A Look Back at Abram Room’s Classic Film, Третья Мещанская: a picture of life in Moscow after Lenin, but before the full force of Stalinism.
The focus of my Russia studies has recently turned, through no conscious design of my own, to the period between the two World Wars, in the first half of the twentieth century. This may be no accident, though, as I am deeply fascinated by the unprecedented levels of dynamism, change, brutality and vision of Russian society in the decades after the Revolutions of 1917. My translations of Bulgakov and Mandelstam, my examination of the Soviet Five Year Plans, and my review of Douglas Smith’s book Former People all relate to this era when the revolution was still finding its way (see earlier posts- ‘The Old-Timers of Moscow Will Remember,’ ‘Leningrad,’ ‘All According to Plan,’ ‘Former People’). Deciding to continue in this direction, I thought I should take another look at a Russian silent film from 1927, variously called Третья Мещанская (Tret’ya Meshchanskaya), Любовь втроём (Lyubov’ Vtroyom), Three in a Basement (in Germany) and Bed and Sofa (in English speaking countries). I was introduced to this film as an undergraduate in a class on Soviet film, but watching it again, investigating its history and looking at some of the reviews published in Russia when it first came out, highlight for me the tasks Russians faced in trying to create a new society after the shattering of old social conventions, and the efforts of the Communist Party to define new ones. With this in mind I will offer my own review. Continue reading
Alexander Sergeivich Pushkin
In the course of my studies of Russian language and literature, there has long been the enormous, looming figure of Alexander Sergeivich Pushkin (1799-1837), Russia’s most celebrated poet. Thinking it was about time I tried translating some of his work, I turned to a poem that is one of the handful of Russian poems that I have committed to memory (another is Osip Mandelstam’s Leningrad, my translation of which is included in an earlier post). The process of trying to render the poem, К. . . (To. . . ), into English has led me to consider some things about the nature of language and translation. I will write a little about these musings before presenting my translation. Continue reading
“Mother teaches heart phone morgue” is how google-translate renders the seventh line of another glasnost-era Russian pop song that recently caught my attention. I had a Russian radio stream playing as I puttered around the house one day this summer, but wasn’t really paying attention until a repeated line in the chorus of a song grabbed my ear. I stopped what I was doing and thought, did they just sing “Alain Delon speaks French?” In fact, that was exactly what they were singing. I felt the urge to know why a Russian band would record a song about a French actor speaking French. A little research into this song revealed a degree of cultural interconnectedness that I was unaware of in the nineteen eighties when this song was produced in the still existing, and I presumed still closed, society of the Soviet Union.
Nautilus Pomplilius (Наутилус Помпилиус)
It turns out that this song–A Look from the Screen (Vzglyad s Ekrana, which google-translate gives as “Sight Screen“)–by the group Nautilus Pompilius, was inspired by, and is even described as a “free translation” of, the song Robert De Niro’s Waiting, by the 80’s British pop band Bananarama. The line repeated in the chorus of the Brit song—”Robert De Niro’s waiting, talking Italian”—becomes, in the Russian song, “Alain Delon is speaking French” (Alen Delon govorit po Frantsuzkiy). Continue reading
Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and John Hamm (Don Draper) to star in a British series based on autobiographical notes of Mikhail Bulgakov.
The subject of some of my ramblings—Mikhail Bulgakov and his novel Master and Margarita—may become a little less obscure soon. A friend pointed me to a slate.com article about a British TV series premiering next month, called A Country Doctor’s Notebook, based on a collection of short stories of the same name by Bulgakov. Continue reading
Chapel on the Site Where the Old City of Belozersk Stood, 1909
A friend of mine turned me on to this collection of color photographs from the Russian Empire between the 1905 Revolution and the 1917 Revolutions. Most of these were taken between 1907 and 1912, with some taken in 1915, during World War I.
View of the Solovetskii Monastery from the Land, 1915
These are all the work of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, a Russian chemist and photographer who received a commission from Tsar Nicholas II to travel in a specially equipped train car to document the people and places of the empire using his own method for taking color photographs, a method that involved using three cameras to take the shots, and three projectors to show the final prints, each equipped with a red, green or blue filter. Prokudin-Gorskii’s original glass plates are part of the collection of the U.S. Library of Congress. The images available on the web have been digitally processed using a technique described on the Library of Congress website. Most of these images can also be viewed, and more easily scrolled through, on the Boston Globe website. I’ve included a sampling of them below.
Emir of Bukhara, 1911
Besides providing some stunning pictures of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, an especially tumultuous time, these images also serve to remind us that the “Russian” Empire was far more an empire than it was Russian. Continue reading