The Smithy (Kuznitsa) house, Moscow

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This is going to be one of my favorite opening salvos in all the blogs I have written here. I will quote from the tail end of Wolfgang Kasack’s wonderful Dictionary of Russian Literature Since 1917:
The idealization of work and of the proletariat, of metals and the machine, characterizes the poetry of Kuznitsa members…. Their prose is less uniform than their poetry, but it is also not particularly noteworthy.”
But it is also not particularly noteworthy… How’s that for a backhanded slap?
So much for the writers who, for a relatively short time in the 1920s, comprised the Kuznitsa, or Smithy, group of poets and prose writers. Indeed, who remembers these folks these days? The group officially counted up to 150 members at one time, but of all the names that are regularly trotted out in most sources, really only Fyodor Gladkov rose above the din of the obscure. His novel Cement (1925), often dubbed the first of the so-called production novels, was quite popular when it appeared, and remained a “classic” throughout the Soviet years. Not many people read it these days. When I read it 30, maybe 40, years ago, I found it to be an excellent antidote to insomnia.
For the record, let’s jot down some of the writers who considered themselves members of Smithy at one time or another: Vasily Alexandrovsky, Sergei Obradovich, Vasily Kazin, Vladimir Kirillov, Nikolai Poletaev, Semyon Rodov, Mikhail Volkov, Mikhail Gerasimov, Grigory Sannikov, Alexei Dorogoichenko, Sergei Malashkin, Georgy Nikiforov, Ivan Filippchenko, Alexander Neverov, Nikolai Lyashko, Mikhail Bakhmetyev, Pavel Nizovoi, Alexei Novikov-Priboi and Gladkov. (Rather amazingly, I wrote about Lyashko elsewhere on this site if you’re interested.) Sorry, folks, but it’s not an A-list.

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Smithy was founded as the first association of proletarian writers in Moscow in 1920. It began by meeting once a week on Thursdays in buildings located on what was then, and is now again, Tverskaya Street. In March of 1920 these Thursday meetings were shifted to the building you see pictured here today, located at 33 Starokonyushenny Lane, south of the Arbat. It would appear that the group was officially given apartment No. 11 here for the purposes of their civic and literary activity. We also know that at least four of the Smithy writers lived in this communal apartment: Gladkov, Lyashko, Neverov and Novikov-Priboi.
Smithy members were, for the most part, gung-ho Communist Party members who believed in the union of work and art, workers and artists. In fact, when the Soviet government instituted NEP, the New Economic Policy around 1921/22 in order to help rejuvenate the moribund Soviet economy, the members of Smithy were not pleased. They saw the more-or-less capitalist NEP as a dangerous step in the wrong direction.
On the other hand, as a reminder of how mixed up things were in those years, these writers who, in some ways, were purer Communists than the Communists, were also dead-set against politics and politicians messing around with artistic expression. The autonomy of the writer was an important issue for them. For example, in an era when people quickly chose sides and easily became enemies, Smithy welcomed writers from any of the other competing groups at their Thursday get-togethers. You can see the group’s interest in literature as an art form in the document, “Declaration of the Smithy Proletarian Writers.” Four of the first six points in the declaration have to do with aesthetics or freedom of creativity – “The Leap into the Kingdom of Freedom,” “The Dynamic of Form,” “Art as a Special Tool,” and “Style as Quality.” There are 19 points in all. This declaration was published in Pravda in 1923 and was signed by Filippchenko (chairman), Lyashko (deputy chairman), Sannikov (secretary), with G[urgen] Aikuni and Kirillov (executive board members).
In official terms, the height of Smithy’s activity was probably in late 1922, early 1923. According to the book Soviet Culture and Power: A History in Documents, 1917-1953, the Politburo gave the group a grant or budget of 80 million rubles on September 14, 1922. The ruble was in serious flux in 1922, so I don’t know exactly how much that was in real money, but I rather suspect that, outside Italy or Zimbabwe, 80 million of any currency at any time is a relatively useful sum.
Smithy was an active publisher, if also an erratic one. Over the course of its existence (1920 to 1930/31), it put out numerous journals, miscellanies or collections: Smithy (1920-21), Workers’ Journal (1923-25), Journal for Everyone (1928-29), Proletarian Avant-garde (1930), plus four more collections in 1930. It grew out of the Proletkult (proletarian culture) group and was eventually subsumed into RAPP (Russian Association of Proletarian Writers), the notoriously poisonous group that, essentially, put an end to all literary groups that proliferated in the 1920s.

