Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

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Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

Postby Ogrim » Wed Nov 16, 2016 9:17 am

Inspired by a comment made by Cavesa over in Tristano's log, I decided to create this thread to exchange recommendations and views on Russian culture, classic or contemporary. From time to time I discover new exciting Russian culture through recommendations on this site, but they are scattered around different threads and logs and get easily "buried". So here is what I hope will be an "awsome" place to share our impressions and tips about Russian culture.

My appeal to native Russians and Russian learners is to tell us about the books you loved to read, the movies you would not want your friends to miss, the series you follow eagerly and the music you enjoy. I don't want the discussion to be limited to any particular type of cultural expression. Whether you enjoy mainstream pop, rap, heavy metal or choral music, whether you prefer classical literature or science fiction, art films or slapstick humour, it should all have its place here, as long as it is Russian. And let us not criticise someone's taste: О вкусах не спорят.

vonPeterhof, Serpent and others have already given some great recommendations in Tristano's log, so I link to them here.

My first recommendation here is simply to a Youtube channel, Star Media, which offers access to a large number of Russian films and series, many with Russian and/or English subtitles. A great place to explore for those who learn Russian.
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Re: Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

Postby MamaPata » Thu Nov 17, 2016 6:47 am

This is a great idea! I look forward to all your suggestions!

My Russian reading is fairly attrocious so I don't have much to contribute there! :lol: But, I study Russian at university and I've done a couple of really great film courses. (Currently only half the list is available so I'll try and update this, once I've contacted my lecturer). We have an introduction to Russian film course that looks at the last century(ish) of Soviet and Russian film. It's very much organised to show the progression of cinema and the themes that involved, rather than popularity, though some are very famous. The films we watched were:

Nikolai Larin - Merchant Bashkirov’s Daughter, 1913
Evgenii Bauer - Child of the Big City, 1914
Lev Kuleshov - The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, 1924

I thought all of these were really interesting, and I'd definitely recommend them if you're into early cinema. However, they are all silent films, so there's limited Russian practice! Mr West is much more slapstick and comedy, whereas the first two are melodramas.

Aleksandr Dovzhenko - Arsenal (1928)
The Vasil′ev ‘brothers’ - Chapaev (1934)

(Films on the Civil War, basically!) As far as I remember, Arsenal has sound but no speaking. It's very inventive and weird and it's become the basis for a lot of film imagery, but it's quite hard work? Chapaev is fairly classic and well known (and has speech, I think!)

Grigorii Aleksandrov – The Happy Guys, 1934
Grigorii Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg - The Youth of Maksim, 1934

(I haven't seen either of these so can't comment. They are films I've been meaning to get to and I know other people who really liked the Happy Guys.)

Grigorii Chukhrai – The Forty First, 1956
Andrei Tarkovskii – Ivan’s Childhood, 1962

I liked both of these, they're very interesting and I liked looking at how Thaw cinema looked back at the war. The 41st is a remake of an earlier film, so that's quite cool.
The majority of these are available on youtube, so I'll try and link to them soon.
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Re: Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

Postby Ogrim » Thu Dec 01, 2016 10:11 am

Time to resurrect this thread as I am still waiting for more contributions. In the meantime, I want to highlight a classic from Russian literature, Белые ночи - White Nights - by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which I finally have started reading in Russian.

Dostyevsky has been one of my favourite writers ever since I was a teenager. I fell in love with the short story White Nights as soon as I read it, and I must have read it a dozen times over the years, but always in translation. My first encounter was a Norwegian translation by Geir Kjetsaa, who was an eminent academic and a great translator of Russian literature. I have also read the book in English translation, but so far I did not have the courage to start reading the orginal Russian text. Yesterday I decided to give it a try, and I was happily surprised to see that it was easier than I had feared. I still have to look up words, but I can follow the story quite well keeping the flow in my reading, thanks to my Kindle's pop-up dictionary.

White Nights is a great example of Russian Romanticism. The story is about a young man walking the streets of St. Petersburg at night in the summer (hence the title), and one night he has an encounter with a young woman who makes a strong impression on him. I won't reveal the plot here, suffice to say that the young man, who is the narrator of the story, is a shy dreamer with no experience of relationships with women.

