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Monday, 24 November 2014

Analysis: Romantic Representations of the Roma Population through Movies in the Soviet Union: ‘The Gypsy Camp Goes to Heaven’




Introduction: 

The media is a strong influence on the way the Roma are represented and treated.[1] In fictional portrayals in literature, theatre and film, the image of the Romani has been heavily romanticized over several epochs. This analysis illustrates this phenomenon in the context of the 1970s Soviet Union, using a classic movie example: ‘The Gypsy Camp Goes to Heaven’, released in 1975 by Mosfilm studio and directed by Emil Loteanu.

‘What exactly is the image of the Romani perpetuated through art in the Soviet Union and why was it popularized at the time?’ is the main question. ‘The Gypsy Camp Goes to Heaven’ is particularly relevant, since it was very well received and popular in its time. The numerous distinctions it was awarded prove just how successful these imageries were.[2]

Finally, this film successfully combines realistic aspects of those times with highly romanticized portrayals of the Roma population – a perspective very fashionable at the time, both in theatres and movies. The phenomenon has been highly criticized, and rightfully so, because such imageries are responsible for the development of stereotypes and what researchers in the field of social psychology often call ‘othering’ (a concept describing the process of discriminatory separation based on cultural differences). They are also partly responsible for the wrongful categorization of ‘the Roma’. Much too often, the Roma are being represented and described as ‘one people’, while the variations within this invented category are ignored. It is important to mention awareness about this wrong categorization as early as possible, as well as about its presence in art works, so the reader will not be confused about my perspective or believe that I am somehow subscribing to it.



I.


The Gypsy Camp Goes to Heaven’ is a Soviet movie released in 1975. Moldovan director Emil Loteanu managed to turn several pieces of literature written by Maxim Gorky into a moving, eclectic and considerably expressive film appreciated all over Europe and more. This is said to be the highlight of Loteanu’s collaboration with the ‘Mosfilm’ studio.


The action seems to revolve mainly around the tragic love story between Zobar and Rada, both of them encompassing many of the stereotypes attributed to the Roma. Despite being well-traveled, experienced and constantly looking for wisdom, Zobar finds it difficult to evolve spiritually so he could be with Rada completely, body and soul. The difference between the two of them resides in the way they see the world and the loving union between two people. They do not share the same views on pride, ethics, sacrifice, and more importantly, freedom. Freedom seems to be the subject of their central disagreement, and this is very relevant for the stereotypes that dominate the romantic portrayal of ‘Gypsies’, as they are often being presented as freedom-loving.

What Rada sees as a spiritually growing ritual, Zobar interprets as humiliation. The attraction between them, a veritable fatidic faith, ends up with both of them dying – Rada, stabbed by Zobar who could not help himself from interpreting Rada’s need to put him through an initiating ritual (in order to help him evolve spiritually) as his loss of dignity, in an impulsive outburst that suggests everything but the wisdom he was looking to achieve, and Zobar, killed by Rada’s hurt father.[3]

I considered this film to be highly representative for the popular way in which the Roma nomadic population was portrayed in the Soviet Union through art. It is the very symbol of the trends perpetuated back then: canonized writers’ works (many of them dating from imperial times - Czarist Russia) brought to life on stage or on screen while made to fit current political trends (so-called ‘socialism’ in the context of the Soviet Union). In this case, the main inspiration was Maxim Gorky’s ‘Makar Chudra’ (‘Макар Чудра’), first published in 1892, in the context of what was still the Russian Czarist Empire. The story is only about 14 pages long and it is centered on the old Chudra, a ‘gipsy’ man who shares stories from his own experience with someone whose questions and lines are not recorded – this is exactly what brings originality to Gorky’s short story. At some point, he tells the story of Rada and Zobar, a story he witnessed when he was back in Bucovina with his camp.

Gorky’s vision is a lot simpler than Loteanu’s – the two of them love each other, but they simply can not give up their pride, which ends up throwing them into a competition where each of them wants to make the other submit to him/her, in order to hide their weaknesses from each other. Besides the story of Antal, the nobleman (a Hungarian landowner called Antal falls in love with Rada), director Emil Loteanu only borrows a few more lines from this story. He gives new meanings to all aspects of the film, also leaving many options for viewers’ interpretations.



II.

The study of the Roma populations became a branch of ethnology in the 19th century, at a time when there was said to be a need for an inner exoticism, influenced by Romanticism, when the image of the ‘noble savage’ dominated the stage in the eyes of people.[1] Throughout European history, the Romani played a central part in constructing images of foreigners. The process of representing ‘the other’ was mainly characterized by oscillation between ‘positive’[2] and negative stereotyping. Ethnic representations of the Roma are extremely contradictory – there are demonizing portrayals (habit of criminality, disease-spreading because of a certain lack of familiarity with personal hygiene standards, possessors of mystical powers used either for good or bad purposes, definitely not trustworthy with a strong habit of lying, uneducated, backwards, violent, lazy, immoral) and romantic ones (passionate temperament, love of freedom and veritable symbols of freedom, ‘romantic wanderers’).[3]

