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Rupert a Cossack? Why Not?!!

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?

A Day in the Life with the Blue Lyre

Yes, there was a post under such title already on this blog, but, since I took part in the History Matters campaign and my entry has been uploaded to their page, I thought I would post it here, too. You can read as many other entries, as you wish, by clicking here. I’ve got to say, some comments are totally amazing, especially those written by children.

You will notice that my ‘one day in history’ is anything, but down-to-earth. There’s no mention of how I brushed my teeth, ‘dragged the comb across my head’, and, since it was my day-off, I spent it at home. I noted what I had for tea, however. The major part of the entry is dedicated to my recalling of what I did in terms of reading, thinking and writing. I shall explain, why I did so. As you know, I am an historian, and for years I’ve been researching into intellectual history, or history of ideas (very broadly speaking). This field borders on both philosophy and art, which is one of the reasons why it fascinates me so much. Consequently, I jotted down, as briefly and clearly as possible, what I thought and felt on October 17th, 2006. What you’re reading, therefore, is a writer’s alienating themselves from their ideas and occupations and looking at these through an historian’s specs.

So, this is a retrospective view of one single day, 17th October 2006.

When I was an adolescent and tried to write a diary, I hated it. But recently I began to write a blog, and I am actually enjoying it. However, I don’t write about commonsensical things there. For this reason I’ll only briefly mention such unimportant details, as my getting up at 10am (because the 17th was my day-off, and the night before I stayed up late); having breakfast; checking my email; having lunch later on; then boiling chicken breasts and eating one of them for tea; and eventually going to bed. I don’t boil chicken breasts every day, and I don’t get up at 10am every day, but the rest I am doing day-in, day-out.

I have always been attracted to history, even before I went to study it. History was always linked to philosophy and art, and was about people, what and how they think and feel, and why. The arts, especially literature, have been my main interest and preoccupation since I was 6, so I ended up as a specialist in intellectual history. Back in 1997, in Moscow, and wanting to be a writer, I went to read History to gain the knowledge of life (in the broadest sense) and to generate my understanding of it, so I would have something to write about. Gradually I began to discover and sometimes to face the memories of my own past. Thinking about it, this is exactly what historians do – they collect information from elsewhere, whilst waiting for the archives to be opened. I don’t know exactly what has opened my archives, but perhaps I just forgot about it now?

This is what I thought on October 17. What did I feel? I felt love. Around that date I was in love with ‘Terrace in Rome’ by Pascal Quignard. The book was short enough to be swallowed in a couple of hours, but sometimes it is short or simple pieces that mesmerise you and touch your very core. Having finished it, I spent the next two days in a state close to cathartic. Even now I am not completely over it. For me as an artist, it is essential that I am in love, as love, whether shared or unrequited, is the source of inspiration. There is nothing particularly original about this view. Likewise, love doesn’t have to be associated with any particular person; the object of love can be a late writer or a book. Love in this case is a mixture of empathy, fantasy and passion, neither of which needs to be directly expressed or fulfilled. But it is essential that such object exists in my life, as something that attracts, challenges, inspires, and ultimately changes me. I don’t think, however, that love is a fleeting feeling; after all, I am faithful to my art.

In the afternoon I found an article about one classic Russian film, which I subsequently blogged. I’ve also posted an announcement on my blog (Notebooks) about this campaign. Later in the afternoon I received a totally unexpected email from a fellow artist. It mentioned his interview in The Wire; I found a couple of tracks on The Wire website and thought that ‘Lords of Fear’ was especially interesting.

In the evening I was again pondering on how to rewrite a cycle of poems that I composed in 2001. The cycle was called (and still is) ‘The Blue Lyre’, but its structure and form are to be totally changed. The main theme of the cycle is the formation of a poet, and in accordance with my plans, I wrote a rondeau. I never force myself to write, and I don’t quite believe in the ‘nulla dies sine linea’ adage. The world and the art, and my feelings for and thoughts about them, compel me, which is why I sometimes stay up in the night. But on October 17 I didn’t.

To see the corresponding entrances, so as to refresh your memory, you can go to the following links: the campaign and the article that I blogged, and the track that I listened to.

