John R.R. Tolkien composed Letters from Father Christmas from 1920 till 1943, which makes 2020 the 100th anniversary of this great book. I’ve already produced several recordings of its Russian translation, and for LCJ I’ve chosen the letter from 1925. However, it was quite difficult to upload the video to the post. In the end, this was the only way to share with you the pressie Mr Nicholas Christmas, Mr J.R.R. Tolkien and I prepared for my readers who celebrate Christmas today. I haven’t got a pet Polar Bear, and there have been no goblins in sight, but I still couldn’t upload the video directly to the site. Thank you, Instagram, for helping out.
The letter from the year 1925 from Letters from Father Christmas tells the story of the Polar Bear attempting to rescue the Father Christmas’s hood from the North Pole, only to break the pole which in turn fell on the roof of the house, broke it, the snow fell through the hole and spoilt a lot of children’s presents.
So, please take care, and may God and His blessings be with you.
I spoke to Dave McKean in March 2006 when he came to Manchester to the premiere of his film MirrorMask at the Cornerhouse. The film that received awards at the Locarno and Sarasota Film Festivals in 2005 is about Helena, a girl who lives and tours with her family’s circus but wishes – like all teenagers – that she could be able to break free into the ‘real’ world. What happens instead is that she finds herself on the journey into the Dark Lands, in quest for a powerful object, the MirrorMask, to save the Queen of Light. On her way she encounters sphinxes, monkeybirds, strange objects a-la Henry Moore sculptures, and the omnipotent and dangerous Queen of Darkness. As the film progresses, Helena’s task becomes not only to find the MirrorMask, but also to escape the Dark Lands.
MirrorMask is yet another fruit of a long-lasting collaboration between McKean and Neil Gaiman. The duo has been working together since the 1980s, enriching the world with one of the best-loved and original comic books, Sandman. McKean, a distinguished artist, has produced numerous works, among which are book illustrations, tarot cards and posters, promotional campaigns for brands, like Smirnoff and Sony, and films, like Sleepy Hollow (dir. Tim Burton). Although MirrorMask is his first feature, he made several shorts in the past, and, on top, he owns a jazz record label together with saxophonist Iain Ballamy.
MirrorMask may be one of the most original films of the recent years and at the very least is a compelling achievement on the part of McKean who wanted to transfer the surreal images, so often found in his drawings, on screen. There are several reasons for his opting for surrealist stylistics in the film’s cinematography. On the one hand, his own artwork has been influenced by this art movement; on the other, surrealist artists were dedicated explorers of the realm of dreams, and Helena’s journey, as we eventually find out, was also a dream.
The dream-like, phantasmagorical type of story was in part dictated by the Jim Hanson Company, who provided the budget for the film. But you wouldn’t expect anything too realistic from Gaiman&McKean.
“We ended up with a long email conversation and a kitchen table full of books, and CDs, and sketches, and bits of dialogue, and notes…I really wanted to build a city and wander round it, and Neil fancied doing something that was basically ‘The Prince and the Pauper’”.
In Dave’s words, he didn’t want to settle a film in one place, and, to add subtlety to the theme of dreamy peregrinations, a wandering circus thus became a metaphor for his vision. He does love circuses, both lavish performances of the Cirque du Soleil and little odd family troupes, travelling along the South Coast of England, where the artist lives. Some circuses or acts are the true gems, and finding them may be quite fascinating in itself. But whether big or small, these troupes of artists are always changing place, and their constant drifting in space and time was an inspiration for McKean.
The same sense of unsettledness is conveyed through the score composed by Iain Ballamy that intertwines Indian and Middle European music with tango, folk, and jazz. Fellini’s cinematic wanderings and Bunuel’s imagery also influenced the film to some extent. Ultimately, McKean’s goal was
‘to try and do some things that did not look literal. Most fantasy stories are sort of very realistic, and it’s great and extraordinary technical achievement, but… I wanted to do something that was non-literal and a bit more abstract’. It wasn’t difficult in some way, as McKean had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve: ‘Basically a lot of my work is collage, and making the film is a kind of collage as well… so in that respect it was easy’.
What was not easy was, in particular, dealing with computers. The four Mackintoshes that the crew used for editing were named after the Beatles.