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Anton Chekhov’s dachshunds, Melikhovo

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Let the debates begin!
Are these dachshunds, bassets, badger-dogs, badgerers or turnspits? Frankly, they look like what I called a wiener dog when I was a kid. You can also find “sausage dog” in dictionaries, although, to my mind, that’s not as fun, or as funny, as wiener dog. I’ve seen people nearly come to blows discussing what species of dog these guys might be. I can’t get worked up enough to join the argument.
These pups here are named Brom and Khina (or, more likely, from left, Khina and Brom – see the text after the jump). They belong to the guy who set his hat down on the rock, and that guy, in the grand conception of sculptor Alexander Rozhnikov, is Anton Chekhov. These sculptured pooches, you see, represent real dogs that Anton Chekhov owned when he lived at his suburban Moscow estate of Melikhovo. (You can see the estate’s kitchen and servants’ quarters in the distance through the trees in the two photos immediately below.) Rogozhin’s idea was that Anton was out for a walk with his little friends and found an apple somewhere, picked it up, put it in his hat and then, for reasons that neither art nor history will ever explain for all of eternity, he stepped away and left the dogs alone for a moment. “As such,” Rozhnikov is quoted as saying on a descriptive tablet near the sculpture, “although Chekhov himself is not present in the sculptural composition, his spirit hovers unseen nearby.”
Chekhov’s dogs were the offspring of two other literary canines, Dinka and Pip, who belonged to the St. Petersburg-based playwright, short-story writer and editor Nikolai Leikin. Leikin was Chekhov’s editor for some time at Shards magazine, and the two were good friends. When he – Chekhov – realized his longtime dream of acquiring an estate with land, he promptly set about bringing to fruition another dream: that of owning some pedigreed dogs. He acquired two of Dinka’s and Pip’s pups, transported them to Moscow, and then out to Melikhovo. This would have been in the spring of 1893. According to that informational tablet near the sculpture (let’s be honest, I’m pulling 95% of my info from it today), the dogs immediately took over the rule of the roost. They “barked at the servants, dragged galoshes all over the house, dug up all the flower boxes, and struck fear into the hearts of all the mutts running around the property. Those mutts had never seen such strange dogs.”

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The dogs received their names from Chekhov’s sister Maria, who chose to name them after substances that could be found in Doctor Chekhov’s medicine bag. Brom = bromide; khina = Jesuit’s bark. Apparently as the dogs grew older Chekhov felt it necessary to address them in a more formal manner, and he added patronymics to their names. Thus they became known around Melikhovo as Khina Markovna (Khina, daughter of Mark) and Brom Isaevich (Brom, son of Isiah).
And now let me stop pretending that I am actually writing this post. Better, I think, simply to quote what is left of the text on the tablet.

Chekhov informed Leikin that, “The dachshunds Brom and Khina are well. The former is dexterous and lithe, polite and sensitive. The latter is clumsy, fat, lazy and sly… They both love to weep from an excess of feelings.”
The writer was very partial to his dachshunds. They followed him everywhere, were funny and punctilious. They were allowed to sleep in Anton Pavlovich’s room; he loved having long conversations with them and he staged hilarious homemade plays [
with them]. Mikhail Pavlovich, the youngest of the Chekhov brothers, recalled:
“Brom and Khina were dachshunds, blackish and reddish, while Khina had such short legs that her belly nearly dragged on the ground. Every evening Khina would come up to Anton Pavlovich, put her front paws on his knees and pitifully and loyally stare him in the eyes. He would change his facial expression and, in a shaky, old-man’s voice, would say:
‘Khina Markovna! You poor thing! You should go to the hospital! You would feel better then, yes you would.’
He would spend an entire half hour talking to his dog, thus keeping everyone in the house in stitches. Then it would be Brom’s turn.”
The sculpture of Khina and Brom was unveiled December 22, 2012 and a new tradition began immediately. People rub the dogs’ noses to make their wishes come true. Now Chekhov’s touching and comical dachshunds greet all visitors to the museum at Melikhovo. Gazing at their thoughtful little mugs, one can’t help but remember Chekhov’s words: “crooked paws, long torsos, but uncommonly smart.”