In European 19th century literature this portrayal of ‘Gypsies’ was very common – not only in the Eastern part of the continent. Many analogies could support this statement – for example, the portrayal of Esmeralda in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. There, the presence of the ‘bohemian Gypsy’ is particularly strong (the very word bohemian was coined with reference to Romani from Bohemia[4]), and Esmeralda is the very image of the traditional ‘bohemian’ European ‘Gypsy’: a nomad, a racially ‘other’ figure, an outsider, reflecting the exoticism and connection to the Orient that were so fashionable at the time.[5] The idea of the quintessential ethnic ‘other’ represented by ‘Gypsies’ (even clearly suggesting the wish for preservation) is made clear in the film when, after a scene in the horse market where a fight between ‘Gypsies’ begins, one of them stops the others, convincing them with the following words: ‘Romale, what are we killing each other for? There are few of us left anyway!’.[6]

Canonized Russian writers, such as Maxim Gorky, were highly popularized on screen[7] in the 20th century. Nineteenth-century European writers often romanticized Gypsies, mainly because of their perceived ‘non-bourgeois’ and ‘non-Western’ ways that characterized their way of life.[8] This is one of the main reasons why Gorky’s work and the short story ‘Makar Chudra’ were so convenient to be placed on screen in the context of the Soviet Union. In the USSR, the image of Roma people that had to be perpetuated was definitely not the negative one, but the highly romanticized one, given that the discourse popular in the Soviet Union at that time had a lot to do with respect for diversity, identity policies, even autonomy.

There is also a strongly emphasized class dimension in the film. The imagery of nomadism was attractive, as it was often interpreted as a sort of refuge from the stagnancy associated with the bourgeois lifestyle. This was also the reason why the Romantic generation could somehow identify with this portrayal of ‘Gypsies’ – always outsiders, interested in cultures viewed as untouched and uncorrupted by modern ways of life. Interclass contact (in this case, the aristocracy and the ‘lower class’) happened only through spectacle[9] - as an example, we have at least two illustrative scenes. 

First, when a Hungarian nobleman called Antal falls in love with Rada as a consequence of a street spectacle – on a narrow street in a Hungarian small town, Antal was in a carriage, leading his horses forward, when suddenly he noticed the group of ‘gipsy’ women blocking the way and displaying eccentric behaviour. He aggressively (using a whip) tried to make them move out of the way. At that very moment, Rada becomes angry at him and intentionally puts herself in his way, forcing him to stop and fall in love with her (it is suggested in the film that she does this using the power of her eyes, with a persistent stare). The second powerful inter-class contact takes place when a very representative scene shows the people in the camp ridiculing a picture of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz Josef, chanting sarcastically, as a military official attempts at taking it away from them, in a display of violence and spite: ‘Don’t touch His Majesty, Emperor Franz Josef the Second. Please, Your Honor, do not take him away from me! Long live Emperor Franz Josef!’. [10]

These traits can be fairly easily spotted in ‘The Gypsy Camp Goes to Heaven’. They are presented as immoral (Zobar saying: You should know that everything that is sweet is shameless, the horse-stealing episode), freedom-loving (Do not love gold, it will betray you. Do not love women, they will betray you. Freedom is the headiest wine of all – Chudra giving advice to Zobar), possessing mystical powers (Rada’s healing capacities and the old ‘gipsy’ woman’s palm-reading in the horse market), strongly connected to nature (as we can conclude from Zobar’s sister, Rosalina’s way of describing ‘her people’: We have drunk the moon dew. Bullets can’t stop us, the forest gives us shelter, the night saves us), liars (trying to sell people old horses for high prices) even among themselves (the scene where one of them painted a horse black in order to sell it to his friend). However, the aim of the film is far from stigmatizing the Romani. Even if almost all common elements used in this kind of portrayals are present here, this movie deserves to be granted a deeper understanding. It does not aim at stereotyping – it uses stereotypes to achieve a higher symbolical value. When the Roma are being represented in the arts, they are often being sacrificed, along with their culture, to the needs of the artist portraying them as ‘the quintessential Other’. Interpreters of this imagery are often explaining the same works in different, even contradictory terms, but the Romani themselves are almost absent from the debate.[11]

It is impossible to leave out the film’s soundtrack when talking about the representation of the Roma population in this particular context. David Malvinni states in his book, The Gypsy Caravan: From Real Roma to Imaginary Gypsies in Western Music that, ‘as signifiers, ‘Gipsy’ and ‘music’ function in ways that approximate one another. The fictional mysterious, dreamlike realities in which they are being presented in ‘The Gypsy Camp Goes to Heaven’ (and not only – it was rather a trend) escape Enlightenment rationality. ‘Gypsies’ and ‘music’ in literature regarding the Roma seem graspable through literary conventions, and nevertheless, their illusory status remains outside that convention which is meant to mark uniqueness. There is almost always a world of magic, nature – ‘the psychological territory of dream’, strongly linked with an atmosphere charged with raw emotion and passion. For nineteenth-century commentators, the illusion, the dream, imparted the force of ‘Gipsy’ music performance and confirmed its closeness to nature.[12]

None of the songs played in the soundtrack suggests denigration of the ‘Gypsies’ – the quality and the authenticity of the music are undeniable. In the opening scene, one can hear male and female voices harmoniously brought together, and the sound definitely gives the impression of timelessness, suggesting a limitless environment in time and place. It seems that there are no other goals for them instead of the eternal movement, as with nature and its cycles. It expresses a powerful nostalgia and it contributes to the constitution of the main image – the symbolic image of the earthiness of human nature and its inescapable destiny, its impossibility to eternalize and its ephemeral realizations; also, its impossibility to fixate itself – thus, the eternal movement that characterizes nomad Roma populations.

