word, this should not come as a surprise. What will be a surprise is, of course, how Hollywood treats Bulgakov’s Soviet Moscow, especially given the changes in Moscow’s political climate and in political relations between America and Russia in the recent years. The question is, perhaps: is there a possibility that this interpretation will be more political than any that previously existed? Shall it draw any parallels between Stalin’s Moscow and Putin’s/Medvedev’s Moscow?
What interests me, however, is the script. One of the problems of adapting Bulgakov’s novel is that there are, in fact, two novels in one. Of course, Bad Education by Pedro Almodovar comes to mind, where the real-time events intertwine with memory flashbacks and a film directed after the script of a long-dead character. From this point of view, there should be no problem adapting the biblical and Moscow chapters in Master and Margarita. But then precisely how, and to what extent, should they be adapted? Even the 6-hours long adaptation of Quiet Flows the Don by Sergei Gerasimov naturally has a plenty of cuts from the original text which comprises 4 volumes. My view has long been that, in order to successfully adapt this novel to screen (or even to stage), it is important to study Bulgakov’s own adaptations of his texts to stage.
I know that the name of Paolo Conte attracts some interest from the visitors, and I hope the video below (produced by Guiseppe Ragazzini, whose work you have already seen in Notebooks) will inspire you to learn more. And no, I don’t expect you to be able to pronounce the name of the song (I do look forward, however, to seeing if this post generates any AT-related queries).
It has taken me some time to deliver my own promise, mainly because my Italian isn’t as good as the song demands. I had to resort to my friend’s assistance, and I sincerely thank Marco for being a great friend and, well, an Italian, too. The text below is the result of my effort at translating and his brainstorming and brushing of it. Mille grazie, Marco!
Somebody is a mechanic,
Someone sends him to me
To fix the steering wheel,
And doesn’t ask me
Neither money nor thank-yous,
It doesn’t matter because
In the other room
He sees the bed occupied
By his deep sleep.
At the end, it doesn’t matter
If there some woman
Has taken from the stars
The music that won’t give
A permission to dance with her,
These are the folks for whom
The arts are in the museums.
I have to say, you are very welcome to leave a comment with corrections, if such still need to be done. Otherwise, I and Marco shall content ourselves with the thought that we did a decent job.
I was just going through some screenshots with articles about Quiet Flows the Don premiere last year. It’s been a very long while, unfortunately, since I wrote anything about the latest adaptation by the late Sergei Bondarchuk. In part, it had to do with the fact that I only recently managed to start watching the film, which I am yet to finish. So far in general I feel that I like this film more than the previous adaptation. However, it is the previous adaptation’s subject and the recent interpretation of it that made me remember about this short essay by Alberto Moravia. As I mentioned previously, this year is the 100th anniversary of his birthday, so it is appropriate to mark it with this text.
Alberto Moravia, Eroticism in Literature (1961) Eroticism in modern literature has no resemblance to eroticism in pagan literature nor to eroticism in the literatures that followed it, though if there are any resemblances at all these are to the former rather than the latter. But there is the difference that in pagan literature eroticism has all the innocence, brutality and cohesion of a nature not yet divided and turned against itself by the Christian sense of sin, whereas eroticism in modern literature is bound to take the Christian experience into account. In other words, eroticism in modern literature derives not from a situatio of nature, but from a process of liberation from pre-existent prohibitions and taboos. With the pagans, freedom was an unconscious, simple fact, whereas with the moderns it has been reclaimed, rediscovered, rewon. In compensation eroticism in modern literature has, or should have, the character proper to subjects that neither shock nor draw undue attention to themselves – that are, in short, normal if we understand normal to mean the transformation of the sexual act into something scientifically known and poetically valid, and therefore insignificant from the ethical point of view. The result of this is, or should be, that for the first time since the pagan literatures sex is becoming material for poetry without the need to recourse to the props of symbols or the disguises of metaphor. Today, for the first time for many centuries, the sexual act can be represented directly, explicitly, realistically and poetically in a literary work, whenever the work itself makes it necessary. At this point someone will ask: but is it necessary to talk about the sexual act and, if so, when? My answer is that it is not always necessary to talk about the sexual act, just as it is not always necessary to talk about social questions or adventures in Africa, but that, as the prohibitions and taboos that stood in its way no longer exist today, to pass it over in silence when it is necessary is no longer, as it once was, a moral question but an inadequacy of expression. To take an example: the contemporary writer who does