Pavel, Lyalya and the Leningrad Studio of Documentary Film
«Привет, родная студия!» – „Hello, my native studio!“ – It is a shrill voice, almost screechy, and yet there lies a certain tenderness in it, an unsurpassable warm and happy longing. The voice belongs to Lyalya. She is the female lover in the first part of Viktor Kosakovsky’s documentary Pavel and Lyalya. A Jerusalem Romance (Павел и Ляля. Иерусалимский романс, 1998), which two years later became the first part of his lovers’ triptych I loved you…Three Romances (Я вас любил… Три романса). Lyalya’s real name is mentioned only once, in the very beginning, in Kosakovsky’s dedication of the film to his teachers in filmmaking: Lyudmila Stanukinas (*1931) and Pavel Kogan (1931-1998).
Pavel and Lyalya. To a stranger’s ear the intimate touch of the title might sound slightly chumming, but actually it is just about right. Not only because Kosakovsky always has been one of the true heirs of the couple’s heritage in documentary filmmaking (another one being Sergey Loznica), but also because back in the 60’s, when Pavel Kogan directed his first films, intimacy – a very special kind of intimacy, rooted within the ethics of labour and love – was the key concept of living and working in the Soviet Union “after the thaw”. To Soviet film people in general, but especially for the ‘generation of the sixties’ (the shestidesyatniki) – which in the fiction section of cinema featured people like Mikhail Kalatozov, Mikhail Romm, Grigory Chukhray, Andrey Tarkovsky or Andrey Konchalovsky (to name but a few) – nothing was more common or natural than working with those you loved, and, vice versa, loving those you worked with.
At the Leningrad studio of documentary film (LSDF or Lendokfil’m), which from 1932 up until 1967 had been living a peripheral existence as “Leningrad newsreel studio” (and only in the late 60’s became the booming place to be for b&w fetishists of 35mm and sometimes even 70mm stock), this tendency developed into some obsessive extremes. Explaining their relationship within the frame of the extraordinary situation at the studio in an interview for a Russian TV-channel in the mid 90’s, Kogan & Stanukinas, the creative couple par excellence, recalled two further matches of a ‘pure’ filmmakers’ marriage within the studio, plus dozens of other combinations such as cameraman & editor, sound technician & producer, etc. Back then, in terms of fame, they themselves must have had a similar status as Dziga Vertov & Elizaveta Svilova or Elem Klimov & Larisa Shepitko. They do not talk about that in the interview, but they mention the very special working atmosphere, in which friendship, or to use the right term, comradeship played an extraordinary role.
Next to the three ‘founding directors’ of the famous Lendokfil’m-studio of the late 60’s – Semen Aranovich, Nikolay Obukhovich, and, last but not least, Pavel Kogan – the studio director himself had a big influence on its liberal organization: Valery Solovcov. A former student and actor of Fridrich Ermler’s experimental actors’ laboratory, Solovcov not only provided for a link to the glorious avant-garde past, but also encouraged an intimate working climate (having found his own wife, who would be surprised, at the editing table). Those who already worked there, wouldn’t stop bringing in new people, whose most convincing qualification was that they were close friends or even relatives. But this only resulted in a broad variety of topics and interests, with a general trend towards cultural issues, like theatre, ballet or dance.
In this regard Pavel Kogan’s and Lyudmila Stanukinas’ careers are symptomatic: Lyalya studies foreign languages but then turns to cinema, becoming assistant director of Efim Uchitel’ as early as 1958; Pavel graduates from GITIS (the State Institute of the Theatrical Arts) and from the Leningrad State University, and works then at the famous Kirov Opera House (in today’s St. Petersburg it is called “Mariinsky” again), before he joins the studio by mere fate. Already Lyalya’s first film as a director, The Joyous Route (Веселый маршрут), covers a children’s theatre (the “House of the Pioneers”), and until the end of her active film career in the 90’s … although even today she can’t stop filming, having discovered the latest video technology …, she has made more than thirty films dedicated to Leningrad’s Art (Искусство Ленинграда). Pavel, on the other hand, had been teaching film at the Leningrad Institute of Theatre, Music, and Cinematography for more than twenty years.
In 1983-84 they complete their first and at the same time their last co-directed film (even if the end titles don’t approve of this theory): And every night at the appointed time …(И каждый вечер в час назначенный …) is a 75 minute feature documentary, dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the Mariinsky Theatre. Despite its rather conventional nature, the film sums up the one big topic of a life time’s (or rather: two life times’) oeuvre(s) – art. In the framework of their particular documentary world, the artist – from talented dancer to pantomime, from singer to pedagogue – is a sovereign and yet an average human being. Genius is due to effort. Success is due to training. Mastery is due to persistence. This message is transmitted again and again. At the same time, numerous superstars of Leningrad’s world of theatrical arts are at display, an elegant tour through history is enfolded, combining rare archival footage of Anna Pavlova’s ballet grandness – yes! Ballet Film! – with today’s artists at work, such as the conductor Yuri Temirkanov, who Stanukinas had portrayed already in full extent in 1974 (Дирижирует Юрий Темирканов / Yuri Temirkanov conducting). But the stage is only the top of the iceberg. Underneath lies a whole battery of artistic precision mechanics – backstage troupes, voice trainers, or physiologists, to name but a few.
