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Submitted by Nicky Smith
Thursday, March 7th, 1985
Clutural detente that ended in discord
It would be difficult to imagine a more colourful and splendid subject for a major Anglo-Soviet film venture than the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. It is a feast of music and dance spanning her life from her origins in St Petersburg to her triumphs in the West.
But only days before the British royal premiére on Sunday, the film's Soviet director, Emil Lotianou (Loteanu) has denounced the western version as a travesty and appealed to British film-goers to have the original restored.
Anna Pavlova, five years in the making, was financed by the Anglo-Cypriot producer Frixos Constantine of Poseidon films and supervised by the British director Michael Powell. Bruce Forsyth and Roy Kinnear are among those with cameo roles. The star, Galina Belyaeva (Belyayeva) is Russian.
The 49-year-old Lotianou, best known for his 1976 film Tabor, is a poet as well as a film-maker. He is angry because he feels the very term "western version" violates the Anglo-Soviet agreement, which "specifically and authoritatively states that the film is to be made in one single version for all world sales".
Lotianou will not be at the London premiére at the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road. He told me he had devoted five years to Anna Pavlova - in fact a quarter of a century from the moment, at the beginning of his film career, when he was given a book abut her and first thought she would make marvellous material for a film.
There were always tensions behind the scenes at Mosfilm, where the final version of Pavlova was edited - tensions over length, and ultimately over differing concepts. Lotianou's version is nearly three hours long and emotional in the Russian manner. The Powell-Constantine version in English is much shorter. "They have not destroyed my film completely." Lotianou said. "But it is bitter to see the ruins of one's own creation."
He complains that the contract specifically obliged the British side to give him a say in the English version, yet the Pavlova to be shown on Sunday was made "without my agreement or participation," and its integrity and style had suffered. "Had I known at the outset that the contract would be broken, I would not have made the film at all."
Lotianou said he has warm feelings for James Fox who plays Anna's husband and manager, Viktor d'André, and the other British participants, both cast and crew. "They put up with my intolerable character very well." But, he went on, British film-goers would be misled. The interference with his work, he said, went far beyond the limits of professional ethics and civilized relations". The English version had been cut with "insensitive scissors. The result contrasted badly with the Pavlova which had had eight million Soviet viewers in ecstasy.
"I remember watching the final version at Mosfilm with Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro. There is - or was - an episode in which Pavlova's train stops in the desert sands. I meant that as a symbol of the crisis every true artist faces. Anna, this small and fragile woman, siezes her suitcase and declares herself ready to cross the desert. Scorsese said this was the best scene, and I agree - but British viewers will not see it. It has vanished, along with much of the music. The music was the film's nerve centre, its explosive emotionality.
"Both sides should have observed the contract and ethical obligations. As it is, the film will be shown in a distorted version. I hope that on Sunday all those who remember and love Pavlova will lay flowers at her grave (She died in Holland in January 1931 and was cremated at Golder's Green.) I hope also that my fellow film-makers and British filmgoers will work for the original film to appear on western screens.
Replying to Lotianou yesterday, Constantine said that every change made in the film had been with the agreement of the Soviet authorities, who had sent representatives to supervise the English editing. That editing had been essential, he added, because "Western audiences are not used to slow, long films, as Russian audiences are; they would not sit through a three-hour version".
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