Special readers please note the date that this sculpture was unveiled. If you are one of the special readers, you will recognize this post as a slightly early birthday wish.

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Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya grave, Moscow

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These are not the best of days for those of us who, by love, have devoted our lives to the study of Russian culture. Russia’s reputation, damaged by wars, corruption, subterfuge, lies,  belligerence and bad politics is at an all-time low. In just the last week the Russian government has launched numerous campaigns against “internal and external enemies,” that is, those who would like to see Russia be a land that respects the rule of law and the freedom of conscience. Just today the government officially accused former tycoon, and now, social activist, Mikhail Khodorkovsky of two murders and the masterminding of four more. This comes two days after Khodorkovsky declared in a public speech that revolution might be necessary to force regime change in Russia. Yesterday the Russian Prosecutor General launched a massive investigation into the life and work practices of the muck-raking opposition leader Alexei Navalny. This came one week after Navalny released a stunning 45-minute film detailing the mafia-like corruption of the two sons of the Russian Prosecutor General. All of these events are sandwiched in and around an event that is enormous for those of us in Russia, but may slip by those who aren’t watching the territory closely – that is, the three-year prison conviction handed down to a young man, Ildar Dadin, whose crime it was to participate in four political protests where he was detained by police. Dadin is the first individual to be prosecuted under a relatively new, draconian law, which makes it a crime to be detained four times at political protests. Thus, while there are many people sitting in prisons in Russia right now for political reasons, Dadin has become the first actually to be arrested, tried and convicted for nothing other than the fact that he makes it a point to protest the policies of the Russian government. (Incidentally, the prosecutor asked for two years in prison; the eager-beaver judge handed down a sentence of three.) This, meanwhile, coincides with an enormous strike being led by Russian truck drivers to protest unfair and unfairly high road taxes. Thousands of truck drivers, with their trucks, have descended on Moscow, and are prepared to stop traffic in the city in order to make their demands be heard.
In short, things are bleak and confrontational around here these days.
Thus, it seems the proper moment to combine pain and joy into one. We seek joy to offset our pain – thus this entire blog site arose, as I explained some time ago. And, yet, we refuse to turn our eyes away from what pains us. Thus everything I have written up to this point today.
In short, I now wish to ponder the final resting place of two of Russia’s greatest citizens of any era – the cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. I photographed their grave at the Novodevichy Cemetery last week when passing by it to attend the burial of the great film director Eldar Ryazanov, still another fine citizen whom this nation could not afford to lose.

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But if the pain of losing Ryazanov was, and still is, acute, fresh and unabated, the joy of coming upon Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya was equally as sharp. The mere pronunciation of either of these two names is enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face who knows.
To be sure, we are not entirely at ease with the notion that these two extraordinary people are no longer with us. For contemporaries who were affected by them – and that is half of Russia, half of the world – that nagging pain may lessen to a certain level of discomfort, but it does not go away. Yet, the joy that they brought us is, obviously, what prevails. I must insert here a comment that I randomly discovered on the internet. I think it perfectly sums up the public attitude to this pair:
I hold this man [Rostropovich] in veneration not because he was a GREAT musician, but simply because he was a marvelous PERSON. The vaccines purchased by the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation saved the health of thousands of Russian children. Vaccines against Hepatitis B and cancer found their way to many regions and corners of Russia. We remember...”
The comment is signed “galsvanidze.”
These two great citizens of their nation, the Soviet Union and Russia, were personal friends of Dmitry Shostakovich during the years when the composer was persecuted by the Soviet government, as well as of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the writer whom they sheltered at their dacha outside Moscow when he was under attack from the officials. Rostropovich, defying the fears of his wife, jumped on an airplane to join protesters on Moscow’s streets during the attempted coup by hardliners seeking to depose Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. You can read about that in the L.A. Times. He had done the same so as to be present when the Berlin Wall fell in 1889 – he felt compelled to be there to play his cello for that historical event. You can see him do so on YouTube.
As for Vishnevskaya, she was every bit as fierce a defender of freedom, truth and art as her husband. Although her native land essentially forced her into emigration in 1974, when it became possible to return and work in Russia, she  set about establishing a Moscow-based, world class school for opera musicians, the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Center. Since its opening in 2002, it has been one of the strongest bearers of Russia’s cultural traditions. As a declaration on the center’s website puts it, “The principal task of the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre is to perpetuate Russia’s great operatic traditions and to cause Russian opera to be perceived anew.”
Throughout difficult times in Russia from the end of the 1980s until Rostropovich’s death in 2007, and Vishnevskaya’s death in 2012, these two individuals brought hope, light, courage, humor and strength to everyone around them. I remember what a joy it was to hear or see that one or the other, or both, had arrived in Moscow for a concert or a personal appearance. It was as though old friends had come home to visit. Their presence, the knowledge that they were with us, was a powerful antidote to the negativity that can seep into one’s bones in Moscow.
At times like the present we look to individuals like Rostropovich, Vishnevskaya, Ryazanov, Shostakovich and Solzhenitsyn to remind ourselves why we fell in love with the art they made and the culture they helped build and sustain, sometimes against all odds. Now it is our turn to carry that flame, as best as we can, and flicker as it might.

