Talk before screening of "Solaris" (February 19, 2012)part1
At Fukaya Cinema, Feburary19, 2012, Saitama pref,Japan
Good Evening, ladies and gentlemen, I'm Nishi. As just having been introduced, I have engaged in study of Russia cinema, mainly of contemporary Russian cinema . If you ask what I mean by "contemporary", I would say it's the time after so-called studio system has collapsed. That's my view. It is since the 1950s. It is from around the late 1950s. However I say so, studio system of the Soviet Union did not disintegrate after that time. On the contrary, just around the 1950s when Tarkovsky entered Film school, created diploma film, then began to be recognized internationally, from late 1950s to the early 1960s, it was the first period of Soviet film industry's rebirth and subsequent its golden age. Though in the first half of 1960s when Tarkovsky had just gained international fame, then he met his co-creators - Alexander Misharin with whom he lately wrote the screenplay for "Mirror" and was eight years younger than him, or wrote with Andrei Koncharovsky who was even younger than him, the scenario for "Andrei Rublyov". That period of "thaw" came to its end after the first half of 1960s. The General Secretary, N. Khrushchev, who had criticised Stalin was dismissed, and the Soviet Union again entered the cold era. That was the beginning of so-called "era of stagnation".
And, from the end of the 1960s through the 1970s, the time is called the "era of stagnation". But, in fact, this "era of stagnation" was a golden age for the Soviet film industry. It is paradoxical, but at the beginning of the 1960s a system was made, That system of the film industry worked pretty well. In 1972, when the "era of stagnation" has just begun, the top of censorship institution State Cinema Committee(Goskino) Alexei Romanov was dismissed, and he was replaced by a man who was a little more sensitive to cinema than Romanov, the man named Philip Ermash. In fact, Ermash was in a strange position,as he had a talent of a producer and at the same time was the top of the censorship organ. Tarkovsky was a difficult person, who often did not know what he finally wanted to do himself. On the other hand, because his international fame had already been established, so-called artistic authority of his among creative intellectuals was quite high. Bureaucrats of the Soviet Union that time was afraid of such people. In other words, in Russia from the 19th century- since the time of Pushkin, - there had been officials or tyrants who were afraid of creative intellectuals and people like them. There is such a tradition in Russia. Actually Pushkin and Tolstoy had a considerable authority among people, especially among emerging bourgeois, or people with a certain degree of education. Dostoevsky also had an authority. Their behavior might have led to such things as revolution or rebellion. There was always such fear. So, such filmmakers as Tarkovsky,who had a fame as well as people's expectation for the next works were feared . So Ermash once warned abou that situation to the center of the Party. And, how Tarkovsky's own personal thought and his personal life had changed then is also a very interesting theme. In the Era of "thaw", as i already mentioned, he found collaborators and wrote together with Konchalovsky the scenario for "Andrei Rublyov" etc., he felt himself quite bright, well, - or rather bright. Having a fame, there was also a variety of ideas, and because the time was relatively liberal, there was hope in the days of "Thaw". However, After the writing of scenario for "Andrei Rublyov", criticism to him has become much stronger. But, it also because of the fact that there was a problem with the scenario, which he wrote with Koncharovsky. The problem was that it was too long. From a standard of that time the movie would be of 4 hours, or 5 hours, may be longer. It was not "War and Peace", so it couldn't be so long.
I must explain a little about the system of the state-owned film production in the Soviet Union that time. Actually by the end of the 1950s because of too strict censorship film audience had become lesser, so the film industry was adversely affected. And audience had gotten used to foreign films. In fact, foreign films also were shown to some extent, they were shown also as a trophy brought from War, they earned money, but domestic films didn't earn. In order to improve this situation, they must have made what would meet the needs of the audience to some extent. That is why, aside from freedom of expression, diversifying genres was needed, in order to do that, they had to give film studios a certain degree of autonomy, it means that they had to give studios discretion to the repertoire, Then, the process of censorship also had to be simplified. For that reason, a new system was made in the early 1960s. Well, rather to say that a new system was completed at that time. Then, the top of the censorship organ, Alexei Romanov whom I've mentioned, he was the first top of censorship agency called State Cinema Committee. In fact, this censorship organ - Goskino- was made in the era of "Thaw", in 1963. And just at that time most of main organizations, the system which continued to exist until the Perestroika period were made. at that time. For example, besides State Cinema Committee, they made such organization, as All- Soviet filmmakers' Union, an organization for professionals. It is a guild, in short. Filmmakers, namely film directors, scenario writers, and directors of photography, such people belonged to it. A large professional organization, was created. Then that All-Soviet filmmakers Union came to edit a magazine called "Film Art" in cooperation with Goskino. The "Film Art" magazine had existed from 1930s, but with a co-editors of Filmmakers' Union, as a results, the discourse developed there became a little more professional. In other words, not very political topics had become much on Film Art - exactly on "Film Art" . Level of discourse on cinema became even higher in that. Then a magazine for fans came to be a periodical. It is "Soviet screen". "Sovetskii Ekran"magazine came to be published on a regular basis. This went to meet the needs of movie fans in general. A thing like so-called "Star system" was formed through the magazine. In short, since the beginning of the 1960s film industry became "commercial". It continued until the time when Perestroika began in mid-1980s followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Though it rattled quite on the way, it continued to function until 1986 or 1987. So until that time the film industry was in a golden age. And if telling about the extent of that golden age, for example, putting aside films of Tarkovsky, the huge hit, big hits really was seen by tens of millions of people. Population of the Soviet Union of those days was 200 million 50 million, I think it was so, on average, in one year, for example, in Russian Republic alone how many times people went to movie theaters? There were some people who didn't see at all, but roughly on average, 20 times when they went most often. Ten or more, for example, 12 times, even in the middle of 1980's. They went to the cinema so often. So demand for movies was really huge. Number of produced films in fact was not so much. It was around 150 per year in the Soviet Union as a whole. Though the number of audience and that of cinema were really huge, so the works of... well, those who made so-called "difficult films" like Tarkovsky, also had a certain degree of demand. So, It is, for example, "Color of Pomegranate" by Paradjanov was released with more than 100 prints, more than 1 million saw it in Soviet Union, such a story is unbelievable from the standards today in Japan. "Solaris", which you see now, in fact, had more than 10 million audience. More than 10 million among the population of 250 million, it means one person of 20 people saw it.
There was such an attendance of audience. Though Tarkovsky became afraid of, -after the mid of 1970s- the risk of being "shelved", in short, the risk of his films' not being released, still even "Mirror" was screened with 70 or more prints. It means, the film can be screened in more than 70 theaters at the same time in the whole country. Such a situation can never happen to Japanese "art house" films today. There is Ioseliani, Otar Ioseliani fromGeorgia. This person is also an art house filmmaker who had come to make movie in France, his work was seen 2 million people. There was so many audience. That means the level of film culture of the Soviet Union in the 1970s was extremely high. Or rather, its layer was thick. So the passion for cinema and its understanding of already mentioned creative intellectuals was significantly high. Moreover, since the level of "Film Art" magazine was also high, there were many spectators very sincere to cinema. Further there was an interesting phenomenon. The films with small number of prints, the works unadvertised in the city, were favorite objects to watch for creative intellectuals. Because they thought: they were treated so because they must have been suppressed. Films of Tarkovsky, Ioseliani, Paradjanov, they had watched before. For example, there was "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors". Then came "Color of pomegranate". In the case of Tarkovsky, "Andrei Rublyov" hadn't been released for a long time, after that "Solaris" appeared. So the degree of expectation was very high among creative intellectuals. (to be continued)