What is also reflected here is the team work and the collaboration, work in a film studio demands. Kogan and Stanukinas reconstruct the “making of”, in this case, the making of art. Their own art is a result of intimate interrelations – with one another, but also with their comrades and colleagues from the studio: cameramen (and co-directors) like Nikolay Obukhovich, Petr Mostovoy, Yuri Zanin, or Sergey Skvorcov; sound technicians like Nina Zinina, Sergey Litvyakov, or Leonid Lerner; fellow filmmakers like today’s director of the St. Petersburg documentary film festival “Message to Man” (“Послание к человеку”) Mikhail Litvyakov. Only when – in firm parallel steps with party communism – the high esteem of Lendokfil’m started to vanish towards the end of the 80’s, and when it finally expired in the 90’s, some fellows sat together one more time and recorded themselves on video. Len TV, where Kogan had run a programme called Cinema and Time (Кино и время) for about ten years, broadcasted this gossipy and hasty reconstruction of the history of the studio. It must have been shortly before they all disappeared in several directions, before Lyalya and Pavel for the reason of his severe illness emigrated to Jerusalem. Kogan, the studio’s silent, secret mentor, the creator of the studio’s chef-d’oeuvre Look at the Face (Взгляните на лицо, 1966) was among them. He even said something from time to time.
They talked about the great years, their great years, the country’s great years, the 60’s. They remembered the dissidents’ consciousness and lead-singer, Bulat Okudzhava, his song about “The Union of Friends” (“Союз друзей”), where he encourages people to say each other compliments. Kogan, however, prefered another Okudzhava line, one about “commissars with their dusty helmets”. Even the hero of the 60s, even Bulat Okudzhava, Kogan is trying to say, even the son of a commissar who died in the Stalinist terror, sang songs about Soviet missiles and worships the strength of brave commissars. By the time of the Len TV-show Kogan was already severely ill; and Okudzhava had used several occasions to distance himself from his own lines. Dissident culture was revised. And Kogan considered himself in a similar situation: Remembered a hero of the 60’s, a creator of the “human face” of socialist realism, yet in his own opinion he never went far enough and even considered himself a coward, confessing that he had repeatedly submitted his artistic will to the state.
Shortly after perestroika he is cited saying that “Now they open the cage, but the tiger won’t run away.” An artist, his wife Lyalya translates, needs resistance. Only when there is a cage, he will look for a finer tune, for a more sophisticated language, for an Aesopian language, the base of every truly strong piece of art.
Bearing this severe verdict in mind, let us now take a look at Kogan’s and Stanukinas’ films. They certainly belonged to those phenomena in Soviet art of the 60’s and 70’s that contributed to the manifold, and yet small inner earth quakes – not only for the generation of the shestidesyatniki itself, but also in relation to the father- (i.e. war-) generation of the past and the next generation in the future. Kogan and Stanukinas look them in their faces, with hidden cameras, in their best moments. But they have also taught the next generation, Kosakovsky among others, how to look in someone’s face. In Jerusalem he finds an almost dead Pavel Kogan, who is caressed by an energetic, sometimes hot tempered, mostly good humoured, seldom depressed wife. Lyalya and Pavel are one of the saddest couples in the world. And yet there is life in every sepia shadow on the wall – and humour: After having shaved Pavel, Lyalya is happy about the fact that he doesn’t look “trotskist” any more…. The film documents a come back, some sort of a return home. “Привет, родная студия!”, Lyalya’s euphoric welcome for the film team – Vitya Kosakovsky, Leonid Lerner and Anatoly Nikoforov -, means not only “Hello, my native studio!”, but also: “Hello, my home studio!” Maybe the country where it was created has gone. But the studio, at least its spirit, is alive.
In January 1988 – one year before his film about the Uprising in Sobibor (Восстание в Собиборе), Joris-Ivens-price-winner in Amsterdam – it will be one of Kogan’s last political acts to strictly protest against the implementation of a “basis model” of autonomy into the sector of non-fiction-film production: To split up the big studios Mosfil’m and Lenfil’m into smaller independent departments and autonomous enterprises, might be useful, Kogan argues, but in the case of documentary filmmaking it would lead to the total economical and creative break down of documentary cinema as such, since in this field the collaboration between the fabric (the technical components of the studio) and the film team (the creative part) is genuinely linked together.1 Even if today the Lendokfil’m has changed its name into St. Petersburg Documentary Film Studio, the problems, pointed out by Kogan, still remain the same. The studio had to survive some tough years in the early nineties. Only by keeping up the style of the classical years and by achieving international reputation, filmmakers like Kosakovsky or Loznica, but also the younger generation around Alina Rudnickaya and Pavel Medvedev, have contributed to the stabilization of their “home base”.
