The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov (Wisconsin Film Studies)
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Sergei Parajanov (1924-90) flouted the rules of both filmmaking and society in the Soviet Union and paid a heavy personal price. An ethnic Armenian in the multicultural atmosphere of Tbilisi, Georgia, he was one of the most innovative directors of postwar Soviet cinema. Parajanov succeeded in creating a small but marvelous body of work whose style embraces such diverse influences as folk art, medieval miniature painting, early cinema, Russian and European art films, surrealism, and Armenian, Georgian, and Ukrainian cultural motifs. The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov is the first English-language book on the director's films and the most comprehensive study of his work. James Steffen provides a detailed overview of Parajanov's artistic career: his identity as an Armenian in Georgia and its impact on his aesthetics; his early films in Ukraine; his international breakthrough in 1964 with Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors; his challenging 1969 masterpiece, The Color of Pomegranates, which was reedited against his wishes; his unrealized projects in the 1970s; and his eventual return to international prominence in the mid-to-late 1980s with The Legend of the Surami Fortress and Ashik-Kerib. Steffen also provides a rare, behind-the-scenes view of the Soviet film censorship process and tells the dramatic story of Parajanov's conflicts with the authorities, culminating in his 1973-77 arrest and imprisonment on charges related to homosexuality. Ultimately, the figure of Parajanov offers a fascinating case study in the complicated dynamics of power, nationality, politics, ethnicity, sexuality, and culture in the republics of the former Soviet Union.
straightforward manner, albeit with lyrical touches that represent the boy protagonist’s imagination. However, the episode in which the grandfather relates the Kyrgyz tribal origin myth of the Horned Deer Mother displays a marked shift in style and means of signification. For example, during the conversation between the Lame Old Pockmarked Woman and the Horned Deer Mother, Shamshiev uses normal color stock for the shots of the Deer Mother and toned monochromatic stock for those of the Lame Old
using the celebrations of May 9, 1965 (the anniversary of the city’s liberation from the Germans) as its focal point. The story could hardly be simpler: an unnamed film director—referred to simply as “the Man” (Chelovek) but obviously Parajanov himself—pays a “Longshoreman” (Gruzchik) to deliver a basket of flowers to a retired general. Somehow he inadvertently gives the incorrect address to the Longshoreman, who delivers the basket instead to a “Woman,” a war widow working as a custodian at the
Georgian named “Shalva” who exclaims stereotypically Georgian phrases such as “Gamarjoba, genatsvale!” (“Hello, my dear friend!”) But more than anything else, the film’s performance style and mise- en- scène suggest a stage melodrama. Given the 122 The Color of Pomegranates rigid conventionalism of Soviet biographical films and this film in particular, it is not difficult to see why Parajanov might have been moved to attempt a more stylistically innovative approach to the same subject.
portraits linked through montage—go on a romantic carriage ride, represented by a lone white glove arranged on a black carriage seat in motion. A male hand—the first live human element up to this point—grinds the crank on an antique barrel organ, a remnant of the city’s vibrant street life. The same barrel organ becomes the focal element in a couple of whimsical compositions using a young man, an old man, and an umbrella. In the final section of the film, the carriage arrives at Tbilisi’s
identity, whether through the common roots of folk music or through shared historical trauma. Immediately after this, three musicians decked with garlands are shown standing in a grave—two playing zurnas (reed instruments) and one playing a dhol (drum). (This type of musical ensemble is commonly seen in Transcaucasia during weddings, funerals, and other special occasions.) Now Sayat- Nova’s father, mother, and a third woman stand before khachkars (intricately carved stone stelae with cross