Showing posts with label Film and TV. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Film and TV. Show all posts

Monday, 9 April 2012

The best Russian western

I don't think many people truly dislike westerns. There's something incredibly appealing about the independence of the people in them, and who hasn't dreamed of (literally) riding off into the sunset? I even took horse riding lessons so that if I ever get the chance to do so, I will be able to take it (although I'm not actually very good, so if the horse starts galloping I will probably be too worried about hanging on for dear life to notice that I am fulfilling a life-long dream). Of course, there aren't many (any?) British westerns, and you might think that there wouldn't be any Russian ones either, but this would be WRONG.

What many people think of as the best Russian western (sometimes called an eastern, ho ho ho) was made way back in 1969, and is called Белое Солнце Пустыни (Bieloe Solntze Pusteeni - White Sun of the Desert). It tells the story of a Red Army soldier Comrade Sukhov who, having been discharged from fighting the Whites in the civil war, is making his way home from the deserts of Central Asia to the green fields of Russia. Or trying to, at least, because he keeps having to stop to dig up people who have been buried to their necks in the sand and left to die. He befriends the fourth person he digs up, Sayeed, and together they get roped into helping out a Red Army cavalry unit...

The film is considered a classic of Soviet cinema, and is often watched by cosmonauts before they blast into space, which isn't something you can say about most films. I really liked it, especially the character of the customs officer, who was played by a famous Ukrainian-Russian-Armenian actor called Pavel Luspekayev, in his final role before he died of peripheral vascular disease. Apparently he's everyone's favourite character in the movie, so at least I'm in good company (although technically, I suppose, also bad company). A lot of the best lines, however, go to Sukhov, and some of these have become so famous they have entered everyday speech, including what to say when you don't want to hear any objections ("Вопросы есть? Вопросов нет!" - are there any questions? No there aren't), a pathetic catch-all excuse ("Да гранаты у него не той системы" - his grenades are the wrong type - although Sukhov doesn't say this himself - pathetic excuses are not his style), and what to say when you are given the choice between death and torture ("лучше, конечно, помучиться" - torture is better, of course). You never know when such phrases will come in handy.

Obviously being set in a different culture at a different time means there are some major differences between US westerns and this film. For a start, whereas in westerns you often get the girl who from the outset is condemned to die because she once dated the main baddie, here you get the harem of the main baddie, all of whom wear burqas (actually apparently yashmaks, but it's still a full-body cloak), which does put a slightly different spin on things.

This link is to the entire film, complete with English subtitles for non-Russian speakers. Or if you can't be bothered with all that, here is a "trailer" that covers the whole plot without using any words.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Russian Winnie the Pooh

I have never actually seen or read the US/UK version of Winnie the Pooh (Винни Пух), because, in general, I like neither stuffed animals nor idiots, and Winnie the Pooh seemed to be a nightmarish combination of the two, a primitive version of Jar Jar Binks. However, we watched the Russian version in class, and I may have been totally wrong about the whole thing, because I think this version is fantastic. It is VERY famous in Russia - everyone has seen it and people can quote from it at length (I tested this on several people and it is true).

The interesting thing is that Pooh looks totally different from the way he does in the Disney film - he looks a lot more like a real bear, complete with claws - maybe because here, they have real bears, so they know what they look like. He is still supposed to be a toy though, and is stuffed with sawdust, which would make for one very hard toy. I wouldn't want some child to playfully hit me round the head with what is, essentially, a block of wood. There are a few other differences: Piglet is called Pitachok, because his head looks like an old 5-kopek piece, and Eeyore is called Eea, because this is the sound donkeys make in Russian [a comparison of animal noises in different languages is very interesting, and I keep meaning to try and compile a list. I spent a whole lunchtime comparing animal noises with a Pole, a Japanese girl and an Italian, and they appear to be different in every language, sometimes to the point where you have no idea what kind of animal someone is impersonating].

For this, you don't even need to sign up for the fabulous В Контакте, because it is all on You Tube. There are three episodes, but the third one is by far the best. Here is a version with English subtitles (the Russian is pretty fast at times).

Part 1:
Part 2:

Of course, it's not perfect. They do the stupid thing where they all laugh together at the end, something I have always found intensely irritating (Thundercats was a particularly egregious offender, I seem to recall). Almost as annoying as jolly peasants (another one of my pet hates).

Monday, 26 March 2012

A Hollywood producer in Moscow

On Friday I went to a talk by a Hollywood producer who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. He was what people used to call "a singular gentleman", but (or perhaps because of this?) he had some interesting stories to tell about his experiences working with and for the super-rich in Russia.

