[Marxism] Fwd: A Journey of Dmitri Shostakovich | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 25 21:41:21 MST 2015
(A film review from 9 years ago. I doubt that it can be seen anywhere
now. Too bad.)
Despite its obvious cold war inspiration, “A Journey of Dmitri
Shostakovich,” directed by Okasana Dvornichenko and Helga Landauer, is
an excellent introduction to the great composer’s life and career.
Structured around a trip by ocean liner he made to the USA near the end
of his life in 1973, it blends together performances of his work,
excerpts from his letters and appalling evidence of how he was hounded
by Stalin and his cultural commissars.
Oddly enough, despite the obvious intentions of the directors to cast
the USSR as a kind of unredeemed failure, one of the greatest
attractions of the film is its liberal use of Soviet era kitsch. Footage
of men and women performing calisthenics under Stalin’s gaze, shipboard
lectures on the glories of socialism, old agitprop posters, etc., are
actually the perfect visual complement to Shostakovich’s music, which
was not afraid to indulge in patriotic and socialist flag-waving.
Indeed, this contradiction, which was at the heart of his creativity, is
something that defies easy resolution. As much as the directors would
like to recruit the great composer to a rerun of the cold war culture
wars, he remains very much as part of the legacy of a unique experiment.
We learn that Shostakovich was very much a product of the USSR’s
historical experience. As an 11 year old boy, he witnessed street
fighting between revolutionary workers and Czarist cops. Only 15 years
later, he would serve as a fire warden during the siege of Leningrad. He
was always torn between writing music for the masses that depicted broad
social struggles using straightforward harmonies and more experimental
chamber works and opera that were heavily ironic and even nihilistic.
When I was first exposed to Shostakovich’s music in the 1950s, I tended
to dismiss the first kind of composition and rue the fact that he was
prevented from devoting himself fully to the more modern works. My
attitude was of course shaped by the prevailing prejudices of the time,
which tended to equate artistic “difficulty” with political freedom and
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