Monday, 10 April 2017

The Russian Theatre Film Series - Book Publication

The Russian Theatre Film Series book - published and available:

It’s difficult to find an appropriate description of the book "The Russian Theatre Film Series". Essentially it is an account of an arts documentary series with all its pitfalls, successes, limitations and achievements. The three films which have so far been completed are "Meyerhold, Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde", "Stanislavsky and the Russian Theatre" and "Vakhtangov and the Russian Theatre". This book is part of the overall project - The Russian Theatre Film Series and is a milestone and a marker in this developing project. It is also a commentary on what it means to make an independent arts documentary film series in a foreign country namely Russia. Not so much from the technical point of view although there is plenty of technical aspects covered but more from the point of view of a kind of interior process. It is an expedition into the phenomenology of film-making, what obstacles have to be overcome, both physical and technically but more importantly some of the lived experience of film-making. For some people making independent films is a way of life in the same way that for others theatre is a way of life or acting is a way of life or painting or whatever is a way of life. You can't live without it or outside it. The fact that you have to spend a year or two of your life on each film means that it is a life decision. So it has an existential element and this quality of film-making is explored in the book. How the series came about, what were the thought processes involved in the development of the series, which influenced the series overall - who helped who didn't, why things went wrong and why they went right. The book is a staging post on the way to further developments clearing the ground before moving forward to the next phase - a book about The Fairground Booth plus a film on this subject.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Biomechanics - Project - Book and Film

As I come to the end of The Russian Theatre Film Series book already new horizons opening up. Yesterday completed the artwork fro the cover, so all that remains is to proof read the book one more time and check everything over for layouts and other things. I have been tantalizingly speaking to a publisher but still feel I should work at my own pace and within my own resources although it is always worth exploring all the publishing outlets which might be available.

Already there are ideas percolating through with regard to The Fairground Boothbook and beyond. As always it is too early to write about this as the ideas themselves are appearing more as clues to developing work. One idea is to do another book about the theatre but only biomechanics. To make it more as an illustrated book with pictures but also text. The black and white tones will make I believe a very good visual impact. Working on this tonight - fleshing out a broad plan and outline with possible subjects to be included.

 The book should concentrate on visuals but also have text. It will be like a kind of graphic novel or one could say a graphic non fiction book - is that a new genre? - a hybrid book.



Last week we were out during the Maslenitza  celebrations in Moscow. At first I didn't even want to go out that day but eventually we decided that we just have to get out of the apartment and walk around. Then once we arrived at the square in Moscow were the celebrations were taking place at he statue of Yuri Dolgoruky I didn't really want to film anything. It didn't seem as if there was anything interesting going on and that all the masks and costumed  people were not there. but I got the camera out in any case and began. Then things started to happen. The crowds were moving, there was traditional folk singing and high spirits and there was a guy in an old costume with a hood which began to add to the atmosphere. he made faces at the audience and looked like something from the middle ages - somehow intimidating. Then the masks began appearing and I was filming in full swing. The atmosphere was that of a shrovetide celebration and had an air of authenticity which I was able to enhance and emphasize within an initial edit. One of the masks reminded me of the 4 masks which adorn the Theatre Satyra building in Moscow and combining these images would prove effective. By accident I found a photograph of the building taken at night. I had filmed the building during the day and it was quite bland so I did not use the footage in any of the films I had made earlier. At night however the masks are lit from above and below and the effect is very striking. I will go back hopefully in the next few days to film this building from various angles.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Russian Theatre Film Series

Front cover for the book "The Russian Theatre Film Series"
Cover completed for the Russian Theatre Film series book. A large step forward as I was worried about how it might look. In the end I only spent 3 - 4 hours putting it together ready for printing. 

The book weaves together the experiences of filming in Moscow and Russia on The Russian Theatre Film Series. How it came together, who were the main characters involved in the series and charts the pitfalls, the struggles and the joys of making independent films in a foreign country in this case Russia, Moscow. Often I am asked how do you begin to make a film, where do you start. For many it is easy, you start and that's it. For others that first step seems like a mountain standing before them. This book attempts to answer some of those questions by re living the steps which it took to make this series. Not necessarily step by step but the book certainly travels a distance that most independent film makers have to travel, recounting many of the obstacles which are sometimes of our own making.
Back cover for the book "The Russian Theatre Film Series"
Before publication, (some time before the spring) all that is left to do is check the text once more  and arrange the graphics and art work. Once this book is out and published I can start to concentrate on The Fairground Booth book which is at the first draft stage. Work is piling up behind me so I have to clear away as much as I can at the moment.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Screening of Tokyo Journey in Moscow

The first public screening of  the film "Tokyo Journey" took place in Moscow on the 25th January 2017. It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached the screening partly because the film is not exactly standard fare and the audience was made up of mostly people involved in teaching and disseminating traditional Japanese culture and Japanese Culture in general.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Music, Blok, Gogol and "The Tempest"

fairground Booth collage 2
In an article by James David Jacobs about Shakespeare and music he writes
"The Tempest stands at the crossroads of theatrical history: between the Renaissance and the Baroque, between the Elizabethan theatre of the imagination and the Jacobean spectacle, between the primacy of the word and the primacy of sensory entertainment".
Similarly The Fairground Booth was written and performed at the threshold of a new epoch in 1906 in Russia.

