Classic Movie Review: The Color of Pomegranates (1969)

Title: The Color of Pomegranates
Release Date: 1969
Director: Sergei Parajanov
Production Company: Armenfilm
Summary/Review: This art film made in Soviet Armenia tells the story of a poet named Sayat-Nova.  This is not your typical biopic.  The effort is made to tell the story of a poet through visual poetry rather than conventional narrative. The film has very little dialogue and is structured as a series of tableaus.  The camera is pointed straight on at people posing and holding or manipulating objects.  A lot of these objects have symbolic significance although I don’t have the knowledge of what they mean.  It’s almost as if one is watching a series of memes from a culture you know nothing about.  Nevertheless, the film has a lot of striking imagery.  It also has a lot of horses with a strange canter, chickens, and sheep.  So many sheep.  I know the counterculture is not likely to have made inroads in Soviet Armenia in 1969 but this movie does feel awfully trippy.

Rating: I have no rational basis on which to rate this as a film

Classic Movie Review: Ivan the Terrible (1944)

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter I

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Ivan the Terrible
Release Date: December 30, 1944
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Production Company: Mosfilm
Summary/Review: Ivan the Terrible is an odd duck.  It ranks #39 on the Cahiers du Cinéma list and has appeared on past editions of the Sight and Sound list but it was also included in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and How They Got That Way). It was directed by the legendary film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin), but it was made at the behest of the cruel dictator Joseph Stalin.  Roger Ebert gives the film his top 4-star rating but his review is less enthusiastic and full of caveats.

Like Children of Paradise, this film is an epic historical drama made at a time when the nation was fighting the Nazi threat to all of Europe.  It tells the story of Ivan IV (Nikolay Cherkasov) who as Tsar united disparate fiefdoms under Moscow to create the first Russian empire.  The film begins with Ivan’s coronation in 1547 and a speech in which declares his intentions to bring all of Russia under his control, much to the annoyance of the boyars who were kind of oligarchy of aristocrats used to doing things their own way. Thus the palace intrigue begins.  Ivan marries Anastasia (Lyudmila Tselikovskaya) and they produce an heir, which further enrages the boyars.  War, betrayal, and dramatic death bed scenes ensue.

The performances in the film are very stagey, as if this were some kind of pageant rather than a drama. It is also reminds of  The Scarlet Empress, from the large-scale furnishings and overwhelming shadows to the general over-the-top nature of the performances. While The Scarlet Empress was a Hollywood spectacle about the Russian monarchy, it seems strange that Russian filmmakers would depict their own history in such a campy way.  Eisenstein made a second part to Ivan the Terrible that displeased Stalin so it would not be released until 1958.  A third part was abandoned while in production for the same reason.  So it’s an unfinished epic a lot like Napoléon (except that Ivan actually had military success in Russia).

I suppose I’m supposed to watch both Part 1 & Part 2, but as I didn’t enjoy the first part all too much, and I have 27 movies to watch this April, I’m going to give Part 2 a pass.

Rating: **1/2

Classic Movie Review: Andrei Rublev (1966) #AtoZChallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter A

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Andrei Rublev
Release Date: December 16, 1966
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Production Company: Mosfilm
Summary/Review: This epic film is based on the life of Andrei Rublev (Anatoly Solonitsyn), a monk in Russia in the early 1400s who gained renown for painting icons and other religious art. The film is split into eight parts depicting incidents from different periods of Rublev’s life (as well as a few other incidents that occur during his lifetime). The film is set against the background in-fighting among Russian princes and raids by Tatars. Thus the film depicts the horrors of war, cruelty, and barbarity contrasted with Rublev’s faith and the beauty of art.

The episodes depict Rublev’s transitions from youthful idealism to disillusionment with humanity to ultimately maturing to realize that his art can make a positive contribution to the world. In addition to Rublev’s story, the prologue and final chapter depict two other artistic spirits, a balloon pilot and a bellmaker, each of whom put their lives on the line in faith of their art. I found the movie well-made and well-acted but thought it was far too long and plodding.
Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Mirror (1975)

Release Date: March 7, 1975
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Production Company: Mosfilm

This film through a nonlinear narrative structure examines the life of a dying man by way of his memories. The man, Alexei (Innokenty Smoktunovsky) does not appear on screen but we hear his voice and see him as a child in the 1930s (Filipp Yankovsky) and a young teenager during World War II (Ignat Daniltsev).  The film intercuts vignettes of memories from before and during the war with more recent memories as various images, dreams, and newsreel-style footage.

The film is held together by Margarita Terekhova who plays Alexei’s mother in his memories as well as is ex-wife in the present day scenes. Terekhova does a remarkable acting job, especially as the camera remains on her most of the time even when off-screen characters and the narrator are doing the speaking. The film contains some remarkably beautiful shots and impressive camera work.  I can see this movie being studied at film schools.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Man with a Movie Camera (1929) #atozchallenge

This is my entry for “M” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “M” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Mad Hot BallroomMan on WireMaradona ’86March of the PenguinsMathematically Alive, Miss Sharon Jones!, Mysteries of the Rimet TrophyThe Myth of Garrincha and possibly My Winnipeg.

