February 21, 1937|
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (now Russian Federation), USSR
|Died||December 31, 2009
|Occupation||Director, cinematographer, screenwriter, art critic|
Mikhail Vartanov (Russian: Михаил Вартанов, Armenian: Միքայել Վարդանով, French: Mikhaïl Vartanov b. February 21, 1937, RSFSR, Soviet Union, now Russian Federation, d. December 31, 2009, Hollywood, California). Film director, cinematographer, documentarian, essayist, photographer and artist who developed a style of documentary filmmaking termed the “direction of undirected action.”
His reputation as one of the most important cinematographers, documentarians and intellectuals of his generation was cemented by such influential documentary films as The Seasons of the Year, Parajanov: The Last Spring, and a series of essays including The Unmailed Letters.
Mikhail Vartanov dedicated his life to defending and supporting his close friend, the imprisoned genius Sergei Parajanov, whose talent he recognized in 1964, after watching at Moscow’s film school VGIK the landmark motion picture Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and the test footage of the unfinished Kiev Frescoes.
Friendship with Sergei Parajanov
Mikhail Vartanov met Sergei Parajanov in 1967 in Armenia and shared his thoughts about the screenplay of the masterpiece The Color of Pomegranates (Sayat Nova). Parajanov was impressed and they became close friends until the end.
Vartanov’s debut film, The Color of Armenian Land, marked the beginning of his trademark style, the “direction of undirected action.” This documentary, a silent commentary of gestures of painter Martiros Saryan, also featured Vartanov’s friends, the dissident artists Minas Avetisyan and Sergei Parajanov, for which the film was censored and suppressed; Avetisyan was assassinated and Parajanov was imprisoned shortly after.
His next film The Autumn Pastoral—written by Artavazd Peleshian and scored by composer Tigran Mansurian—was shelved. After Sergei Parajanov was arrested in Kiev in 1973, Mikhail Vartanov immediately protested to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. The recently declassified document proved that it was that letter in support of Parajanov that prompted the intensified harassment that Vartanov endured, and his subsequent firing from the Armenfilm Studios (4 months after Paradjanov’s imprisonment).
Artavazd Peleshian and Gennadi Melkonian passionately petitioned the Russian and Armenian authorities to work with Vartanov, who was blacklisted and unemployed, and he was able to work as a cinematographer on two films that became classics: The Seasons of the Year (1975) and The Mulberry Tree (1979).
After a 9 year absence from directing, Vartanov was asked to save a troubled project, The Roots (1983) which he later wrote was the best film made in Armenia that year. He survived by teaching art, cinema and photography at the university, and publishing his writings. They appeared in several languages, including French, in Cahiers du cinéma.
Sergei Parajanov, in a letter from prison, wrote to Mikhail Vartanov: “You and your purity are colliding with circumstances and predators… That’s life”. Indeed, many open and secret suppressors of Parajanov, especially the unschooled and the mediocrity, later focused on Vartanov, having recognized the opportunity to advance their personal interests and careers by attacking the free thinkers and marginalizing them. For over 20 years, the films of Mikhail Vartanov had been suppressed, unmentioned by press, or blocked from submission to foreign film festivals, and remain today in the archives, under the control of his former suppressors and their unsuspecting or indifferent sympathizers.
In a letter to the imprisoned Parajanov, Vartanov wrote, quoting his favorite poet Boris Pasternak: “the time will come and the power of meanness and malice would be overcome by the spirit of kindness". Parajanov responded to Vartanov: "Dear Misha, I received your amazing letter... Never have you been more accurate in evaluating the world and expressing yourself...". Mikhail Vartanov’s coda was the documentary trilogy Erased Faces (1987), Minas: A Requiem (1989), and the influential masterwork Parajanov: The Last Spring (1992), made in a war-torn, blockaded Armenia, during the one hour daily limits of electricity. It reaffirmed his reputation of a master.
"In our land, the government manufactures the biography of the Artist. It honors and awards one, for nothing, and it dishonors and imprisons the other -- a wise government -- it desires to turn both into obedient slaves."