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Mikhail Bulgakov mural, Moscow

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I wish there were more of these around Moscow. The city is laid out in such a way that there could be many more full-building murals. There are countless blank and open building walls just waiting to have cool pictures painted on them. Street art, mural art is a wonderful way of personalizing a city. Look how cool this Bob Dylan mural looked in Minneapolis even before it was completed. I have written about several murals in Moscow – including ones depicting Stravinsky and Alexander Pushkin. The one I post today is of Mikhail Bulgakov. It was the first in a series of murals painted in the Heritage project. It was created jointly by the two main (and overlapping, as far as I can tell) “graffiti-advertising” organizations in Moscow – Novotekart and Zuk Club. It is painted on the north-looking wall of the apartment house located at 33 Afanasyevsky Lane in the Arbat district, and it appeared in September 2014. Showing a playful sense of humor, the artists depict Woland’s cat Begemot hanging out up on two stray balconies at the top of the wall. (Woland, of course, being the devilish character in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita who comes to Moscow to do evil, but can do only good….)
Much of the action in The Master and Margarita takes place in this general Arbat region, so the choice of this location for the portrait was not random. Although I read and enjoyed the novel when I first encountered it a couple of decades ago, it has never been an obsession with me like it is with many. The cult of Bulgakov, his novel and his characters is one of the strongest in all of Russian culture. For this reason it is arguably the source for more public art in Moscow than any other artistic work. I ran a net check on the topic on Yandex (the Russian Google) and came up with a huge gallery of photos.
However, people far more impressive than I have been influenced by Bulgakov’s Master, Margarita, Woland, Berlioz, Begemot, Azazello, Pontius Pilate and the rest.

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Arguably the biggest splash that The Master and Margarita had outside of Russia was in the Mick Jagger tune “Sympathy for the Devil.” The first stanzas are pretty much built on Jagger’s reading of the novel:

Please allow me to introduce myself,
I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been around for a long, long year,
Stole many a man’s soul and faith.

And I was round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain,
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate.

Pleased to meet you,
Hope you guess my name.
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game.

The song then departs from the novel, but maintains the Russian context by adding:

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change,
Killed the czar and his ministers;
Anastasia screamed in vain.

A comprehensive Master and Margarita site has this to say about the Stones meeting Bulgakov:
“‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is one of the few Stones songs which Mick Jagger wrote alone, without the help of his buddy Keith Richard. At first, he said it was based on a poem of Baudelaire. But later he said it was inspired by The Master and Margarita, which Marianne Faithfull would have offered to him as a present. Faithfull, who was Jagger’s girlfriend at that time, said during an interview with Sylvie Simmons from the magazine Mojo in 2005: “I got Mick to read The Master and Margarita and out of that, after discussing it at length with me, he wrote that song.”
More recently, Patti Smith tossed a nod in the direction of Bulgakov by naming an album Banga. In a blog for The Moscow Times I pointed out that, “…as any net search will tell you, the mysterious title was drawn from a very minor figure in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita. Banga in Bulgakov’s creation is Pontius Pilate’s dog, a creature so loyal he is willing to wait for his master virtually forever.”
But Patti didn’t stop there in her plumbing of Bulgakov’s writings, for, as I wrote in the same article, “Smith references another Bulgakovian dog without naming him: Sharik from the novella Heart of a Dog. She name-checks the full title to kick off her narrative, which explores the dark side of loyalty. ‘You can lick it twice, but it won’t lick you,’ she sneers, later adding, ‘Loyal he lives and we don’t know why.'”

