Time to get slaughtered! The Arkanar Massacre is here

Film lovers… Strugatskiis fans… Russian science fiction watchers… your moment has (almost) arrived. Fifteen years in the making, the long-awaited magnum opus of the great Russian director Aleksei German Senior, who sadly passed away on Feb 21st of this year, is about to premiere at the Rome Film Festival next week (Nov 8th – 17th). It’s Hard To Be A God (which had the working title of The Arkanar Massacre) is black and white and 170 minutes long. This, his final film, co-authored with his wife Svetlana Karmelita, is based on the well-loved science fiction novel It’s Hard To Be A God (Трудно быть богом, 1964) by Arkadii and Boris Strugatskii (see previous blog post for Boris Strugatskii’s obituary). A prior screen version of the novel made in East Germany, Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein (dir. Peter Fleischmann, 1989) is available on YouTube (purportedly with English subtitles).

It’s been a sad year for Russian science fiction, with the deaths of the great director German and the much-respected author Boris Strugatskii following close on each other. Let’s hope we will soon have the opportunity to watch It’s Hard To Be A God on screens closer to home.

Here’s a useful site with links to other pages; and for Russian speakers, here’s a link to Ksenia Chudinova’s review in Snob magazine. Her review is ironically titled ‘It’s hard to be a viewer’. She writes that although the cream of Russian intellectual circles was present at the pre-premiere screening in Russia in April (when the film was not yet fully sound-edited), many exited the auditorium mid-film, loudly banging doors. She writes: ‘Meanwhile, on screen an ambitious and primarily physiological bacchanal unwound: close-ups of mud, animal and human excrement, blood, guts, a donkey’s penis, a woman’s vagina, crumpled clothing, horses, dirty fingernails, animal corpses. The characters are constantly defecating, spitting, scratching themselves, beating each other, cutting stomachs and throats, copulating or killing each other. Without speaking’.

Mikhail Khodorkovskii’s PA Kulle Pispanen, who also saw this first public screening, described it as ‘not a simple film, and definitely a bit of a downer’ – my free translation of ‘непростое зрелище, и совсем не деньрожденьческое‘. She described Aleksei German Jr, the director’s son, who contributed to the final edits, as ‘crushed’ (‘раздавлен’) by the audience’s response. Still, all the best productions get terrible audiences on their first night. Take The Inspector GeneralThe Seagull… The Playboy of the Western World!

Here’s a kinder review by Boris Akunin, writing as Grigorii Chkhartishvili, also for Snob: he is more sympathetic to German’s unusual sound and visual effects, interpreting the film’s medieval chaos as a parable for modern societal dysfunction.



Call for Papers: Far Rainbows Science Fiction Cinema Conference

We are actively seeking paper submissions for a one-day international workshop, FAR RAINBOWS: Russian and Soviet Science Fiction On Screen, which will take place at Wadham College, Oxford University on April 12, 2013 (Cosmonauts’ Day!).Image
Papers of approx. 20 mns’ length are encouraged on any aspect of the adaptation of Russian and Soviet science fiction for cinema, television, and other media. The organisers are particularly interested in studies of how the Strugatskii brothers’ novels have been adapted for the screen, although papers on adaptations of fiction by other authors will also be welcomed. Confirmed speakers include Professor Yvonne Howell (Richmond), Henriette Cederlöf (Stockholm), Dr Andrei Rogatchevski (Glasgow), Professor Sofya Khagi (Michigan), Dr Muireann Maguire (Oxford) and Dr Matthias Schwartz (Berlin).
Please contact Muireann Maguire (muireann.maguire@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk) and/or Andrei Rogatchevski (Andrei.Rogatchevski@glasgow.ac.uk) with any queries, or try our conference email address: farrainbows@gmail.com

Possible areas to explore include intertextuality, representations of utopia and dystopia, auteur cinema versus the role of censorship, how symbolism and meaning change between media (and over time), casting, and film theory.  If you wish to submit an abstract about an adaptation of the Strugatskiis’ novels, please note that the following films and directors (Stalker, Days of Eclipse, The Sorcerers/ Letters of a Dead Man/Ugly Swans, The Dead Mountaneer Hotel and Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein) have already been preselected by invited speakers.

Closing date for submission of abstracts: 15 December 2012

A new study of Tarkovsky’s Stalker

Anyone teaching a class on Russian cinema, or otherwise interested in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 classic Stalker, may rejoice at the publication of a new book on this enigmatic film by writer Geoff Dyer. By all accounts, Dyer’s 240-page study takes an irreverently reverential approach to Tarkovsky, combining intelligent analysis of Stalker with remarks on contemporary culture: ‘This, in other words, is much more than a useful guide to a classic film. It is also, in small doses, a memoir, a rumination on art and a philosophy of how to live well. Moreover, it is a running commentary on itself, and as such it poses a problem for the reviewer. Dyer is forever pre-empting criticism by flagging up the potential shortcomings of his project: wouldn’t he have been better off writing a book about tennis? Now and then, he draws attention to the patchiness of his own research: he only “skimmed” the Stanislaw Lem novel that Tarkovsky’s Solaris is based on and decided to avoid his final film The Sacrifice; an explanation he gives about a patricide in a recent film indebted to Tarkovsky is, he confesses, “one part Harold Bloom and one part ill-digested psychoanalysis”‘ (Killian Fox writing in The Observer). More reviews here from the Guardian and the Financial Times.


Soviet Science Fiction and Russian Film seminars at UCL SSEES

UK-based readers of this blog will be enthused to hear about a series of three seminars organized by Professor Julian Graffy and Dr Philip Cavendish at UCL SSEES under the auspices of the Russian Cinema Research Group, which holds regular seminars during termtime. In the current semester, on 5th March, Andrei Rogatchevski (Glasgow) will speak on ‘The Strugatskii Brothers’  Khromaia sud´ba and Arkadii Sirenko’s Iskushenie B’. Alistair Renfrew (Durham) will discuss the ‘Attack of the Soviet Bs: Corman, Cosmos, and the American Mainstream’ on March 12th. See here for more details of these and many other interesting SSEES seminars. (Confession: I gave the first seminar in this series, on Konstantin Lopushanskii’s apocalyptic films, on Feb 6th).

If you can’t wait until Andrei Rogatchevskii’s talk, Sirenko’s Iskushenie B (The Temptation of B) is available to watch on YouTube here. This film and a vast range of others are, additionally, available to watch in SSEES’s extensive Russian film library, by prior arrangement with university staff.