Friday, 27 May 2016

Recycled Lenin's turning up as Pirandello's...or a Camilleri fantasy?

A curious letter from Gaia Servadio in London Review of Books suggests that Lenin statues have the capacity of making some strange transformations:

A few years ago the mayor of Porto Empedocle, the Sicilian town where Pirandello was born, was under pressure to put up a monument honouring the great playwright. But there was no money. During a trip to a ‘twinned’ town somewhere in Ukraine, the mayor noticed that many statues had been discarded on the ground; they represented a man with a bald head and slanted eyes, peculiarly similar to Pirandello’s. So he asked whether he could buy one. ‘As many as you please,’ was the answer: there was nothing to pay. The mayor couldn’t believe his luck. Thus, after a few adjustments here and there, Lenin’s stone face became Pirandello’s. And so far as I know there he now stands, on the main square of a town which not long ago voted 92 per cent for Berlusconi.

However, this story (how cool if it were true!) seems to have been concocted by the author of Montalbano thrillers, Andrea Camilleri, who is also from Porte Empedocle. Camilleri was reported to have been speculating about the Leninist provenance of the Pirandello statue to the author and journalist Stefano Malatesta back in 1997. But it is clear from the article this strange trip to Russia (transformed into the Ukraine much later) was purely in the imagination of the writer who found the Pirandello statue rather ridiculous. A pity but as they say 'Se non e' vero, e' ben trovato...'

Here's the head of the statue:

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Lenin as 'signor Drin-Drin'

Lenin as fisherman

from Gorky's obituary of Lenin (1924):
(Lenin) had a magnetic quality that won the hearts and sympathies of the working people. He could not speak Italian, but the fishermen of Capri who had seen Chaliapin and quite a few other prominent Russians intuitively assigned him a special place. There was great charm in his laughter-the hearty laughter of a man who, able though he was to gauge the clumsiness of human stupidity and the cunning capers of the intellect, could take pleasure in the childlike simplicity of an “artless heart”.
“Only an honest man can laugh like that,” commented the old fisherman Giovanni Spadaro.
Rocking in his boat on waves as blue and transparent as the sky, Lenin tried to learn to catch fish “on the finger", that is with a line, but no rod. The fishermen had told him to snatch in the line the instant his finger felt the slightest vibration.
“Cosi: drin-drin. Capisci,” they said.
At that moment he hooked a fish, and hauled it in, crying out with the delight of a child and the excitement of a hunter:
“Aha! Drin-drin!”
The fishermen shouted with laughter, like children too, and nicknamed him Signor Drin-Drin.
Long after Lenin had left, they still kept asking:
“How is Signor Drin-Drin? Are you sure the tsar won’t catch him?”

Relying on an image of Lenin to sell a box of Mosselprom's Proletarian Caramel!

New York's Leninist Break Dancers.

A song composed by Brezhnev's favourite composer in the middle of the stagnation period has made some unlikely appearances in recent years on the New York subway. The song "And the Battle Rages on Again" composed in 1974 by Aleksandra Pakhmutova has been remixed and played to accompany a display of break dancing.

Here it accompanies a display of dancing inside a subway car:

The chorus of this late Soviet classic goes:

And the struggle rages on
With such a restless heart
And Lenin is so young
And young October still to come.

(the lyrics to the song was written by Pakhmutova's husband Nikolai Dobronravov)

This particular song has had a number of cover versions by some of the well-known Russian groups in the post-Soviet period including a version by the group Leningrad:

and another by Yegor Letov's legendary group Grazdanskaya Oborona (or Civil Defence) back in the early 1990s:

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Rezo Gabriadze's topiary Lenin.

Little did I expect on my visit to an exhibition dedicated to the great Georgian contemporary all-round artist, Rezo Gabriadze (theatre director, screenwriter, designer, painter, marionettist and so on), to discover that this artist too has items to add to the anthology of Lenin images. And yet, Lenin is there in Gabriadze's repertoire too in the unlikely guise of a tree.

Lenin's image is central to a fine drawn story of topiary artist Timofei who brings his art to the Caucasus. Timofei moulds two trees in the form of Lenin and Stalin and is at first rewarded for his splendid art but then after the tree statues fall victim to inclement weather he is then sought by the secret police.

