Archive for January 6, 2022

January 6, 2022

Posted in FILM, history, Human Rights, Life and What about It, Literature with tags , , , , , , , on January 6, 2022 by Louise Steinman

from “State Funeral,” Sergei Loznitza , (film release 2021; footage, 1953)

I’m walking the Silverlake staircases, listening to the audio version of Colm Toibin’s marvelous novel, The Magician, about Thomas Mann.   I’m struck to learn how slow Thomas Mann was to understand the dangers posed by the National Socialists in Germany. Mann held such a deep belief in the staying power of German culture, a world of cosmopolitanism, a culture that treasured Wagner and Mahler, Goethe and Rilke. He was convinced those Nazis would “go away.” Even as his eldest son and daughter Klaus and Erica became vocal anti-Nazis, Mann remained unperturbed. After the Nuremberg rally in 1933, his son Golo literally cut out articles from different German papers and laid them out on the dining room table. Look at these, he demanded of his father. “One article says 40,000 attended. Another says 100,000. They will not go away.”

For a break from reading about the rise of the Third Reich, I watched the unsettling and mesmerizing film, “State Funeral” by the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitza (viewable on http://www.mubi.com).  

The film begins: “In the Afternoon of March 5, at 21 hours, 50 minutes, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin died. “ Sergei Loznitza’s assemblage of color and black and white film shot in the Soviet Union in 1953, constitute  “official obsequies” for the death of the mass murderer Stalin, whose body lies in state, in a red-draped coffin surrounded by mounds of lush flowers, “like a Marxist-Leninist Ophelia.” (The Guardian). One doesn’t know how much is real, how much is staged, but the somber sorrowful stupefaction of everyone from schoolchildren to loggers, from Kazakh villagers to Muscovites, is unanimous. (We do not see the zeks in the labor camps however, doff their hats.) Busses halt. Conductors and ticket takers stand with hands on their hearts. Steam engines blast their whistles, factories ring their alarms, soldiers and civilians remove their hats in unison, a portrait of the Great Leader is swung into place via a ginormous crane, like a scene from Fellini.   The film is mesmerizing, hundreds of the best cameramen in the Soviet Union were the camera crew; no expense spared.

There’s a provocative conversation afterwards, between a wildly gesticulating Italian director, Pietro Marcello, and the bemused Loznitza, talking about the import of the work. As I watched the film on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, this quote from Loznitza especially struck me:

“The thought I wanted to express in this film is very simple- Stalin is allegorical of all these people, who have a little Stalin in them, who share all these outlooks, and who compose, like little bricks of this whole apparatus of totalitarian human destruction.

Every time I turn to that time in my mind, and see those picture, which magnetise me too… every time I’m struck by that paradox that unfolds before my eyes. Understanding the nightmare, people, just like these mice, follow the piper, the one who plays the pipe to their doom. “

“Understanding the nightmare, people, just like these mice, follow the piper, the one who plays the pipe to their doom. “

Sergei Loznitza, film director

January 6, 2022

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