One of the things I wanted to do in the film was to use an actor to read Mayakovsky’s poetry. I thought this would be an easy thing to do but I interviewed actor after actor. Sometimes they had the right kind of voice a deep velvety bass but they were unable to catch the rhythms of Mayakovsky’s complicated imagery. Also Mayakovsky had a very specific timbre, powerful and rich, as he said of his own voice it could hammer rivets into steel plates. Mayakovsky’s live performances were notorious and nobody could better him in live debates and the futurist evenings at the Polytechnic Museum where the read out their declarations and manifesto’s. At first I couldn’t understand what the problem was with these actors until someone explained to me that in this new era, i.e. since perestroika many of these skills are being lost and younger actors no longer need or wanted to study the necessary skills for this type of reading. I decided the next best thing would be to actually find recordings of Mayakovsky himself reading his poems. I went to the All Russian audio archive in Moscow. They had some recordings of Mayakovsky but also other recordings of actors from the 30s,40s and 50s reading Mayakovsky’s work. Some of it was excellent and just what I was looking for and I selected about ten large fragments from Mayakovsky’s larger poems plus several complete poems such as “Could you not”. I wanted to include a fragment from the poem “Lenin” but there was no recording of this work at the audio archive. In the end I found an older actor called and got him to do some reading. He had a perfect voice and actually knew most of “Lenin”off by heart. He knew exactly how to use his voice and tailoring his intonation and vocal stylistics to great effect. The recordings where Mayakovsky is reading himself are not in good condition but the power of his voice and personality come through and the recordings stand in the same way as visual archive footage, which although sometimes in poor condition have a dynamism and authentic amplitude.
The film took a great deal of time and effort especially as I decided to make a Russian version as well as an English version. I felt this was necessary and I hoped to show the film to Russian audiences.
As with all these films about the avant-garde one film almost seamlessly leads into another and because Mayakovsky wrote many plays as well as poetry and was championed by the Theatre director Meyerhold, as a new Aristophanes, it was natural that the next film in this series would be about Meyerhold. Mayakovsky wrote several plays for Meyerhold, The Bathhouse, The Bedbug and Mystery Bouffe and while Meyerhold liked to have complete control of his productions he permitted to Mayakovsky to be present at rehearsals at all times and valued Mayakovsky’s contributions and observations at all levels of the production process.