Sergei Paradjanov short films (1966-1985)

Three short films by Paradjanov I found at Ubuweb.

Kiev Frescos (1966): Technically this isn’t an actual short film, rather a compilation of material shot for what would’ve been his follow-up feature to Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors before Soviet authorities shut it down. I wonder how I’d have approached this had I not known that before watching it. And how do I approach it even with that knowledge? Impossible to review a film that never really existed, but harder to review what does exist of it… cos what is the provenance of the “short film” called Kiev Frescos? Did Paradjanov himself have anything to do with it? I don’t know. At any rate, one thing that’s readily apparent is the remarkable flattening of visual space, which is much more like some of the stuff you see in Colour of Pomegranates than in Shadows, whose pyrotechnics he was obviously ready to move on from. It’s impossible to tell, of course, cos I don’t know how the existing scenes are supposed to relate to each other, or to the other scenes that were never filmed, nor indeed what it was even supposed to be about, but on the face of it Kiev Frescos looks like it would’ve been fearsomely abstract stuff.

Hakob Hovnatanyan (1967): A documentary played comparatively straight, though I suspect you have to be an existing aficionado of the artist or the time & place to get the most (or indeed anything) from it. Hovnatanyan was a portrait painter in mid to late-19th century Georgia, and I am not really familiar with any of those things—not the artist, not the art, not the place, not the period. Like Kenneth Anger’s film about Aleister Crowley’s paintings, the film itself won’t tell you much about those things, either… instead it surveys a selection of the paintings in varying degrees of detail, looking at some recurring characteristics and the like. And it’s nice, but I’m not very good with the visual arts anyway, and portraiture speaks to me even less than most paintings do. So I was a bit hamstrung by this film.

Arabesques on the Pirosmani Theme (1985): I liked this better even though, for the most part, it does the same thing as Hakob Hovnatanyan, probably because I found myself liking the art better… Pirosmani was a self-taught “primitivist” painter from Georgia, and his evident comparative lack of technical refinement is fully on show. But I kind of like that relative crudity, there’s obviously a folk art aspect to it but also there’s echoes of German expressionism (or so it struck me). Plus Paradjanov inserts a few bits of live-action business that I presume are meant to echo Pirosmani’s paintings, and this makes the film feel rather more like a “Paradjanov film”, if you know what I mean, in a way that the live-action stuff in Hakob doesn’t quite.

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