Representations of the Romani in popular images contrasted strongly with social and cultural perceptions of the self throughout European history. The gaje (non-Gypsies) often defined themselves in opposition to the Roma population, embracing thus the ‘wild – civilized’ antagonism which is deeply embedded in what is often called ‘European culture’. This opposition comprises deeply symbolic elements, is very powerful and has a strong potential of becoming instrumental. Even so-called ‘positive literature’ about the Romani, that tries to correct stereotypes apparently, often implies the element of ‘the other’.[13]


The Romani have fascinated artists for a long time and their presence in literature and film is prominent through the ages. Images focusing on their physical appearance, their nomadic and rural lifestyle and their distinctive character, often in its romantic aspects, can be found repeated in poetry, travelling theatre productions, children’s fiction and music lyrics. In this case, where the film is inspired by a short story, ‘the written image finds its close counterpart in visual representations’.[1] Much like in Pushkin’s ‘Tsygany’, stereotypes concerning the natural freedom (volja) and the organic naturalness of the Bessarabian Roma are being highly perpetuated in ‘The Gypsy Camp Goes to Heaven’. The peculiarities of their sexual and moral behaviours which make them incompatible with others are being pointed at, and thus their labeling as the quintessential ‘other’. [2] In Europe, ‘Gypsies’ symbolized for a long time the connection with the exotic element, for which people did not have to travel, because they were to be found nearby. This is one of the aspects that enables charging ideas and views of the Roma with such stereotypes.[3] The inter-group contact experience was a novelty. It was different, which caused it to be perceived as repulsive, but it was also interesting, mysterious, intriguing.

In the context of the Soviet Union, there are two main elements that favored both the creation and the success of this film: first, bringing back and emphasizing the artistic and cultural value of local canonized writers, and second, the perpetuation of an image of a Soviet Union that has respect for diversity – even more, that preserves it and protects it within its boundaries.



[1] David Mayall, Gypsy Identities 1500-2000: From Egipcyans and Moon-Men to the Ethnic Romany (London: Routledge, 2004).
[2] Mihaela Moscaliuc, “Killing with Metaphors. Romani in the Literary Imagination of East-Central Europe,” in History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Types and Stereotypes, ed. Marcel Cornis-Pope, John Neubauer, n.d.
[3] Manfred Beller, Joseph Theodoor Leerssen, ed., Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National (The Netherlands: Rodopi, 2007).




[1] Jean-Paul Clébert, “The Gypsies,” American Anthropologist 72, no. 3 (1970): 640–41.

[2] Under no circumstances does my use of the term ‘positive’ here intend to give a positive connotation to stereotyping.

[3] Manfred Beller, Joseph Theodoor Leerssen, ed., Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National (The Netherlands: Rodopi, 2007).

[4] Manfred Beller, Joseph Theodoor Leerssen, ed., Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National (The Netherlands: Rodopi, 2007).

[5] Valentina Glajar, Domnica Radulescu, ed., “Gypsies” in European Literature and Culture (London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), p. 217-218.

[6] Emil Loteanu, “The Gypsy Camp Goes to Heaven,” drama (Sovexportfilm, 1975), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udkz19ISbZs&feature=youtu.be.

[7] Richard Stites, Passion and Perception: Essays on Russian Culture (Washington, DC: New Academia Publishing, 2010), p. 297.

[8] Valentina Glajar, Domnica Radulescu, ed., “Gypsies” in European Literature and Culture (London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), p. 217-218.

[9] Valentina Glajar, Domnica Radulescu, ed., “Gypsies” in European Literature and Culture (London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), p. 219.

[10] Emil Loteanu, “The Gypsy Camp Goes to Heaven,” drama (Sovexportfilm, 1975), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udkz19ISbZs&feature=youtu.be.

[11] David Malvinni, The Gypsy Caravan: From Real Roma to Imaginary Gypsies in Western Music (London, UK: Routledge, 2004).

[12] David Malvinni, The Gypsy Caravan: From Real Roma to Imaginary Gypsies in Western Music (London, UK: Routledge, 2004).

[13] Manfred Beller, Joseph Theodoor Leerssen, ed., Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National (The Netherlands: Rodopi, 2007).

[3] Emil Loteanu, “The Gypsy Camp Goes to Heaven,” drama (Sovexportfilm, 1975), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udkz19ISbZs&feature=youtu.be.

[1] Peter Kabachnik, “The Place of the Nomad: Situating Gypsy and Traveler Mobility in Contemporary England” (University of California, 2007).

[2] The film was distinguished with several awards, such as ‘The Golden Shell for Best Movie’ at the San Sebastian movie festival (1976), ‘Best Director’ at the ‘Fest-77’ International Film Festival in Belgrade (1977), ‘Best Movie’ at the International Film Festival in Prague (1977), ‘The Honor Diploma’ at the Movie Making Technique Contest at the UNIATEK Congress in Paris (1979), ‘Best actress’ for Svetlana Toma at the International Movie Festival in Panama (1977), and ‘Best Female Actress’ at the Prague International Film Festival (1977).