The Films of Pavel Kogan and Lyudmila ‘Lyalya’ Stanukinas Chef d’oeuvres
Pavel Kogan and Lyudmila Stanukinas each have made more than thirty films, and they both have had significant international recognition. Kogan’s two most outstanding films, Look at the Face (Взгляните на лицо, 1966) and A Military Music Orchestra (Военной музыки оркестр, 1968 — together with Petr Mostovoy, who like Lyalya has emigrated to Israel) have won main prices including the Golden Dove at the International Leipzig Festival of Documentary Film, whereas Stanukinas received a Silver Dragon and another main prize at the Cracow Film Festival for her fantastic documentaries Relocation Day (День переезда, 1970) and A Tram runs through the city (Трамвай идет по годору, 1973); in 1977 she got the Golden Dragon for a portrait of the Soviet writer Ilya Erenburg.
Defining their mastery from a personal point of view, Lyalya comments that their working process was rather complementary than identical. If her own work tended towards the louder and more emotional side of life, Kogan’s attitude was rather contained, sometimes even shy. He investigated into the very depth of a character, analyzing all sorts of problems and conditions of a life; Stanukinas on the other hand would immediately fall in love with her bright protagonists, most of them being artists, conductors, or musicians.2 As for their collaboration, they seemed to exchange every single thought about a film, especially after they had finally become a couple in 1968 and had gotten married two years later (otherwise, the story goes, they wouldn’t have been allowed to stay at the same hotel during their first conjoint trip to the Cracow festival …). If Kogan loved the congenial lyrical and emotional touch of Lyalya’s films and the lively active regime at the shooting location, which he would never have been able to achieve, Stanukinas adored Pavel’s overview and his perfection in editing, without which, she admits, her films would never have turned out the way they have.3
The international context of documentary filmmaking at the time was well known: Robert Drew and Ricky Leacock, Pennebaker and the Maysles, Joris Ivens or Jean Rouch: the Soviet documentary studios all over the empire – from Riga (Gerc Frank) to Moscow (Marina Goldovskaya) to Leningrad (Pavel Kogan) and Sverdlovsk, today’s Ekaterinburg (Yury Shiller), even to Novosibirsk (Valery Solomin) – set out to develop their own methods of cinematic observation of every day’s life. But the real background they were facing, was the heritage of Soviet documentaries in the 40’s and 50’s. On the level of content this meant that the genre was nearly completely occupied by war issues and the consequent creation of heroic imagery. On the formal level an anti-formalist tendency set strict norms of harmonic, levelled, and well tuned proportions – in shot length as well as in visual composition.
When in 1966 Sergey Solovyev, later one of the most important filmmakers of perestroika, wrote the script for Look at the Face (Взгляните на лицо) and Kogan and his team got prepared for the shooting in the holy temple of high culture, the Hermitage, one could already smell the sense of change. The original idea was to show the indifference and insensibility of the average Soviet or foreign spectator (16.000 per day altogether), when confronted with an outstanding piece of art, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Madonna Litta”, the nursing Madonna. The shift in interest was marked by the very positioning of the camera. The cine-eye, like in Vertov’s good old days, was hidden behind a big curtain, and a spot light pointed at the spectators, who would eventually be convinced that there was some construction work going on behind the curtain. The hero of the new documentary film – and this coincides very much with Gilles Deleuze’ idea of the time-image — was the person observing the world. Not so much the genius, like the artist Leonardo, a near-god in the art loving USSR, but the average person, someone like you and me, was now heaved up into the position of a hero. Like in Vertov’s famous end sequence of The Man with the Movie Camera (Čelovek s kinoapparatom, 1929) the spectator is turned into the subject/object of the film.
Mostovoy’s hidden camera, which had been shooting silently behind the curtains for about six weeks, reproduced several faces and expressions, and captured different attitudes in approaching a visual image. Some guides explain the very and whole history of the world before they finally turn to Renaissance Art, others point out little details of Leonardo’s mastery. But the audience doesn’t seem to be all too guided at all – everyone has an own manner of looking and observing. Some love it, some adore it, others couldn’t care less, but most spectators are highly concentrated, even illuminated, turning into some kind of contemplative entity (a quite uncommon appearance on the screen in those days). Out of about 1000 faces Kogan, who already started selecting during the shooting, chose fifty, the guideline for his selection being that the faces should be as interesting and individual as possible. So in the end, the project had turned into the exact opposite of what is was conceived originally – instead of despising someone’s disinterest in art, people now were able to look at themselves as interested and interesting individuals. Society had different faces – we should not forget that in the 60’s this was one of the most radical democratic views one could possibly have.
