Making my way around Moscow to meetings and checking out various possibilities, cameras etc, for the films. The last few days have been a question of working out a tone and style for the film adaptation of The Fairground Booth. The accompanying documentaries in the project “Vakhtangov and the Russian Theatre” and “Carnival in Russian Theatre” are relatively straight forward with the stress on relatively. However a film adaptation of Blok’s play is distinctly problematic. Firstly, there are many stereotypical takes on the main characters -Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin which I want to avoid. I aim to find a particular tone and style for the production and this will effect the overall design for the play, costumes set and general look. This will take time so the best thing is to continue with the shooting script and background research to all the three films. This will provide the necessary depth once some of the other questions begin to get solved. Its a similar situation I faced in the film “Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Avant-garde”. It was the first film I made in Moscow and required scenes showing Rodchenko at work at his desk and other scenes of Rodchenko. For an extended account about the making of this film click here.
In this film I needed to solve two basic problems. The style in which I would shoot and casting the role of Rodchenko. It took a long time and followed a specific process of finding the right person for the role. A similar process is emerging once again whereby there are a lot of questions and and you have to wait for some of the answers.
Three weeks in Chekhov Country, the heart of the Russian countryside, working through the research for the new film project and trying to think of a title for the whole project. Work went well and the relaxing country air was conducive to creative endeavour. As mentioned before the entire project is a three film enterprise. Two documentary films – one about the Russian Theatre director - Vakhtangov, another about the influence of Carnival on Russian theatre of the early 20th Century and then a feature type adaptation of Blok’s play “The Fairground Booth”.
Why “The Fairground Booth” or “The Puppet Show” as it sometimes is called – “Balaganchik” in Russian. Well if you acknowledge that carnival has had an enormous influence on Russian theatre especially at the beginning of the 20th century then “The Fairground Booth” is the play which really underlined this fact. It was one of those watershed plays or theatrical events which defined the future and broke with the past. Alexander Blok’s play and his cooperation with Meyerhold in “The Fairground Booth” served as a link between the symbolism of the early twentieth century and the revolution in culture and technology and society – it was the nexus between the old and the new theatre.
From this perspective, to pair a film about Vahktangov, carnival and “The Fairground Booth” makes sense. Each film will stand on its own but each film will inform the other. Moreover it will also sit well against the two films already completed about Russian theatre: “Meyerhold Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde” and “Stanislavsky and the Russian Theatre“. This will make up a series of five films covering an area which is less explored than say the theatre of Chekhov.
The connections will become clear over time as each film begins to develop. I will be charting the progress and development of these films here and in blogs and in a series of background video blogs across the internet. Some may claim that Blok’s Fairground Booth is just a curiosity piece or not a classic drama. In subsequent blogs I will try and argue otherwise and that it is as much of a classic as any play by Chekhov, Shakespeare or Ibsen and deserves its place in the history of world theatre. Blok’s play paved the way for a new kind of theatre which relied less on naturalism and explored other means of expression.
However the question still arises why Blok and the “Balaganchik” and why now. Russian society and culture was changing at a rapid pace, to some extent this is still true of Russia. Any attempt to hold a mirror up to nature so to speak was then doomed to failure. Naturalism was ill equipped to deal with reality at the beginning of the 20th century. Events move on a at staggering pace. How does one reflect reality of the then Russia, how does one come to terms with it. One way is through masks and masquerades, to widen the expressive possibilties of what was then a narrrowly defined view of the role of theatre and the content it should portray.
Yesterday spent completing 1st draft script for the documentary film about Vahktangov for the series about early 20th century Russian Theatre. Plus the completion of a short film update for Chekhov Country part 3 on YouTube from the heart of the Russian Countryside to give a fuller view of how the project has started and where it is going. Its very early days but you have to start somewhere. I also want to give a flavour of life in Russia from my own point of view, the point of view of a film maker living here. There will probably be one more form the Russian Countryside and then I will be switching to updates from Moscow upon our return. For information about other films seewww.copernicusfilms.com or have a look on YouTube.
Copernicus Films in the past year has been going through some significant changes so as the year draws to an end and the Moscow winter gets a grip after a mild start it seems worthwhile to take stock.
We have been working on two films about Japanese art, one on traditional art of Japan, the other from a contemporary perspective. These projects were from two previous three month trips to Japan for filming locations in Tokyo and Kyoto. The projects were very much to the forefront but work on a documentary film about Stanislavsky was going ahead in the background. Suddenly for all kinds of logistical reasons this project has now been thrust to the forefront and requires all our attention.
We are now in post production and hopefully the film will be finished in early 2011. At the moment we are working with the actor James Langton recording the narration for the film. Once this is completed we will go into the final stages of post production – recording and mixing the sound track and final edit. There are still several locations to film in particular the Maly Theatre and possible other theatres around Moscow.
