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4 Wars and Gambits

Stephen M. Norris Indiana University Press ePub

Dzhanik Faiziev’s film The Turkish Gambit, a mystery set amidst the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, debuted in February 2005. It went on to earn $18.5 million—more than any other film in Russian history—besting the previous year’s blockbuster, Night Watch. Produced by Konstantin Ernst, the head of Pervyi kanal, and Leonid Vereshchagin, Nikita Mikhalkov’s producer at Studio Tri-te, The Turkish Gambit was both hailed and reviled as a sign that Russian cinema had either refound its footing or lost the battle with Hollywood altogether. To supporters, the fact that the film topped the Russian box office for three weeks straight (eventually another Russian film, Shadow Boxing, bested it), was a sign of Russian cinematic strength. Russian films led the box office for the entire month of March 2005, the first time this feat had been achieved since communism’s collapse. For detractors, however, this “victory” meant nothing, for it represented a triumph of Hollywood style over Russian substance. “Russian” cinema, for some critics, had ceased to exist, replaced by action films that deliberately used American conventions to dumb down the masses.

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6 Mirror of War

Stephen M. Norris Indiana University Press ePub

In May 1985, the Soviet film critic Lev Anninskii published a seminal article in Iskusstvo kino. Appearing just two months after Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary, Anninskii’s “Quiet Explosions [Tikhie vzryvy],” promised, as the subtitle suggested, to be a series of “polemical notes.”1 Published to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of Victory Day, Anninskii asserted that the war against Nazi Germany had now passed into memory, particularly because of Soviet cinematic representations. What appears on screen, he wrote, “is not what was, but what is remembered [his emphasis].” Because cinema had fostered this memory work, turning the war into a myth that could be used by the Soviet state, Anninskii urged artists to break away from previous cinematic explorations of the war and to “sing their own songs about the war.” What was needed, according to Anninskii, was a series of “silent explosions” that could shake up the memories produced onscreen. Anninskii got his wish, but only in part, for the Gorbachev era brought a series of loud cultural eruptions. The call for “silent explosions” seemed quaint by December 1991, when a new era dawned.

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14 Conclusion: Packaging the Past

Stephen M. Norris Indiana University Press ePub

Our journey into blockbuster history began at the multiplex, which served as the initial locus for understanding film as a theater of historical remembrance. It ends at another new memory site that has appeared in post-Soviet Russia: the video store.

Video stores in the new Russia sell every film, game, and soundtrack mentioned in the previous chapters. The Soiuz chain, to pick one prominent example, operates 40 stores and 9 “hypermarkets” throughout Russia, while also distributing goods to 150 other shops. The company, founded in 1992, bills itself as one that “specializes in the production and realization of products related to the business category of intellectual entertainments.”1 Because of its nationwide reach, Soiuz also attempts to combat video piracy, which is traditionally high in Russia’s provinces. The company also operates a music label, serves as an official distributor of foreign and domestic films, and even helps to produce DVD versions of films—Soiuz officially produced Aleksei Balabanov’s Cargo 200. In short, a trip into the world of Soiuz is a trip into how much Russia has changed since 1991.

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1. Ermak Timofeevich (1530s/40s–1585)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

WILLARD SUNDERLAND

Vasilii Surikov’s masterpiece Ermak’s Conquest of Siberia (1895) takes up an entire wall in St. Petersburg’s Russian Museum. It is a typical battle scene, painted in the realist style that made Surikov famous, with the Russians arrayed in the foreground and the native Siberians facing them across a river. Approaching the painting from across the gallery, we need only a moment to realize who will carry the day. The Russians stand like a bristling wall, staring defiantly at the foe, their banners high, and smoke clouding from their muskets. The angle Surikov chose for the scene places us on the Russians’ side. The natives, meanwhile, stare back at us from the opposite bank, close enough that we can see the fear in their eyes.

At first, it is hard to locate the hero of the painting, but then we find him, just to the left of the canvas’s center: a determined warrior under the banners, outfitted with a steel helmet and a breastplate. He looks out at the natives, his arm outstretched toward the opposite bank, pointing to victory and reaching for the future. This is Ermak.1

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9. Johannes Ambrosius Rosenstrauch (1768–1835)

Edited by Stephen M Norris and Willard Indiana University Press ePub

 

ALEXANDER M. MARTIN

There are two principal justifications for writing someone’s biography.1 Some people (such as Catherine the Great or Lomonosov) are significant for the individual roles they played in history. Others performed no great deeds, yet if we ask the right questions, they can tell us much about the world in which they lived. This approach—“microhistory”—is especially rewarding in the case of immigrants, religious converts, and others who experienced a change in their social position, for how they exchanged old identities for new ones illumines the wider process by which social identities are formed and maintained.

The life of Johannes Ambrosius Rosenstrauch—immigrant, stage actor, merchant, freemason, religious convert, writer, and pastor—is a case in point. Crisscrossing his native Germany, emigrating to St. Petersburg, making his fortune in Moscow, and finally settling on the Russian steppe frontier, he repeatedly refashioned himself socially, professionally, and spiritually. The only known likeness of him, a painting by Johann Baptist Lampi the Younger that belongs to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and is entitled “Portrait of a Pastor,” dates from the final stage of Rosenstrauch’s journey. By then, as a man of the cloth, he had achieved sufficient public regard that after he died, his grateful congregants could sell an engraving made from Lampi’s painting as a fundraiser. Look closely at that engraving: Does it not seem that alongside the demonstrative air of piety, the artist captured a hint of irony in Rosenstrauch’s expression? There was more to this man, he seems to suggest, than meets the eye.

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