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Câteva zile din viața lui Ilia Ilici Oblomov - Analiză



                                                                           

           (Oleg Tabakov în rolul lui Oblomov)




Câștigător al premiului pentru cel mai bun film străin al Asociatiei naționale a criticilor de film (Statele Unite) și al premiului Oxford Golden Shield („Scutul de aur”) în Marea Britanie, „Câteva zile din viața lui Ilia Ilici Oblomov” (1979) este regizat de Nikita Mihalkov și inspirat din romanul lui Ivan Gonciarov intitulat „Oblomov”, publicat în 1859. Acesta e departe de a fi singurul caz în care Mihalkov se inspiră din literatura rusă pre-revoluționară și o utilizează în scenariile sale. Un veritabil nostalgic al Rusiei Ţariste, Nikita Mihalkov evidențiază adesea, prin filmele sale, literatura și pictura rusești ale secolului al XIX-lea.

Filmografia lui Mihalkov rămâne și astăzi intens controversată. În repetare rânduri a fost etichetat drept „naționalist”, printre altele și datorită reprezentărilor romantice ale Rusiei, evidențate de peisaje asemănătoare unor tablouri care par a transcende lumea palpabilă. Filmele lui Nikita Mihalkov rămân mereu îmbrățișate parcă în metafore puternice stilistic și câteodată repetitive (de exemplu, mama este un element des întâlnit, utilizat cu scopul metaforizării Rusiei înseși – nu doar în „Câteva zile din viața lui Ilia Ilici Oblomov”, ci și în „Soare Înșelător”, câștigător al premiului Oscar pentru cel mai bun film străin în 1995).

Perspectiva de față este, însă, diferită și se îndepărtează de acuzațiile aduse lui Mihalkov în urma reprezentărilor sale. Am considerat că, în acest caz, termenul „naționalist” nu face decât să simplifice excesiv o colecție de lucrări complexe ce se plasează dincolo de astfel de etichete, și chiar dincolo de naționalism. Sentimentele adesea trezite de către filmele sale în rândul publicului sunt departe de idolatrizarea sau idealizarea „patriei-mamă”, și chiar mai departe de ceea ce ar inspira, într-adevăr, un naționalist adepților săi (de exemplu, pasiuni periculoase, arzătoare, provenite dintr-o perspectivă idealistă asupra țării de proveniență, ce ar conduce la apariția unei idei de superioritate a Rusiei comparativ cu alte state). Ele par mai degrabă apropiate de propriile sale sentimente, de înțelegerea, de conștientizarea lor: nostalgie, dileme existențiale, înclinații puternice către introspecție – toate acestea exprimate într-o manieră plastică impresionantă. Aceste sentimente sunt plasate într-un context național.

  Realizat în anii 1970 în Uniunea Sovietică, „Câteva zile din viața lui Ilia Ilici Oblomov” a fost modelat cu atenție spre a avea o conotație populară din punct de vedere politic – o perspectivă critică asupra nobilimii rusești și asupra stilului său de viață leneș, boem. De fapt, filmul de față vorbește clar și răspicat atât despre viziuni diferite asupra sensului existenței umane, cât și despre modul în care aceste vizuni pot fi influențate de mediul cultural caracteristic.

Această reprezentare socială a unui stil de viață specific a atras după sine invenția unui nou cuvânt în limba rusă – oblomovshchina, definit drept „lipsă a grijilor, lene, neglijență”. Cuvântul are în prezent propriul loc în fiecare dicționar rus și e originar din romanul lui Gonciarov, unde cuvântul însuși este utilizat. 




Acțiunea are loc în Rusia secolului al XIX-lea, în Sankt Petersburg. De la bun început ne este prezentat un Oblomov letargic, descris de către narator ca unul „a cărui stare naturală era statul degeaba”. Are aproape treizeci de ani și „se găsește în același loc ca acum zece ani” (din punct de vedere existențial). Trăiește cu bătrânul lui servitor, Zahar, și doarme toată ziua, visând la copilăria sa fără griji, cu o nostalgie atât de puternică încât devine dureroasă. În centrul nostalgiei sale se află mama, pe care nu contenește să o strige în vis, și căreia îi duce lipsa cel mai mult. Metafora e absolut clară, de fiecare dată când îl observăm fugind, aparent fără vreo țintă, prin câmpurile de poveste, căutându-şi „mama”. Conexiunea cu peisajele și pământul patriei este evidentă în acest caz. Cu toate acestea, nostalgia și atașamentul puternic nu sunt referitoare la Rusia prezentă, de sine stătătoare, ci față de Rusia copilăriei sale, pe pământul căreia putea alerga odată senin și fără griji. Născut într-o familie rusească de aristocrați, Mihalkov însuși duce adesea lipsa Rusiei pre-sovietice în filmele sale.