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Nikita Khrushchev grave, Moscow

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Nikita Khrushchev (in Russian pronounced Khru-shchOF with the long ‘o’ sound, for those who don’t know) is one of those deeply controversial characters of Russian history. He led a de-Stalinization campaign after wresting power behind the scenes in the first years following Stalin’s death. The Stalinists were never happy about that and they had their revenge when power was wrested back from Khrushchev’s hands in 1964. While Khrushchev acted in a Stalinist manner with his rivals in the mid-50s – having his main rival Lavrenty Beria shot in a basement – those who deposed him a decade later behaved in a Khrushchevian manner: They put him out to pasture in his beautiful dacha in the woods outside of Moscow and left him alone, even letting him write his memoirs (although they could be published only when smuggled to the West).
I have an incredibly tenuous, but deeply memorable, real connection to Khrushchev. I was working as a freelance consultant and translator for ABC News in 1990, and we went out to the famed dacha to interview Khrushchev’s son Sergei about the changes then happening in Russia. I wasn’t much needed on that little trip, because Sergei spoke very good English. In fact, within a year he emigrated to the United States where he took up teaching positions in various East Coast universities. However, before the TV crew got down to the business of filming and interviewing Sergei, there were a few moments of chit chat. I exchanged a few words with Sergei and the conversation went quickly to the beauty of an artifact that stood, or hung, right in the entryway. This was a gorgeous old burka, a traditional Georgian coat that had been given as a gift to Nikita on some state occasion. The family kept it, surely because of its beauty, for all those years afterwards. And then Sergei said to me, “Why don’t you put it on?” And he went to pull if off the stand on which it hung. He put it over my shoulders, a photographer snapped a photo or two (which I have never seen), everyone laughed and declared it a beautiful fit, and then Sergei removed it from my shoulders and put it back on the rack. From there everybody got down to work.
Even now, 25 years later, I can still feel the weight of that burka on my shoulders. For me it was an intimate moment spent with Khrushchev, a moment almost inside the man who brought as much change to Russia as any other individual who ever lived. (For the record: Burkas can be black or white, but my burka, Khrushchev’s burka, was white and looked precisely like the one on this man’s shoulders in a photo I found on the internet.)
Khrushchev had a huge impact on Russian culture. It wasn’t always good. One of his most famous moves was to shut down an exhibit of nonconformist art in 1962. As he walked through the exhibit he grew increasingly angry and shouted obscenities at the artists, threatening to deport them. Not one of his better days. But Khrushchev also unleashed The Thaw, that short-lived, but powerful era in Soviet history which gave rise to a completely new attitude, style and content in Russian culture. The nonconformist art that Khrushchev so hated was made possible by his radical change in government policy.  In just a few short years, Soviet theater, literature, painting, film and every other form of art were transformed. The spirit of youth flooded into a cultural territory that had been dominated by the old and the gray.
Folks in the West know Khrushchev as a bit of a caricature for the threat he made to “bury the West” and for the – very possibly apocryphal – incident when he “banged” his shoe on a table at the U.N. Wikipedia gives you some info on that.
But Khrushchev was not a caricature. He was a man of flesh and blood and conscience. I will not dig too deeply into the complicated catacombs of the latter, for historians have broken more pens, typewriters and computers on that one than I have time to deal with at the present moment. But it is a fact that Khrushchev was a figure who fully encompassed the dark and the light of his age.
That is precisely why the great sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, when creating the monument for Khrushchev’s grave, enclosed a very sympathetic image of the leader’s head in a twisted, unsymmetrical jungle, if you will, of black and white blocks.
Neizvestny, by the way, was one of those artists whose work Khrushchev lambasted in 1960. He called his sculptures degenerate and accused him of distorting the faces of the Soviet people. One applauds the Khrushchev family for asking Neizvestny to create the sculpture for the grave site, and one sees Neizvestny’s grace in the beautiful, human, realistic (not “distorted”) rendition of Khrushchev in a moment of peace and repose. So much has been written about this that it can easily slip into cliche. But when you stand before the monument, as I did yesterday, one sees nothing but the beauty and the quiet power of the work.

