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“Tales from the Don” in Cinema: Memories of the Screenwriter

30.03.2016

A series of films were made on the base of the early short stories by M.A.Sholokhov (“The Foal”, “The Don Story”, “The Shame-Child”, “A Mortal Enemy”, “Unbidden Love”). The screenplays were written by a Leningrad author A.Y.Vitol, the State Prize winner, Honoured Worker of Arts of the RSFSR.

In 1998, Arnold Yanovich transferred to the National M.A.Sholokhov Museum-Reserve a part of his archives connected with his work on the film adaptation of Sholokhov’s works. Among the numerous interesting materials a special place is taken by his memories “Whirlwind of Life”.

A.Vitol remembers his work on making the film “The Foal”: “By all its meaning, by the fate of a foolish foal rushing between the Reds and the Whites the film, undoubtedly, rebelled… against violence and military confrontation of people. As always with Sholokhov, a clear class position multiplied by the compassionate philanthropy, no matter what camp this or that personage got into, saved from the attacks of vigilant superiors. A Red Army man, the owner of the “sinned mare”, performed with a captivating discouragement by the young Yevgeny Matveyev, did not dare to kill the foal disturbing the detachment. On the other hand, a White officer in cold blood fired at a man carrying a sucker foal on his hands from the Don rapids to the invitingly neighing mother on the banks…

The poetic mood of Sholokhov’s prose, which we tried to show on the screen, particularly impressed the strict jury of the international film festival of short films in West German Oberhausen, despite the cold war winds raging in the world, and we (A.Vitol and film director V.Fetin) were awarded the prize “For Humanism”.

After the first two films (“The Foal” and “The Shame-Child”) I ventured to film the story “Shibalok’s Family”. A book text takes only four pages, but the screenplay of the “The Don Story” has made a full-length film.

* I have made it as if going from the reverse, – he excused himself to Sholokhov, – and allowed myself to broaden the story of the tragic love of Shibalok to Darya using several episodes from the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don”. I even included the episode of shooting up the orchestra playing “The Internationale”, which for some reason was not included in the film of Sergei Gerasimov. Do you disagree?

* I am far from your “technology”, – the writer answered, – of course, my early stories were based on those personal observations of mine, which were later splashed out in the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don”. You have the right to seek in it a support for filming, though earlier, for some reason, they didn’t draw the film-makers’ attention.

Other two film adaptations of the stories “The Wife of Two Husbands” and “Alien Blood” also went back to the young years of the writer and were much autobiographical. You may wonder how the first books of the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don” could be born by Sholokhov’s pen at such an early age, then can’t those autobiographical heat-lightnings be a prelude to the brightest flashes of the

rapidly maturing talent? The revolutionary time was tightly compressed, and in the vortex of the unprecedented upheavals of the Russian life a whole generation of young writers, poets and artists was raised.

The filming of “The Wife of Two Husbands” was a debut of a young film director Yevgeny Matveyev. He entitled his first film “The Mortal Enemy”, though only few fragments were taken from this story, for the main point was the drama of Anna, who turned to be a wife of two husbands.

When working over the film “Unbidden Love” (“Alien Blood” by Sholokhov) I met with Vladimir Monakhov, the prominent cameraman. This film is “a serious reflection about the bitter fate of an ordinary Cossack family. Their only son, the breadwinner of the family, was hacked to death in battle by the Reds. But then, the old man and woman with a great difficulty nursed a severely wounded lad from the food detachment taking compassion on him. Though he was alien in blood, they took a strong liking to him, let an unbidden love into their orphaned house.”

The success of the “The Don Story” was undoubtedly fostered by Yevgeny Leonov. The “Lenfilm” art council opposed his acting the role of simple-hearted, ingenuous Red Army man Trofim. Especially as after the film “The Striped Voyage” comic roles stuck to him even stronger. But it was while working over the comedy full of unimaginable tricks, that Fetin could feel in the actor his desire for profound emotions and quite different roles. Now I can hardly imagine, who could more sincerely, with such an inner pain, show a gamut of Shibalok’s feelings to the traitress Darya.

I should note that the screenplay of “The Don Story” was passed with difficulties. The Moscow editors disliked very much that Shibalok shot up Darya, who had born a child, for her treason. We filmed the culmination of the tragedy, which necessarily contributed to the essence of the whole film. Withal, the authority of Sholokhov, who approved the screenplay, was of great help.

The “Mosfilm” and “Lenfilm” companies suggested continuing the theme of the Don tales. I thought I wouldn’t like to come to repeating, and above all, I felt uneasy “to occupy” alone Sholokhov’s works so persistently. And Mikhail Alexandrovich in our long talk in the hotel “Moskva” once said:

* Give up this early Sholokhov! Can’t it be so interesting for people today? There are plenty of other subjects, and even more interesting. You’ve got to know our Don life well. Take it up yourself, there have been lots of interesting stories by now.

I didn’t dare to follow Sholokhov’s prompt, but the film adaptation of “Tales from the Don” went on in different studios. I tried various themes and genres in the screenplays for the cinema and television. However, “Sholokhov beginning” for a long time continued warming my soul.”

 

Arnold Yanovich Vitol (May 30, 1922–February 22, 2000) was a Soviet and Russian playwright, journalist and biographer. He was Honoured Worker of Arts of the RSFSR (1980), a winner of the RSFSR State Prize (1980) and the Order of Merit (1966). He was a veteran of the Great Patriotic War.

After the war was over he entered the faculty of journalism of the Leningrad State University, which he graduated from in 1949. He joined cinematography in 1945, worked as editor of screenwriting department and as editor in chief of the “Lenfilm”association. From 1959, he began writing screenplays. From 1962, he worked for the newspaper “Leningradskaya Pravda”, headed the department of culture of the Leningrad City Executive Committee and then headed the Cinemafication Office of Leningrad. He was the author of biographical articles and essays.

 

Prepared by Valentina Leonova