Relația lui Oblomov cu Stoltz, cel mai bun prieten al său încă din copilărie, este un element-cheie în analiza filmului de față și, nu în ultimul rând, un puternic argument contra presupusului naționalism feroce al lui Mihalkov. Poate cea mai populară perspectivă considerată a fi în strânsă legătura cu fenomenul naționalist astăzi este „polarizarea Vest-Est”. Cele două sunt diferite în mare măsură și sunt simbolizate aici de către cei doi. În ciuda diferențelor culturale și de opinii, ei rămân cei mai buni prieteni și continuă să țină mult unul la celălalt. Potretizarea ambilor este realistă – nici unul nu e o prezență negativă, nici unul nu e mai rău ori mai bun decât celălalt. Cu toate acestea, personalitățile lor încorporează stereotipuri binecunoscute referitoare la comparația între Orient și Occident, stilurile de viață și viziunile asupra existenței atribuite fiecărei părți. În final, cei doi continuă să coexiste pașnic și armonios, atât timp cât nici unul dintre ei nu își impune valorile și stilul de viață asupra celuilalt.

Copil fiind, Oblomov a fost îngrijit de dădace care obișnuiau să-i spună povești năstrușnice, uneori terifiante, inspirate din folclorul rus, lăsând o urmă puternică în mintea și imaginația pe atunci atât de impresionabile ale lui Oblomov. El fusese mereu supra-protejat (asemenea unui copil-cetățean protejat de către patria-mamă), spre deosebire de Stoltz, educat în spiritul presupusei „rigori germane” și trimis de acasă imediat ce terminase școala, urmând să învețe să se descurce singur. Stoltz este energic, dinamic, sociabil, perseverent, ambițios și inovativ. De cealaltă parte îl avem pe Oblomov – contemplativ, analitic, solitar (deși dependent de grija care i se acordă) și foarte timid. Ambele perspective asupra sensului existenței sunt concentrate în câteva schimburi de replici. Oblomov către Stoltz când, crezând că-și ajută prietenul, insistă să-l introducă pe Ilia Ilici în cercurile sale sociale: „Nu-mi place viața asta. Nici unul din oamenii ăștia nu e fericit. Unul e nefericit fiindcă trebuie să lucreze zilnic într-un birou; altul oftează fiindcă fericirea l-a ocolit. Acesta e scopul lor în viață. Nu-mi place nici viața ta socială; felul în care admiri oaspeții așezați simetric – cât sunt de liniștiți stând în jurul mesei, jucând cărți. Un minunat exemplu pentru o minte care vrea puțină acțiune! Nu vezi că ei sunt cei care își dorm viața întreagă? Sunt eu mai condamnabil decât acești oameni, fiindcă stau în pat fără a-mi otrăvi mintea jucând cărți? Ei stabilesc întâlniri, se invită unul pe celălalt la masă, dar nu există ospitalitate, și nici măcar nu se plac între ei. Ce fel de viață e aceea? Ce se presupune că ar trebui să învăț acolo?”. Stoltz răspunde oarecum agresiv: „Și tu? Ce e de învățat de la tine? [...] Omul acesta palid, cum îl numești tu, arată mai tânăr la șaizeci de ani decât tine la vârsta ta; [...] Nu vreau să învăț pe nimeni nimic.”. Oblomov are, însă, o altă perspectivă: „Pentru ce? La șaizeci de ani, un om trebuie să arate de șaizeci de ani, nu de treizeci și cinci. [...] Să presupunem că va mai trăi încă o sută de ani și va mai cumpăra alte o sută de plantații la fel ca Oblomovka. Pentru ce? Fiecare om cântărește ce e bun și rău pentru sănătatea lui, ce doctor îl va consulta... fiecare om se întreabă cum ar trebui să trăiască. Dar pentru ce? Nimeni nu vrea să se gândească la asta. Ce înseamnă viața ta? Are cineva nevoie de tine?”. Replica lui Stoltz e populară și astăzi: „E ușor să stai degeaba toată ziua și să-i judeci pe cei ce fac ceva.”. Atunci, Oblomov răspunde cu o metaforă ilustrativă: „În fața casei mele se află un copac. Poate e acolo de cinci sute de ani sau mai mult, și va mai fi acolo pentru alți o mie de ani. Câte frunze au crescut în tot acest timp, și câte au crescut și au căzut... și fiecare frunză are propria ei viață în copacul acesta. Poate copacul simte frunzele și are nevoie de ele. Aceasta înseamnă că o parte din ele va rămâne acolo în următorii ani, ca în anii trecuți. La fel e și cu noi, indiferent de cine suntem. Încă de la naștere, existența noastră capătă un sens. Gândul acesta mă face fericit – îmi vine până și să plâng. Apoi m-am uitat într-o carte de botanică și am aflat că un copac nu trăiește atât de mult. Mi-a fost rușine că n-am ținut minte nimic din ceea ce am învățat.”.

Când Stoltz încearcă să-și ajute prietenul prin a-l convinge să se adapteze la propriul său stil de viață, încercarea eșuează spectaculos, amenințându-le prietenia cu tensiuni puternice. Același lucru se întâmplă cu Olga, femeia de care Ilia Ilici se îndrăgostește, dar are încearcă să îl schimbe și se dovedește a fi incompatibilă cu el în final, când decide să se căsătorească, totuși, cu Stoltz. Oblomov se însoară cu Agafya, o parteneră mult mai potrivită, care se dovedește a fi devotată și tolerantă.

