Thursday, March 12, 2009

all the czar's children

When I read yesterday (news excerpt below after movie review) that DNA has proven that all of the Russian czar's children were indeed killed with the family in 1917, I yearned to see one of my favorite movies, the amazing Russian Ark. This time in history fascinates me. No wonder, then, that another favorite movie of mine is Reds. And, of course, the original Doctor Zhivago.

Russian Ark is a magnificent conjuring act, an eerie historical mirage evoked in a single sweeping wave of the hand by Alexander Sokurov. The 96-minute film, shot in high-definition video in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg, consists of one continuous, uninterrupted take. Thanks to recent technological innovation, it is the longest unbroken shot in the history of film. As the Steadicam operated by Tilman Büttner (the German cinematographer of ''Run Lola Run'') floats through the museum's galleries and rooms, a cast of 2,000 actors and extras act out random, whimsical moments of Russian imperial history that dissolve into one other like chapters of a dream.

Mr. Sokurov, who has always been drawn to historical subjects, has said that he wanted to capture ''the flow of time'' in a pure cinematic language that suggests ''a single breath.'' And that's what ''Russian Ark'' accomplishes as it drops in on Russian monarchs from Peter the Great to Nicholas II and catches them living their lives unaware that they're being observed. These keyhole flashes from the past evoke a sense of history that is at once intimate and distanced, and ultimately sad: so much life, so much beauty, swallowed in the mists of time.

''Russian Ark'' is a ghost story set in the Hermitage, the museum that is the pride of St. Petersburg and the repository -- the ark, if you will -- of more Russian history and culture than any other place. Among its components are the Winter Palace (the former residence of the Russian czars) and sections devoted to Russian history and to the life and work of Alexander Pushkin. It also houses more than three million artifacts, including world-class collections of painting, sculptures, prints, drawings and archaeological finds.

-Stephen Holden, NY Times, full review here

DNA proves Bolsheviks killed all of Russian czar's children:

(CNN) -- One of the most enduring mysteries of the 20th century has been put to rest: DNA analysis of bone fragments has proven that two of Czar Nicholas' children believed to have escaped were killed with their royal family during the Russian Revolution.

  • On December 30, 1916, The Tsar was warned that his army would not support him against a revolution.

The Ballad of the Children of the Czar


The children of the Czar
Played with a bouncing ball

In the May morning, in the Czar’s garden,
Tossing it back and forth.

It fell among the flowerbeds
Or fled to the north gate.

A daylight moon hung up
In the Western sky, bald white.

Like Papa’s face, said Sister,
Hurling the white ball forth.


While I ate a baked potato
Six thousand miles apart,

In Brooklyn, in 1916,
Aged two, irrational.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt
Was an Arrow Collar ad.

O Nicholas! Alas! Alas!
My grandfather coughed in your army,

Hid in a wine-stinking barrel,
For three days in Bucharest

Then left for America
To become a king himself.


I am my father’s father,
You are your children’s guilt.

In history’s pity and terror
The child is Aeneas again;

Troy is in the nursery,
The rocking horse is on fire.

Child labor! The child must carry
His fathers on his back.

But seeing that so much is past
And that history has no ruth

For the individual,
Who drinks tea, who catches cold,

Let anger be general:
I hate an abstract thing.


Brother and sister bounced
The bounding, unbroken ball,

The shattering sun fell down
Like swords upon their play,

Moving eastward among the stars
Toward February and October.

But the Maywind brushed their cheeks
Like a mother watching sleep,

And if for a moment they fight
Over the bouncing ball

And sister pinches brother
And brother kicks her shins,

Well! The heart of man is known:
It is a cactus bloom.


The ground on which the ball bounces
Is another bouncing ball.

The wheeling, whirling world
Makes no will glad.

Spinning in its spotlight darkness,
It is too big for their hands.

A pitiless, purposeless Thing,
Arbitrary and unspent,

Made for no play, for no children,
But chasing only itself.

The innocent are overtaken,
They are not innocent.

They are their father’s fathers,
The past is inevitable.


Now, in another October
Of this tragic star,

I see my second year,
I eat my baked potato.

It is my buttered world,
But, poked by my unlearned hand,

It falls from the highchair down
And I begin to howl.

And I see the ball roll under
The iron gate which is locked.

Sister is screaming, brother is howling,
The ball has evaded their will.

Even a bouncing ball
Is uncontrollable,

And is under the garden wall.
I am overtaken by terror

Thinking of my father’s fathers,
And of my own will.

--Delmore Schwartz

art: Child Playing with the Ball (Corner of the Park), by Felix Vallotton



Darlene said...

Thank you so very much for bringing this wonderful movie to our attention. I, too, am fascinated by this period in history. I love historical movies and this one promises to be a keeper. The gowns are gorgeous and it would be worth watching for that alone. Add the Hermitage (that I have always wanted to visit), the dancing and the music and it goes on my 'must see' list.

distracted by shiny objects said...

I loved that movie. Didn't want it to end. I just wanted to step into the screen and go into that world.
I'm not surprised, but so sorry to see that DNA has determined all the children were killed--not that I would want any of them to be lost and alone in those killing woods, but it would soften the terrible horror if just one child had been able to go on and live a quietly happy life.
We so often want to rewrite history that way.

Elizabeth said...

I'll have to look for that movie. Also, I have never seen Dr. Zhivago, which clearly is all wrong somehow.

Lydia said...

@Darlene- You will love it! I can't recommend it highly enough, especially since it's your cup of tea anyway! See comments also from Distracted....

@Distracted- I know exactly what you mean. Your term "killing woods" was so poignant.
Yes, even seeing the Czar's family portrayed in those short clips in the movie trailer sends chills.

@Elizabeth- I hope you find Russian Ark in a local DVD rental store, as I'm not sure it is still available at the one in our town. They seem to clear the shelves and have sales so frequently. Dr. Zhivago seems to always be offered, though. And I really hope you see it, too! :)

Lisa Allender said...

Hi Lydia, Thank you for posting this!
It's amazing to discover so many neat things one can have as "shared experience"(re: the movie "Reds"--one of my all-time FAVORITE FILMS!!)without ever having known each other, or having met!
Peace, woman.

Lydia said...

@Lisa- It's so cool you love Reds too. It's one of my top five favorites. Mike and I sort of built our honeymoon in NYC around seeing places where Louise Bryant and Jack Reed lived. We found two in Manhattan while staying there. Then we had resos in Croton-on-Hudson for two nights because they lived there. The people in Croton-on-Hudson were shocked that anyone would come to their little town on their honeymoon!
Louise had lived in Reno (my hometown) as a girl, went to the U. of Nev. Reno (like me), moved to Portland, OR (like me), and I have a strong feeling for her. :)

Lily Hydrangea said...

sorry, I'm a little behind here Lydia! re Earth hour... Oh I loved your video. My hub & son & I did it last year & we too got giddy eating a late dinner by candle light & trying to remember to keep things turned off.
I agree it is very difficult for many to acknowledge our part in this crisis. It frightens me that many still feel the climate change is all a normal course of events. There still seems to be so much denial. My hope is to just keep thinking sometimes it only takes one candle, much like Earth Hour!

I love your wonderful family photo too.

Lydia said...

@Lily- You need never apologize for how often you are here! It was such fun reading that you, too, became giddy last Earth Hour. I will definitely think of you this year as we smile in the dark with hope. :)



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