BY DR. ZAVEN KHATCHATURIAN
WESTWOOD–The Friends of UCLA Armenian Language and Culture Studies hosted the premiere of a new documentary film on movie director Rouben Mamoulian presented by Patrick Cazals, a veteran French filmmaker, at James Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall, UCLA, on May 19.
Gia Aivazian, the President of Friends of UCLA Armenian Language and Culture Studies, welcomed the audience and the guests and congratulated the filmmaker on the occasion of his film’s West Coast premiere. The Friends group is a support organization of the UCLA Narekatsi Chair for Armenian Studies and has had a busy schedule since its inception almost ten years ago, organizing numerous activities such as literary and theatrical lectures at the highest level, introducing important scholars to the public and honoring them with the “Narekatsi” medal for their lifelong contribution to Armenian studies and Armenian culture. Professor Peter Cowe, holder of the UCLA Narekatsi Chair, and an expert on Armenian cinema and theater himself, was instrumental in organizing the event.
Patrick Cazals, who has over forty documentaries to his credit was present in the audience. After Mamoulian’s film, he screened one of his earlier documentaries: “Sergey Parajanov the Rebel” (Paris, 2004), which basically provides an insight into Parajanov’s directing style, particularly during the making of “Ashik Kerib” (1988), his last fully completed film.
Professor Cowe conducted a Q & A session between the two screenings. A delightful surprise was the presence of Mr. Miles Kreuger, the president of “The Institute of the American Musical”, who had been a close friend of Rouben Mamoulian, and a key interviewee in Cazals’ documentary film. “Rouben was like a father to me. He was a great man indeed and I miss him a lot”, revealed Miles Kreuger almost tears in his eyes during the Q & A, as he shed light at little known facts of Mamoulian’s life and work. The evening ended with a wine and cheese reception. Those who missed the event will have another chance to see the documentaries at the upcoming Arpa International Film Festival at the Egyptian Theater in the beginning of November. The details will be announced in the website by mid-October (www.AFFMA.org).
Mamoulian and Parajanov had certain particulars in common: They both were born in the Georgian capital Tiflis to Armenian parents; they both were trained in Moscow; and both are remembered as innovative movie directors. However, besides stylistic differences of their movies, their fate led them in opposite directions. While Mamoulian flourished in the free world, Parajanov had to fight Soviet censorship and spend a significant portion of his creative life in prison. During his captivity, Parajanov gave himself over to painting and sculpture in order to quench his creative urge. Lacking tools and material, it is said that he picked out items from garbage and used his fingernails as tools and thus created stunning collages.
Rouben Mamoulian (1897-1987) received his dramatic training at the innovative Moscow Art Theater under such living legends as Eugene Vakhtangov and Konstantin Stanislavsky. Thereafter he moved to the USA via Paris and London in 1923, where he staged forty-four plays, which included a dramatized version of the novel “Porgy” and Gershwin’s operatic version “Porgy and Bess” (1935), the blockbuster “Oklahoma!” (1943), “Carousel” (1945), and “Lost in the Stars”. He also directed sixteen films, including “Applause” (1929), “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1932), “Queen Christina” (1933) starring Greta Garbo, and screen classics like “Love Me Tonight”, “Blood and Sand”, and “Silk Stockings”. A stylish innovator, Mamoulian introduced mobile and multiple cameras to Hollywood as well as new sound techniques. His “Becky Sharp” (1939) was the first film in three-color Technicolor. He also directed the action movie “The Mark of Zorro” (1940) starring Tyrone Power.
Meanwhile, Sergey Parajanov (1924-1990) received his directorial training at the famous VGIK film school in Moscow under the guidance of the Ukrainian masters Igor Savchenko and Aleksandr Dovchenko. He produced a number of documentaries and a few narrative films based on Ukrainian and Moldovan folktales. His international standing was established by his “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (1964), which won several awards, inaugurating the “Pictorial School” in Ukrainian cinema and marking out its author as a dissident. Four years later with Hay Film in Yerevan he completed his masterpiece “Sayat Nova”, which, however, was banned in its original form. In its re-edited version “The Color of Pomegranates” it continues to fascinate audiences the world over. After his imprisonment in the seventies he worked on two further films in the next decade, “The Legend of Suram Castle” (1984) on a medieval Georgian legend, and “Ashik Kerib” (1988) on a short story by Lermontov based on oral tradition. He had barely started filming his next work “Confession” (1990), when he fell fatally ill.