The idea for this film was conceived in a tacky Hollywood bar. I had been complaining to a Travel Channel producer about their program “Top 10 Toilets” and wondered why there are no intelligent shows about Russia on American TV.
I asked myself: What is the most interesting lens through which to view Russian culture? What about Russia can inspire an audience?
The answer is literature. Sounds dry, but for anyone who has spent an evening around a cramped Moscow kitchen table with friends drinking tea and talking about books, you know what I’m talking about.
This film, Pushkin Is Our Everything, is a visual representation of what we discussed on all those evenings in all those kitchens. I want to show how invigorating it is when Russians talk about literature and their lives, and how inspired one is afterwards.
As I began to dig through the enormous field of classic Russian literature, I was amazed (but not surprised) at how Pushkin is still Number One.
He’s still fresh, as historians find new information about him in archives and frame his life in different perspectives.
He’s still fresh because his image changes depending on the political and societal situation in the country. There’s always a “new” Pushkin to uncover.
He’s still fresh because it’s cool to be a dandy! Pushkin was one of the most colorful figures of the 19th century: debt-ridden noble, famous poet, friend and enemy of the tsar, husband of a society knockout, fighter of 24 duels, drinker, card player, perpetual patient (he wrote some of his best stuff while recuperating in bed from venereal diseases) and victim of one last duel. Dead at 37.
Who doesn’t look back on Pushkin in the early 1800s and think, wow, what a life!
But really, more about Pushkin? Pushkin is Number One, but he’s also Old Hat. His statue is everywhere. Everyone knows his biography. Everyone heard his fairy tales as children, read his love poems as teenagers, and read his short stories and erotic epigrams as young adults. Everyone can quote the opening lines of his novel in verse, Evgeniy Onegin.
Enough already! It’s Pushkin overload! Isn’t it?
By examining the relationship between Russians and their Pushkin, we get a view into many aspects of Russia past and present: the role of literature in people’s lives, the Kremlin’s use of national symbols, the process of re-building the post-Soviet Russian nation, the fashionable views of the Russian intelligentsia, and the ongoing effort to uncover the real Pushkin.
All great topics for a kitchen-table conversation, and for this film.