Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Cinema: A Public Affair. The Jonathan Dennis Memorial Lecture 2015: Naum Kleiman

Naum Kleiman in Cinema: A Public Affair
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
Naum Kleiman introduced by David Robinson and Tatiana Brendrup.
Teatro Verdi, 6 Oct 2015

From the GCM catalog and website: The Jonathan Dennis Memorial Lecture

"In 2002 the Giornate del Cinema Muto inaugurated this annual lecture in commemoration of Jonathan Dennis (1953-2002), founding director of the New Zealand Film Archive. Jonathan Dennis was an exemplary archivist, a champion of his country’s culture – particularly of Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand – and above all a person of outstanding human qualities."

"The lecturers are selected as people who are pre-eminent in some field of work associated with the conservation or appreciation of silent cinema.

2015 Lecture – Naum Kleiman

David Robinson (GCM catalog and website): "Jonathan Dennis would have found this year’s speaker a true spiritual brother in his unrelenting fight for film as a social and cultural necessity."

"Naum Kleiman’s lecture will take the form of a presentation of the 2015 German film Cinema: A Public Affair, directed by Tatiana Brandrup, which begins ostensibly as a record of the tribulations of Kleiman’s creation, the Moscow Musei Kino (Film Museum). Thus we embark on a contemporary horror story – how a flourishing, idealist, socially essential cultural entity can be crushed by invisible official forces. Yet as the story goes on, and we encounter, face to face, Kleiman himself and the large, unshaken community of Musei Kino’s collaborators and disciples, we have rather a sense of celebration, of the indomitability of human will, faith, social idealism – and the indispensable role of cinema in civilized society. If this is tragedy, the catharsis is supreme. Venceremos!"

"Kleiman, born in 1937, experienced the displacements of war at first hand. In the course of flight from the war zone, the children were shown a film: for him it was his first, and at the age of four-and-a-half he discovered magic in the form of Powell and Pressburger’s The Thief of Bagdad. As a young student from VGIK, the historic Moscow film school, he was sent to assist the widow of Eisenstein, Pera Atasheva, and to learn from her to decipher Eisenstein’s lightning handwriting. When Atasheva bequeathed the archive to the Union of Film Makers, Kleiman stayed on as curator, to become the sovereign authority on every aspect of Eisenstein’s life and work. This became his life and passion, so that he was reluctant to agree (“well, maybe for two years ...”) to set up the Moscow Musei Kino, conceived in the happy interlude of Perestroika. The museum opened on 31 March 1989 – two weeks before the centenary of Chaplin’s birth – with The Great Dictator. Its screenings and its fast-growing collection of films and historic documents and artefacts soon became a cultural focus – and Kleiman was trapped in his own great creation. Musei Kino was given new, purpose-built headquarters, Kinocentr."

"The first blow came in 2005, when they were abruptly turned out of the building, which had been sold in some never-explained property deal. The collections and films were rescued from the street where they were thrown and stored in outbuildings at Mosfilm, where they still remain."

"Musei Kino nevertheless continued its film programmes, in whatever cinemas were available around Moscow. In July 2014, however, in a familiar tactic of state “cultural cleansing”, the Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky appointed a new director of Musei Kino, “elevating” Kleiman to the nominal post of President. Medinsky ignored international protests. Three months later Kleiman and his 20-strong staff resigned on account of the new director’s “incompetence and unethical behaviour”. Subsequently the curators of the collections have returned to work, determined to do what they can to defend the Museum’s holdings and standards."

"Reviewing Tatiana Brandrup’s film from the Berlin festival, The Hollywood Reporter succinctly defined what makes Kleiman and Musei Kino disciples “inconvenient” in the Russia of Vladimir Putin: it is “their belief that cinema can be used to create a free civil society”. For Russia, as the story demonstrates, society and the state are not the same thing. The journalist Larissa Malyukova tells us, “The cinema makes people citizens of society – but the state doesn’t need citizens.”"

"The Musei Kino community’s beliefs and hopes are nevertheless unshakeable. Kleiman tells us, “Cinema is a tool to discover the world ... but people need a navigator. Musei Kino is a map.” When Kinocentr was closed, there were demonstrations; and one of the witnesses in the film says it was as if a beloved near relative had died. But the film shows us that on the contrary it lives on, indestructible in the community it has established (including Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose film Leviathan was conveniently suppressed by a new law forbidding cursing on the screen). “Life without movies is a spiritual void.” “Cinema without a memory is like a camera without film.” Tatiana Brandrup’s film passes in and out of quotations from the films that have united this community – Resnais, Bergman, Ozu, Godard, supremely Eisenstein, with Potemkin, October, and the colour sequence from Ivan Part II, and of course The Thief of Bagdad. Kleiman’s toast at the 25th anniversary of Musei Kino declares its prime values as Decency, Compassion, and Honesty; while his last word in the film is to cite the Eleventh Commandment, which was revealed to Elisabeth Bergner by Albert Einstein when she had an attack of stage fright before her first appearance on the English stage: “Thou shalt not be afraid.”
" – David Robinson

