Sergei Parajanov talks about his life and career
Interview with Ron Holloway
THIS interview formed the basis of our documentary portrait, Parajanov, A Requiem (1994). The American spelling of "Parajanov" is used, instead of the British-French "Paradjanov," to differentiate this documentary from a dozen others made on the Armenia-Georgian director. The interview took place on 1 July 1988 in his hotel room on the morning before the world premiere of Ashik Kerib at the Filmfest München. Parajanov was always aware of the tasks facing the cameraman; accordingly, he would shorten or lengthen his answers to keep the interview flowing. His last speech on the stage of the Carl-Orff-Hall is added because be was actually speaking to the camera on this occasion.
Since Parajanov makes frequent references to his films, I have included a brief bio/filmography at the end of this interview. On occasion, I have inserted extra production dates, first names, and term explanations in the text to prevent needless reference delay. However, the reader should be aware that Parajanov often speaks in visual terms; thus, certain words -- artistismus," "pathology," "cardiogram," "biblical," "plastic" -- have special meaning to him alone. Also, his references to the "Soviet Avant-Garde," "Socialist Realism," and "Socialist Neorealism" contradict definitions in both Soviet and Western film lexicons; in my opinion, his viewpoints are more accurate and reliable indices of the times.
Lastly, this interview was originally planned as the first half of a 90-minute documentary. The second half was to chronicle the shooting of Confession at his home in Tbilisi, a project he delayed until June of 1989, and then was not able to complete. We view this interview as complementary material to our 57-minute documentary on Parajanov, to which the subtitle A Requiem was added for the screenings at the Los Angeles and Venice film festivals.
Ron and Dorothea Holloway, Berlin, 8 December 1995.
Holloway: Sergei, how did you become a film director?
Parajanov: I believe you have to be born a director. It's like a child's adventure: you take the initiative among other children and become a director, creating a mystery. You mould things into shape and create. You torment people with your "artistismus" - scaring mother and grandmother in the middle of the night. You dress yourself up like Charlie's Aunt, or as (Hans Christian) Andersen's heroes. Using feathers from a trunk, you transform yourself into a rooster or a firebird. This has always preoccupied me, and that is what directing is.
A director can't be trained, not even in a film school like VGIK (Soviet All-Union State School for Film Art and Cinematography). You can't learn it. You have to be born with it. You have to possess it in your mother's womb. Your mother must be an actress, so you can inherit it. Both my mother and father were artistically gifted.
What was your diploma film at VGIK about?
It was a short children's film: Moldavian Fairy Tale(1951). After (Alexander) Dovzhenko saw it, he said: "Let's see it again." For the first time in the history of VGIK, the examination board decided to watch a diploma film twice. (Rostoslav) Yurenev, now a successful film and art critic, said: "Parajanov has copied Dovzhenko. It is monumental and epic. Parajanov has seen Zvenigora(1928)."
Dovzhenko said: "You loudmouth! Sit down and listen to me. He hasn't seen Zvenigora." Then he said: "Where are you, young man?" I stood up, and he asked: "To tell the truth, have you seen Zvenigora?" I said: "No." "See, that's just nonsense!" Yurenev wasn't very well known at that time. He was a slim, slightly built young man, who ran from director to director.
Probably, my diploma film was pretty close to what I was prepared to bring to expression as a film director.
But your diploma film is lost...
No. It's at home.
Then why it isn't shown here in the retrospective?
I simply forgot It. Only Andriesh, the longer version was shown here -- not to children, unfortunately, but to an adult audience.
What was it like in the courses conducted by Alexander Dovzhenko and Igor Savchenko?
Dovzhenko and Savchenko were enemies. They were always fighting, didn't get along. Both were talented, prominent, exceptional. One worked in the style of the Polish painter (Jan) Matejko, experimenting with Renaissance styles. The other depicted an apple, an old man death, a stork that comes and flies away -- his art drew upon his epic childhood. And the clash of this aesthete with that archaic god-of-the-prophets provoked conflicts in Dovzhenko's studio.