The common link between these plays is music. It's no coincidence that at the same time these upheavals were taking place in England, the art form known as opera was being born in Italy (the first operatic masterpiece, Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, was premiered in 1607.) And it is not an accident that The Fairground Booth appeared at the junction between two epochs and the beginning of what we understand as the modern era.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Tokyo Journey - live presentation

Showing this short film to a live audience tomorrow in Moscow. Never expected to present it as such so a bit nervous how it will be received. Was at the venue today checking things out. Good sound - which is welcome as the soundtrack is important.




The film was shot in Tokyo and since it has been released on You-tube I have re evaluated the film and re edited it slightly for this particular presentation due to the specifics of the presentation. I will blog about that later with pictures and possibly a video clip of the event.


I have been worrying about it for several weeks now mostly about how I would present the film to the audience but all those problems seem to have been solved. The work that I put into this video is now starting to pay dividends in terms of new projects and ideas for films. All the practical experience on this film portended a completely new direction.

Have also been working on much of the writing. The next book about the Russian theatre  is in the proof reading stage and the publication date will be announced soon, probably  just before the spring of this year.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Encounters with the Russian Avant-garde

"Encounters with the Russian Avant-garde" is a book by Michael Craig which complements the series of six films made by Michael Craig and Copernicus Films about the Russian Avant-garde of the 1920s and 30s. Click on link to purchase book: http://ow.ly/Xxvl305ChZc



Fully illustrated including stills from most of the films, it is not only an account or explanation but also an introduction or to be more specific an "encounter" with this exciting phenomenon. The title reflects an active relationship: firstly through the experience of living in Moscow for many years, plus a direct encounter with the buildings, the architecture and the very territory in which much of the avant-garde arose and to some extent still exists. Encounter suggests something more casual, unexpected and unstructured but also a sense of living in the avant-garde and being part of it. After all it was the intention of the Russian Avant-garde to connect with the real lived world and to ‘take art out of the galleries and onto the streets and squares of Moscow'.http://www.copernicusfilms.com

Dostoevsky and The Fairground Booth

fairground Booth
Planning an extra chapter about Dostoevsky and the Fairground Booth in the book Blok, Meyerhold and the Fairground Booth thefairgroundbooth.com. Its come about due to further research into the symbolist painters of the time who were involved with theatre set design and theatre in general in Russia and Europe: Benois, Somov,Golovin and more particularly Dobuzhinsky. He designed sets for The Devil’s Play, and an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Devils. Dobuzhinsky also designed the frontispiece for Blok and Meyerhold’s play The Fairground Booth.
Dobuzhinsky's illustration for the set of "The Devil's Play"
Dobuzhinsky’s illustration for the set of “The Devil’s Play”
This chapter and section will give an extra depth to the discussion about The Fairground Booth. It will also serve one of my intention which is to put the play in the wider context of Russian and European literature.
Attached are the frontispiece for The Fairground Booth and the set design for the fist part of  The Devils Play by Remizov
+Russian Theatre Documentary Series
thefairgroundbooth.com michaelcraig.copernicusfilms.com
#Dobuzhinsky #thefairgroundbooth

"The Fairground Booth" and "Petrushka"


This post is a fragment from a chapter of the book which will be published some time next year. The context is a comparison between the ballet "Petrushka" and "The Fairground Booth". Both share roots in the Russian fairground and the figures of the commedia dell'arte. To understand a play like The Fairground Booth which has no plot, no characters, no real sense of forward movement or natural time and broke from the traditions of realism and naturalism, requires an approach to Russian culture which moves beyond its surface reflections. When, as Bakhtin states, Dostoevsky's work embodies elements of carnival, (something which is not immediately associated with Dostoevsky), then it becomes clear why it is possible to find clues to the meaning of "The Fairground Booth" in works of literature as various as "The Brothers Karamazov" and The ballet "Petrushka" and vise a versa.