The spiritual, almost sacred atmosphere of the moments of observation and contemplation in Look at the Face is underlined not only by the congenial musical score of the composer Arzumanov, but also by the slow rhythm of montage, derived from an inner logic of the rather smooth dynamics within a shot. When Kogan told his studio fellows about his plans to have certain shots stand near-to-still for several seconds, people were immediately counting film metres, telling the young and inexperienced filmmaker to shorten down his 80 metres to a minimum of 6 (which, of course, he didn’t). To put it in a nutshell and speaking historically: In the Soviet context, Kogan’s film not only can but must be considered a milestone in the development of a certain contemplative and haptic style of observation (“the Leningrad school”) – a tradition picked up by the big names of Soviet cinema ‘after the thaw’, Andrey Tarkovsky and Aleksey Sokurov (whose Russian Ark /Русский ковчег, 2000, shot in the same museum halls, contains several references to Kogan’s masterpiece.
Lyudmila Stanukinas’ pendant to her husband’s chef d’oeuvre is definitely A Tram runs through the city (Трамвай идет по годору, 1973). Yuri Zanin had to hide the camera in boxes which he carried around, Stanukinas just mingled herself in the crowd sitting or stand in the tram. Without attracting attention they observed and recorded the people travelling, adding to this very simple but effective visual set a pure (and magic) pot pourri of designed and recorded voices and sounds. Hereby not only the people become human beings alive, but also the city awakens. The methods might have been quite different, but in a way what was developed by Stanukinas was direct cinema.
But the shift was also an ideological one: Like in Kogan’s museum film, “a human being could now be seen and behave just like a human being”, says Stanukinas in an interview. It results from this that on the other hand, also the new film spectator didn’t have to see certain types of society representatives any more, like the communist, the lead worker or the stakhanovec (even if from a retrospective point of view this might be a sad moment of disappearance of our last real heroes). One could orientate him- or herself according to new models of living.
Politics of Unofficial ‘heroes’
Maybe at this point we need to take into account Kogan’s own strict political revision of his oeuvre. Yes, there were numerous commissioned films Kogan made, such as The Flight (Polet, 1972), the portrait of real heroes of the air – one has to say that, watching them crouch in a tight cockpit of their “shtopers” at a height of 10.000 kilometres. But what is wrong in underlining a certain heroism existing out there? Kogan even gives them names, his captain portrayed is Aleksandr Shcherbakov, but it could easily also have been, the end titles add, Oleg Butkov or Igor’ Volkov. They all helped out to create this veritable sight-and-sound-collage of Western music, free falling, Mexican idyll, slow motion and high velocity. If you ever wanted to know what flying might be like for a bird, go see it. If you always wanted to see what happens to a human (even a hero’s) face, when some real pressure is put on it, go see it. You will enjoy it – Kogan turnes it to a quite special Mozartesque techno event.
Another film, touching the territory of politics, was Communists of the Northern Magnitka (Коммунисты северной магнитки), which showed privileged communist party members. It was a typical and yet very much needed document of the first years of Perestroika, when party communism clashed with a post Praguian idea of “communism with a human face”. Kogan’s heros belonged to the other half of society, they were workers, people with hobbies and strong personalities, people who suffered and spoke out loud. The best example is a wonderful film about a chocolate factory, It is going to be spring soon (Скоро лето, 1987). On the one hand we have a collective split up in several individuals (one smokes, the other likes to scratch her ass while working, another one just looks numb and death, a forth teases her male colleagues etc.); on the other the film contains this hilarious scene where a polit-commissar in a fine suit and tie gives a speech in front of the workers’ assembly. His theoretical comments on “intimate life” and “marriage”, have a sheer comical effect. He preaches about ethics, morals and psychological sensitivity in marriage, where in real life the workers talk about shift work and its consequences on their private, intimate and sexual life.