Savchenko died young: he was only 43 years old. And lying in his coffin he looked like an old man. We have now survived him by 20 years. His students are older than their teacher was: (Vladimir) Naumow is 60 and I am 64. We've outlived him by 20 years. The loss of Savchenko grieved Dovzhenko to the depth of his soul. He took charge of our examinations and signed our diplomas. He was very generous. He was particularly enthusiastic about (Alexander) Alov and Naumov and the late (Felix) Mironer.
It appears that VGIK was packed with talent at that time.
There were several interesting people among us -- including, of course, Dovzhenko. I grieve for the dead, my fellow students. Four are no longer with us. We recently gathered together, set four empty plates on the table, like four candles, and thought of our friends who have left us: Alov, who spent his life filming with Naumov; Mironer, who made with (Marlen) Khutsiev Spring on Zarechnaya Street (1956); Grisha (Grigori) Aronov; and Seva (Vsevolod) Voronin. Four friends have left us, and who knows who will be next.
We were chosen by Savchenko, a gifted man. He loved and idolized us. And he inspired us. He waited for the day when we would perform a miracle. He was very happy when Khutsiev and Mironer signed a contract with GLKVK (Soviet All-State Film Distribution agency) for their first screenplay, Spring on Zarechnaya Street (1956). He drove with them in his "Mercedes" down Gorky Prospekt with the top down. They bought new socks, Khutsiev said. Savchenko made them take off their ragged socks, right there in the car. They threw them out of the car and put on new ones. Not only were they students, but filmmakers with money too.
Alov and Naumov co-directed Restless Youth (1958) and Pavel Korchagin (1957), also The Wind(1958). They pioneered the Avant-Garde.
What is film direction for you? Real life? A dream? A mystery?
Directing is fundamentally the truth as it's transformed into images: sorrow, hope, love, beauty. Sometimes I tell others the stories in my screenplays, and I ask: "Did I make it up, or is it the truth?" Everyone says: "It's made up." No, it's simply the truth as I perceive it.
Your first films were made in a realistic vein. What made you change your style?
I could work pretty much to my own satisfaction in those days. The times were realistic: the generation, the background, the canvas on which I worked.
I worked and suffered, under three despots. The despots were in the Kremlin. And today perestroika is seeking to become the cardiogram of the times. Perhaps, one day, a book will appear dealing with all those years, something like a cardiogram. As Stalin was on his way up, he lowered the price of socks. And people were content; socks were two kopeks cheaper. Every six months he would drop the price of socks and undershirts. But the price of bread didn't change. A cardiogram...
The Soviet films of that era -- and not just mine -- are like a cardiogram of terror. They are cardiograms of fear. The fear of losing your film, the fear of starving. You feared for your work
Are you a filmmaker? Or a graphic artist?
I'm a graphic artist and a director who seeks to shape images. Savchenko, our mentor, encouraged us to sketch our thoughts -- and give them plastic form. We all had to draw our thoughts at the film school. For the entrance examination we were brought to a room and told: "Draw whatever you like..."
Are you pleased with the reception your graphic work received here at the Filmfest München?
I'm very happy they are showing some of my work here in a workshop exhibition: my style of wall-exhibition, some wall-plates. I brought along about 20 works -- not very many, but enough to form an opinion. Among these is one with a bouquet of flowers, a collage dedicated to the mothers of Munich who lost their sons in the war. It's a bouquet of flowers placed upon a mirror -- a rather uncommon motif. For mothers who, like Soviet mothers, suffered terribly in the last war.
I'm taking some pictures, some really remarkable pictures, back home with me. I was invited to the Greek Orthodox (Ukrainian Uniate) church here in Munich. I attended the service and talked to the priest -- and on the wall of the clubroom they had a small exhibition of drawings by children. They had drawn the royal couple Prince Vladimir and Princess Olga. All the drawings dealt with this theme: wonderful, primitive drawings. They break the rules of Socialist Realism. Even Prince Vladimir is shown the way he was: lame and short-legged. They are delightful drawings. They are my best souvenirs from Germany, these children's drawings. ...