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Sergey Parajanov, film director, as an artist

 

The National Art Museum of Ukraine held an exhibition of art works, mostly collages, created by the well-known film director Sergey Parajanov, the great exponent of poetic cinema. His Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors, made in Ukraine in the 1960s, was recognized as a remarkable contribution to the art of cinematography.

 

“I have a small collage created by Sergey Parajanov hanging on a wall in my apartment. He made it in prison. Once, I sent him a book, and in return, Prajanov had this collage passed on to me. There was very little that he, a prisoner, could lay his hands on to make a collage — pieces of wire, dry leaves, a flower, but it was sufficient for him to make a piece of art that I find very precious.”

Andrey Voznesensky, a Russian poet.

 

“Parajanov is one of those rare creators who belong to the whole world, to world culture rather than only to Ukrainian culture, or Armenian or Georgian cultures. His art was a magic flower and those who have been privileged to see it, will never forget it.”

Ivan Dratch, a Ukrainian poet.

 

“As far as I am concerned, Parajanov expressed more in his collages than he did in his films — there were no censors or editors to interfere with his work on collages when he was creating them! Several of his collages are true masterpieces. Parajanov is often called a genius. I’ve never called him that — I’ve called him ‘a phenomenon of nature,’ a phenomenon that was spontaneous, uncontrolled, and that remains enigmatic, not fully understood.”

Roman Balayan, a Ukrainian film director

 

“I saw Parajanov’s Legend of Suram Fortress in Tbilisi, and immediately called it a masterpiece. Recently it was shown in Rome, and people lined up to buy tickets to see it.”

Tonino Gurereo, a screen writer.

 

“Parajanov’s Color of Pomegranates is of a stunningly perfect beauty. Parajanov, in my opinion, is one of best film directors in the world.”

Michelangello Antonioni, a film director.

 

The exhibition, which was on show from January 31 to March 16, was the first one of Parajanov’s art in Ukraine. It was brought from the Museum of Sergey Parajanov in Yerevan, Armenia (Parajanov was of Armenian extraction). The museum was founded in 1988 and opened in 1991 (the delay was caused by an earthquake).

The museum’s collection contains over 600 items, among which are his art works, personal belongings, photographs, documents and furniture; the museum also has Parajanov’s archives.

In the past fifteen years, the museum held 48 exhibitions of Parajanov’s art works in Boston, Cannes, London, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Rome, Teheran, Tokyo and other cities. The exhibition in Kyiv was the latest to be shown.

Parajanov began to create his collages and assemblages at the time when he was denied any other possibility of creating art — and they proved to be vital and vibrant expressions of Parajanov’s artistic soul as much as his best films were.

Sergey Parajanov (also spelled Paradzhanov and Pradjanov) was born into an Armenian family in Tbilisi on January 9, 1924. He was educated at the music conservatory in Tbilisi (vocal department), a railroad engineering college in Tbilisi, and later at the Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. Among his teachers was Oleksandr Dovzhenko, a Ukrainian film director of wide renown. Upon his graduation in 1951, Parajanov worked at the Film Studio named after O. Dovzhenko in Kyiv.

In 1950 Parajanov married his first wife, Nigyar Kerimova in Moscow. She came from a Muslim Tatar family and converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity to marry Parajanov. This move led to terrible consequences: she was later murdered by her relatives in retaliation for her conversion.

Parajanov had started making films in the late 1940s, and one of the early films in the making of which he participated was Taras Shevchenko. Although he started professional film-making in 1954, he later disowned all of his pre-1964 works as “garbage”.

In Ukraine, Parajanov learned Ukrainian and became fluent in it; he married Svetlana Shcherbatyuk in 1956; in 1958, she gave him a son, Suren (later, he divorced Svetlana).

Parajanov’s film Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors (renamed Wild Horses of Fire for most foreign distributions), which was released in 1964, was based on a novel by the Ukrainian classic Mykhailo Kotsyubynsky. Parajanov authentically recreated a forgotten world (the story takes place in the wilderness of the Ukrainian Carpathians, which might seem completely alien for ordinary Western audiences); his use of colors, costumes, music and camerawork was essential in both telling a story visually and inspiring the viewer’s awe. The film won several international awards but displeased the soviet authorities by its “Ukrainian nationalistic” motifs. Parajanov had become something of an international celebrity and simultaneously a target for the Soviet oppression system.

Parajanov moved to Armenia where he made his highly unusual film of exceptional visual beauty The Color of Pomegranates (also known as Sayat Nova). It remains his most emblematic film. There have been few films in the history of cinema where soul and high art blend together like in Color of Pomegranates, few films that have had such sublime magic like this one. Parajanov gave the world a rare film which represents a cinematic insight into the artistic mind. The soviet cinematography authorities and censors prevented the film from being widely shown and did not allow this film to be shown abroad altogether. The film did not fit the principal rules of socialist realism (the only sanctioned art style in USSR) and his controversial stance and escapades to boot, cinema authorities regularly denied him permission to make films.

