Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cossack Musical Theatre (Many Spoilers)

The coolest thing about this story of legendary Cossack Taras Bulba (my people are from this same land between Ukraine and Poland) is that the Cossacks often break out in riotous drinking songs complete with choreography when they get together to party. Only this movie is NOT a musical. It's a historical drama about a man and his two sons - and the clash between 'civilization' and tradition.

IMBD called it a "Romeo and Juliet" story that takes place in the late 16c. Ukraine. That is true but add that this film has grand vistas, soaring music and exciting battle scenes and you start to get a sense how grand this story tries to be. The music is overpowering as every emotion seems to come with it's own musical accompaniment. I feel like I have been ridden hard after watching charging horsemen for 10 minutes. It's takes that much out of you.

The Cossacks were the horsemen of the steppe land. Their horsemanship was legendary and to see a mass of Cossack cavalrymen coming over the hill was a fearful sight indeed. Their savagery in battle is well documented and well earned.

Tony Curtis plays the oldest of Taras' two sons Ostap. He is the passionate one, the one with stars in his eyes for adventure. His younger brother, Andriy is more quiet and studious but both are Cossacks through and through.

Living amongst the Poles made these boys hate the Poles more, not understand or sympathize with them. Taras' long term plan was a good one when he sent his two boys to study at the Polish University - "Learn the ways of your enemy now so that you use that knowledge to fight him later".

The sound is terrific. I could really hear the pounding of horsehoves thundering through my headphones. I enjoyed watching these Cossacks throw a party or many parties. They really know how to stage a good bear fight.

Yul Brynner is awesome as Taras Bulba, a man out of his time who can see the future. He knows his way of life is dying. He hangs onto everything that is good about Cossack life - the wild women(!), the drinking, the fighting, the general debauchery, the unsanitary eating habits, the comradery, the killing, the pillaging ect... It's all that tambourine music I think. Drives the ladies wild.

Bulba is a man to be respected. A man not easy to impress but who is eternally loyal to his friends and ruthless with his enemies. He's a mad prophet, make no mistake about that but he is the ultimate product of his culture and their 1000s years on the Steppes. What he does he has to do BECAUSE he is a Cossack. That is the tragedy here. Tarus couldn't see the other side of the conflict, couldn't see past his hate and that hate created a blindspot - a blindspot that the Poles exploited fully.

In that way the story is very Shakespearean.

There are some really nice army on horseback set pieces here. It looks like they had a cast of thousand to work with. It's an old school Hollywood historical epic and the fighting scenes done by extras on horseback is spectacular and huge. Hundreds of men and their animals fill the screen. No CGI needed. It is very impressive to watch the control they had over all of these people when the fight between the two armies began. No second takes here.

There are also interesting little things like the 8 guys lifting a timber to seal the gate of the town - not necessary to the plot but it gave the viewer some idea of the scale of doors the Cossacks had to breach.

First the horsies go one way then the horsies go the other way and they did that all as explosions are going off around them from castle cannon fire. Like I just said, impressive.

And then we are back to the partying. I swear. I would attack these horsemen after one of their parties. They all will have passed out piss drunk so killing them would be simple. Imagine how many barrels of booze the Cossacks would have needed to actually wage a war. When they ran out hooch there would have been chaos. Not good if you want to actually HOLD the land you had just taken in battle.

I loved the way they called each other 'Cossack' like two black guys would address each other with the 'N' word...something like "Cossack Please".

This one has some powerful acting in it and it's very effective at how it tells it's story. I had tears in this one - ACTUAL human tears. Not since 'The Blind Side' have I wept so openly.

Makes me proud to be a filthy Cossack. Don't give me alcohol, gasoline or matches.



DEZMOND said...

I loved the movie (although if they asked me I wouldn't put Curtis in it), but the book itself was my favourite when I was a teen since I read tones of Russian classics in those days. Although it's shorter than usual Russian classics, it has everything in it that a reader might require.

Kal said...

Curtis seems out of place in anything that isn't a musical comedy. He's not a tough guy and he can't play a tough guy. There is just something about his line readings that are 'off'.

Have you ever read 'Michael Strogonof'? I remember seeing a German mini-series about the book but all I can remember is that the hero is blided but gets his sight back after being in a lake on fire.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

If the fiercest Cossacks are bald like Yul Brynner, then you've got it going on, Cal!

DEZMOND said...

yep, and it's kinda offensive to the original novel and the depth of the whole story to have someone as light as Curtis in the lead role, but Yul was great as always.
No, I haven't read MICHAEL STROGONOF but it does sound kinda familiar, I love mini series adaptations.