Filmul ne vorbește și despre inadaptabilitatea la continua schimbare, în ton cu tendințele vremii. Suntem martori la greutățile prin care avem de trecut dacă alegem să luptăm împotriva curentului. Oblomov este un personaj leneș din punct de vedere fizic, dar cu o lume interioară de o complexitate și profunzime rare. Este un personaj static, dar tocmai în aceasta rezidă lupta sa contra schimbărilor și tendințelor vremii. Refuzul despărțirii de valorile copilăriei și de ceea ce l-a făcut fericit este, de fapt, unul din cele mai curajoase și dificile lucruri întreprinse individual în contextul de față. „Câteva zile din viața lui Ilia Ilici Oblomov” constituie așadar un minunat portret social chiar şi al Rusiei anilor 1970, rămânând poate un simbol ilustrativ și pentru vremurile actuale.

Utilizarea luminii ca instrument metaforic e demnă de luat in seamă. O lumină caldă învăluie scenele onirice referitoare la copilăria lui Ilia Ilici, iar imaginea oscilează mereu parcă între lumină și întuneric. Apartamentul lui Oblomov, adultul, este mereu obscur, și întreține stilul de viață al acestuia, bazat în special pe somn. Foarte rar se trag draperiile în locuința sa, evenimentul necesitând excepții notabile pentru a se produce. Unul din primele lucruri pe care Stoltz le face, odată ajuns în casa prietenului său, este să tragă draperiile pentru a lăsa lumina să pătrundă înăuntru. Cu toate acestea, nu întâlnim aceeași luminozitate cu cea prezentă în scenele copilăriei. Singurele scene în care o putem revedea sunt cele pe parcursul cărora Oblomov se îndrăgostește de Olga. Pe măsură ce acest eveniment are loc, devenim martorii întoarcerii la acel cadru iluminat angelic.

„Câteva zile din viața lui Ilia Ilici Oblomov” este recomandabilă nu doar iubitorilor de film, ci și celor pasionați de muzică și teatru. Prestația actorilor este impecabilă. Muzica poate fi descrisă mai degrabă ca fiind complementară cu filmul și fiind caracterizată de o melodicitate de atmosferă. Deloc stridentă, dar intens dramatică pe alocuri și peste măsură de expresivă, completează și accentuează atât ideile, cât și starea de spirit transmisă pe parcursul filmului. Observăm și aici diferența dintre cadrele tăcute din apartamentul trist al lui Ilia Ilici și cadrele ce prezintă copilăria sa, completate mereu de coloana sonoră.

În final, aflăm că „nevoia de mamă” persistă, indiferent de generație. Ni se arată fiul lui Ilia Ilici și al Agafyei, care, asemenea tatălui său în trecut, aleargă necontenit pe câmp înconjurat de peisaje parcă rupte din basme, aparent strigându-și mama. Apoi, micuțul se pierde parcă în peisajul feeric și luminos care ocupă întreg cadrul, dar continuăm să-i auzim strigătul pe fundal, alături de un cânt ortodox interpretat de Corul de Stat al Rusiei. Din nou ne confruntăm cu nostalgia vremurilor de dinainte ca religia să devină oficial „opiul maselor” în 1917.

„Câteva zile din viața lui Ilia Ilici Oblomov” nu este, așadar, un film „naționalist” decât dacă naționalismul se dovedește brusc a fi un fenomen pozitiv, tolerant și sensibil. Dacă alegem să rămânem la definițiile general acceptate, atunci vom concluziona că avem de-a face cu una din șirul de capodopere ale lui Nikita Mihalkov și vom admira liniștiți în continuare, iluminaţi interior, peisajele marcate deopotrivă de nostalgie și de o estetică ieșită din comun.

video
(Scena de închidere a filmului. Sursa: youtube.com)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dilworth's Ethnic Portrayals in 'Courage the Cowardly Dog'









Academy Award nominated director John R. Dilworth’s[1] 1995 animated short film ‘The Chicken from Outer Space’, sponsored by Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network, was nominated for an Academy Award, an Annie Award, and a Cable ACE Award. It was re-named ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’, and further developed as a television series in 1998, with Dilworth serving as executive producer, director, and co-writer on all 52 half-hour episodes as well as voicing numerous characters.

IMDB classified it as the world’s 26th most voted stereotype comedy show. More specifically, it is situated in the ‘comedy horror’ genre. In each episode, we are dealing with different villains having their personalities constructed depending on the episode theme. Many of these characters are highly stereotypical. This paper is offering an analysis of the ethnic stereotypes portrayed by some of the most representative ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ characters.

‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ is a highly metaphorical show. Ethnic minorities are sometimes being portrayed as animals, dressed in a certain way, or using a certain kind of language in order to make it clear that they represent a certain stereotype.

Dilworth’s image design and use of texture are meant to contribute to the realistic exposure of facts. He aims at reflecting actual social realities. In an interview for Animation World Magazine, he stated: ‘We're actually using CGI and texture-mapping to create a sort of realism that's balanced with the color scheme. We've adjusted the color of the characters to fit within the world that they exist in, that's full of textured sand and wood and wallpaper and sky, so that the end result is sort of a believability level. That's what I really wanted to get across.’ Dilworth's directorial approach involves avoiding wipes, dissolves and camera pans when possible. Why? ‘Because there are no camera moves in life’ he says. ‘You don't truck out on your face because we're sitting at the table. It doesn't fit. I'm certainly not going to put it in just to remind the viewer that they're being manipulated. I use camera moves; I just don't use them in Courage – a lot, because they're not necessary. In the series, things are happening so quickly, the suspense doesn't require a lot of camera moves, or fades. What it requires is a lot of images thrown at you so that you decipher them, immediately, and then you move on.’ Dilworth also looks for ‘humanness’, which he defines as ‘the ability to portray a real emotion, a real reaction of somebody’.