For those seeking unadulterated cultural forms this approach may be disappointing. However it is in this spirit, if we understand the play itself as a mask, that "The Fairground Booth" will reveal itself. The essence of this play is that it embraced contraries and opposites and did so deliberately in order to open up theatre to some kind of change or reconstitution, something which was desperately needed in theatre at the time and was pursued by Stanislavsky, Meyerhold and Vakhtangov each in there own fashion. New modes of thought born of a new age called for new modes of expression. But where to find these new myths and new forms. Blok turned to the tradition of the fairground with its timeless puppets and the Italian comeddia dell'arte with its eternal masks and together with Meyerhold they forged the beginnings of a new theatre.
The examination of the ballet "Petrushka" has led us to a wider contemplation of the Fairground Booth itself. We can go a little further and examine some of the paintings and works of the artists of The World of Art movement with Benois as one of its leading figures and the author of the libretto of "Petrushka" in relation to "The Fairground Booth" in which the figure of Pierrot and the Russian version Petrushka are on some levels interchangeable. There is a painting which caught my eye partly for its apocalyptic character by Dobuzhinsky called "The Kiss". It shows a couple embracing against a futuristic apocalyptic background, a city-scape shrouded in mist and smoke and self combustion. It is strangely alluring and threatening all in one glance. The naked couple is reminiscent of Rodin's "The Lovers" but more in keeping with Klimt's "The Kiss". It is not immediately connected with carnival until we look a little further.
Such images crop up in many paintings by members of The world of Art movement and are connected with the themes of the fairground and the comeddia dell'arte. For instance there is a painting by Konstantine Somov called "Death and Harlequin" 1907, which shows a skeleton dressed in a sable cape with what looks like silver teardrops sewn into it. Harlequin thumbs his nose at Death, the female skeleton figure, (much like Petrushka thumbs his nose at the magician at the end of the ballet after he has been killed by the Moor and reappears as a ghost). In the middle distance behind Death and Harlequin is a couple dressed in contemporary evening wear, kissing passionately. Its not a great looking work of art in the style of Rembrandt for instance using richly variegated paint surfaces and is more in the decorative ornamental style which was so popular at that time then and related to The world of Art's involvement in theatre. The scene is repeated in various guises in other paintings by Somov especially a colour sketch for a theatre curtain for The Free Theatre in Moscow in 1913. In this sketch all the elements of the commedia dell'arte are present, The devil, harlequin, Pierrot, a young woman to the side in a pose of melancholic meditation and in the centre a man and a woman trying to reach out to each other but are separated by the break in the curtain. This separation reminded me of the author in "The Fairground Booth" (who in this sketch appears perhaps in the guise of a bald bespectacled man, the only figure not in a mask) who trying to bring together Columbina and Pierrot but are separated by the set of the theatre flying away before they can renew their relationship and join together. Above the whole scene cupids and figures from Greek mythology languish in the clouds above. These coincidences are further underlined by one curious fact which is common to many of these paintings. The theme of unobtainable desire. Many times there is a couple who is estranged and alienated from one another. Something is wrong or amiss despite the merriment of the carnival and despite the passion surrounding the kiss . In all the paintings depicting carnival and the harlequinades there is an underlying disquiet or even violence, as in "Columbina's Tongue" 1915 where Pierrot is threatened with a stick by a Harlequin like figure, who is poking out from behind the giant skirts of an over-sized Columbina dominating the entire canvas. The passion is called into question by for instance in Somov's Death and Harlequin by the appearance of Death in the foreground. With Dobuzhinsky's version the towering city of chimneys belching steam and the overwhelming skyscrapers leaning at odd impossible angles and the old symbols of the city are being engulfed in flames, angels are falling ( the angel on top of the column in St Petersburg on Palace Square). The white skyscrapers (white being the colour of the apocalypse) seems to be growing out of the destruction.Here an odd conjunction occurs which has been touched on earlier and Dobuzhinsky's painting embodies this connection.
It has been argued that in his version of "The Kiss" Klimt represented the moment Apollo kisses Daphne, following the metamorphosis of Ovid's narrative. I don't know if this is the case or not but if we follow this logic then it can illuminate further some of the themes that have been explored earlier. Here the myth of the metamorphosis of a human being into a tree reoccurs.
In the metamorphoses of Ovid
Daphne the daughter of the river god
Peneus was the first love of Apollo;
this happened not by chance
but by the cruel outrage of cupid.
After an argument with Phoebus (Apollo), cupid shot two different arrows at cross purposes with one another. One arrow struck struck Daphne and the other Apollo. One was in love and the other would have none of it. Apollo pursues Daphne from an excess of passion and Daphne flees across the the land eventually appealing to her father to protect her. Scarcely has she finished her prayer and she is transformed into a tree for her own protection. Apollo even despite such a metamorphosis presses his lips to the wood with the warmth of his passion still aglow.
Apollo doesn't give up stating:
Although you cannot be my bride
you will assuredly be my own tree
O laurel, and will always find yourself
girding my locks, my lyre and my quiver too...
you will adorn great roman generals....
so you will be evergreen forever...