not speak of the sexual act when the subject-matter of his book requires it, is behaving like the citizen who refrains from talking about politics in a democratic regime because the dictatorship that preceded it forbade him to do so. Of course, let me repeat, it is not always necessary to talk about the sexual act; but it is necessary to talk about it when – to make a play on words – it is necessary. Our objector now asks why on earth it seems so often necessary to talk about the sexual act in modern literature. To this we answer very simply that in the modern world sex is synonymous with love, and who could deny that love is a very common subject in the literatures of all times and places? But how in the world, someone else will say, has love been transformed into sex in modern literature; in other words how has it lost the indirect, metaphorical and idealised character that it had in the past, to end up as identified with the sexual act? There are many reasons for this identification, the principal one being, as we have already pointed out, the collapse of the prohibitions and taboos that only too frequently and artificially lay at the root of the false idealisations of eroticism. These taboos and prohibitions were only in appearance of Christian origin; in reality Christianity confined itself to counselling chastity. Probably the taboos and prohibitions were the outcome of a slow social involution, an involution not unlike the one that can be observed in, for instance, class relationships in some Western societies. However, the collapse of these taboos and prohibitions has been caused mainly by what is called depth psychology, or psychoanalysis and the related psychological sciences. The discoveries of psychoanalysis have had a crucial result in two ways: they have broken down the taboos, and have raised the sexual act from the ignominy into which the taboos had cast it, and have reinstated it among the few ways of expression and communion available to man. The sexual act in modern literature is, or should be, neither diabolical temptation, as with the medieval ascetics, nor an almost gastronomical pleasure as with the eighteenth-century bourgeoisie, but as it shows itself when we manage to separate it both from moralistic horror and vulgar hedonism: an act of insertion into a cosmic and superhuman order. Seen in this way the sexual act is effectively something higher, more mysterious, and more complete than love, especially if love is interpreted as the simple physico-sentimental relationship between man and woman.
How does this relate to the 1957 and 1992 (2006) adaptations of Quiet Flows the Don? At the heart of the novel is a love story of Grigory and Aksinia. One of the arguments against the most recent film was that it showed the protagonists having what we may call an openly sexual relationship. I must point out that there are still no bed scenes similar to some we’ve seen in other films. At the most, we can see their bare torsos (right, although the image is quite modest), but this is obviously very different from what the viewers have been looking at since 1957 (left). Some of the Bondarchuk’s critics were saying that Aksinia would never go to bed with Grigory totally naked. It may certainly be true if we remember that it was a custom even in Europe for many centuries to exercise one’s marital duty in a nightgown (which used to be worn by both men and women). From this point of view, any historical film with a romantic scene in which both protagonists appear totally naked, is potentially historically incorrect. What is interesting, however, is that the kind of romantic love we usually witness on screen and which makes up one of the subjects of Sholokhov’s novel is rather often than not a forbidden love. As the narrator tells us, the love of Aksinia and Grigory was forbidden not simply because it was adulterous – it flew in the face of a traditional view of how to conduct an affair. Had they concealed it or treated it as if it didn’t matter, the villagers would quickly forget about it. They, however, didn’t conceal it, and in particular Aksinia, for whom this was the first time she fell in love and had her affection returned, put herself entirely into enjoying her womanhood. Hers is a tragic character, and I can absolutely not picture Aksinia keeping her cool while burning with love – that is, wearing a nightgown at all times, figuratively speaking. I wouldn’t want to comment in too much depth on the Russian take on eroticism in cinema as follows from the Quiet Flows the Don‘s critique, since those opinions may not be entirely representative. As with everything else elsewhere, much is built upon assumptions, in this case – an assumption that Russian culture and eroticism are alien to each other, which, of course, is nonsense. But in the case of reception of this recent adaptation of Sholokhov’s novel we find assumptions not only about the life in the Cossack village, but about the novel itself. The fact is that Sholokhov’s text is long and rich enough to include many story lines, some of which never made it to the screen. And certain portions of the text are undoubtedly erotic, although they may be too demure for our time. Nevertheless, they do exist, and since the question seems to be about whether or not it was appropriate for the protagonists to bare on screen, the answer is that it was not only appropriate, but even necessary – to underline the unconventional and tragic fate of their life-long affair.