Soundtrack is also a significant part of this research, as recurring characters (villains) usually have theme songs which contribute strongly to their psychological profiling. When it comes to sound effects, Dilworth favors fresh material. ‘I love sound. I look for any sound that makes me laugh. Except for music - then, it really depends upon what we're trying to portray - either suspense or comedy or action. And even then, I want nothing that's common’, he says. Terrifically accentuating the cartoon's randomness, strangeness, wackiness, and scariness are songs/tunes composed by Jody Gray and Andy Ezrin. ‘The pair has managed to construct many memorable moments on the show due to their emotional, exquisite, haunting, lilting, and zippy musical compositions that incorporate an assortment of instruments, vocalizations, and sound effects.’.


Stereotype portrayals

‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ wrapped production as one of Cartoon Network's top-rated shows. This cartoon contains a great deal of symbolism. Some episodes are parodies of well known horror movies (ex. ‘The Exorcist’), while others have deeper meanings, touching upon more sensitive subjects, such as the question of values, principles, social issues such as prostitution, discrimination in terms of gender, sexual orientation and often in terms of ethnicity. All this made the show a very controversial one, and the public very skeptical about it being a kids’ show, even if it was aired on channels primarily meant for children.

Many of the characters in the show are given an ethnic identity, and very often, with an accent. But that is not enough to portray an ethnic stereotype. Out of these characters I have selected four villains whose personalities are, in my opinion, highly subjected to stereotyping: Katz ‘the cold British’, Shirley the Roma woman working as a medium, the incapable Indian doctor Vindaloo and the snobbish Dr. Le Quack, the French duck.

1. Katz


An anthropomorphic red cat who first appeared in the episode A Night at the Katz Motel, Katz is a smooth and sadistic feline with a British accent, and comes complete with his own background theme music. Using Pauli’s theory, I would say the music is in a paraphrasing relation with the character’s image. It is a smooth, laid-back theme song with a lot of personality and it perfectly completes Katz’s character.

Since his debut, Katz's top priority has always been helping or advancing his situation in some way. He is competitive, as shown in Katz Kandy, where he tries to force Muriel, Courage’s owner, to tell him her secret ingredient for her sweet recipes after coming in second place to her in the Nowhere Sweet Stuff Contest for years. Thus, crushing his competition is of the utmost importance. When he finds himself in an advantageous position, he does not forget to boast with arrogance. In A Night at the Katz Motel, one can even see him drink tea in the middle of an obviously victorious sports competition with Courage. Katz is particularly proud of his physical condition and practices sport regularly – needless to say, tea and sports are two things commonly associated with the British culture. Many of the world's famous sports began in Britain, including cricket, football, lawn tennis, golf and rugby.

Although in general the British are portrayed as a traditional race, they are also famed for their sense of humor. It’s true that humor is a significant part of the British culture, and comedy shows and acts in Britain are very popular. It’s a specific type of humor that British people appreciate though, which is usually based on sarcasm and irony. Katz is a sarcastic, cold character. Whenever his ‘target’ falls into one of his ingeniously built traps, he sarcastically says: ‘Pitty.’. He doesn’t really empathize with anyone but himself, perfectly portraying ‘the cold British’. The only things he shows much compassion for outside of his own interest are his ‘loves’ (his spiders). This reminded me of a famous quote signed by Jocelyn Dashwood, pointing out that the only kind of affection one could witness from a British person would be directed towards a pet: ‘No hugs, dear. I’m British. We only show affection to dogs and horses’. Nevertheless, he is always perfectly polite, unless threatened. In general the British have a reputation for being very polite and quite traditional.

Because of him being the sophisticated gentleman type, very much into sports, tea, sarcasm, well read and good with business, Katz successfully represents many British stereotypes. He also has a generally superior attitude towards everyone he comes into contact with. This fits perfectly with him being a cat, as cats are said to be aloof, independent and cold – in the case of Katz, two stereotypes intermix: an ethnic stereotype and one related to animals.


2. Shirley the Medium


Shirley is mystical fortuneteller who spends her time casting curses on those who defy morality. She despises the greedy and the inhospitable, and subjects them to spells that only repair when their sins are reversed. Ironically enough, she is very fond of money; charging heavy fees on clients and selling herself on TV are some of the ways she obtains it – one could say, much like some Roma women. In Romania, for instance, Roma women are famous for selling their clairvoyant services on TV, in newspapers, or even online, and they are famous for their tarot card reading. In the show, Shirley wears eccentric, colorful clothing and plays the saxophone – music is also often associated with the Roma population.

She first appears in Season one, in the episode called ‘Shirley the Medium’, where she is hired by the Bagges to put Eustace in contact with his dead brother who had apparently left behind a box full of money to which they could not find the key. We discover afterwards that the box did not contain actual money, but a locked curse that Shirley ultimately lifts after Courage begs her, in spite of Eustace’s greed and stubbornness. The box is highly symbolic, as Eustace ends up inside it, as we hear ‘I’m rich! I’m finally rich!’. His greed causes him to lose hiss freedom, limiting his reason and locking him inside an illusion, making him forget all about his family back home. As Shirley, the stereotyped image of the ‘freedom-loving gipsy’, comes to set him free, Eustace chooses to exchange that freedom for a box of money. We can hear him in the end, while bathing in money, as he wonders: ‘Hey... where am I gonna spend it?’