Copernicus Films is also considering a number of measures regarding equipment updates in particular an new camera. There has been much talk of the new DSLR revolution and some of the new products coming onto the market concentrates the mind considerably. The other thing which is being considered is the acquisition of studio space somewhere in Moscow. This is more in line with film projects envisioned in the future but the planning stage should start now.
It never ceases to surprise me how rich and varied the resources are in Moscow, both physical and creative, for filming making, especially for an independent film maker like myself. Despite the now thick overlay of modern contemporary life, Moscow still remains a place with a vibrant cultural life, both mainstream and “underground”, in a society which is changing rapidly and visibly with very passing day. Naturally it requires one to be living here to make best use of those resources and understand their significance. However as a base from which to explore and work on other film projects it is second to none. Sometimes this can be forgotten with the harshness of the climate and the difficulties of living in a foreign country (although after 15 years it feels like home more than anywhere else).
Its a long time since I have written anything here and I feel like I am letting people down and myself down so here is an update of what has been happening lately and what is likely to happen soon. Basically I have been continuing work on the two Japanese films in some earnest and have got them to a point where I will be able to go to the UK to record the voice overs. This will tie in with another project which I have been working on about Russian theatre. Its a completely new project which is taking up a great deal of time but I think it is worth it because it involves the collaboration of a well known acting college in London (More later). That will be coming up in April but at the moment I am still down to writing the script and researching the material. Arranging interviews is on the cards in the next few weeks or so. The film will require probably three interviews. I will also have to get some more archive material from the archive in Krasnogorsk which is a little way outside Moscow. It requires some tricky negotiation with the administration there but that’s another story. In addition to all of that there is continuous editing going on with the two Japanese films.(I hope to have titles sometime soon so I can stop calling them “the two Japanese films”. Talking about Japan, just to mention there was a superb conference this week for three days about Japanese culture and art here in Moscow. Eighteen speakers on a variety of subjects from mandalas, to contemporary Japanese art. Confirmed many of my researches and it added to my pool of knowledge about Japan.
Already a month since we have returned from Japan. The backlog of business was formidable even though I tried to deal with a much as I could while we were on the road in Japan. Reasonably successful dealing with most things but all the same the sheer volume of tasks was overwhelming once we arrived back in Moscow. I had made a conscious decision to try and hit the ground running and get straight back into editing as soon as possible and that more or less worked out. Just getting back into the rhythm of Moscow life is a task in itself but then I have plenty of experience.
Its time to really take stock of what was the outcome of the whole Japan trip. The first thing to say is that we achieved at least 95% of the goals we set our selves plus an extra 20% of other goals which were fulfilled through the chances and opportunities thrown up by simply being in Japan for such an extended period. Ultimately these things aren’t quantifiable in any meaningful sense but it gives some idea of scale. For instance after visiting Oshima with Akira Suzuki and meeting the curator of the Island Museum in memory of Gomo Kimuro we decided to interview both of them and the connections they have with the Island and its culture.I hadn’t really intended this, I really just wanted to look at the Island and film a bit especially as David Burliuk spent time there painting with his family. It unclear how to use this material but there are various possibilities which are worth pursuing.
As for the main task in hand, that is the two films about Japanese art which are in progress (One traditional one contemporary), the material which we have shot and coupled with the extensive research we were able to complete in Japan have broadened and given depth to a project which was already at a well developed stage. The situation as it stands now is that I have to extend the post production stage for a much longer period than I expected but in the long run it will be of over all benefit to the project.
At the moment its too early to reveal the substance of the films in question simply to say that they will concentrate on Japanese art seen from an unusual perspective and contemporary art in Japan. The films will be linked thematically so that from time to time there will be a seamless crossover from one film to the other but at the same time the two films will stand alone as separate entities and can be viewed as such. Editing is progressing at a slow but steady pace and unfortunately you can’t rush these things, its laborious,time consuming but rewarding. Time will tell.
Arrived in Kyoto several days ago and have been working since our arrival. Shot a lot of footage already. 1000 tori gates of happiness, Arashiyama and a boat ride through mountain “rapids” down to Arashiyama, one of my favourite places in Kyoto. Some new footage but mostly picking up what I missed before and what has occurred to me after editing. One of the main advantages of our return is filling the gaps in my knowledge which I hope will make the script fuller and deeper.