I’ll tell a tiny bit more about this cycle. Upon my word, I don’t know why I decided to call it ‘The Blue Lyre’. I think, generally, the explanation is pretty simple, and you can have a go at deciphering it. The rondeau I mentioned is a lovely Renaissance poetic form, and in the cycle it tells the story of the poet being warned against falling under the Lyre’s spell, for it makes everyone who follows it unhappy. But the poet eventually joins the Lyre’s retinue, whilst realising that he will be unhappy either with her or without her. The refrain of this rondeau is ‘I have always been told‘ (“Мне всегда говорили“), and this is what it reads like in Russian:

Мне всегда говорили: «Не слушай, когда,
Из небесных пределов спускаясь, звезда
Призывать в свою свиту тебя станет нежно, –
«Не желаю и знать!» – отвечай безмятежно».

«Коль примкнешь к ее свите волшебной, тогда
В бесконечной нужде проведешь ты года,
За одною настигнет другая беда,
Будешь плакать над долей своей безутешно», –
……………………………………….Мне всегда говорили.

Так ночей моих скудных прошла череда, –
И, за Синею Лирой уйдя навсегда,
Обещанье покоя отринув мятежно,
Понял я: буду с нею страдать неизбежно,
Без нее же счастливым не быть никогда, –
………………………………………Мне всегда говорили.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Still, a bientot!

A bientot!

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.

Energy Efficiency & Darwinism

Yes, the British are officially at the bottom of the list of energy-saving nations. The ramifications are that the journalists and broadcasters are trying to find out what to do to save energy. One Mancunian has told the Radio Manchester that he uses a torch to go from one room to another. While it’s very unlikely that many people will follow in his footsteps, most Mancunians are trying to save energy by boiling only so much water as they need to brew a nice cuppa.

In Russia (in case if you don’t know) – in Moscow, at the least – we have regular central heating from mid-autumn until mid-spring, none in summer, with a mandatory switch-off of hot water for a month in summer (for any necessary check-ups or overhauling of water supply system). So, yes, if you want to have a bath then you’ve got this beautfiul opportunity of visiting your friends on the other side of your huge capital city, providing they’re staying at home and don’t mind letting you share their bathroom. Alternatively, all you’ve got to do is to boil water, mix it with cold water to make it warm, and to keep yourself clean without leaving your abode. If this looks barbaric or too original to you, so does an English bath to me.

Anyway, thanks to having been living in such princely conditions for 20-odd years, I’ve been affectionately called a “Jamaican” by many Englishmen because I can very easily feel cold when most people are bathing in sweat. [OK, I am uttering things, of course]. As you can guess, therefore, I’m not the energy-efficient person. I require the heating being turned on in winter, and I do love chimneys [I love them all the year round, actually, I find them very romantic, but of course I don’t turn a chimney on in summer – I am not Jamaican, after all].

Like I said, however, I have acclimatised here, and I was wondering how I might feel if my plans work out and I go to visit my parents in Moscow, say, in February? It tends to be bitterly cold in February, so I’m just trying to figure out, how I’m going to feel there after three English winters. To be honest, however, I think I’ll be skiing in glee. :-))

[And just to give you an idea of what I’ve been missing the most for all three years that I’ve lived in England, here are two photos taken around the Moscow State University, where I studied. I found them somewhere on the web, so thanks to the photographer, if they suddenly find their images on my blog].

Finally – I don’t know why I’m including this link in this post, with my energy efficiency capabilities and habits in life I would hardly stand the natural selection – the complete work of Charles Darwin are now available online. And as you navigate the site, just take a notice of how many people have visited it since its opening on 19 October 2006. So… viva Darwin, I guess.

Mother (and mama mia!)

It is no news that early Soviet films are well-known, treasured and studied in the West. Not only many of those films commemorated pivotal figures and moments in Russian history (Ivan the Terrible, Alexander Nevsky and The Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein, Peter the First by Vladimir Petrov), they can also shed a lot of light on the early Soviet ideology. Cinema, as many statesmen of the time understood, possessed the immense importance as the way to disseminate ideas in the form of art.

[I have to put in a historical note: unlike the 16th zealous European Reformers, Soviet leaders understood very well that to educate a then largely illiterate population, they had to make emphasis on artistic representation, of which cinema and posters were the most straight-forward. Having said that, one shouldn’t be too hard on the 16th c. people – after all, they did have engravings].

So, here is a very good article by Cara Marisa Deleon about one of the best-known films of the era, Mat’ (Mother) by Vsevolod Pudovkin. You can check the film’s details here, as well as Pudovkin’s filmography, which includes several historical films, Admiral Nakhimov (he was the hero of the Crimean war, 1853-56), and Suvorov (this outstanding soldier was awarded with the title of generalissimus and had crossed the Alpes in 1799, at the age of 70!).

