Research Trip (September 2013)

Archives come in different shapes and sizes, so I’m told. (Big ones, small ones, some as big your head.) Recently I’ve been using the Centre for Self-made/independent Song (a literal translation of Центр самодеятельной песни, as you can imagine), which has a rather impressive archive of recordings (bootleg, official), photographs, newspaper extracts, magazines, and essentially anything to do with bard music. It is situated in the Moscow House of Independent Activity (Московский дом самодеятельности) and after getting in touch with their archivist, I managed to get in to have a look at the material they had on Alexander Galich, Yuly Kim and the theatre group ‘Third Direction’. Overall, it is a very nice place to work. There’s tea, biscuits, spontaneous performances and Galich references slipped into every third sentence. For obvious reasons, the people who work there really know their stuff: they were all, at some point, part of the Moscow Club of Independent Song.

 

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While Galich is something of a known quantity, I know less about Kim, and even less about Third Direction, so this was a great opportunity to ask questions and hopefully move towards a few answers. Indeed, given the lack of access (for me at least) to basic information about Third Direction (the name of which now unfortunately sounds like some sort of boy band cover act), I was rather hoping that this would begin to solve my logistical questions regarding the group. And to a certain extent, it did. Its collection of newspaper cuttings, arranged by the bard they concern, has helped me track the development of the idea of Third Direction, which in essence was a platform for theatrical performances of bard music. What’s more, I also managed to get in touch with the group’s administrator, who happens to live down the road from me and kindly gave me some video-recordings of the plays performed by Third Direction that I’m interested in: ‘Когда я вернусь’ (‘When I return’ – based on Galich’s songs, surprisingly) and ‘Московские кухни’ (‘Moscow Kitchens’ – written by Kim).

While I’m more interested thesis-wise by Kim’s play as it is more overtly about dissidents, I’ve been increasingly intrigued by the Galich play mainly because its content has remained a mystery. Based on the interviews published at the time (and collected by the Centre), it seems that Third Direction took it on themselves to finally make the theatrical aspects of self-made song or avtorskaia pesnia reality, in the sense that they acted out plays based on the characters and plotlines of Galich. Formerly considered evidence for a 190-1 charge, Galich’s songs were now being acted out on stage by young students from GITIS. Indeed, one article I read from 1980 was written by a guitar poetry collector who, perturbed by the rumours about arrests for collecting Galich’s music, put all his Galich tapes in a wardrobe and hooked the door up with a trip switch that would magnitise the tapes if it was opened during a house search. Yet in 1988, 70th anniversary of Galich’s birth, guitar poetry enthusiasts held evenings in his memory where they played his songs and talked about his life all over the Soviet Union (Tashkent, Odesa, Murmansk, Kishinev, to name a few). It seems, though, in Moscow, they didn’t just play his songs, they brought them to life.

‘A whole detective story’

Although the lack of disk drive has plagued my other efforts to find out more about documentary films made during and after perestroika, again after much effort, I recently got in touch with the director of ‘Диссиденты’ (Dissidents, 1990) from Центрнаучфильм. While Tsentrnauchfilm used to be something of a powerhouse of Soviet documentary film, it does not exist any longer, and it has proven rather difficult to find out anything about this film. This suggests, of course, that perhaps it is not worth investigating. Yet as I finally managed to watch the film, it turns out that it has a few gems, not least of all footage of Brodsky. I had originally been interested in this film about a year ago because it appeared to be the first film about dissidents in the Soviet Union made without the familiar conspiratorial-CIA undertones (I’ve since found out that there was one made in 1989 about Boris Chernykh). ‘Диссиденты’ aims to depict dissidents on their own terms, while also performing a kind of mourning for a culture slipping away in the tide of perestroika.

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My interest was recently renewed when I realised that special stagings of scenes from ‘Московские кухни’ by Third Direction had been filmed as inserts for the film. At the same time, it has interviews with Andrei Sinyavsky, Alexander Ginzburg, ex-KGB officers, Laris Bogoraz, and Yuly Kim. Although it was not shown in on Soviet Central Television despite the encouragement of Goskino and Mikhail Shvidkoi (Minister of Culture at the time), it was in fact not broadcast in the Russian Federation until the late 1990s. Meanwhile, as a joint Soviet-French production, it was shown in America, France and the UK. As a document(!) of its time, however, it seems to confirm that sense of mourning that pervades depictions of dissidents during 1989-1991. The insert scenes from ‘Moscow Kitchens’ shift from the singing and dancing of the 60s to a requiem for the dissident dead and footage from Andrei Sakharov’s funeral. As the director said to me: ‘Looking back, its really quite a sad film…’

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