DE © 2015 Filmkantine Tatiana Brandrup. D+SC+S: Tatiana Brandrup; P: Katrin Springer, Tatiana Brandrup; DP: Martin Farkas, Tatiana Brandrup; ED: Tatiana Brandrup, Arsen Yagdjyan; M: Jonathan Bar Giora; with Naum Kleiman, Maxim Pavlov, Vera Rumyantseva Kleiman, Emma Malaya, Anna Bulgakova, Olga Ulybyshev, Igor Belozerkovich, Erika Gregor, Ulrich Gregor, Larissa Malyukova, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Ivan Kulikov, Anton Masurov, Temur Mukanov; DCP, 99', col. + b&w, sd.; dial: RUS, GER, subt. ENG; print source: Filmkantine UG, Berlin.
    Theme song: "Allez, marchez, Ciné-Musée" by Temur Mukanov.
    Clips: L'Année dernière à Marienbad, Histoire(s) du cinéma, L'Atalante, Oktyabr, Zastava Ilyicha, Ivan Groznyi: colour sequence, Stachka, Rusalochka / The Little Mermaid (Ivan Aksenchuk, 1968).
    People also appearing: Jean-Luc Godard, Kristina Yureva, Nikita Mikhalkov.
    "Hе бойся" = "Don't be afraid".
    Naum Kleiman's good command of German is on display in this movie.

AA: Naum Kleiman has been a central figure of Russian film culture for decades. For Ulrich and Erika Gregor he has been that since 1957 when Ulrich wanted to meet Dziga Vertov but learned from the young student Naum that the artist had died some years ago.

I first met Naum Kleiman in 1988 when I visited the Eisenstein Home Museum during the Moscow Film Festival. (The next guest coming was Philip Kaufman who was in Moscow to screen The Unbearable Lightness of Being). In 1989 during Moscow Film Festival I spent most of the time in Naum's Kino Center and saw a lot of exciting discoveries, mostly formerly shelved Soviet films from the 1960s. I still cherish those precious screenings. As a special treat I got to see the surviving footage of Ivan Groznyi Part III in a private screening. The taste, the insight and the passion for culture was evident in everything. Those were the happy days of the glasnost and the perestroika. Naum Kleiman grew up during the exciting period of the Thaw, and in the 1980s he must have relished the passing of the stagnation period.

Tatiana Brandrup's Cinema: A Public Affair may be visually modest, with a basic look, but it is the best film I have ever seen for a film programmer. It is all about the big issues.

In his discussion with Ulrich and Erika Gregor, who ran the Arsenal cinema and the Forum of the Berlin Film Festival for decades, Naum states: "der Film beginnt wenn er zu Ende ist" - "the film begins when it ends". The dream begins to crystallize. The discourse starts. Then it starts to become a part of our consciousness, our life, our reality, ourselves. It needs to be discussed, debated, revisited.

The main narrative of the film is the saga of the Muzei Kino as reported by David Robinson in his notes above. It is not about "art for art's sake". Art is here always about society, civil society in the spirit of Pushkin, a society that is more important than the state. There is a concept of world cinema similar to Goethe's insight in Weltliteratur, Weltkultur. This is the central theme of Tatiana Brandrup's movie. The Forum as agora, a space for democracy, for breaking walls, a space to connect all eras. "Russian history leaps like a frog". "The first signal of something going wrong was the destruction of the Kino Center".

The current Russian development towards a police state is discussed. Cultural institutions are made official, and they can only be led by someone who will sign anything. Others are classified as "foreign agents". The police state succeeds when you start to restrain yourself. But "cinema shows something else is possible". "Our finest collection is the collection of our viewers". "We have a very good young generation".

Memorable: the episode of Jean-Luc Godard's visit to the Kino Center with Histoire(s) du cinéma, installing a Dolby sound system there.

Constant: Eisenstein, also called Eysen ['eizen], introduced before the screen on which Battleship Potemkin was first shown, compared with Guernica, Hiroshima - a struggle for freedom, to end violence. An art not didactic but meant to invite you in. Not about logic but post-logic and pre-logic. With internet you try this, you try that, but you don't learn anything. The story of Eisenstein: the system did not break him although he was signing his death sentence with every film. In the discussion after the film Kleiman added: "Eisenstein is not only a person, he is a crossroads".

Personal: the first film: The Thief of Bagdad (see David Robinson's notes above), "a window to a different reality". In Brandrup's film we cut to Michael Powell's visit in Kino Center in 1989. The mind-altering film: L'Atalante, "revealing something secret".

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