Sunday, 6 July 2014

Belated Pride post

Newly, rhythmically and rhymingly translated just in time to be late for Pride, The Light Blue Puppy is a  classic 1976 Soviet 'cheerful, musical tragedy', animated in a distinctively fluid style using  flowing India ink, and boasting the vocal talents of some of the 1970's most beloved stars, including Alysa Freindlich (star of Eldar Ryazanov's "An Office Romance") and Andrei Mironov (star of Zakharov's "12 Chairs" and "An Unusual Miracle") . Telling the story of a light blue dog who is shunned for being different, it is a children's story encouraging tolerance and promoting positive diversity, ending in an explosion of rainbow colours. In an age of dancing with the censors, when films were regularly scrutinised for their subversive subtexts, many were quick to spot a gay theme in 'The Light Blue Puppy', who was even named one of '69 Outstanding Russian Gays and Lesbians' in a recent publication by Ganymede Press, according to Russia's leading gay internet portal: The cartoon may have played a key role in popularising the slang term 'goluboi' (light blue) to refer to homosexuals, with its theme of the lonely, bullied puppy longing for a flamboyant and self-confident rescuer and mentor being one that spoke to the experience of many Russian gays during the Soviet era's criminalisation of homosexuality.

Based on a book by Hungarian author Gyula Urban which featured a black puppy (serving as a metaphor for the plight of African-Americans in the United States), Yuri Entin, the creator of 'the Light-Blue Puppy', has explicitly stated his pro-gay sympathies and that he
never intended the cartoon to be read as a satire of homosexuals, saying:

"Believe me, never in my life would I have done it if I could imagine what it would be associated with. It's literally hitting below the belt. I have a huge amount of acquaintances of non-traditional orientation, they are wonderful people that I have the tenderest relations with. And so I would never have allowed myself to mock them." Source (in Russian).

Many pro-gay groups celebrate the story, with the 'Planet Krasnoyarsk' club in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, staging their own musical theatrical version in 2000, while a  children's ballet production in the Ekaterinburg theatre was cancelled by director Alexander Novikov in 2010 for being "saturated with paedophilia and homoeroticism" despite the fact that the story never actually references homosexuality at any point. For a complete list of Russian-language articles on the significance of 'the Light Blue Puppy' in gay culture, click here.

ABOVE: a montage of footage from Sergei Paradjanov's 'Sayat Nova' set to the music of FireX

The most famous victim of Soviet anti-homosexuality legislation was the bisexual Armenian-Georgian film director Sergei Paradjanov. Already controversial for his celebration of the ethnic traditions of Ukraine and Armenia in his masterpieces 'Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors' and 'Sayat Nova' / 'The Colour of Pomegranates', he served 3 months (of a five year term) on a conviction for homosexual acts with a KGB officer in 1948 and in 1973 he was sentenced to five years of hard labour (serving four) for the alleged rape of a male communist party member and the 'propagation of pornography'. His claim to have given sexual favours to 25 party members, made to a Danish magazine and serving as grounds for the arrest, was seen by many as another in a long line of the director's scandalous provocations, with some commentators even questioning whether his homosexual inclinations were more than a countercultural pose. Andrei Tarkovsky and Mayakovsky's muse Lilya Brik were among the Russian artists who campaigned for his release, while his post-prison reunion with his friend Vladimir Vysotsky was reportedly tearful. The renowned poetess Bella Akhmadulina said on his behalf "he was guilty of being free". In prison, Paradjanov created hundreds of drawings and collages, many now displayed in the Paradjanov Museum in Yerevan, Armenia. His mature (post-1964) films have a lush, camp aesthetic that conflicted with the demands of socialist realism, and 'Sayat Nova' also features daring gender-bending in its use of Georgian actress Sofiko Chiaureli in a dual role as both the young poet and his mother in this sequence.

Openly gay imagery disappeared from Russian culture in 1933 when Stalin criminalised homosexuality. However, classic films from the 1940s which celebrate the brotherhood of students and workers' collectives through intense male bonding, such as 'Attestat Zrelosti / The Certificate of Education' (the most suggestive clips of which are shown above, unsubtitled) have been cited, and in some cases celebrated, by modern Russian audiences for their homoeroticism. Similarly, the films of the 1980s and 1990s by director Alexander Sokurov have been labelled homoerotic for featuring sensual imagery of physical closeness and affection between men, often scantily clothed, although without explicit sexuality in these relations. Sokurov himself has dismissed these claims as the product of diseased Western imaginations. The first Russian film to have openly homosexual themes is 2004's comedy drama "You I Love".

The most famous gay Russian is probably the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose sexuality is well attested in his own letters, once suppressed by Soviet censors, as well as his brother Modest's autobiography. His sexuality has been edited out of the proposed screenplay for an upcoming Russian biopic, Tchaikovsky, to be directed  by Kirill Serebrennikov, under pressure from Russia's prohibitive anti-gay-propaganda laws, a move which is controversial.  The writer Yuri Arabov has claimed that he 'will not sign his name to a film that advertises homosexuality' and that discussion of homosexuality is 'outside the sphere of art' in this interview. Tchaikovsky's sexuality continues to be celebrated abroad, including by Matthew Bourne's award-winning production of 'Swan Lake' with male swans (pictured). The importance of Tchaikovsky to the gay movement in Russia may be attested by the decision to call St. Petersburg's major organisation for gay social events 'The Tchaikovsky Fund'. Other famous gay and bisexual figures in Russian musical culture include Sergei Diaghilev, director of the 'Ballets Ruses' and Nijinsky, their most famous dancer, as well as the later ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev, and the contemporary openly gay dancer, singer and director Boris Moiseev.

Finally, in literature, the first openly gay novel in Russian was Mikhail Kuzmin's 1906 novel 'Wings' which compares the main character's final acceptance of his sexuality with growing wings. The poet Gennady Trifonov spent 4 years in prison in the 1970s for circulating openly homosexual poetry. Marina Tsvetaeva, one of the most famous poets of the Silver Age, had a lesbian affair with the poetess Sophia Parnok, and frequently referenced her bisexuality or lesbian desire in her poetry, discussed here. For a full discussion of gay themes in Russian literature, click here.

Happy belated Pride!

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