As you know, Quiet Flows the Don was written by Mikhail Sholokhov between 1926 and 1940 (vols. 1-3 were written between 1926 and 1928, and the 4th volume was published in 1940). However, throughout his life Sholokhov was plagued by the accusations of plagiarism, mainly because he was very young at the time of composition, and because the narrative had suggested an in-depth awareness of the events and the life experience, which seemed impossible for a 21-year-old.
The first tide of rumours came in 1929, which led Stalin to order a special investigation. The investigation completed, Sholokhov’s authorship was proved and upheld. Since the 1960s, however, there had been many attempts to disprove his authorship, most of them dissatisfactory, since they mostly included the analysis of the printed texts.
Both critique and the defense of Sholokhov’s authorship were jeopardised by the disappearing of the author’s manuscript. His archive was destroyed in a bomb raid during the war, and only the 4th volume has survived. The authographs of the first two volumes, however, were entrusted by Sholokhov to his friend, Vassily Kudashov, who was killed in the war. Since his death, the autograph had been looked after by Kudashov’s widow, who for some reason never disclosed the fact of owning it.
The manuscript was only rescued in 1999, with the help of the Russian Government. The subsequent analysis of the novel has unambiguously proved Sholokhov’s authorship. The manuscript consists of 885 A-4 pages, the writing paper dates back to the 1920s. 605 pages are in the writer’s own hand, and 285 are transcribed by his wife, Maria, and his sisters. The main body of the manuscript is the draft text, which gives a unique opportunity to follow the author’s work on the novel.
What prompted me to write this post, however, is not only the chance to introduce the PDF. copies of the manuscript of this genuine novel. You can browse them here. There is something more symbolic. The date on the top of the first page reads ’15 November 1926′, which makes it (almost) exactly 80 years since Sholokhov had begun to work on Quiet Flows the Don. And whether or not you understand enough Russian to read the text, you can still observe the author’s ‘workshop’ below.
So, Quiet Flows the Don has finally burst onto Russian screens, but only to attract a lot of criticism. Admittedly, everything I’ve heard so far has not been particularly convincing. As the article by Andrew Osborn in The Independent (12 Nov. 2006) stated, the main reason why Rupert Everett’s Grigory is not being accepted by the Cossacks (or, perhaps, by the most radical of them) is the fact that he is gay (Everett, that is). A similar protestation was expressed on 12 Nov. on The Echo of Moscow radio station.
My opinion, as you might guess, is nothing similar in this case. First of all, Everett’s new biography apparently commemorates the actor’s intimate relationships with Susan Sarandon and Paula Yates. Osborn writes that one of the criticisms leveled against Everett is that, since he is gay, he cannot “feature in a love story”, because “he doesn’t know what a woman is”. Well, it looks like he does, after all. Secondly, to judge an actor’s potential by whom he/she spends their nights with is totally unacceptable. We’re talking talent and art here, and hence sexual ‘orientation’ must not be used as a sole factor (especially negative) to form an opinion about someone’s creative potential.
This is the only thing I would pass a comment on so far, since anything else seems to depend largely on a viewer’s point of view, and I haven’t got any at the moment because I’m sitting in Manchester. I’ll only put up this link to an interview with Rupert Everett, which otherwise may get lost somewhere on this blog. It is in Russian, although Everett repeats certain things he’s said in the past. Many thanks to the anonymous user who’d sent the link.
I must say that I approach this film very openly, at the same time I’ve never had any too unrealistic hopes invested in it (like with any other film), despite the fact that I’ve been looking forward to it for years. I obviously allow for the possibility that certain things will not be the way I would expect them to be, but, knowing the book well, I would try and understand why this film is the way it is.
The reason why I am being so open-minded is not simply that I am generally open-minded. The first version of Quiet Flows the Don was made in 1931, by Ivan Pravov and Olga Preobrazhenskaya. 1957 saw the second, famous version by Sergei Gerasimov. It is said that Sergei Bondarchuk had been thinking of taking his vision to screen for about twenty years, but only got the chance to do so at the turn of the 1990s. Although it is only now that his work has finally reached the audience, he had finished shooting his film in 1993.