Stanukinas’ masterpiece within this league is a much earlier work from 1970, Relocation Day (День переезда), the story of a family with many children, who are supplied with a bigger flat. Planned as a film about a relocation brigade, the family supposed to move turned out to be a subject of much greater relevance. There were eight children, one of them pregnant – the family had lived in a 15 m komunalka-room for several months. Instead of lamenting over these quite frightening living conditions, Stanunikas interferes with the process she documents, takes part in the meetings between the family and city council officials, helps rearrange the furniture (she even brings her own huge family clock, which is being transported there and forth several times). There is so little psychological or social distance between the filmmaker and her protagonists that the films turns into an authentic document of late socialist mentality, laying bare all bourgeois ‘idea(l)s’ and dreams, and confronting them with reality. Unexpectedly, this method of intermingling produced a quite convenient side effect for the heroes of Relocation Day: Instead of having to wait half a year for a three-room-flat (gas and electricity were yet missing), the family was supplied with a five-room-flat immediately. The city council had become aware of the film team from Lendokfil’m …
Portraits of the artist as a human being
Stanukina’s very personal heroes are children and musicians. Vadik Repin (Вадик Репин, 1984) is both – a Wunderkind. The film depicts him in the more than serious context of a violin competition, and during the more than just sweat-producing training sessions, but it also shows Vadik playing with other kids, a pretty funny little chubby face. On the one hand this portrait of the artist as a young man refers back to Stanukinas’ films about conductors or composers like the already mentioned Yuri Temirkanov conducting from 1974, depicting the never-ending repertoire of gestures and (body) language of this fascinating personality, his endurance, his sensitivity, his precision and austerity. On the other hand, shot one year after the Mariinsky-film And every night at the appointed time …, Vadik Repin paves the way for a second approach to some real great musicians of Russia (Mravinsky, just to add this, Lyaly’s greatest dream, was not available for such things, so she never showed the footage, shot from a hidden place somewhere beneath an opera seat): In 1987 Stanukinas meets the son of the whole empire’s cultural heritage, Fyodor Shalyapin, and together with him (as well as some fine archival footage) reconstructs the quite astonishing career of the maitre – yet Doubts. Memory about my Father (Сомнение. Воспоминание об отце) also remains very intimate. The same holds true for Mstislav Rostropovich. Return (Мстислав Ростропович. Возвращение), documenting the glorious return of another big international musician.
But Vadik Repin really is all about the “education of sentiments” and the highly lyrical and sensitive potential of youth.
This poetic core in youngsters is also touched in Stanukina’s less known Your very personal poetry (Свои, совсем особые стихи, 1982), a wonderful film about a poetry class. It is here that one recalls Kogan’s admiration of Lyalya’s emotional documentary skills. And it is here that one recalls Kosakovsky’s depiction of Lyalya as a person of extraordinarily prosperous feelings, sensitive and energetic, childish and female, shrill and quiet. The young poets are marvellously sneaky, respectfully adoring and creatively playing with – maybe even deconstructing – “Aleksandr Sergeevich”, Mr. Pushkin, Russia’s exclusive trade mark of high culture and literature.
If Lyalya’s background has always been in literature, Kogan’s educational origins lie in theatre. Not much after his own graduation from the renowned theatrical institute GITIS, he produced a film about his art pedagogues and their teaching methods: Classes (Классы). It starts out with a sweet and immature ‘meta-reflection’ on time (in life and cinema): “Five years of studying reduced to 19 minutes”. But the impossibility of giving full accounts of all and everything in this early Kogan film is soon transformed into a skilful (and formally playful) experiment of “theatre-in-cinema”. Three classes are portrayed here, their teachers seemingly legends of Soviet drama history – the old and wise professor Knebel’, whose witty and courageous methods reach back, she recalls, to the good and old (and even wiser) Stanislavsky who once during an official “reception” in his office turned out to be playing a little mouse hiding beneath his working desk…; professor Goncharov, also an offspring of the grand maitre Stanislavsky, who likes to interfere during rehearsals if he doesn’t like the young actors’ techniques – an emotional, sometimes harsh preacher of method acting; and thirdly, one of Russia’s big names in theatre, Anatoly Efros, reformer of the Moscow Central Theatre for Children in the 50’s, successful director of the Lenkom Theatre and the Mossovet Theatre in the 60’s, star director at the Malaya Bronnaya Theatre from 1967-1984, and finally collaborator of Yury Lyubimov on several projects at the Taganka Theatre. Efros is a narrator, a story teller, a shy, soft, quiet little man, someone whose artistic values and beliefs are inscribed in every skin fold of his face and hands. He is an incorporation of the artist as a human being, speaking about Picasso and Matisse, Brecht and Stanislavsky, as he speaks about his students, Dima and Sasha, Masha and Sveta. It becomes clear that Kogan respects the professional competence of the elder generation, Knebel’ and Goncharov, but the one teacher he really adores is Efros whose message is not so much applicable in terms of actual performing skills, but rather an ethical emphasis on being a personality, acting out one’s beliefs and idiosyncrasies, and interacting with those ‘others’ who together with the ‘I’ build the social body – not only on the stage, but also out on the street. Efros, the artist and pedagogue, turns into yet another figure of (minimally dissident) social, political, i.e. individual consciousness and responsibility – the striking fact being that this pattern of “Let-the-artist-tell-us-how-to-live” is still active in today’s Russia, as can be seen in Arkady Kogan’s (no relations!) portrait of the Tarkovsky-scenarist and VGIK-teacher Yury Arabov, Mechanics of Fate (2007).
