Stalin was buried three times in the Tretyakov Gallery: with Vanessa Redgrave and Yevgeny Yevtushenko


The poster is stored in the department of printed graphics of the Tretyakov Gallery. At one time, it was even more popular than the film itself. For three days, visitors to the Tretyakov Gallery had the opportunity to see footage of Stalin’s funeral, sometimes the same. The screenings accompanied the exhibition “In Memoriam. Stopped time”, which will complete its work next weekend.

It presents a collection of death masks of Peter I, Pushkin, Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, Lenin, Stalin, Vera Mukhina, Maxim Gorky, Valery Chkalov, Sergei Eisenstein, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky… the book he created with Olga Surkova) accompanying the exhibition was no less impressive. It presented invaluable materials related to historical figures, representatives of science and culture, whose masks can be seen in the Tretyakov Gallery. Their collection in the museum is positioned as one of the most closed collections.

Film historian Maxim Pavlov, to whom we owe the appearance of a unique film program, says: “When we first compiled it, I was asked the question: “Will you show the funeral every day?”. But we didn’t show the funeral. This program is not about them and not about death. It’s about life.”

The film program included newsreels of the architect Alexei Shchusev, the author of the mausoleum and temporary crypt for Lenin, which is available for visiting at the time of the funeral. The 18-minute documentary Lenin’s Mausoleum by Mark Ditkovsky was filmed in 1973 using a chronicle of the funeral of Vladimir Ilyich, which was not strictly regulated, perhaps out of confusion. Later there will be no such liberties. The wooden mausoleum was built in 35 hours. For this, it was necessary to make a howl in Red Square. Otherwise, it was impossible to install a temporary structure in the cold January season.

The death of the author of the sculpture “Worker and Collective Farm Girl” Vera Mukhina, and she passed away at the age of 64 in the same 1953, like Stalin, is immortalized in a three-minute chronicle. This is the only evidence kept in the funds of the Krasnogorsk archive of film and photo documents. You won’t find anything like it on the Internet. No less unique are the 7 minutes that captured the installation of the sculpture “Worker and Collective Farm Woman” in 1937. In 1955 director Yakov Babushkin made a ten-minute film about the exhibition of Mukhina’s works.

Separately, they showed the early chronicles depicting the living Stalin. Sometimes he appears for a brief moment, but this is priceless. Unique materials refer to the IV Congress of the Comintern of the RSFSR in 1922, the celebrations on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of Soviet power, the celebration of May Day in Moscow in 1923, the parade of the Red Army on Red Square in 1924. In 1929, the camera captured Stalin on his 50th birthday.

The highlight of the program was a three-day demonstration of Stalin’s funeral. The first featured the 65-minute film The Great Farewell by the classics of Soviet cinema Grigory Alexandrov, who directed Merry Fellows, and Sergei Gerasimov, front-line cameraman Ilya Kopalin, five Stalin Prize winner Mikhail Chiaureli, Irina Setkina and Elizaveta Svilova. This is an official film made in 1953, which was waiting for a dramatic fate.

On the second evening, a 135-minute montage film “State Funeral (“Farewell to Stalin”) by Sergei Loznitsa (Netherlands-Latvia) was shown, the world premiere of which took place in 2019 at the 76th Venice Film Festival. How can one not appreciate the director’s ability not to comment on anything, to operate only with shots that speak for themselves. In “The Great Farewell” voice-over text is read by announcer Yuri Levitan. Who else could do it then? He talks and talks, so you gradually start to go crazy. Not a moment of silence. Only the speeches of Beria, Malenkov and other comrades standing on the Mausoleum stop the voice-over for a while. In the picture of Gerasimov, Kopalin and their colleagues, there are no shots of a stampede, about which there are many testimonies of contemporaries. As if there was nothing like it. The transportation of Stalin’s body from the dacha where he died to the Column Hall of the House of the Unions is not shown either. They say that none of this was filmed, there was a ban. But the scenes missing in the chronicle were reproduced in artistic form by Yevgeny Yevtushenko in his playful picture.

Frame from the film “State Funeral”. Photo: press service of the Venice Film Festival

At the Venice Film Festival, footage of Stalin’s funeral, farewell to him in the Hall of Columns of the House of the Unions made a strong impression on the foreign audience. Many have never seen anything like it. When Stalin died, kilometers of the chronicle were filmed, but it was given out in doses at the request of foreign news agencies. Everything else for decades remained a mystery behind seven seals. Sergey Loznitsa learned a lot from what was filmed from March 5 to March 9, 1953, when the country was saying goodbye to its leader. These frames were included in his picture, along with those that were intended for the “Great Farewell”, created in parallel in black and white and color versions. The first was mounted, and the second was postponed for decades. Shooting for color in the USSR was then possible, but not printed. When this became possible, the film about Stalin lost its relevance, and it should not have been finished. So the “Great Farewell” signed the death warrant. The film did not reach the audience. There are many mysteries here. It is known that they were supposed to make a 30-minute film about the death of Stalin, but then where is it, and whether it was created. Film historians have a lot to think about.