We have now returned to Tokyo after a week in Kyoto. Plenty of new material already which will work well in both films, although this is really only the start. I was particularly pleased with the Heian Shrine material of which I really didn’t have enough of. Taking a breather for a day while we settle into Tokyo. Apartment is quite good and we feel pretty comfortable with it – central and in the same area we lived in before so we know where everything is located. We will spend the next day or so relaxing, seeing friends and planning the next few weeks. Natasha has some things he needs to do as part of her own programme. We have a pretty good idea of what we want to do and what I want but it requires working out the finer details. Still trying to get into some kind of rhythm but that is just a question of time. Natasha as always giving full support and keeping a full photographic record of everything as well as getting on with her own business. This evening we will meet with Akira Suzuki who I interviewed for the David Burliuk film.
Watching many films which use slow motion for effect gives rise to the question of time in film making. Tarkovsky seemed to be able to create time in his films, to slowdown time, speed up time and play with the concept of time in general exploring its dimensions character through the lens of the camera and its relationship to the speed of the film. Tarkovsky does use slow motion in his films but even then it is not noticeable as an effect or something which is artificially induced in the process of editing.
One example of this characteristic is particularly evident in the film Andrie Rublev. In the scene after the taking of Vladimir there is a lull in the action. A group of soldiers are battering down the door of the cathedral where the local population have taken refuge. The sound of the ramming is a set beat repeated over and over again. The two princes, Russian and Tartar are patiently waiting almost unconcerned with the proceedings sitting on their horses who also seem to be waiting patiently, resting so to speak. The repose of the riders and the horses contrasts with the rhythmic beat of the battering ram. The whole effect creates a sensation of two strands of time operating simultaneously. When the doors of the cathedral are finally breached, the two princes and soldiers burst through the open doors and the two time strands are united with their combined action, that is the entrance into the cathedral.
This episode marks the beginning of a kind of fall of civilisation and is followed, historically, by a period of desolation in Russia and to some extent, if I remember rightly it marks a period of desolation in Andrie Rublev’s artistic and spiritual state, which for Russian icon painters are one and the same thing. The spiritual and the artistic are combined in the activity of painting icons. This period of desolation ends in Russia and in the film and for Andrei Rublev, with the final scene of the tolling of a huge bell which has been cast by a young boy whose father, the master bell maker was killed in the preceding upheaval. The scene is fraught with tension as there is no guarantee that the bell will ring true as the secret of casting the bell may have been lost with the death of the boy’s father. Two of the workers start to swing the hammer which creaks with the rhythmic swinging creating a beat which seems to echo (in my mind) the rhythm of the pounding of the cathedral doors which I just mentioned above. As the hammer approaches closer to the side of the bell, the tension and anticipation increases until suddenly we are released and from this state with the relief and joy of the first deep peal of the bell which resonates around the waiting crowds. Its supposed to be, I believe, for Tarkovsky a moment of renewal and transformation in the film. Once again two strands of time which are identified in the rhythm of the battering ram and the rhythm of the bell being tolled are organically unified in the overall structure of the film. The moment of the first sound of the bell is similar to the moment when the doors of the cathedral are breached. The circle has been closed and there is a spiritual restoration with the pealing of the bell. The rhythm of the battering ram and the scene with the bell and the consequent transformation of the scene to a new rhythmic and visual structure are mirrored in each other which unifies the opposition of their content.
The bell scene is almost identical to a scene in Ridley Scott’s film about Christopher Columbus. He uses the scene to mark I presume the establishment of civilisation in the New World, However it appears to be added into the film seemingly with little or no purpose other than a good scene. The fact that the church is destroyed later in a storm adds little to the significance of the scenes inclusion in the film. Incidentally the writer of Andrei Rublev, Director Andrie Konchalovsky, appeared on a Russian TV programme and was quite critical of Ridley Scott albeit in a different context. I wonder if the two are connected and if Konchalovsky had the bell ringing scene in the back of his mind when he made his comments.
A long time has passed, or so it seems, since completeing the film "Stanislavsky and the Russian Theatre" and a process of reflection has replaced the frenetic rush to finish the film in time for the premiere and get it released at roughly the same time. The […]
After a decade working in the film industry in the UK, mostly on the packaging of feature films for international prodcution companies and later in the financial and production aspects of feature films, he travelled to Moscow in 1995 to make films and write where he has lived and worked ever since. He started making his first documentary film about Alexander Rodchenko in 1998 and from this experience embarked on series of films about the Russian Avant-garde of the 1920s and 30s. Three more films in the series followed:"Architecture and the Russian Avant-garde and , "Meyerhold, Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde" and "Mayakovsky" . Two further films have now been completed "David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde, with locations in Moscow Tokyo and Kyoto and a 6th film "Kandinsky and the Russian House" shot in Germany and Russia. Michael Craig returned to Japan for two 3 month periods to shoot a film about Japanese culture and art. The project is called Japan Philosophical Landscapes and is being released in short episodes on the internet-Click Here to Watch for Free.In 2011 a documentary about the Russian theatre director and founder of MXAT (The Moscow Art Theatre)