A brief outline of his life: He grew up poor in Beverly Hills, jealous of the lifestyle of his more privileged friends, and started work straight out of high school. Over the next twenty years he started various businesses, always with the aim of finding something that would make him rich. Unfortunately, nothing he turned his hand to was successful for more than a couple of years, and he ended up coming to Moscow in the late 90s with the idea of being a link between Hollywood and the Russian film industry. The financial crisis in '98 put a bit of dampener on things, but eventually he got himself hired to bring an American movie star to the Moscow Film Festival. Since then he has made a living arranging for film stars and singers to attend the birthday parties/film festivals/business openings (delete as appropriate) of wealthy Russians, with the occasional sideline into helping out rich people from other countries. Basically, if you have a lot of money, live within the borders of the old Soviet Union, and want to meet a movie star, this is the guy you call.

He has brought more eighty "stars" to Russia and related countries over the last ten years. Most of them wanted to visit Moscow strip clubs and also Red Square, to experience the illicit thrill of standing at the heart of [former] enemy country and reminisce about how they watched tanks rolls across it when they were children. He has arranged parties for members of the Gaddafi family, the wife of the President on Azerbaijan, various Russian bankers and oligarchs (who appear to have really long birthday parties - all the parties described were multi-day events - does everyone really go for the entire time?), and, perhaps strangest of all, he arranged for Ramzan Kadyrov to meet Jean Claude Van Damme and Hilary Swank. He joked that this last one didn't make him very popular with the human rights people. Ho ho ho. Those pesky human rights people.

Anyway, these are a few snippets of advice from his talk:

1. If you life is threatened, ring up your Chechen mates
Whilst arranging one event, some Russian gangsters tried to shake him down. They told him that if he didn't give them half the money he was being paid he would never leave Russia alive. So he phoned up one of his Chechen friends, who lent him a couple of his people to take with him to the park where he was supposed to hand over the money. When they arrived and the Russians were told whose people he had with him, they apologised, said the whole thing had been a mistake and that of course they didn't want his money. The Chechens said they thought it must have been a mistake, but just to make sure everyone understood the situation, they told the Russians that if anything happened to this guy [the producer] they would hunt them down and kill them all.

2. If you want to get to know people (and if you don't, you should), open a restaurant
The only reason anyone opens restaurants is to meet people. It is the best way to make contacts quickly, and it means you can hang out and people will come to you, instead of you needing to traipse around the whole city. Of course, this does mean that your interests are not aligned with those of the people putting up the money for the restaurant, but hey, more fool them.

3. Speaking Russian is totally unnecessary
He claimed to negotiate business deals with people in Russian, without speaking a word of the language, and only finding out after the fact what he had agreed to. This cannot possibly be true. People here are smart and would take him apart in about five seconds.

4. To avoid having to pay bribes, make friends with the Head of the FSB
Actually, I thought this was inspired. He was asked whether he paid bribes, and he said he had never paid a bribe in Russia (which he had to say, really, being a US citizen). The way he avoided it was by making friends with the Head of the FSB, and having a photograph of him and various Chechen people on the wall of his office. Then, whenever anyone came to see him, he would find a way to bring these friendships into the conversation, and hey presto, no one dared ask him for any money.

The main problem with what he said was that you had to stop after every sentence and consider whether you believed him or not. If you're a salesman, especially if what you are selling is your network, it pays to exaggerate what you have done and who you have met. Probably half of what he said never happened. But even so, this man's world is so far removed from anything I have ever, or will ever, encounter, that it seems incredible that both his life and mine are taking place in the same city. Moscow is an interesting place.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The joys of В Контакте

Russians don't really use Facebook that much, instead they have В Контакте. I have no idea if this is better for keeping in touch with your friends, but it is a lot more useful for learning languages. On В Контакте you can watch films, TV shows, music videos etc etc, in Russian, for free. This is probably illegal but people seem quite relaxed about copyright here. Currently I am watching the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast in Russian whilst trying to read Lermontov. The songs are pretty distracting, because since I know all the words in English (and why not?), I keep trying to predict how they will translate them whilst trying to keep the rhymes (like "large" and "barge" when Gaston is singing about how many eggs he eats).

But the best thing so far about В Контакте is a Russian soap opera set at the beginning of the 19th century called Бедная Настя. It's weirdly addictive, a bit like Sunset Beach (with similar production values and believability of story lines). I think it was made for the hard-of-thinking, because everyone speaks really slowly, so I can actually understand what they are saying. Plus, like Sunset Beach, nothing ever happens. You can skip four or five episodes and the same people will still be in the same room talking about the same thing, which means lots of repetition of vocabulary. One girl spent three episodes complaining about being locked in her room, trying to pick the lock with a variety of knitting needles, combs, hair pins etc, before it occurred to her that she could just climb out the window. Another scene involved a serf theatre rehearsing Romeo and Juliet in Russian, with the барин yelling at some poor serf girl about how could she not know the balcony scene - EVERYONE knows the balcony scene. I can't think of any British soap operas where people quote Shakespeare (although to be fair, this may be because I don't watch any British soap operas). Yes, so Бедная Настя is fantastic, even if they do dance to pop music at their balls.