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The Trouble with Troubadours

April 28, 2011

The Color of Pomegranates

Watch on YouTube

A Georgian-born Armenian, Paradjanov (1924-1989) was one of the most controversial directors of the Soviet era. He was jailed for nearly five years on suspicions of homosexuality, illegal trading in antiques, and incitement to suicide, among other vague charges. After making a few documentaries and features in a roughly Socialist Realist idiom, Paradjanov came into his own style in 1964 when he made Tini zabutykh predkiv/Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, a dream-like film that combines expressionistic camera techniques, ethnography, and the logic of folktales. The film was released to great international acclaim, and is credited with founding the new “pictorial school” of ’60s Soviet cinema. At home, however, the film was attacked by the authorities for what was interpreted as a prioritisation of aesthetics over ideology, and was subsequently banned.

Sergei Parajanov: persecuted by pigeons

Image Credit: Hydra Magazine [where Britney Spears calls us to dance in the face of the apocalypse] oh…okay….after the Royal Wedding but.

Chastened, Paradjanov left the rigid confines of Moscow and Kiev for his ancestral home, Armenia, to make The Colour of Pomegranates in the same vein as Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. But even there, he faced constant harassment by government officials, and was denied basic filmmaking equipment, lighting, and adequate film stock. Disgusted with the experience, he wrote to the director of the State Film Committee:

I was thirty-nine when a sad set of circumstances forced me to come to Erevan. I am now forty-two… It’s hot. Peaches are two rubles a kilo. I’m suffocating in schemes and poorly ventilated hotel rooms, keeping company with cockroaches. I strongly urge that Sayat-Nova be banned and that I be sent back to Kiev. I am willing to abandon the cinema.

His words were prophetic. The controversy over The Colour of Pomegranates instigated his trial and imprisonment, and he would be forbidden from making films for the next 15 years.

Sayat Nova

The film at the heart of all of this controversy is a biography of the Armenian troubadour-poet Aruthin Sayadian (1712-1795), who was known as Sayat-Nova. Born in the capital of Georgia, Tiblisi, Sayat-Nova began his career as a wool-dyer in his family’s trade. Educated in literature by the Armenian Church, he composed hundreds of songs and poems and would rise to become a poet in the royal courts of Tiblisi and Telavi in Eastern Georgia. In his later life, after the death of his wife, Marmar, Sayat-Nova became a monk at the Haghpat monastery. He lived there until his death at the hands of the Persian army, when Agha Mohammed Khan sacked Armenia . His songs continue to be sung in the Caucasus today. [Swiped from Senses of Cinema]

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