The first thing that strikes one here is the idea of an unobtainable love which is present as a motive in the legend of Narcissus and Echo in "The Fairground Booth", Echo and Narcissus in their different ways, yearned for the unobtainable. It is also featured in the love scenes of the three couples in the play as well as Pierrot's final estrangement from Columbina and is present in paintings and art from the The world of Art movement. Somov was homosexual as were several members of The World of Art movement and the idea at that time of unobtainable desire must have been particularly problematic but rich in material for him as an artist. For the lovers in Dobuzhinsky's painting however there is a difference. While they are being engulfed in the destruction they somehow stand out from it, surviving in a fiery embrace, seemingly oblivious to the tempest around them. In another painting by Somov, Italian Comedy he depicts a carnival of masks with harlequin, Columbina and Pierrot. Above them almost unnoticed is a wall of arches with one of the column of the arches appearing as if it is about to metamorphosis into a demon monster ready to devour the merrymaking mask below.
It is worth recapitulating what has been said earlier with regard to the story of Attis and Blok's interest Cattulus's poem abut Attis and Cybele who changed Attis into a Pine tree, which henceforth became sacred. Attis gradually becomes and acts as a female. Then again Attis (in my opinion) appears as Ariel in "The Tempest" who was preserved in a pine tree on the island and is released from his suffering by Prospero. These themes, especially those which spoke of metamorphosis and transformation were a constant preoccupation with Russian artists and writers of the early twentieth century, delving into classical antiquity to illuminate their concerns with the present and future. Sometimes they are so hidden that one could be forgiven for seeing things where they do not exist. However, as always art always invites speculation. In one painting called "The Resting Comedians" 1914 by Sergei Sudeikin who as well as being an artist was also a theatre designer and at one time worked with Meyerhold in arranging the theatre House of Interludes (1910-1911. His art included many scenes taken directly from the fairground and harlequinades. Here the scene shows a group of travelling players resting in a forest glade by a lake. On the right hand-side is a figure which could be human or could be a mannequin - half puppet, half human but either way it is embedded into the tree almost as part of the tree and in its mouth there looks to be what I can only describe as a pine cone. Metamorphosis for symbolists was the essence of creativity as has been stated elsewhere and so it is not inconceivable that this small detail referencing a human being transformed into a tree is deliberate.
So why one might ask should we concern ourselves with paintings and graphic works from this time in relation to "The Fairground Booth". The obvious answer is that many artists especially from The World of Art movement actively participated in theatrical design and production. However there is a deeper, more direct reason. "The Fairground Booth" presents us with an ornamental world not a real world and this was a conscious attempt to subvert realism and the naturalism of theatrical practice and develop new dramas and new theatrical forms. Part of this process was questioning the foundations of theatre itself. The Fairground Booth's other title was "The Puppet Show" (from the puppet booths of the Russian fairground) and in both the play "The Fairground Booth" and the Ballet "Petrushka" the scenes resembled a picture gallery where the figures in pictures and drawings from bygone theatre jumped from their frames and became living entities before our eyes. This phenomena is literally performed in the ballet "Petrushka" when the magician brings Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor to life with the touch of his flute and they step out of their booths/boxes/frames and dance like any living animated creature. It is a comment on the creative process itself and also raises questions about the self and the view of the actors task as an autonomous free entity. Dance and movement as a component part of the theatrical and dramatic process was a new and fresh approach in theatre.
We began with the ballet "Petrushka" and in conclusion we return to the theme of dance which permeates all these works from "The Fairground Booth" to "Petrushka" and to those works which feature in one form or another carnival motifs. In this context we can highlight what can be called the Dance of Death, stalking the epoch before the Revolution and the first world war and which haunted the cultural milieu of Europe. It also appeared in its symbolist manifestations from Les Fleurs du mal of Baudelaire to Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" which is set during an Italian carnival. Poe's plague ridden "The Mask of the Red Death" where Death visits the ball in the guise of a masked stranger comes to mind in this instance as well. For our purposes in explaining and revealing some of the themes which inform "The Fairground Booth" the dance of death is ever present. It is Columbina who appears at the beginning of "The Fairground Booth" as Death. For the mystics she is Death for whom they have been waiting. For Pierrot she is his fiance. This double interpretation paves the way for what is to follow, a series of ambiguous and multifaceted theatrical phenomena and doubling. This enabled Blok simultaneously to tip his hat to his symbolist leanings but also criticise them in this work of self parody, a trend which intensified up to and beyond the Russian revolution but abruptly ended when it was replaced by Social Realism as the dominant artistic movement in Russia in the early 1930s. It also gave Meyerhold a chance to experiment with new forms of theatre which entered the mainstream of Russian and Soviet theatre after the revolution.
thefairgroundbooth.com
michaelcraig.copernicusfilms.com
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#thefairgroundbooth
#russiantheatre
#theatre