The most interesting thing in the chronicle is the faces of people. Someone hardly holds back tears, sincerely worries about the loss, someone goes to gawk at a magnificent funeral and does not mourn at all, someone smirks. The camera captures it all. According to some reports, 200 cameramen took to the streets of Moscow and other cities, not only Soviet, but also foreign, went to remote corners of the country to capture the grief of the Soviet people. It’s hard to believe this version. Why so many cinematography? According to the official version, there were 60 operators. There are even some lists. It can be assumed that some shots were filmed later, and they were staged, which is indirectly evidenced by mourning badges with a portrait of Stalin, which were worn throughout the country the day after the death of the leader. When were they made? It is hard to imagine that this was done in advance. There are other questions as well. Where in Moscow in March 1953 did such a number of fresh flowers come from? People carried pots with home plants, ficuses on the day of the funeral to the monuments to Stalin. And there are too many artificial flowers on the screen.

In modern times, Stalin’s funeral continued to live according to its dramaturgy. In 2020, despite fears of incurring disfavor on the part of Stalin’s admirers, after all sorts of delays, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation nevertheless issued a rental certificate to the State Funeral. And the feature film “The Death of Stalin” by the British director Armando Iannucci, which has passed around the world, and where some scenes from the “Great Farewell” are sometimes literally reproduced, has not been released on Russian screens. She was considered dangerous and offensive to Russian viewers.

Everything is not easy with the painting “The Funeral of Stalin” by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, which completed the shows in the Tretyakov Gallery. The famous poet became not only the director, but also the author of the script, starred in the episodic role of the sculptor, whose workshop is filled with busts and sculptures of leaders. He visits a Soviet pub, where the hero of Vladimir Ilyin becomes his drinking buddy. The Yevtushenko family and his children also starred in the film.

The film takes place in 1953. The Soviet people say goodbye to the leader. The protagonist Zhenya meets Elya, who will soon die terribly and ridiculously, like many other people who found themselves that day in the center of Moscow. The novice poet Zhenya was played by Denis Konstantinov, who looked like the young Yevtushenko. Valentin Nikulin will appear for a few minutes in the role of an arrested neighbor, and Alexei Batalov and Natalya Kolyakanova became the poet’s parents (she has perhaps the best acting job in this picture, without a tune). Georgy Yumatov will appear in the image of a security guard Joseph Vissarionovich. Maya Bulgakova starred as the imaginary “Stalin’s wife”. Her heroine filled her dwelling with portraits and busts of the leader, forcing them with jars of raspberry jam. So she takes care of the “unkempt” comrade Stalin, who burns at work. The English journalist was played by British actress Vanessa Redgrave. This was her only work in Russian cinema at that time, as Maxim Pavlov accurately noted, when she had a big affair with the late Soviet Union. Thanks to her acquaintance with Yevtushenko, she agreed to act in the film.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Vladimir Ilyin in the film “Stalin’s Funeral”

In episodic roles, not only actors are involved, but also people from Yevtushenko’s entourage. Director Savva Kulish played a Frenchman who confesses his love for the USSR, and then tragically, terribly dying in its open spaces. The unique children’s surgeon Stanislav Doletsky starred as one of the Kremlin doctors. His daughter Alena Doletskaya wanted to come to the show, but because of her departure she changed her plans. In her family, they treat this picture with great warmth.

At one time, Yevtushenko’s film was met with restraint. It is clear that this is not a masterpiece. However, over time, the picture was filled with new meanings, which the author most likely did not invest. And this is evidence of true art.

Yevtushenko has a lot to do with cinema. Once, at the Venice Film Festival, where he left ahead of time, a bright jacket was brought onto the stage instead. It was his directorial move. Yevtushenko was filming in the evening of poets in Marlen Khutsiev’s Zastava Ilyich, and this was an event specially organized for filming, and not an independent event that the group looked into. In “Rise” by Savva Kulish, he played Tsiolkovsky. Perhaps this picture should have been included in the film program, since the death mask of Tsiolkovsky is presented at the exhibition. But as Maxim Pavlov explained to us, the action in the film does not take place in the last years of the hero’s life, but at the peak of the creation of space theories, and they chose films related to the departure to another world. Maxim recalled an enchanting story known from Russian-language sources, the stories of Yevgeny Alexandrovich himself. It turns out that Yevtushenko almost played Jesus Christ with Pier Paolo Pasolini in the Gospel of Matthew. According to the poet, he was invited to act in film, but the corresponding letter did not reach him. As a director, he himself made two films – “Kindergarten” in 1983, dedicated to childhood and the Zima station, where he was born during the evacuation, and “Stalin’s Funeral” in 1990. Both films received a reserved reception at home, but they resonated abroad, where Yevtushenko was well known, in part because of his difficult relationship with Joseph Brodsky. Maxim Pavlov recalled the latter’s phrase: “If Yevtushenko is against collective farms, then I am for!” Before the death of Yevgeny Alexandrovich, this story suddenly surfaced, and he tried to somehow explain it. There was something tragic about it.

“Stalin’s Funeral” came out during the heyday of cooperative cinema, says Maxim Pavlov. – Films were shot a lot, but cinemas then breathed their last. Domestic cinema was of little interest to the audience. The heyday of video salons has come. And Yevtushenko’s film was shown little, they did not really like him on television either. We have made incredible efforts to show it to you, it took us a long time to find out who the copyright holder is. The fact is that it was created by the private Soviet-West German company Slovo on the technical basis of Mosfilm. The company has a successor, but it had to be found. And the only decent film copy is kept in the State Film Fund. There is no good digital version.”

Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s film was delivered to the Tretyakov Gallery two hours before the screening. So it’s a miracle that we saw a picture that was actually forgotten for 30 years. “Our mission is to show films that, for a number of objective and not at all objective reasons, the audience has not seen in the literal and figurative sense of the word. A distance of 30 years is enough to look at this film with new eyes,” says Maxim Pavlov.

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