. 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
. He remains little known outside of a small circle of intellectuals, and his followers.
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
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors , also called Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, Shadows of Our Ancestors, or Wild Horses of Fire – is a 1964 film by the Soviet-Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov based on the book by Ukrainian writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky...
and the test footage of the unfinished Kiev Frescoes
Friendship with Sergei Parajanov
Mikhail Vartanov met Sergei Parajanov in 1967 in Armenia
Armenia , officially the Republic of Armenia , is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia...
and shared his thoughts about the screenplay of the masterpiece The Color of Pomegranates
The Color of Pomegranates is a 1968 Armenian film directed by Sergei Parajanov.-Overview:The Color of Pomegranates is a biography of the Armenian ashug Sayat-Nova that attempts to reveal the poet's life visually and poetically rather than literally...
(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
Martiros Saryan was an Armenian painter.He was born into an Armenian family in Nor Nakhijevan . In 1895, aged 15, he completed the Nakhichevan school and from 1897 to 1904 studied at the Moscow School of Arts, including in the workshops of Valentin Serov and Konstantin Korovin...
, also featured Vartanov’s friends, the dissident artists Minas Avetisyan
- Biography :Minas Avetisyan was born in the village of Jajur, Armenia. His mother, Sofo, was a daughter of the priest from Kars. His father, Karapet, was a smith from Mush. His wife was Gayane Mamajanyan....
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
Tigran Mansurian is an Armenian composer of classical music and film scores. He was born in Beirut and educated in Yerevan, Armenia, where his family had moved in 1947...
-- was shelved. After Sergei Parajanov
was arrested in Kiev in 1973, Mikhail Vartanov immediately protested to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...
. 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
A cinematographer is one photographing with a motion picture camera . The title is generally equivalent to director of photography , used to designate a chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film, responsible for achieving artistic and technical decisions related to the image...
on two films that became classics: The Seasons of the Year
(1975) and The Mulberry Tree
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
Cahiers du Cinéma is an influential French film magazine founded in 1951 by André Bazin, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Joseph-Marie Lo Duca. It developed from the earlier magazine Revue du Cinéma involving members of two Paris film clubs — Objectif 49 and...
, 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
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was a Russian language poet, novelist, and literary translator. In his native Russia, Pasternak's anthology My Sister Life, is one of the most influential collections ever published in the Russian language...
: “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
William Saroyan was an Armenian American dramatist and author. The setting of many of his stories and plays is the center of Armenian-American life in California in his native Fresno.-Early years:...
- "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
Tonino Guerra is an Italian poet, writer and screenwriter who has collaborated with some of the most prominent film directors of the world.-Biography:Guerra was born in Santarcangelo di Romagna....
- "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
|| English title
|| Original title
|| The Color of Armenian Land
|| Цвет Армянской Земли
|| Tsvet armyanskoy zemli
|| Banned debut film. Behind the scenes of Sergei Paradjanov's Color of Pomegrantes.
|| Autumn Pastoral
|| Осенчяя пастораль
|| Osenn'yaya pastoral
|| Written by Artavazd Peleshian. Shelved.
|| And So Every Day
|| И так каждый день
|| I tak kazhdiy dyen
|| Scored by Tigran Mansurian. Vartanov narrates for the first time. Black & white. Shelved.
|| Unfinished. Vartanov fired.
| 1975 (cinematograper)
|| Seasons of the Year
|| Bремена Года
|| Vremena Goda
|| Directed by Artavazd Peleshian, lensed by Vartanov.
| 1979 (cinematographer)
|| The Mulberry Tree
|| Directed by Gennadi Melkonian, lensed by Vartanov.
|| First directing work in 10 years. A project deemed unfilmable by all filmmakers at Armenfilm (Armenia)
|| Erased Faces
|| Ջնջվաց դեմքեր
|| Jenjevatz demker
|| Documentary trilogy, part I.
|| Minas: A Requiem
|| Մինաս. ռեկվիէմ
|| Minas. rekviem
|| Documentary trilogy, part II
|| Paradjanov: The Last Spring
|| Parajanov: The Confession
|| Documentary trilogy, part III