In terms of Russian film history Kogan’s most valuable movie was produced in 1987, Profession: Cameraman (Профессия: Оператор), a much needed portrait of the Union’s unofficial “cameraman number one”, Sergey Urusevsky – cinematographer of the two legendary Kalatosov-films The Cranes are Flying (Летят журавли, 1957) and Soy Cuba (Я – Куба, 1964). Up until today, the archivist of the Lendok-Studio, Sergey Gel’ver, is proud of his fine collection of footage showing Urusevsky at work. Kogan opens up with a legendary shot in Soy Cuba – the funeral cortege of a revolutionary -, one of the longest plan sequences in film history, and comments it from the off. Every little step of the legendary process of “rolling” is explained here, the slightest move of the man with the hand-camera, and the vastest kino-eye-movements on a huge crane, reaching out on an endlessly long roapway. Urusevsky’s mastery is rendered transparent, and therefore details, one would never have noticed before, become important facts of the formal language of film.
Urusevsky’s career as a cameraman is outstanding. Besides Mikhail Kalatosov (with whom he made two other films, The First Echelon / Первый эшелон, 1955, and The Unmailed Letter / Неотправленное письмо, 1959), he worked with directors like Vladimir Legoshin (Duel / Поединок, 1945), Mark Donskoy (The Village Teacher / Сельская учительница, 1947; Alitet Leaves for the Hills / Алитет уходит в горы, 1951), Vsevolod Pudovkin (The Return of Vasili Bortnikov / Возвращение Василия Бортникова, 1952), Yuli Raizman (Cavalier of the Golden Star / Кавалер золотой звезды, 1951; Lesson of Life / Урок жизни, 1955) and Grigory Chukhray (The Forty-first / Сорок первый, 1956).
Kogan’s portrait depicts the cameraman – who was also a quite successful painter – on the various sets, however, except for a scene from an earlier documentary on Urusevsky, where he can be heard and seen in his atelier, Urusevsky never speaks himself. Instead a number of people who worked or lived with him become the narrators of his biography. An interesting and ambivalent personal picture is drawn by his daughter on the one hand, and the actress Tatyana Samoylova – heroine of The Cranes are Flying on the other: the father who left his family vs. the loving partner and celebrated con-genius on the big stages of world cinema (like Cannes 1958, when Kalatosov’s masterpiece won the Golden Palm). Sergey Solovyev comments on his complex personality as an artist, Aleksey Rodinov on the enormous impact he had on Soviet cinematographers, and writer (now diplomat) Chingiz Aitmatov tells about their mutual difficulties in collaboration, when his novel Goodbye, Gyulsary! (Прощай, Гюльсары!) was adapted in Urusevsky’s first film as a director, Beg inokhodca (Бег иноходца, 1970). Another episode reveals the circumstances of the shooting of his second film as director, a film about the Soviet writer Sergey Esenin – Sing Song, Poet! (Пой песню, поэт!) from 1973.
The most touching part of the Profession: Cameraman – and yet another reflection of the topic of the “artist as human being” – is Urusevsky’s private portrait of Pablo Picasso and Jacqueline Roque in 1958. Kogan interweaves it with the cameraman’s very own artistic problems. But there is another aspect in Urusevsky’s biography which leads back to Kogan and his dominant themes. Although his first film as a cinematographer was a comedy, the Gogol’ adaption The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarelled with Ivan Nikiforovich / Как поссорились Иван Иванович с Иваном Никифоровичем of 1941, Urusevsky – like nearly all Soviet cameramen – did not turn his back towards the war, but worked as a front cameraman.4 In 1942 he shot on the northern front for The 69th parallel (69 параллель), and one year later his hand camera skills meant a major contribution to Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s Battle for Soviet Russia (Битва за нашу Советскую Украину).
City under Siege – An Alternative History of Leningrad in War
It is the war issue and the traumatic Leningrad siege by Nazi Germany from 1941-44 in particular, one could say, that brought a slight change in the reception of Pavel Kogan’s filmmaking, but also in his own political and social attitude toward the profession. Only here, at the very core of Soviet “war heroism”, Kogan discovered the subtle distinctions between official war narratives and personal histories. Only here the confrontation between iron genre rules, predetermined documentary topics and the new actual liberal turn of the 60’s took place and became eminent. Kogan’s 20-minute-partly-photofilm City under siege (Город в осаде, 1969) – a forgotten classic within this subgenre and the direct predecessor of the widely acclaimed Blokada (Sergey Loznica, 2005) – is a document of the traumatic historical experience as well as of the impossibility to speak out loud. Like thousands of others, Kogan’s father died during the siege. And like thousands of others, he didn’t just die, but died from hunger. Twenty seven years later, making a film about the siege, which by then had become a mythological story of the heroic defence of the USSR, still meant that it there simply was no habit to tell personal (hi)stories. Kogan never mentioned his father’s starvation in the film, he only dedicated it to him.