By only looking at the dates – 1931, 1957, 1993 – one can see that what we’re talking here is a truly notable case of bringing the same novel to screen by two generations of film directors (Pravov was born in 1901, Gerasimov in 1906, and Bondarchuk in 1920). Of these versions, neither could be totally unbiased or uninfluenced by the time. My argument is simple: rather than in direct comparison to the previous films, one should view the current version of Quiet Flows the Don in the context of Sholokhov’s novel, Russia’s ever-changing political and cultural climate, and Bondarchuk’s own legacy. There are bound to be changes in our reading of Quiet Flows the Don now, in comparison to even the early 1990s. And it is very unlikely that the changes in Russia’s political climate from the 1960s until the 1990s would not have impacted Bondarchuk’s own reading of Sholokhov’s novel.
Now, anyone living in Russia and receiving the ‘Kultura’ (Culture) channel can watch the 1931 film this Friday, November 17, at 11am. This screening commemorates the centenary of the birth of the film’s leading actor, Andrei Abrikosov, whose career in cinema had started with him playing Grigory Melekhov. The article accompanying the announcement says that Abrikosov called his son Grigory (also an actor) after the novel’s protagonist.
I am glad this first film is being screened, for those viewers who’ve been watching Bondarchuk’s film and have previously seen Gerasimov’s version will now (potentially) gain full perspective of how Sholokhov’s masterpiece had been read during the 20th c. I am also hoping that perhaps Gerasimov’s version will stop – for some time, at least – being regarded as the only possible dramatization out there. One must recognize the fact that what we’ve got now is a complete manifestation of the continuity of interest in Sholokhov’s novel, and no constraints can or must be put to this. (Shall we compare this to the British, and indeed universal, obsession with Shakespeare’s Hamlet?) One should therefore approach each dramatization historically, i.e. to be aware of the time when it was made because it is absolutely unlikely that time had left any version unscathed.
Also, on the film front – the Indian epic, Makhabkharata, is to begin to be filmed in 2008. Meanwhile, the director of the very successful TV series under the same name is going to write the script. He promises to embellish the Bollywood film with the special effects comparable to those in The Lord of the Rings. The TV series has been so popular that the Indian railways reportedly had to change timetables because people refused to travel during the screening of episodes. Well, while the Bollywood is planning to shoot the Indian epic, the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf is now in post-production in Hollywood. And a much awaited premiere of Russian fantasy story Wolfhound is currently being scheduled for the early 2007. Cannot all this, together with three versions of Quiet Flows the Don, be a better proof that history matters?
No, I’m not leaving anywhere, but I will be very very busy throughout the first half of November, whereby I might not have time or chance to write anything here. So, I decided I’d post some news and musings, as I may have to disappear until after the 13th.
It’s finally getting cold in Manchester. As I wrote previously, I’m not the most energy-efficient person in the world, thanks to my cold blood. At the moment I feel very very cold, despite the fact that I’m fairly well dressed. The problem, I should note, is that the room where I’m sitting is on the northern side of the building, hence there’s no sunlight. Does cold weather make me feel like I’m at home in winter? Positively so, especially because, as I’m told, it’s been snowing in Moscow already.
I’ll be working non-stop in the next two weeks, doing a lot of research and writing. I actually enjoy such hectic times, especially if a lot of information is coming my way, and I can learn new things. Then it’ll be the time for me to find a day to visit London. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to happen during the Atlantic Waves festival. It is definitely unlikely to happen on the 25th, when Thomas Koener, Victor Gama, Max Eastley, Asmus Tietchens, Z’Ev, David Maranha and Robert Rutman are performing at St Giles Cripplegate in Barbican. You can read more about this night of musical improvisation, on the festival’s website, or in November’s issue of The Wire (on sale now). I’m hoping, though, that either big channels, like the BBC, may feature it, OR it may appear on YouTube, providing the organisers and artists grant their permission. From what I know and read about the line-up for the night, it’s worth being recorded and transmitted.
However, whenever I go to London, I’ll have time to visit these two exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Both are dedicated to Renaissance Italy, one to the Italian household of the time, and another – to one the Titans of Renaissance, Leonardo il Magnifico, commonly known as Leonardo da Vinci. The exhibition features an aircraft model after his drawings.
