On the Cultural Gutter, Over the Moon, Comrade is my look at the Soviet science fiction adventure Cosmic Voyage and the film that inspired it, Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Moon.
To commemorate Frank Sinatra’s centennial, we’re looking at the history of Jilly’s Saloon, the joint Frank used as his home base whenever he was in New York City. When owner Jilly Rizzo retired and sold the restaurant, it passed into the hands of a trio of Russians — including a Nobel Prize winning poet and the most famous ballet dancer in the world — who turned it into a hotspot for Russian ex-pats, intellectuals, and artists. Oh, and Johnny Carson was almost assassinated there by an angry Mob boss
Based on a retelling by author Daniel Chonkadze of a Georgian folktale, the simple plot at the core of the movie is about Georgia in a tumultuous time, caught in the middle of a war between Muslims and Christians. Although its borders are largely secure thanks to a network of fortresses, one of these strongholds is a weak link owing to the fact that no matter what manner of architectural and engineering know-how is applied to it, the walls inevitably crumble after a short while.
Depending on whose folklore upon which we rely, Satan’s midwinter rascalry was combatted by a variety of traditional characters. In Mexico, since time immemorial, they have told the tale of how Pitch the Devil was thwarted in his efforts to corrupt the young and innocent by Santa Claus, who lives on the moon and employed the assistance of his most trusted friend, Merlin the Magician. In The Ukraine, which these days is more concerned with contesting the antics of Vladimir the Bare-Chested Yuletide Goblin, the corrupting efforts of the more unsaintly of the famous Nicks had to be foiled by a hearty peasant in a big furry cap.
Russian author Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy wrote the stories that served as the source material for two of the Soviet Union’s best-known science fiction adventures: the futurist fantasy Aelita, Queen of Mars and the Fantomas-inspired pulp thriller The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin. Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy was Russia’s less internationally known Tolstoy. While the one was writing…
Based on a story by Ukrainian-born writer Nikolai Gogol, Viy is the story of good-for-nothing layabout Khoma (Leonid Kuravlyov), a scholar from the local monastery who with his two friends is on his way home for a break from the rigors of not really applying himself to his studies. To be fair to Khoma, he seems no worse than the rest of the students, who follow their release from seminary school with goose-theft, drunken carousing, and occasional grab-ass.
Studies of Russian cinema tend to be studies of Soviet cinema — classics from the glory days (such as they were) of the communist powerhouse. Russia has moved on, though, both cinematically and culturally (though Vladimir Putin would love if that wan’t the case), and modern Russian cinema is a very different beast than the…