For me, the main strength of the story is not the plot, but the way Dostyevsky uses the language to describe the emotions and feelings of the young man and the woman, as well as the observations of the summer nights in St. Petersburg through the eyes of the narrator. I think it is a beautiful story and I recommend it whether you want to read it in the original or in translation. It is easy to find free or cheap e-book versions of this story as well as of other main works of Dostyevsky. This site has pdf copies of most of his works in original language, but please note that these are copies of old books, so they use the old orthography.

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St. Petersburg by night
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Re: Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

Postby MamaPata » Thu Dec 01, 2016 11:48 am

Bulgakov is fairly famous but I still haven't got around to reading Master and Margarita. :oops: I did read a book of short stories he wrote about his time as a young doctor, called A Country Doctor's Notebook. I only read the English translation, but I did really enjoy it. It was given to my dad, who also trained as a doctor and really enjoyed it.

In terms of more film recommendations, I would really recommend the 2003 'Shik/The Suit'. It's about three boys in their teens, who see a suit and decide that they have to buy it. But from this initial idea, it goes into their three stories - about their lives, first love, coming of age. I thought it was really beautiful and it remains one of my favourite films.

I also liked the film Wings, about a woman who was a pilot in WWII. At the time of the film, she's working as a director of a school. It's about generational difference, and her attempts to find her place in the world as it changes. It's really interesting, and I'd be intrigued by people's thoughts

Finally, a few more lighthearted suggestions: Stilyagi (The Hipsters, 2008), Circus (1936), and Spring on Varechnaya Street (1956). Stilyagi is a very weird modern musical set in the 50s, about a group of teenagers obsessed by American fashions and music. I have mixed feelings about it, but I love the songs. If anyone watches it/has watched it, please talk to me about it! Circus is a black and white Soviet film, that's quite famous. It's about a woman who is pushed out of the US, and ends up working in the USSR where she is welcomed. It's pretty. Spring on Varechnaya Street is a romance about a woman who goes to work as an adult education teacher, and slowly unlearns all of her city ways. None of them are particularly complicated stories, but I enjoyed them!
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Re: Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

Postby whatiftheblog » Thu Dec 01, 2016 4:07 pm

I don't really enjoy "classical" Russian literature, but I love Nabokov, Pasternak, and Bunin. One of my favorite movies is East-West (Восток-Запад), which has some French as well. TV Rain (Дождь, online, most of their content is behind a paywall, but the subscription fees are reasonable) has some excellent programming and has less anchor-choppy, more everyday Russian - I think it's been mentioned before.

Though not a Russian production, "The Americans" is an outstanding show, and their Russian-speaking stars speak actual Russian, not Hollywood "Russian", so it may be a good option for early-stage learners who want to get a feel for the language without getting overwhelmed.
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Re: Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

Postby IronMike » Sun Dec 04, 2016 9:03 am

One cannot miss the wonderful film Russian Ark (Русский ковчег). What follows are some spoilers, but note that this movie is sort of a documentary, so I'm not really giving away an ending, per se.

The movie should be watched once in its entirety, then you should watch the making of, which is called In One Breath. The amazing part of the movie is that the entire thing was filmed in one shot, no cuts, no redos. (To be fair, they filmed everything simply, with an external hard drive capable of storing 100 minutes. They were given the location for only one day and had to complete everything during daylight hours. The first four takes failed within minutes and for the final take they knew they only had enough battery power left for one more take and boy oh boy did they do it!)

Further, what you need to know is that the main "character" in the film is a reincarnated French prince, the Marquis de Custine. If you don't know who this is, find yourself a used copy of his famous book Empire of the Czar. He wrote this book after his visit to Russia in 1839. One very illustrative (to the Russian soul) story within this travel book has the Marquis watching a baptism in a village. The villagers had cut out a cross in the ice in a nearby river. The priest was there in his robes ready to immerse all the newborns from the village. At one point, the priest slips and drops a child under the water, where he is taken off in the current to his death. The priest looks back at the assembled masses and says, "Следующий." :shock:

Back to the film: The Marquis takes you on a trip through the Hermitage, telling you about all the people he'd met in Russia and how they relate to the art you're walking by. From a production standpoint, the most interesting thing is the actor who plays the Marquis (Sergei Dontsov) does the entire film walking backwards. In and out of the scenes come famous Russians (Pushkin and his wife, for instance) as you walk your way through the Hermitage.