‘I was John’, says Dave, ‘and that was OK… But then we needed a fifth one, and our technical manager called it Yoko. And they all just refused to get on from then on. The Beatles broke up!’
From start till the end, MirrorMask is about connections and contradictions between ‘reality’ and ‘image’. The prevalence of one over another is frequently debated and never ceases to attract interest. For McKean, known for his darkish ethereal images, which he lavishly brought to screen in MirrorMask, this question must have been particularly intriguing. So, ‘what is more certain: reality or image?’ I ask Dave.
‘I think most of my work, and this film is as well’, he replies, ‘it’s about that connection between what is the present, what is right now. We’re now talking here, we actually know this… But everything else – what we just did, walking in through the door, and an hour ago, and five hours ago, this now doesn’t exist anymore. It only exists in our memories, and so as far as I’m concerned it’s already up for debate, and it’s already a fantasy. And what will happen in a few hours time is also a fantasy. And we’re surrounded by it, and we have dreams, we have thoughts, and you have interpretation of what is going on right now, and I have a different interpretation. So, we’re sort of surrounded by this ball of fantasy, and it’s basically a fantasy, or dream, or imagination, or interpretation, any of those things. And so, that’s interesting to me, exploring the link between this tiny little nucleus of reality in the centre, and this great ball of imagination around it’.
Nevertheless, McKean’s work has always been about real life, as we normally understand it. I asked him to describe the imaginary world that he has been creating as an artist.
‘My own world is just trying to make sense of the real world’, he says. ‘I don’t like the sort of science-fiction art and fantasy art that is just about goblins and fairies and spaceships. I don’t really see the point of that. It’s entertaining and it’s fine, but I couldn’t do it. I needed to be about people, people who I have to deal with every day, and that’s what I’m interested in, I’m interested in what people think and how they think, and the things that they believe in, and desire, and are frightened of. So I’m interested in that side of life, really. And then I’m trying to sort of look at those things from a different point of view, or from metaphor, or from dreams, or from these other angles, because I think these are just interesting ways of seeing things’.
The continuous evolution and change have been McKean’s stimuli throughout his career, and he utters that his favourite project is always the one that comes next:
‘I love learning new things, so trying to make a film is an immense learning curve. And I don’t think you ever stop learning… I love the differences between things. If I haven’t drawn for a while, and I’ve instead made some music, or written something, or done some filming, when I go back to drawing, it always seems to be stronger and informed by all those other things’.
As expected, taking a rest is not in McKean’s plans, and he has already been planning several other projects, because ‘they just take so long to set up’. In his turn, Neil Gaiman has been working on the script for a Hollywood adaptation of Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, which will be released in 2007. It only remains to wait to see what this fruitful collaboration brings in future. One thing is certain – it will, as always, be surreal.
There’s a chance that Moscow people will enjoy some proper winter weather soon. The first sign is the snow which is well overdue but is nonetheless welcome. I may try to be funny and say that Britain with the Brexit has waved goodbye to Europe and various European organisations, like PAEC, by sending a heatwave that saw the warmest December and January in all Russian history. But no, things are getting back to normal here, while we’re yet to see what lies ahead for Great Britain.
Since I took a photo of rain in Wales in 2009, I have been wondering if and when I’d be able to do it again. Ten years later, on October 1st, 2019, I recorded not only rain, but the fall, too, on video. It shall now stand as a new benchmark for my relations with rain and wind.
Over the last month I visited three different countries. This year, in general, I visited four different countries: France, Estonia, Latvia, and the UK. Scotland, for that matter, is sadly still a part of the UK, otherwise I’d count that as the fifth country. There were many instances of urban climbing (i.e. going up and down staircases in various domes, churches, and towers), park trailing, museum visiting, and I dare not say how many kilometres I thus walked. This doesn’t qualify me for the Olympics yet, but still. I even visited a car show and went camping for the first time in my life.
A whole lot of new experiences. I wouldn’t know where to start telling about any one of them.
Work-wise, I was pleasantly inundated with various translation projects. I’m very pleased to mention that in autumn visitors to the Russian IKEA will be reading my translation of new additions and some collection descriptions. I’ve proved myself over and over again, delivering great work to tight deadlines, which on two occasions I did either on the plane or at the airport.
