Sergei Parajanov  

A Soviet Armenian proud of his heritage and Ukrainian, Armenian, and Georgian culture. His first few films were light-hearted musical romps of love, fantasy, and pastoral dramas, all of which he practically disowned. With Ukrainian Rhapsody we get the first glimpse of experimentation with visual poetry and his love for music, culture and history. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors exploded onto the worldwide scene with its astonishingly rich and unique visual imagery full of folklore, traditional costumes, dances, sounds, music and an incredibly dynamic camera, as well as some slight touches of visual experimentation involving magic and hallucinations of colors and ghosts.

After that he focused primarily on visual movies based on traditional culture, art and folk-stories, as well as his own bizarre imagination and esoteric, incomprehensible poetic themes, all with an amazing talent for striking imagery and beautiful, moving paintings. He is a big fan of Pasolini and his approach to making earthy, tangible texture-rich movies, and seemingly tries to do the same for Armenian culture, only with his own unique approach that surpasses Pasolini in its artistic beauty. Audiences looking for rich, visual experiences should find a master in Parajanov, as long as they don't expect complex themes or developing stories.

He was arrested, banned, repressed and imprisoned many times for many different crimes against the Soviet socialists, yet he kept his defiant attitude and kept getting himself in trouble with his films, speeches and his staunch admiration for tradition and culture, with artists around the world protesting and writing on his behalf. This contentious life resulted in very few movies. Died in 1990.

Of Some Interest

Color of Pomegranates  
Parajanov throws out narrative here and explores the life and works of the Armenian poet Sayat Nova. This is done not by telling his life story, but by showing a stream of artsy, bizarre images that blend elements of his life, his words, and Parajanov's seemingly drug-inspired imagination. For example, his early interest in books is shown with a striking scene of many open books flapping in the wind laid on rooftops around a young boy. His upbringing with carpet weavers lends many culturally rich images of carpet making and dyes, with traditional costumes and craftsman techniques mixed with Parajanov's imagination and striking talent for imagery. His period in a monastery includes scenes of two-dozen monks eating apples, or climbing into tiny holes in the floor, and mixed with all these biographical images are purely abstract and bizarre poetic visuals usually involving a man in various roles (also female), in makeup and colorful, traditional costumes performing symbolic gestures with various objects (peacock, musical instruments, seeds, etc) in his hands. There are literally hundreds of odd or earthy, traditional and colorful images like these in the movie. Think Holy Mountain as directed by Pasolini and you may be getting close. The result, in theory, is boring in an ultimately artsy way, offering no conventional insight into this poet's life and work, but the images are so striking and poetic that they nevertheless result in a unique and astonishing cinematic experience. It's like walking through a museum of paintings that move.

Kiev Frescos
Allegedly a collage of leftovers from a murdered film project in 1966. Here is what I got from it: A surreal, artsy short showing people living with art and culture using passionate physical performances and poetic imagery. They sleep, clean, have babies, and live on a piano, under statues, next to paintings, nudes, etc. Pop-culture like the latest dances and hoola-hoops are mixed in with the cultural symbols as well. A poetic proclamation for life filled with culture and diversity.

Legend of the Surami Fortress, The  
Made after Parajanov imprisonment, this Georgian folk-story tells a tale of a prince who wants to rebuild fortresses to protect his kingdom, doomed lovers held captive by the prince, a Surami Fortress that keeps collapsing, and a fortune-teller that instructs the prince to wall up a young boy inside the walls in order to keep it from collapsing. But the story is presented in scattered snippets and is hard to follow, and the Parajanov visuals are the star here once again, presenting moving paintings that tells the story through poetic scenes and tradition made beautiful. We get bizarre images like men rolling barrels under a floating model of a ship while people wave semaphore flags, a man on a blue-tinted rock with dolls and historical icons hanging on a string around him, a symmetrical Greenaway-like scene of a man forced to throw pomegranates in the air between two dogs for two men to slice, beautiful painting-like scenes of traditional dances and prayers, various historical objects shown in loving detail and painting-like cinematography, etc.


Ashik Kerib  
Parajanov's last movie is the most reminiscent of Pasolini and features another ancient folk-story and adventure only with much weaker imagery this time. Ashik Kerib is a poor minstrel who falls in love with a rich man's daughter. When the father scoffs at his advances, he goes on a trip to seek his wealth while his competition convinces everyone that he's dead. The trip features increasingly strange people and adventures, from playing music for a wedding of blind-deaf-mute people wearing strange blindfolds, to a Pasha and his harem of women that wave toy machine-guns in the air, to a big tiger with a swiveling head, a flying horse, and the usual Parajanov dances, music and extravagant costumes. The performances are strangely comic and cartoonishly over-the-top, at one point they even pull off their fake moustaches. A messy, simple movie, perhaps hampered by its low-budget and constraints, which isn't as visually rewarding as Parajanov's previous efforts.

1999- by The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre Table of Contents