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The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov

James Steffen

Publication Year: 2013

Sergei Parajanov (1924–90) flouted the rules of both filmmaking and society in the Soviet Union and paid a heavy personal price. An ethnic Armenian in the multicultural atmosphere of Tbilisi, Georgia, he was one of the most innovative directors of postwar Soviet cinema. Parajanov succeeded in creating a small but marvelous body of work whose style embraces such diverse influences as folk art, medieval miniature painting, early cinema, Russian and European art films, surrealism, and Armenian, Georgian, and Ukrainian cultural motifs.
            The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov is the first English-language book on the director's films and the most comprehensive study of his work. James Steffen provides a detailed overview of Parajanov's artistic career: his identity as an Armenian in Georgia and its impact on his aesthetics; his early films in Ukraine; his international breakthrough in 1964 with Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors; his challenging 1969 masterpiece, The Color of Pomegranates, which was reedited against his wishes; his unrealized projects in the 1970s; and his eventual return to international prominence in the mid-to-late 1980s with The Legend of the Surami Fortress and Ashik-Kerib. Steffen also provides a rare, behind-the-scenes view of the Soviet film censorship process and tells the dramatic story of Parajanov's conflicts with the authorities, culminating in his 1973–77 arrest and imprisonment on charges related to homosexuality.
            Ultimately, the figure of Parajanov offers a fascinating case study in the complicated dynamics of power, nationality, politics, ethnicity, sexuality, and culture in the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Wisconsin Film Studies


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Zaven Sargsyan and the staff at the Sergei Parajanov Museum in Yerevan not only opened up the rich trove of materials at the museum and answered countless questions, but helped with the logistics of my stays in Yerevan and Kyiv; for this I am endlessly grateful. The late Tetiana Derevianko at the Dovzhenko...

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. xiii-xiv

The subject of this book poses special challenges for transliteration because it encompasses multiple languages and alphabets—primarily Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, and Armenian. There is no easy solution to the problems that result, nor is it even feasible to achieve complete internal consistency. With this caveat...


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pp. xv-xix

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pp. 3-23

Few film directors ever manage to create a single image that is truly unlike anything you have seen before. In that respect, Sergei Parajanov’s films seem almost reckless in their generosity. We watch a tree falling on the man who has felled it—from the point of view of the tree. An androgynous robed figure...

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1. An Artist’s Origins: Youth and Early Ukrainian Films

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pp. 24-55

The story of Parajanov necessarily begins with Tbilisi, also known historically as Tiflis. The city’s rich history and lore laid the foundations for his eclectic artistic sensibility and his outlook on life. Nestled in a picturesque valley of the Mtkvari (or Kura) River, Tbilisi is divided by a steep gorge. Although the...

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2. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: Ukrainian Revival

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pp. 56-87

Judging solely by the films Parajanov had made so far, no one could have predicted what would happen when he was given his next assignment. At the urging of Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky’s daughter, the Dovzhenko Film Studio agreed to produce an adaptation of the Ukrainian writer’s masterpiece Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors...

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3. Kyiv Frescoes : The Film That Might Have Been

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pp. 88-113

Kyiv Frescoes (Kievskie freski, Dovzhenko Film Studio 1965–1966), the aborted project that Parajanov had planned as his follow-up to Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, represented a major turning point in his career. It marks the first systematic articulation of his mature tableau style associated with The Color of Pomegranates, but...

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4. The Color of Pomegranates: The Making and Unmaking of a Film

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pp. 114-156

However exotic Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors must have seemed to Soviet viewers when it was first released, it nonetheless represented a clear synthesis of three major stylistic paths in Soviet cinema: Kalatozov and Urusevsky’s virtuoso camerawork, Dovzhenko’s poetic tableau imagery, and...

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5. Silent Years: Unproduced Scripts, 1967–1973

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pp. 157-185

During this period Parajanov wrote some of his most significant scripts, among them The Demon (Demon), Confession (Ispoved’), and The Slumbering Palace (Dremliushchii dvorets). Three projects—Intermezzo, Inga, and A Miracle in Odens (Chudo v Odense)—went into preproduction. He was unable to realize...

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6. Internal Exile: Arrest and Imprisonment, 1973–1982

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pp. 186-201

As new details continue to emerge about Parajanov’s 1973 arrest, it has become clear that the Ukrainian KGB, both on its own and likely under direction from Moscow, played the main role. According to one report by the Ukrainian KGB, Parajanov had fallen under scrutiny by the agency since...

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7. The Legend of the Surami Fortress: Thunder Over Georgia

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pp. 202-230

In late November 1982, only weeks after Parajanov’s release from jail, Rezo Chkheidze, the head of the Georgia Film Studio, offered him the opportunity to direct a new film: The Legend of the Surami Fortress (Legenda Suramskoi kreposti, Georgia Film Studio 1984), based on a script by Vazha Gigashvili. The proposal...

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8. Ashik-Kerib: The End of a Career

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pp. 231-248

Parajanov’s next project was supposed to be his long-delayed adaptation of Lermontov’s The Demon, using mountain locations. The Russian painter Mikhail Vrubel’s famed paintings of episodes from The Demon were to serve as a main source of inspiration for its visual style. The film’s cinematographer Albert...

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Epilogue: Parajanov’s Afterlife

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pp. 249-252

Parajanov’s experimental film language and challenging, at times subversive, subject matter place him squarely within the global art film tradition. The question of his infl uence within the countries of the former Soviet Union remains complicated. Younger Soviet filmmakers such as Roman Balaian...


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pp. 253-260


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pp. 261-287

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 289-296


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pp. 297-306

Other Works in the Series

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pp. 307-308

E-ISBN-13: 9780299296537
E-ISBN-10: 0299296539
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299296544
Print-ISBN-10: 0299296547

Page Count: 326
Illustrations: 43 b/w illus., 1 table
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Wisconsin Film Studies