“The Nose”, a short phantasmagoria written by Nikolai Gogol back in 1836, is among the most famous masterpieces of Russian literature. The protagonists, Major Kovalev, finds that his nose is missing from his face. Later he finds out that his nose – the Nose – becomes a high ranking official in the bureaucratic empire of Nicolas the First. In 1963 the animated version was created by a Russian emigre, Alexandre Alexeieff, made in his unique pinscreen style. Recently, Andrei Khrzhanovsky presented a new vision of the Gogol’s work featuring music by Dmitri Shostakovich. Khrzhanovsky, a veteran of the Soviet/Russian animation, is a director of many animated and mixed media pieces, including critically-acclaimed “The Glass Harmonica” and a somewhat less successful biopic of a Nobel prize laureate Joseph Brodsky. Stylistically and historically eclectic feature-length animation combines the original story taking place in the 19th century Saint Petersburg with the more recent Soviet and contemporary Russian artifacts and characters, including young pioneers and militia. The Nose grows and transforms into the menacing symbol of the authoritarian state, yet despite beginning an autonomous and sinister existence, it is still a part of the person, the dark side that dwells in everyone.
Here’s the teaser featuring an image of Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Nikolai Gogol – ingenious mavericks of the filmmaking, theater, music, and literature.
Apart from “Cat in the Hat”, several books by Dr. Seuss inspired Russian animators. The most notable adaptation is Welcome (Добро пожаловать) based on “Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose.” A constellation of talents worked on this short piece. Yuri Koval, author and artist who was involved in the creation of such popular cartoons as Laughter and Grief by the White Sea, wrote a screenplay. Yevgeny Leonov, a beloved comedian actor and voice of Russian Winnie-the-Pooh, provided his voice. Alexander Petrov, an innovative animator and the 1999 Academy Award for Animated Short Film winner, created a unique style of this paint-on-glass animation.
Paint-on-glass involves manipulation of paints (oil or gouache) or other media like charcoal and creates a uniquely recognizable style featuring a smooth, fluid movement. Among the animators who employed this style is Caroline Leaf. Alexander Petrov often uses his fingers for painting. In the last decades, he created critically acclaimed animated films in this style based on stories by Platonov, Dostoyevsky, and Hemingway. As a bonus enjoy his paint-on-glass winter advertisement for Coca-Cola
Stop motion animation all but ceased to exist during the Stalin-era Disney-inspired animation with extensive use of rotoscope technique. A Cloud in Love, with its eclectic mix of puppets and hand-draw animation, became an aesthetic pivot point for Soviet animation that turned to its avant-garde roots during the Khrushchev Thaw and well the 1960s. Stop-motion animation was usually considered subpar by children but highly valued by critics. Nikolay Serebryakov’s cartoon Ball of Wool is based on a poem by Ovsei Driz, a notable Soviet Jewish poet who wrote in Yiddish and worked primarily for children. Ball of Wool like many of his works was translated into Russian by Genrikh Sapgir, a prominent poet and author of many cartoon scripts, including such classics as Losharik. Serebraykov literally spins this story using a magic ball of wool that an old woman finds in the midst of the winter storm. She starts to knit her small world where soft woven objects are juxtaposed with harsh, edgy features of puppets. A mix of puppet and woven animation create a unique environment of this parable.
E.T.A. Hoffmann was always one of the most beloved German writers in Russia. We already wrote about the animated version of Nutcracker (1973). Tatyana Ilyina produced her full featured version of Nutcracker in 2004. Hoffmaniad (Гофманиада), the most recent stop-motion animated film with elements of computer animation, has been in the works since 2001. It will combine elements of several novels, including Little Zaches, The Golden Pot, and The Sandman. It features art and design of a prominent Russian-born artist, Mikhail Shemyakin. As of now, a 20-minute version is available (based on The Golden Pot). The quality of puppets and design is amazing. Fantasy and reality blend together, and the world of the protagonist, Hoffmann, who serves as a low-rank official, is more tragic and surreal than magical adventures he writes about. Unfortunately, no exact release date is given.
Soviet animation had traditionally strong ties with works of literature and folklore. Russian Media Subtitles group recently presented a translation of Yulian Kalisher’s stop motion cartoon Words of Wisdom (aka Golden Words, Золотые слова) based on stories by Mikhail Zoshchenko. (Update: YT purged the video with translation, so no English subtitles are available). Zoshchenko, immensely popular in the 1920-1930s, was later harshly criticized by Stalin’s officials and died in poverty. At first glance, it’s just a story based on childhood anecdote about two children, Liola and Min’ka, who are present at the dinner with their parents and other grown-ups, including their father’s boss. Apparently, there is a socialization issue of smart but young kids who try to fit into the adult world. The “golden words” of this story are simple: one must always take into consideration changes in the environment. Kids must learn when one must remain silent, and when one should say something. This has additional meaning for a Soviet intelligent. The story was written in the late 1930s. During Soviet times many people had to choose wisely when and what they could say. To a degree, these golden words became mottos of many Soviet artists. Film features creatively made puppets and skillful visual connection of various stories.
Words of Wisdom (Золотые слова) 1989. Produced by Julian Kalisher Ekran Studio