by Peter Ferko and Wendy Newton
In the current program at Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, Russian sci-fi and fantasy visionaries are ‘beamed up’ to a new audience. The series, From the Tsars to the Stars: A Journey Through Russian Fantastik Film pays tribute to the genres of “imagination” and includes classics like Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” and more recent discoveries, some in new prints. The series is curated by Alla Verlotsky of Seagull films, who continually brings the cream of Russian films to Walter Reade’s schedule, with Robert Skotak and Dennis Bartok.
A great example of the caliber of this series is “Ruslan and Ludmila” from 1972, produced by the children’s division of Mosfilm. The final movie from director Alexander Ptushko is a sophisticated fairy tale based on Pushkin’s Poem “Ruslan and Ludmila” (also the basis for an opera by Glinka). In fact the dialog is the poem. The movie transcends our notion of what a fairy tale on film can be: incredibly good casting, acting, set design, and poetic dialog. A study in how it is not necessary to ‘dumb down’ movies for children, this movie is instead a vehicle for teaching children Pushkin.
A visual artist will delight at this work; it includes giants who are part of the terrain they occupy, crystalline gardens, fountains that spill up instead of down, and an evil sorceror dwarf with a 30-foot beard. The movie gives a great introduction to various archtypes from the Russian psyche: vengeful witches, clever young princesses, brave warriors, gluttons, and a fabulous love of the countryside and country folk all figure here.
There is extensive background on the series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s website and a free roundtable took place August 12th. Ruslan and Ludmila screens again August 17 and August 20. The series runs through the 24th. Don’t miss out!
image: The Amphibian Man, G.Kazansky and V. Chebotarev, 1962