But I had to give up something, as well, and for a good reason (I hope) it was blogging. I could not possibly log all my peregrinations as they were happening, not least because I did not always have reliable (if any) Internet connection. In the last week I had one of the projects prepared for a launch, which also required effort and time. Either way, the good news is that I am back and ready to show a plenty of photos and share stories.
In the spirit of the abovewritten, let’s start with a video I made in Tallinn. By the Toompea Hill (that houses the Government residence and a few historic monuments, including the Dome Church and St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, reportedly erected on the grave of the Estonian national hero) there is small bridge. Generally speaking, it is more of a lovely feature because the entire river flows by the bridge and doesn’t seem to go under it (unless via a collector). But just look at what fantastic use it has been put! Both rails read a message from the wind, telling you exactly what you need to hear. I admit that since moving back to Russia I have been doing exactly what the wind inscribed on this Tallinn bridge. And just in case it’s a bit difficult to view the video (connection ect.) here is what the wind has to tell the Tallinn visitors.
Do what you like, and like what you do. The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. Love can sometimes be magic. But magic can sometimes just be an illusion. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. Whatever you are, be happy. Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. Be the change that you wish to see in the world. Never stop dreaming. Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.
Tomorrow Russia and a few like-minded countries celebrate the International Women’s Day. I wrote a post on this earlier. Some countries, like the UK, celebrate Mother’s Day, hence there will be a Mothering Sunday.
For me, these will be days off work that I want to spend exactly as days-off.
In the third week of February I went to the UK and this time I finally crossed the border with Scotland and wandered around Edinburg. I very briefly, for a couple of seconds, contemplated visiting Glasgow, but then I remembered visiting the UK for the first time. I never visited London then, which is the capital city. I reckoned visiting Glasgow instead of Edinburgh would be like entering the same river twice, and since you cannot enter the same river twice, I bought a ticket to Edinburgh.
I was also contracted to do some translation work, one project having been completed the day I flew out to Manchester, another that I’m involved in as a collaborator is nearly finished.
There are more work projects, all in the Translation field so far, plus I’ve surprised myself by going back to teaching. Granted I teach World History, in which I specialised, it is probably no wonder. However, I still did not expect myself to do this, and yet… I have never said “never”, so I suppose I could do as I choose.
The best thing, as I feel it, is that certain days and weeks are already booked for months ahead. Only those who know the feeling will understand how grand it is to be able to look into a diary to see that you have things to do three weeks from now.
I have also nearly missed the worldwide craze Harlem Shake videos caused this February. It seems like everybody participated, from Amazon and Google to the Egyptian opposition. And yet I found two videos which you might not have seen yet. Harlem Shake reached the English National Ballet (!) and a group of Russian guys who like an occasional ice-water dip. The eponymous holiday was celebrated in January, but this was quite an Epiphany! I’m afraid you’ll have to watch it on YouTube.
And while the Russian TV has to keen a close watch on the age restrictions for programmes, when it comes to Harlem Shake, everyone is doing it, including a popular TV host and actor Ivan Urgant:
(I thus declare that Los Cuadernos de Julia has participated in the Harlem Shake global tour).
This is the poem I shall be working on translating, most likely, in 2013. 2012 has resulted in a few good translations of poems, as well as some prose pieces. Among them – translations from Robert Burns, George Orwell, Vita Sackville-West, Omar Khayyam, and W. H. Auden, and a poem by contemporary poet and author Adrian Slatcher.
“He who comes to us with a sword shall die of the same sword” –
Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky poster
The Great Russian Prince Alexander Nevsky died on November 14, 1263. He is largely known for his victory over the Livonian Order on Chudskoe Lake (Lake Peipus) in April 1242. The so-called Battle on the Ice celebrated 770th anniversary this year.
Some claim that the Battle on Ice has only “appeared” thanks to the Soviet propaganda supported and popularised by Sergei Eisenstein’s fine masterpiece, Alexander Nevsky. Indeed, the 13th c. was marked by the so-called Northern Crusades organised by the Western (German and Scandinavian) armies and knight orders against the pagan peoples of the Baltic Region. The territories of the modern-day Estonia and Lithuania had been attacked, and Russia was a target too, along the northern and western borders. It was under these circumstances that attacks on Russian north-western cities were carried out repeatedly, and in this sense there were possibly several “battles on ice” fought, although only the battle on Chudskoe Lake (Lake Peipus) went down into history with so much fanfare.