The limits of expression due to revolutionary romanticism must have been as tragic as the events as such. Memory (pamjat’) about the war was, of course, a major social and cultural issue in state policy. If one, however, wanted to write a more individual history of war, every step, every little deviation from the official line of historiography needed to be discussed – and was easily criticized, because too many people involved in the production of chronicles and newsreels (kinoletopis’, kinochronika) were still afraid of being accused of a subjective deviatonist point of view. But starting from the end-50s, when Efim Uchitel’ and Sergey Solovcov had made the first feature length films about the siege, for which they used all sorts of new – i.e. “unused” – archival material, it became clear that not only personal intentions, but also the potential of documentary material as such and the power of the archive all contributed to a shift in the writing of war history. More than that, Roman Karmen’s Spanish civil war epic Grenada, Grenada, My Grenada (Гренада, Гренада, Гренада моя, 1967) was one of the early examples of an ‘auteur war cinema’, with writer Konstantin Simonov by his side.
For Kogan therefore City under siege – made shortly after his successful triple coup Look at the Face, Classes and A Military Music Orchestra — became one of the most important and personal films and an archival adventure – also on the sound level, where skilfully simulated sounds like the rattling of buckets filled with water were combined with authentic radio footage including the ringing of trams, the howling of missiles or the legendary ‘brave speeches’ by famous writers such as Olga Berggol’c. On the visual level, the photo-archival stock was limited, since in 1945 several photographers and cameramen were forced to destroy what they had recorded. A quarter of a century later, the air of repression had gradually disappeared, but there were hardly any traces of the lost documents (not even recorded interviews of cameramen explaining what exactly they were urged to hide or destroy). Despite the difficult circumstances, the film demonstrates a radical shift in the depiction of the blokada, since it actually displayed the terrifying living (and dying) conditions of individual (but anonymous) Leningrad’s citizens. A warm and tender tune, an empathetic attitude rules, something one might name after Pavel Kogan’s first documentary – Proud humility (Гордое смирение, 1956). Private and personal suffering – until the late 60’s a rare topic in Soviet documentary cinema – was now rehabilitated, and together with it several thousand individual no-name-biographies.
But there is a second characteristic – a formal one this time – in Kogan’s (& Stanukinas’) filmmaking, which is clearly brought out in City under siege. the absence of off comments, if the material or the people on screen can ‘speak’ for themselves. Secret Order (Секретный заказ, 1982), Kogan’s other film about Leningrad at war, does include a personal auctorial comment, however, it also re-establishes the technique of inter-titles, thus plays with different forms of narration. A highly delicate matter is being touched – the secret order (“order number 1”) of weapon construction during the siege. What is striking here (but is in perfect match with Kogan’s general style), is the way how this story of a strictly political, governmental issue is told – and why it is told.
1981, a veterans’ meeting at the factory, forty years after the beginning of the famous 300 days in the city’s history. They are not among themselves – a large number of teenagers wants to celebrate with them. The proud humble city reunites. But instead of just drinking and saluting, the meetings turns into a profound exposure of a war secret, including stories about the inhuman endeavor and hardship. According to their own stories, people who didn’t get any sleep or bread, came back to the factory every day (some even crawling), and did what they had to do, while on the streets others were dying in big numbers. Like the director of the factory, Nikolay Mironov, or Marfja Shevryachina, a common worker -, everybody underwent high risks, since they produced ‘reactive artillery’ (meaning missiles for Katyusha) and therefore the factory became a target number one for the enemy. By retelling their stories in great detail and very lively, the veterans produce a mosaic form of a secret but collective memory. On the other hand, Kogan seems to be interested not only in what they talk about, but rather who they are, why they kept on going, how they managed to survive, and – last but not least – why they share their experiences with Leningrad’s youth. In Secret Order the unimaginable struggle against the brutal cold and against starvation is fragmentarily ‘illustrated’ by archival footage, but the main plot is taking place at the meeting. Here again Kogan depicts strong lively individual faces, he records incredible stories about the last crumbs of zwieback or some useless extra food rations – many workers were starved to death by the time they received their awards. Yet, here they are, the new heroes of an alternative history, people of Leningrad, old and young united. It is this film which gives them back their lives.