Title: Man with a Movie Camera
Release Date: January 8, 1929
Director: Dziga Vertov
Production Company: VUFKU

In Man with a Movie Camera, the viewer see scenes from every day life spliced together with furious sequences of cuts, multiple exposures, slow motion, fast motion, freeze frames, Dutch angles, extreme closeups, tracking shots, and reverse motion. Accompanied by a bombastic score by English composer Michael Nyman, Man with a Movie Camera for all the world resembles a music video.  The stunning thing about this movie is that is was released in 1929.  The many cinematic effects on display in the movie were just not common in 1920s filmmaking, and some were invented for this movie.

Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov had strong opinions about cinema and felt that the vestiges of theater – stories, actors, scripts – should be abandoned in order to explore the possibilities of film.  Man with a Movie Camera is his statement on what he called a “An Experimentation in the Cinematic Communication.”  The film depicts a typical day in the life of the Soviet Union, but isn’t strictly a documentary.  Instead it’s more of an avant-garde or experimental film.  We see people at work and play, scenes of nature and urban streetscapes, and machinery at work. Some parts are obviously staged, such as scenes of a woman waking and dressing, or men mashing up the pieces on a chessboard, played in reverse motion.

The “Man with a Movie Camera” is a recurring character in the film as we see him carrying his camera and setting it up in various places for the shots we will see.  Sometimes he is comically superimposed on top of a larger camera or within a mug of beer. The effects are fun and exhilirating for a contemporary viewer, and must have been completely shocking for filmgoers in the 1920s.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

Filmed just a decade after the Russian Revolution, Vertov shot the movie over three years in four different cities.  The film offers a glimpse of everyday life in the Soviet Union, as well as instruction in how a film is shot and edited.  It also appears that Soviet Union was a lot less prudish about the exposure of women’s bodies than the United States at the same time.  Women at the beach even wear two-piece swimsuits, not yet called bikinis.  The Man with a Camera is also a bit of perv as he likes to zoom in on women’s legs and posteriors.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Watch Un Chien Andalou, a surrealist film also released in 1929, by Spanish director Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí.  Un Chien Andalou is a fictional (and plotless) film, but is stylistically similar to Man with a Movie Camera (although no eyeballs were harmed in the making of the Soviet documentary).

Source: Kanopy

019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 17

Sidedoor :: That Brunch in the Forest

Myths and reality of Native Americans and the “first Thanksgiving.”

All Songs Considered :: How the Beatles Made “The White Album”

The story behind the Beatles strangest album.

30 for 30 :: Rickey Won’t Quit

The great Rickey Henderson plays one last season in professional baseball for an independent minor league team.

The Anthropocene Reviewed :: Tetris and the Seed Potatoes of Leningrad

Fascinating stories from the Soviet Union trace the origin of the classic video game Tetris and its unrecognized designer, and the people of Leningrad who protected a seed bank against Nazi invasion.

Have You Heard? :: Closing Time: In a Gentrifying City, are Some Students Expendable

A must-listen story of the effort to close, privatize, and segregate Boston Public Schools.


Book Reviews: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Author: Ruta Sepetys
TitleBetween Shades of Gray
Narrator:Emily Klein
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2011)

This novel set in the World War II-era depicts the oppression of Lithuanian partisans through the eyes of 15-year-old Lina.  A promising young artists, Lina and her mother and brother are rounded up by the NKVD with other women, children, the elderly, and disabled and transported to a labor camp in Siberia.  The narrative depicts the hardscrabble life as Lina and her community in the labor camp as they struggle to survive.  But there are also moments of joy and unexpected solace.  It’s a decent novel and an introduction to the Stalinist persecution of Lithuania.

Recommended booksStalemate by Icchokas Meras, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Laika by Nick Abadzis

AuthorNick Abadzis & Hilary Sycamore (illustrator)
Publication Info: New York : First Second, 2007.
ISBN: 1596431016

This graphic ‘novel’ tells the story of the first dog in space, launched by the Soviet Union space program in 1957, with no provisions for returning her to earth.  Laika’s story from a Moscow street dog to her final journey is heart-renderingly told through the pages of beautiful illustrations.  Central human characters include legendary Soviet rocket engineer and Sergei Korolev and the fictionalized dog caretaker for the space program, Yelena Alexandrovna Dubrovsky.  Both are complex, fully-realized characters that add to the weight of what as being done to Laika in the name of science and advancement of humankind.

Favorite Passages:

“For once, it seems there’s nothing to worry about for the time being.  Of course, nothing lasts.  And why worry about that? One must learn not to.  Every day, every moment is a frontier to a country, that once crossed, can never be returned to.  Most of the time we don’t notice.  Which is just how it should be.  The secret is not to worry. You can’t back.  Although, those you leave behind will still think of you.  Most of the time, we don’t notice the small, gradual changes only the sudden unexpected ones.  But, once you understand nothing lasts everything’s all right.  After all, something always comes along that changes everything.  And once you realize this, you find that you’re no longer imprisoned by this truth but freed by it.”  – p. 111-116

Recommended booksThe Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov
Rating: ****