The Battle on Ice claimed lives of some 400 Livonian Knights and 50 more were taken prisoners. The battle was significant in that the Livonian Order had to agree to make peace on Russian terms: the knights retreated, giving back all Russian territories they had captured. The Chudskoe Lake battle is also a splendid example of military manoeuvering: the Livonian Order sent their entire army against a small Russian troupe, only to be surrounded by the rest of the Russian forces.
The number of casualties is still under a dispute. What is obvious, however, is that the Battle on the Ice hammered the final nail in the coffin of the already unsuccessful 1240-1242 campaign of the Order against the Slavic lands.
It is easy to understand why on the eve of the Nazi invasion and during the war the version of the Battle on the Ice eloquently propagated by Eisenstein’s epic movie became so popular and continues to feed the imagination to this day. 1942 also happened to be the Battle’s 700th anniversary, which fact was commemorated in the war-time film posters.
Historians note that there were at least one other battle that was much more successful, and that is the Rakvere Battle (Battle of Wesenberg, or Rakovor) fought on February 18, 1268 by Alexander Nevsky’s son, Dmitry of Pereslavl, and Daumantas of Pskov. The Western forces were thoroughly defeated and had not approached Russia’s western border for the next thirty years.
The Battle on the Ice was widely commemorated not only in film, but music (the score by Sergei Prokofiev was used in Eisenstein’s film) and literature (an eponymous long poem by Konstantin Simonov was also published in 1938). It actually is interesting – if you believe in any such thing – to look at this avalanche of musings on the Russo-German relations a year before the World War 2 had started. The anticipation of yet another war had been palpable, and all the leading states – Britain, France, Germany, the U.S., and the USSR – each secretly plotted either against the Capitalist West or the Socialist East. Without any specific “promise” of an impending war how could the Russian film director and poet in the same year produce (or present) a work that mulled over the historical fact of military antagonism between Russia and Germany? Of course, Germans were there simply due to an historical coincidence. But what if contemplating the invasion and its victorious overcoming had actually led to a re-enactment of both in 1941-45?
Today the Battle on the Ice, as it was reconstructed in Eisenstein’s film, is a part of Russia’s contemporary popular culture. The final video of a Russian commercial for bread crumbs proves the point.
The Battle on the Ice – An extract from the film (medieval people all fought in the same manner, but it is quite obvious where Mel Gibson would draw his inspiration from for battle scenes in The Braveheart.
The video was recorded during the Moscow Autumn Tourism Industry Week. This annual event traditionally attracts professionals in the sphere of Luxury Travel, Spa and Hospitality services, with a special section on Moscow tourism. And in the video (which is 8mins long) you can see a dancing collective from Kaluga Region. Apart from watching the dance, you may also give some estimate to my filming skills. This year I took a course in film-making, so I hope I put zoom to a good use here.
Had he lived to this day, Andrei Tarkovsky, a genuine Russian film director, would celebrate his 80th birthday. Instead, we celebrate the lifetime of work marked by a never-ending philosophical quest, poetry, and constant probing.
Born into a family of the Russian poet Arseniy Tarkovsky, Andrei went on to graduate from the State Institute of Cinematography with a short film, The Streamroller and the Violin. The script was co-written by Tarkovsky and Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky, another outstanding Russian director and the brother of Nikita Mikhalkov. I found a subtitled version, which I am sure will be a treat to all those who have already discovered and long loved such masterpieces, as Andrei Rublev (about the Russian icon painter and creator of the famous Trinity), Solaris (an adaptation of the novel by S. Lem), Ivan’s Childhood (a war-time drama about a boy), The Mirror (where Andrei first introduced to the public the poetry of his father), The Stalker (an adaptation of the novel by the Strugatsky Brothers), Nostalghia (with the script by Tonino Guerra), and The Sacrifice (again based on a script by Arkady Strugatsky, the film scooped many coveted awards, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes festival in 1986).
Still, it all started here, with The Streamroller and the Violin. Here already we notice Tarkovsky’s masterful use of colour and reflections as dramaturgical means.
Award-winning Multilingual Arts and Culture Blog Since 2006