This was a highlight of my Russian culture class years ago. Highly recommended.

Book-wise, I want to recommend a wonderful book called Between Heaven and Hell: The Story of a Thousand Years of Artistic Life in Russia by W. Bruce Lincoln. You can get it used for a very good price.
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Re: Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

Postby Ingaræð » Sun Dec 04, 2016 11:03 am

IronMike wrote:Back to the film: The Marquis takes you on a trip through the Hermitage, telling you about all the people he'd met in Russia and how they relate to the art you're walking by. From a production standpoint, the most interesting thing is the actor who plays the Marquis (Sergei Dontsov) does the entire film walking backwards. In and out of the scenes come famous Russians (Pushkin and his wife, for instance) as you walk your way through the Hermitage.


:?:

He hardly walks backwards at all. Possibly because he's wearing ~2" heels for most of the film, and I suspect Ginger Rogers is the only person who really mastered that. :D As I understand it, the film isn't about the Marquis's own travels (although there are some references to his life), but rather it's a voyage through Russian/St. Petersburg history, that also touches on some of the artworks in the museum and the palace itself. I first saw this film on TV, and didn't know what most of the historical references were, but I found that the 'footnotes' on this website explained a lot.

I definitely second your recommendation, though, even to those who aren't particularly interested in Russia/Russian. It's an absolutely beautiful film, and very impressive from a technical standpoint. It's one of my favourites - I must have watched it at least 100 times. :shock:
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Re: Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

Postby IronMike » Sun Dec 04, 2016 12:03 pm

Ingaræð wrote:
IronMike wrote:Back to the film: The Marquis takes you on a trip through the Hermitage, telling you about all the people he'd met in Russia and how they relate to the art you're walking by. From a production standpoint, the most interesting thing is the actor who plays the Marquis (Sergei Dontsov) does the entire film walking backwards. In and out of the scenes come famous Russians (Pushkin and his wife, for instance) as you walk your way through the Hermitage.


:?:

He hardly walks backwards at all. Possibly because he's wearing ~2" heels for most of the film, and I suspect Ginger Rogers is the only person who really mastered that. :D As I understand it, the film isn't about the Marquis's own travels (although there are some references to his life), but rather it's a voyage through Russian/St. Petersburg history, that also touches on some of the artworks in the museum and the palace itself. I first saw this film on TV, and didn't know what most of the historical references were, but I found that the 'footnotes' on this website explained a lot.

I definitely second your recommendation, though, even to those who aren't particularly interested in Russia/Russian. It's an absolutely beautiful film, and very impressive from a technical standpoint. It's one of my favourites - I must have watched it at least 100 times. :shock:


I was going on my memory as it's been since 2008-ish that I've seen the film. Obviously my memory can use some work. ;)
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Re: Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

Postby Ingaræð » Sun Dec 04, 2016 12:22 pm

I thought that may have been the case. I was actually going to recommend it myself, when I saw your post - great minds! :lol: One thing I haven't been able to find out: what on earth are the weird contraptions being used behind the theatre stage..?
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Re: Russian culture: books, music, films, series and more

Postby Ogrim » Fri Dec 16, 2016 2:30 pm

IronMike wrote:One cannot miss the wonderful film Russian Ark (Русский ковчег).


I bought Russian Ark on DVD in Norway few years ago, when I was still at the early stages of my Russian learning, so I was not able to understand much of the dialogue but had to rely on Norwegian subtitles. I agree that it is a beautiful film though, and I am going to see it again in the near future. Hopefully I should be able to follow the Russian more easily.

As we are close to the holiday season I though I would post something more light and popular today. Lately I have been listening quite a lot to the songs of the artist МакСим - who was also mentioned by whatiftheblog over on Tristano's log. I agree with whatiftheblog that she has interesting lyrics, and the music is enjoyable if you are into uncomplicated pop. I am sharing two Youtube clips of her. The first one is from her debut album, and this is the title song called Мой рай (My paradise). The second clip is from her last album Хорошо and the song is Золотыми Рыбками (Goldfish).






And finally, as we are approaching the New Year, I also wanted to add this clip with artists Alisa Mon and Konstantin Bubnov, called simply Веселый Новый Год - Happy New Year.

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