"Probably, besides the film language suggested by Griffith and Eisenstein, the world cinema has not discovered anything revolutionarily new until the 'Color of Pomegranates,' not counting the generally unaccepted language of the 'Andalusian Dog' by Bunuel."
Quotes about him
- "Vartanov...brother and friend in arts and in soil... dear, beloved, rare and wonderful. Perhaps, you're the only friend, who compels me to live... You possess everything an artist needs -- mind, kindness, principles, freedom. Create... That's your mission." (Sergei Parajanov, 1974)
- "Vartanov - the Eyemoman..." (William Saroyan, 1978)
- "My dear friend...if you like the screenplay (Desert), together we could make a masterpiece..." (Artavazd Peleshian, 1980s)
- "On January 9, came Vartanov... Parajanov's most devoted man...an amazing man...gave an amazing speech..." (Gayane Khachatryan, 1990)
- "Vartanov's film...excited and filled me with strength..." (Tonino Guerra, 1993)
- "Vartanov was an amazing intellectual, perhaps one of the last..." (Yuri Mechitov, 2010)
- "Misha Vartanov...one of the most principled and righteous men I have ever met..." (Roman Balayan, 2010)
- Golden Antelope Award (for diploma film, The Monologue of the Mask) Dakar, 1965.
- Cinematographer of the Year (for The Song of Eternity), USSR Film Festival, 1973
- Russian Academy of Cinema Arts Award (for Parajanov: The Last Spring), Moscow, 1993
- Golden Gate Award (for Parajanov: The Last Spring), San Francisco International Film Festival, 1995
- Golden Palm Award (for Parajanov: The Last Spring), Beverly Hills Film Festival, 2003
|Year||English title||Original title||Romanization||Notes|
|1969||The Color of Armenian Land||(Russian) Цвет Армянской Земли||Tsvet armyanskoy zemli||Banned debut film. Behind the scenes of Sergei Paradjanov's Color of Pomegrantes.|
|1971||Autumn Pastoral||(Russian) Осенчяя пастораль||Osenn'yaya pastoral'||Written by Artavazd Peleshian. Shelved.|
|1972||And So Every Day||(Russian) И так каждый день||I tak kazhdiy dyen'||Scored by Tigran Mansurian. Vartanov narrates for the first time. Black & white. Shelved.|
|1974||Kadjaran||(Russian) Каджаран||Kajaran'||Unfinished. Vartanov fired.|
|1975 (cinematograper)||Seasons of the Year||(Russian) Bремена Года||Vremena Goda'||Directed by Artavazd Peleshian, lensed by Vartanov.|
|1979 (cinematographer)||The Mulberry Tree||(Russian) Шелковица||Shelkovitsa'||Directed by Gennadi Melkonian, lensed by Vartanov.|
|1984||Roots||(Russian) Корни||Korni'||First directing work in 10 years. A project deemed unfilmable by all filmmakers at Armenfilm (Armenia)|
|1987||Erased Faces||(Armenian) Ջնջվաց դեմքեր||Jenjevatz demker'||Documentary trilogy, part I.|
|1989||Minas: A Requiem||(Armenian) Մինաս. ռեկվիէմ||Minas. rekviem'||Documentary trilogy, part II|
|1992||Paradjanov: The Last Spring||(English) Parajanov: The Confession||Documentary trilogy, part III|
- Letters of Sergei Parajanov to Mikhail Vartanov
- Letters of Mikhail Vartanov to Sergei Parajanov
- Mikhail Vartanov quotes on Parajanov.com
- Mikhail Vartanov on Sergei Parajanov
- Mikhail Vartanov at Parajanov.com
- Mikhail Vartanov page from Internet Movie Database
- Condestable Palace exhibition, Spain
- Mikhail Vartanov on Vanity Fair
- Channel 1 Moscow - This is Cinema TV Show on Sergei Parajanov and Mikhail Vartanov