One very special and one not so very special film – A Military Music Orchestra and Our daily bread (Даждь нам днесь, 1988) – I would like to suggest, shall be regarded as Pavel Kogan’s testaments for a younger generation of Russian documentary film. The latter, a spiritual, if not religious portrait of Soviet provincial life in the late 80s, is dedicated to the writer Fyodor Abramov, born and buried in a village called Verkola near Arkhangelsk. Here, communication devices are reduced to the typical standard of a typewriter inside the house, and a radio loudspeaker on the street; women in Berlin-Kreuzberg-fashion dresses of early 21st century dance to some live tunes from the village’s only accordion player; men – some of them former party representatives – discuss, whether the kolkhoz “Way to communism” (“Путь к коммунизму”) has finally reached its goal or not. What is noticeable about Our daily bread is not so much what happens (or rather doesn’t happen) in this one-horse-town, but the fact that the film establishes a broad spectrum of documentary skills and themes, which can be found up until today in (East-)German (Volker Koepp), Belorussian (Viktor Asliuk) or Russian documentary classics. Worldwide Russia is probably the country with the highest annual (cinema orientated) documentary production – and numerous representatives, the older generation like Irina Zayceva from Krasnoyarsk, the youngest generation like Pavel Kostomarov & Antoine Cattin, they all (consciously or not) owe a great deal to Pavel Kogan. The ice-fishing scenes in Our daily bread recall Sergey Loznica’s Artel’ (2006), whereas the wonderful observations in a bakery make even seem Sergey Dvorcevoy’s Bread Day (Khlebnyj den’, 1998) a direct heir of the Leningrad studio’s master.
We may now finally return to one of Kogan’s earliest and greatest films – A Military Music Orchestra (Военной музыки оркестр), which he directed together with his congenious cameraman Petr Mostovoy in Europe’s wild year, 1968. One year later, the whole auditorium of Leipzig’s international festival of documentary film is said to have been on their feet right in the middle of the film and throughout the rest of it to enthusiastically clap in time, the rhythm being dictated by the sixteen uniformed members of the music orchestra and their ecstatic conductor.
Only 20 minutes short, A Military Music Orchestra has become the only real classic of Kogan’s oeuvre. The film opens with a rehearsal. A small brass band marches up and down the courtyard of the artillery training academy. The conductor / lieutenant-colonel shouts the guts out of himself, whereas private Sergey just can’t perform the turn on his heel, and his comrade – out of heat and stress – nearly chews up his magic flute. Walking in straight lines with firm steps, after all, isn’t so easy, if you are carrying some kilograms of heavy brass and at the same are trying to strike the right note in a proper and clear way. Changing from wide angle to the very pores of the sweating little men in uniforms, the camera produces a hilarious picture of life in the musicians’ garrison. By the end of the manoeuvre, the small brass band with its sixteen members, who we have studied and accompanied in full extent, face by face, personality by personality, instrument after instrument, merges into a huge, 500-strong orchestra, conducted by a major. Apparently the military orchestra’s parade on May 9th on the Nevsky prospect was Kogan’s genuine invention for the film, however, the ceremonial march has become a ‘real’ annual event by now.
Yet, just like with Look at the Face or A Tram runs through the city, Kogan’s and Stanukinas’ masterpieces no. 1 and no. 1, not even the most detailed description of these twenty minutes pure 35mm delight in B&W could convey an idea of the wit and cinematic quality of A Military Music Orchestra. And even the creative couple’s other half cannot but compare them to non-documentaries: Asked about her favourite Kogan-films, Lyalya says: Military Band and Look at the Face – “These films can actually be regarded as feature films. They both contain a plot, dramaturgy, and humour. And yet there is no staging, no organisation of the material.” The material is organised on the editing table. Already Vertov had taught this lesson. Kogan & Stanukinas – Pavel & Lyalya, picked it up – and pass(ed) it on to the younger generation of Russian documentary cinema.
- Oleg Kovalov. Отечественное кино. 7.01.1988. Секретариат СК СССР обсуждает существование неигрового кино в условиях “базовой модели”. // Новейшая история отечественного кино. 1986-2000. Кино и контекст. Т. IV. СПб, Сеанс, 2002
- See a folder produced last year by the St. Petersburg Documentary Festival “Message to Man”, where a big part of their classical oeuvre was shown at the anniversary of the death of Pavel Kogan. Year after year Stanukinas chooses one film as the winner of the Kogan-price “for an outstanding cinematography reflecting the tradition of Lendokfil’m”.
- See the “Interview with Ludmila Stanukinas” by Galina Antoshevskaya for the first international retrospective of Kogan & Stanukinas in Leipzig 2002 – In: Katalog des 45. Internationalen Leipziger Festivals für Dokumentar- und Animationsfilm15.-20. Oktober 2002, pp.82-87.
- See: Игорь Григорьев: Фронтовой кинооператор [Igor’ Grigor’ev: Frontovoy kinooperator]: http://www.urusevskiy.freenet.kz/page17.htm