I just watched Chris Marker’s film Le tombeau d’Alexandre [The Last Bolshevik] (1993), which focuses on the work of Soviet filmmaker Aleksandr Ivanovich Medvedkin (Александр Иванович Медведкин). Medvedkin seems especially interesting due to his “film-train”, which was specifically-stocked train that travelled through the Soviet Union during the 1930s. The film mentions the kolkhozy several times as places Medvedkin’s train visited. The film ponders the troubles of being an artist committed to a degenerating party. One need only see Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) to see the initial optimism of the U.S.S.R. At the end of the film, several people say that perhaps Medvedkin’s death in 1989 saved him from further heartbreak in the coming years. Concerning his commitment to an increasingly negative party, Marina Goldovskaia says, “I will never never believe that Medvedkin was a liar. I cannot believe it, because he was a sincere person. I will not believe it. I think that he wanted this fairy tale—he needed it [ . . . ] people needed it.” It should be noted, too, that Marker does not completely apologize for Medvedkin’s later films that felt too much like distorted propaganda.
I gotta admit that the intermission in Le tombeau is kind of silly. It’s a couple minutes’ shots of Marker’s famous cat Guillame-en-Egypte resting on a keyboard as music plays. I guess some cute footage of his pet is not the worst way to take a break from the somber history of the Soviet Union. Which reminds me . . . About a year ago, when I was in the MAPH at UChicago, a buddy of mine in my group was writing his thesis on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Occasionally we’d read each other’s drafts, and I’d tell him something like, “It’s going well, but it darkened my day!” Perhaps my thesis on utopias leveled out the mood of our topics.
Given Chris Marker’s enthusiasm for Medvedkin’s work, I’d like to see some of it, especially his film Счастье [Happiness] 1934.