And if you are interested in the history of Soviet Russia and want to read a novel that inspired the film, you’re very lucky because The Project Gutenberg has got an English translation of this famous novel by Maxim Gorky. I hope you have a pleasant reading. If you wish to know which of Gorky’s works to read next, don’t hesitate to ask – he’d written loads, and I’ve read at least a half.

And as I was writing this post I received a voicemail from a friend of mine. He’s been a volunteer with the Red Cross since early this year, has been to many duties, and was interviewed for The LOOK. Now he rang to invite me to appear as a casualty extra on an educational DVD. Things would be as realistic as possible, he said. Which, knowing my luck, might very well turn into a real casualty. I know, Paul, you mean well, but… sorry, no!!!

Update (01 October 2008):

Recently I was researching in the library and saw a book Berlin – Moskau, 1900-1950. This was an extensive exhibition covering the cultural relations between the two capitals throughout the first half of the 20th c., and I attended it at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in 1996. The book, which is not only an exhibition’s catalogue, but also a collection of essays (in German), sheds more light on the intercultural dialogue between Germany and Russia. One particular article that I read was about the mutual reception of German and Soviet films; the “German” part having been written by Ulrich Gregor. Gregor speaks extensively about the anticipation and reception of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin among the German film enthusiasts, critics, and intellectuals, but a few words are also spared for Pudovkin’s films, Mother (1926) and The End of St Petersburg (1927).

“A similarly powerful reception was bestowed on Pudovkin’s films… Rudolf Arnheim wrote in Stachelschwein about The Mother: “This film is in the range of Potemkin and is also similar to it in many ways… Pudovkin’s film is so full of ideas that one’s heart doesn’t want to stop throbbing (Pudowkins Film ist so voll von Einfaellen, dass sich das Herz klopfen gar nicht legen will)”.

Above is the poster to the 1926 German premiere of The Mother.

Quiet Flows the Don

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.

Ups and Downs (Researching For Academia And Media)

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

It’s in the Name

I don’t know if I told you but I do love the mystery of a name. I have already explored it once, but of course the problem of strange names doesn’t befall the humans only. They also befall the companies and firms. Below is a very short list of names of some commercial enterprises, which may conjure very strange images, if you dare concentrate on their meaning.

Mighty Health and Hygiene

Beyond Hope

Secretly Sensual

Adept Pine

In Russia, there were these companies, which never failed to bring smile to my lips, thanks to their names:

Big Elephant

White Hedgehog

Some names simply look weird, if a dot is not inserted:

A Train and Sons

Some look OK and put a very sensible idea across, but try and pronounce their name quickly:

Kids Are Us

And this is my favourite:

Impregnation Services

[The company provides very technical services of saturation and permeation].

As I’ve been a name geek for years, I’m looking forward to any additions to my list from your home towns.


When I first came to England four years ago in mid-July, it’s been raining cats and dogs for two long weeks. It was very cold, plus I didn’t take any sweater with me and, being an incorrigible aesthet, I was frantically knitting myself a sweater instead of buying a cardigan.

This Friday I looked out of the window in the morning, and I saw beautiful blue sky. The day was promising to be nice and warm, so I put on a light summer denim dress. Even when by the evening it started raining, I didn’t feel cold.

When at one of the pedestrian crossings I saw a girl wearing a long puff jacket, with its hood on, I realised that I acclimatised.


Soaps can teach very many things to those who watch them (I’m not among those, so I must be unbearably ignorant). They can also highlight various issues, and so both Coronation Street and Emmerdale have each got their own ‘gay in the village’, and Emmerdale has recently highlighted the problem of euthanasia.

However, some soaps go really multicultural. Neighbours, which is made in Australia and shown daily on BBC1, is now incorporating members of the Russian community (these, however, are not played by Russian actors).

There is a girl ‘from Belarus’, who’s got a strikingly Asian look. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not stating this is impossible altogether. I’m simply saying: it’s striking.

Better still, there is this female character ‘from Russia’ whose name is Mishka. ‘Mishka‘ is Russian for ‘a little bear‘. There is NO WAY it can be a female name. It can be a short form of the name Michael (Mikhail in Russian), but never a full name in its own right. As for a feminine equivalent to a masculine form of the name, in the West it is possible to meet a woman called Michaela, but not in Russia.

I don’t want to guess why Neighbours editors came up with this exact name, although I’ve got an inkling it may have to do with the 1980 Olympics, which mascot, as you know, was a teddy bear (it can also be called ‘mishka‘). So, the connection could of course be that the woman’s parents were feeling patriotic and called their baby after the mascot. The only problem with this interpretation is that the female character looks at least 49 and there is no way she could’ve been born in 1980.

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