The online features of At Home in Renaissance Italy include a section on music, where you may find some delightful pieces, played on the lyra di braccio, lute, harp, and harpsicord. I cannot help recommending two pieces from the mid-16th c. in which I am a specialist, Canone by Francesco da Milano (1548) and Divisions of Arcadelt’s O felici occhi miei by Diego Ortiz (1553). I had a post on The LOOK group about Renaissance music, which you may wish to check out, it contains some interesting links and an extract from a song called Dilla da l’aqua.
Another small disappointment is that the Russian TV series of Quiet Flows the Don is now complete and the first episode will be screened on November 7. They say, you can’t have it all. I cannot have Rupert Everett and the night of musical improvisation, but I can have Leonardo at home in Renaissance Italy. Quid pro quo, eh? 😉
And, of course, November 5th is coming up this weekend. I have to say, where I live, we had a very calm Halloween, with no trick-or-treaters knocking on the door. But there were fireworks, and I expect something window-breaking on the 5th. A story goes with that. Four years ago I was coming to Manchester, and across the isle on the plane sat three people who took the same flight with me from Moscow. Because the airport authorities were afraid that some rascals might try and target the planes with the fireworks, they ordered an abrupt landing. So instead of landing gradually, the aircraft literally dropped down. Immediately as the engines had stopped, one of my compatriots was on the phone to his family. Last thing I heard him saying before I left the salon, was:
‘Oh, yes, we’re OK. Yes, we’ve just fallen. No, of course, we landed, but it was like we’ve fallen down’.
Finally, one of my favourite photos by Brassai and one of my favourtie photos, in general. I adore his plan and perspective on this nocturnal shoot. Hopefully, you’ll like it, too.
Update: thanks to another Russian aficionado of Quiet Flows the Don, we’ve now got the date of release of the film on DVD. It’s 9 November, exactly one month before my birthday. The cover apparently looks like this:
And I can’t help it, I’ve got to put up this photo from the film, which has got two of the leading actors, Andrei Rudensky and Rupert Everett.
Many thanks to an IMDb.com user who’s posted the link to this article, printed in The Moscow Times in February this year. Unfinished Business is about the process of completion of the last film by the Oscar-winning Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk, Quiet Flows the Don. I’ve already written something about it, but now you can read the article for yourself.
I cannot tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this picture! Which is why I’m digging information about it from everywhere, and I do hope it gets finished soon. As a matter of fact, 9th Company (Devyataya Rota), a film by the late director’s son, Fyodor Bondarchuk, is Russia’s official entry to the Oscars’ long list for 2007.
I love research. I adore it. There is nothing better than to look for something and to find it in the most unexpected place. For example, I’ve been following the fate of the late Sergei Bondarchuk‘s last film, Quiet Flows the Don, for years. I’ve read a lot about it, I’ve seen the trailer, and today I’ve found an absolutely wonderful interview with a famous Russian actor who’d worked on that film. And I’ve never found that interview before, and I never even knew it existed.
Being a media researcher made me realise that I’ve got incredible perseverance. Not that I didn’t know this before. Simply there is a difference between an academic research and a media research. When you’re visiting an archive, it obviously helps if your archivist is a nice accommodating chap (or an equally accommodating lady). But even when the archivist clearly treats you as an intruder or better else, as a hopeless uncultivated individual who’s got no right or chance to lay their eyes on a precious illuminated manuscript, your knowledge and confidence will make them surrender. In addition, there are printed and online catalogues of books and manuscripts, hence you can always catch your Dark Angel off guard by showing them that you know exactly what the library holds.
In media research, it’s a bit different. Being knowledgeable and reliable yourself is not enough if other people are not, especially those who are supposedly assisting you in your task at finding a contact. I’m deeply thankful to all reliable PRs and members of the public who’ve helped me in the past. I’ve managed to secure some wonderful interviewees for the programmes, but it’s only now that I’m exploring the dark side of the job. For the third week running I’ve been trying to find a medical professional to speak about migraine, and, to my huge amazement, still haven’t got anyone, except for a couple of doctors, whose secretaries are difficult to track down. Two organisations that I tried didn’t have a contact, and the third one is showing great deal of relaxation in not getting back with any kind of response. Thankfully, this is not urgent, and I have vowed to get this sorted by Thursday – it’s truly annoying otherwise.
My current mood – perplexed.
Music in my head – Elton John, I’m Still Standing
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