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I happened to pass by Khrushchev’s monument at the Novodevichy Cemetery yesterday because I was attending the funeral of the great Soviet-Russian filmmaker Eldar Ryazanov, a man I admired deeply and who was a cherished family friend.
Arguably, no single artist defined the Soviet experience from the period of the The Thaw until the present day better than Ryazanov (1927-2015). It is received wisdom that his best films were made between 1956 and the late 1970s, and that his work was of less interest from the 1980s on. People are going to argue that until they are blue in the face. That statement will remain with us, and it will remain without a definitive answer. As such, I have no interest getting into that. I mention it because it’s there, but the magnitude, the impact, the contribution made by Ryazanov to his nation from his first film in the the 1950s until his last in 2007 is, frankly, incalculable.
I don’t think Russians of the last 50-60 years loved anyone with the love and respect that they had for Ryazanov. When with him, I saw crowds of people – whether on foot or in cars – come to a dead stop when they saw him coming. I once felt as though I were following Moses through the Red Sea as Ryazanov stopped heavy traffic on a four-lane road merely by stepping into the flow of cars. He didn’t bother to look first, he didn’t bother to hold up his hand. He just stepped off the curb and went, and cars on all sides respectfully came to a stop to let him – and us with him – pass. If you know Russian traffic, you know this simply does not happen. Russian drivers do not stop for anyone. They did for Ryazanov.
I will have plenty of opportunities to write more about Eldar Ryazanov. I will seek them out.
But today, the day after we laid him to rest, I want to keep it simple. I want to share a few words that others have spoken in his regard. The phrase I have heard most often is, “the end of an era.” Every one who said that felt compelled to admit that this is a clichéd phrase, but that, in regards to Ryazanov, it is quite simply the truth.
The playwright and director Sergei Kokovkin wrote to me that “an entire continent has sailed away from us.”
The actress Tatyana Dogileva echoed many when she said at the public farewell that Ryazanov had educated and fine-tuned the conscience of several generations of Russians.
Also speaking at the public farewell, Lia Akhedzhakova, one of Ryazanov’s favorite actresses, told how Ryazanov freed her to speak the truth openly and forcefully. “He taught me to open my mouth and to tell the truth,” she said.
Radio personality Ksenia Larina wrote, “Ryazanov valued freedom ferociously, because he knew what life was like for an artist without freedom: not one of his Soviet-period films escaped the censor’s scissors.”
The journalist Alexander Timofeevsky wrote, “”Ryazanov is being mourned in Moscow as [Hans Christian] Andersen was mourned in Copenhagen, as [Antoni] Gaudi in Barcelona.”
My wife, Oksana Mysina, who acted for Ryazanov in his penultimate film, called him the “conscience of the nation.”
As for me, I was incapable of looking at Ryazanov without seeing a whole nation. He was that big. His aura was that full and strong. This has nothing to do with his famous love for food. (He loved his food and, more importantly, he loved his appetite. He recognized it as an expression of his prodigious love for life and anything that sustained it.) It has everything to do with the magnitude of the phenomenon that was Eldar Ryazanov. He was as simple and as down-to-earth as anyone you can possibly imagine. He was approachable, he was generous and kind. And yet he had a full knowledge of his importance, and of the responsibility he carried as a man in whom an entire nation saw itself reflected.
Ryazanov’s first feature film, the classic Carnival Night, came into being, in large part, because of Nikita Khrushchev. Ryazanov told the story about how he, a fairly successful documentary filmmaker (he made seven documentary films between 1950 and 1955), became a maker of feature films. One day in 1955 he was called into the office of Ivan Pyryev, a legendary Soviet film director who was appointed the head of Mosfilm Studios in 1954. Pyryev told Ryazanov that if he didn’t produce a good comedy in short order, he would be fired. The word had come down from on high: We want a comedy. But there was no one in the stable of Soviet directors capable of making one. There was, however, this documentary director Ryazanov, whose sense of humor and purpose was already legendary. It was Pyryev’s belief and his hunch that Ryazanov might be the answer to the problem. Indeed, Carnival Night was a monstrous hit, easily becoming the most popular film of the year. As it tells the story of a New Year celebration with wit, intelligence and affection – as well as with some pointedly barbed political statements – it has continued to be shown with regularity every New Year right down to our own time.
Ryazanov now rests about 50 yards away from Khrushchev. Look at the middle photo in the block above. You’ll see a red wall in the back. Ryazanov’s plot of earth is located just beyond that, a little to the right.
As the Russians say: May the earth be down to him.

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