Prajanov was subjected to harassment, and in 1973 he was arrested on trumped-up charges and sentenced to five years in a hard-labor camp. Three days before he was sentenced, Andrey Tarkovsky, the famous Russian film director, wrote a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, asserting that “In the last ten years Sergey Parajanov has made only two films: Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors and The Color of Pomegranates. They have influenced cinema first in Ukraine, second in this country as a whole, and third — in the world at large. Artistically, there are few people in the entire world who could replace Parajanov. He is guilty — guilty of being unique. We are guilty of not thinking of him daily and of failing to discover the significance of a master.”

A group of artists, filmmakers, actors and activists, at home and abroad, protested on his behalf, but to little avail (among them were Yves Saint Laurent, Francoise Sagan, Jean Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Luis Bunuel, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Andrey Tarkovsky). Parajanov served four years out of his five year sentence, and many credit the petition of the French Surrealist poet and novelist Louis Aragon to the Soviet government as instrumental in Parajanov’s early release.

After his release, Parajanov moved to Tbilisi, Georgia, where he wrote screenplays and created his art (he began making collages in prison using whatever materials and prints he could find). But he was not allowed to make films. In 1982, he was arrested again and put into prison where he spent eleven months waiting for the trial. He was found not guilty and released.

The political climate in the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, thanks to the reforms launched by Mikhail Gorbachev, communist party and state leader (the reforms came to be known as “perestroika”) began to change for the better, and Parajanov could start making films again. Still, it required help of influential Georgian actor David Abashidze and other friends to have his last feature films green-lighted. With the encouragement of various Georgian intellectuals, Parajanov created the multi-award winning Legend of Suram Fortress based on a novella by Daniel Chonkadze, a return to cinema after an interlude of fifteen years since Sayat Nova first premiered. In 1988, Parajanov made another multi-award winning film, Ashik Kerib, based on a story by Mikhail Lermontov. It is the story of a wandering minstrel. Parajanov dedicated the film to his close friend Andrey Tarkovsky and “to all the children in the world”.

In the second half of the 1980s Parajanov was allowed to go abroad to attend international film festivals and conferences.

In 1989, he began to make an autobiographical film, The Confession, at a film studio in Armenia, but failed to bring it to completion because of a serious health problem — he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Parajanov died on July 20, 1990, and was buried in the Pantheon of Yerevan, capital of Armenia, where William Saroyan, US writer of Armenian extraction, Aram Khachaturyan, a remarkable Armenian composer, and other distinguished Armenians are buried.

Such luminaries as Federico Fellini, Tonino Guerra, Francesco Rosi, Alberto Moravia, Giulietta Masina, Marcello Mastroianni and Bernardo Bertolucci were among those who publicly mourned his passing. One of the telegrams said, “The world of cinema has lost a magician”.

 

Parajanov’s legacy includes about twenty screenplays which have not been made into films, more than a dozen films, some of which collected more than 60 international awards. Among his projects there were also plans for adapting Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Goethe’s Faust, medieval Ukrainian epic poem The Tale of Igor’s Campaign, but film scripts for these were never completed.

Several exhibitions of his art works were held during his life time at the end of the 1890s, and many more after his death.

Parajanov’s oeuvre is recognized as being highly poetic, artistic and visionary and is acclaimed worldwide.

Some directors like Theo Angelopoulos or Peter Greenway, though they are few in number, share Parajanov’s approach to films as a visual medium opposed to a narrative tool like literature.

Parajanov’s life story provides (quite loosely) the basis for the 2006 novel Stet by the American author James Chapman.

 

Illustrations have been provided

by Gabri Promotion Centre

 

My Father’s Portrait Torn in the Moment of Jealousy.

Collage. Oil on canvas, glued to photopaper.

41 x 46 cm, 1983.

 

Self-portrait in Istanbul.

Soft-tip pen and paper on photograph

by Ara Gyuler. 29,5 x 18, 5 cm. 1989.

 

Variation on a Theme by Pinturicchio and Rafael.

Three-dimensional collage. Paper, metal,

nacre and fabric on paper. 53 x 43,5 x 2 cm. 1989.

 

Marionettes’ Elections.Collage.

Wood, glass, paper, metal and fabric on cardboard.

43,5 x 73,5 cm (framed). 1984.

 

Blue Fish. Three-dimensional collage.

Plastic, mirror and glass on metal.

Diameter 47 cm. 1983.

 

Self-portrait in Gothic Style.

Pencil, paper, metal, fabric, dried plants and

butterfly on paper. 29 x 20 cm. 1976.

 

Stamps from the Prison Camp.

Ink on paper, 28,5 x 19,5 cm. 1974–1977.

 

The Trial. From the series The Parable of the Son.

Ink, metal and plastic on paper.

15 x 10 cm. 1974–1977.

 

The Prayer for Hovnatanyan. Collage.

Paper and fabric on paper.

29 x 34 cm (framed). 1966.

 

Parajanov in Paradise. Doll.

Velveteen, leather, caprone, metal and rubber.

Height 38 cm. 1986.

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