In any case here are some of Rezo Gabriadze's splendid Lenin-as-tree portraits which illustrate the story.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Lenin as model for Pasolini's Christ?

Little did I know when I wrote the Lenin and Christ post some months ago that, apparently, this parallel had imagined not just by ironic pastiche sots artists of recent decades. According to a book by Fulvio Abate the Lenin Christ parallel goes further back than that. Moreover, the artist in question was not just any artist but none other than Pier Paolo Pasolini who, according to Laura Betti, made Lenin the model of the Christ in his film. This is surely one of the most weirdly suggestive readings of Pasolini's Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo that I have come across and one of the most strange transfigurations of Lenin in modern culture.

A small annotation of Pasolini's film for Senses of Cinema by Pasquale Iannone puts the Lenin parallel to Christ like this:

More than the physical performance of the young Catalan, it is the booming, forceful voice of Salerno echoing across the weathered ancient landscape that is key to Pasolini’s representation of Christ as a revolutionary, as a masterful orator and communicator of ideas. In this sense, Pasolini was inspired by the figure of Lenin and the cult of personality which is, in essence, a “divinisation”. Essentially however, The Gospel According to Matthew is an attempt by the director to identify himself with the figure of Christ, a revolutionary who accepts that his lifelong work, his relentless non-conformity, will inevitably lead to his death.

Curiously another Lenin-modelled Christ may well be found in an as yet unpublished play on the life of Christ for the Taganka theatre by Soviet philosopher, Evald Ilyenkov.

Pasolini's Russia is a topic that has been explored by an Italian scholar Francesca Tuscano who wrote in her book 'La Russia nella poesia di Pier Paolo Pasolini', of Pasolini's strange happiness of rediscovering the peasant spirit of his native Casarsa on the banks of the Moscova during a visit by Pasolini to Moscow for the 1957 Festival of Youth.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Parajanov as Leninophile?

James Steffen in his The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov notes that "Like many Soviet intellectuals, at various points in his life (Parajanov) expressed admiration for Lenin, at least in public". Steffen notes a few Lenin-related snippets: about a collage entitled Soviet Union combining representations of Stalin and Lenin with a picture of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus, or the montage sequence devoted to the day of Lenin's death in The Flower on the Stone (which Steffen believes to be Parajanov's work and not Slesarenko's). Steffen states that this ersatz-Vertov montage sequence associated with the anniversary of Lenin's death is "surely the most bizarre and gratuitous moment in all of Parajanov's films". In his Minsk 1971 speech, (which Steffen believes to be one of the major causes of his arrest), Parajanov denounced the recent Lenin Jubilee as 'a colossal failure'  saying that 'the least talented people made films about Lenin'.

These few traces of Parajanov's Leninophilia (or Leninophobia if you want to read them like that) can be added with a few more notes.

At a speech in a London Symposium on Parajanov a few years back the Ukrainian-Armenian film director Roman Balayan asserted that Parajanov was very much a Leninophile.

And here is Parajanov in his own words in an interview with Ron Holloway (in the same interview he damns both Stalin and Brezhnev):

I can't help it: I idolize Lenin. As a director, I have to admire his artistismus: his artistic impulses, his abilities as a speaker. His brain was magnificent, gigantic like that of a prophet. The world wasn't large enough for him. His artistismus once compelled him to climb onto an armoured car, as if it were a stage. He stood there like a monolith; he was a born actor. I appreciate artistismus, artistic talent. Politicians, friends, anyone can have talent.

Of course it is necessary to take what Parajanov said with a heavy pinch of salt. In any case Lenin could be said to have had (at least, posthumously) a habit of saving writers and artists from the NKVD whether by sheltering Aleksandr Wat or simply saving an exhibition from certain closure.

In retrospect it's a real shame that Parajanov never got to shoot one of those Lenin films. The Lenin trilogy of Sergei Yutkevich, that other Soviet dandy, would surely have an unbeatable rival today if that had happened.

As Parajanov would often repeat: Communism is the power of the Soviets plus Parajanovication'!