30 November 2011, 18:10

Reviving a great bard

Reviving a great bard

The recent premiere of a film about Vladimir Vysotsky, a nonconformist Russian poet and singer of the Soviet epoch, came as a real sensation. The premiere took place on November 29. From December 1, the film will be in general release.

The recent premiere of a film about Vladimir Vysotsky, a nonconformist Russian poet and singer of the Soviet epoch, came as a real sensation.

The premiere took place on November 29. From December 1, the film will be in general release.

The film is titled “Vysotsky: Thank God I am Alive”.

Probably the main intrigue about the film is that practically no one knows who plays the part of Vysotsky. An artistic makeup and state-of-the-art computer technology make the actor look strikingly like the great bard, and his real face is not seen. The actor’s personality was kept secret for the whole time that the film was made – and it is still kept secret. The name of the performer of the main part is not mentioned in the titles.

Vladimir Vysotsky died in 1980, being only 42 years old. Although not very much liked by the Soviet authorities, he was a real idol for the generations of the 1960s and the 1970s. Besides other things, he was a film and theater actor. Theater performances with his participation are still well remembered by those who were lucky to have seen them, and films in which he played are still watched and loved in Russia. However, first of all, Vysotsky was and is known as a performer of songs written mainly by himself. He wrote about 600 songs, many of which were a bit too bold for the Soviet censorship at that time.

Polls say that for very many Russians, Vysotsky is the most popular personality of the 20th century. The only person who can compete with him in popularity is Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut.

Being persecuted by the Soviet authorities, Vysotsky often fell into depression and took to the bottle. Sometimes, he even took drugs. This is probably why he died at such an early age.

Once, when Vysotsky was on a tour in Uzbekistan, which at that time was a part of the Soviet Union, he had a sudden heart attack. His heart even stopped for a while, but, fortunately, doctors managed to save him.

One year later, as a result of another heart attack, the singer died.

The new film revives this tragic episode in Uzbekistan.

“This film is about love, about freedom and about the price one has to pay for freedom,” Vysotsky’s son Nikita says. “The price is really very high, but freedom is worth any price.”

This is the first film about Vysotsky which is not a documentary but a feature film, and probably the main difficulty was to make the actor look really like Vysotsky. Spectators may forgive it if somebody who plays a person who has really lived doesn’t look very much like the prototype – but this is not the thing with Vysotsky. He is too well remembered and believed to be too unique for that.

“This was the main problem which hampered our work,” one of the producers, Konstantin Ernst, confesses:

“We started making the film 5 years ago. For a long time, we looked for an actor who looked like Vysotsky. Finally, we realized that there is no such a person. Still, we didn’t reject our idea. What came in the end is the result of the actor’s really perfect work (I must admit that he feels his character very well), the work of the makeup artists, and up-to-date computer technology. The latter is, by the way, Russia’s know-how. Still, we do not reveal the name of the actor.”

In fact, the personality of Vysotsky’s “twin” is not even known by the other actors who played in the film, for he always appeared before them already with the makeup on his face.

There are rumors hat the name of the mysterious actor has been revealed to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who watched the film even before the official premiere – but Mr. Putin promised to keep it a secret.

Although the film uses no less computer technology than, say, “The Matrix” or “Avatar”, the makers tried their best for the spectator not to notice it. This will make the film look more like the truth, they believe.

It was not very easy to reconstruct the atmosphere of the Soviet epoch. Though not very much time seems to have passed, in fact, many things have changed – houses, people’s faces, people’s speech. However, critics say that the film’s creators coped with this task very well.

“This film made me again feel pain from Vladimir’s death,” actor Veniamin Smekhov, who once was Vysotsky’s partner in the Moscow Taganka Theater, wrote in his Web blog.

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