The romanticized image of the "Gypsy" is alive and well in many forms of cultural imagery: ‘They are exotic women in colorful skirts, dancing in sensual swirls. They are dark with smoldering eyes. They are carefree spirits playing the tambourine. They dance by campfires, travel in caravans, tell fortunes with crystal balls or Tarot cards.’



3. Doctor Vindaloo


An Indian doctor close to the Bagge family, one of the few people Courage considers a friend. His medical skills are questionable, and his powers of observation are even worse. He often passes off easily identifiable eccentric conditions as being of no concern with his famous line: ‘There’s nothing to worry about, nothing at all’ or ‘there is nothing I can do’, and recommends soaking as a universal remedy. With a high enough sum of money, his doctor-patient confidentiality can be bypassed, as we can see in Season 2’s episode ‘Bad Hair Day’: ‘I’m sorry, but it would be unethical to share my patient’s personal information... how much? That much? (eyes popping) What do you want to know?’.





He has a habit of plucking or shaving hair from areas of his body. He at one point owned an elephant, which he was seen once to ride, though he seems to have lost it, as he is seen putting up ‘Lost’ posters in the ‘Wrath of the Librarian’ episode. In Ancient India, owning elephants was a royal habit. The Hindu religion worships many animal deities. One of them is a stout, short man with a one-tusked elephant head named Ganesh. He is a popular Hindu god and is believed to be a remover of obstacles. He wrote the Indian epic Mahabharata while the sage Vyasa dictated to him. Ganesh is said to have made this work more eloquent and clear. Beyond religion, elephants play a significant part in other aspects of Indian culture as well. They are a constantly recurring motif in Hindu miniatures and present-day popular drawings. In ‘A Passage to India’ by E.M. Forster, elephants are a symbol of India itself.

His accent is more than obvious and impossible to ignore. Considering the fact that some of the most frequent Indian stereotypes refer to Indians as being mostly doctors or engineers, very likely to be corrupt and not very smart, the image of Doctor Vindaloo is a perfect portrayal of a typical Indian stereotype – not to mention his name, which suggests from the beginning that he is a person not to be taken too seriously.


4. Doctor LeQuack

A French con artist duck with a strong accent, basically speaking French and English at the same time, who is always trying to score a fortune. Le Quack is skilled and decisive. As a con artist, he bears many faces, every time with a strong lust for monetary gain. To achieve his purpose, he will use anyone, and subject the rest to his disturbing methods of torture. His manipulative tendencies are especially harmful when paired with his devious intellect in psychological persuasion.




He first appears in the first season, starring in the twenty-second episode named after him (‘Doctor Le Quack, Amnesia Specialist’). Like most of the antagonists in the series, he is much stronger than he appears to be. His containment is short lived, as he is able to free himself from any prison and leave it in wastes behind him, proudly stating: ‘You have not seen the last of Le Quack!’. He sometimes wears a beret and always has a curvy moustache, considered to be typical of the French.

Why is the French portrayed as a duck? Precisely to illustrate the discrepancy between a supposed graceful attitude and the real behavior and intentions, and to ridicule snobbery, an element often associated with the French. Le Quack has a very strong French accent and a superior attitude, reflecting the stereotypes usually attributed to the French. His theme song features an accordion, very common in 20th century French songs called chansonettes. In the case of Le Quack, we are dealing with both counterpointing (his theme song is funny and quite light, considering the character’s personality) and paraphrasing (the accordion is a strong element of the French early and mid-20th century music).


Conclusion


Courage the Cowardly Dog features demented black comedy, surreal humor, sci-fi elements, and occasionally drama. This is intermixed with parodies and homage to horror, cinema, musicals, references to classic Looney Tunes, and Bob Clampettesque sequences.

Stereotypes are thus treated ironically, and so are society’s ways of discrimination against all sorts of aspects of human life – not only ethnicity, but also occupation, sexual orientation, race and so on. By hyperbolizing commonly used preconceptions, this show lures us into an image of how ridiculous the world would be if it were as we normally see/imagine it. Dilworth also does this by using a special technique where very realistic images and cartoons are intermixed.

The message intended by Dilworth in ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ is not in favor of stereotyping – on the contrary, as some of the villains turn out to be misunderstood instead of evil, we are taught to look at the individual and his psychological profile in order to understand him and develop an opinion based on individual observation, not the group he belongs to. Asked what he had learned in his growth as an individual during the making of Courage, John Dilworth responded candidly, ‘The one thing I learned, beyond anything else, is greater tolerance, and patience, with others. Period. That's it’.










[1] John Dilworth is an American animation director and designer whose work has been broadcasted on CBS, Showtime, HBO, FOX, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, MTV, Canal +, and Arte. He is the founder of Stretch Films Inc., one of the leading animation design and production studios in New York City. His films have been featured in museum programs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Dilworth has produced and directed thirteen independent and sponsored short films that continue to be screened worldwide.