Jaunā Gaita nr. 93, 1973

JG 93

The film has undoubtedly become the most popular art form of the 20th century; and precisely because it is a "popular art", the cinema not only reflects, but also helps shape the tastes and cultural attitudes of the society it serves. The increasingly liberal codes of the last decade meant greater freedom of expression in motion pictures as well; but recently, films like Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris have once more aroused violent debates about the moral implications of cinematic art. Should any artistic medium be subject to censorship? In this issue of JG, two film directors, Vilis Lapenieks and Leo Ozols, discuss the aesthetic standarts, artistic freedom, and technological competence that shape and influence filmmaking.

Lapenieks has had a long and distinguished career as actor, teacher, and director in theatre as well as cinema. His version of the 20th century classic, The Fisherman's Son, was the most successful Latvian "art film" made between the two World Wars, while his One Who Does Not Exist remains the only narrative Latvian film made in exile. In an interview published here, Lapenieks is quite critical of the artistic merits of films made in Soviet Latvia, which all too frequently are limited by ideological dictates from Moscow and the comparatively poor Soviet techniques in color cinematography. Exerpts from his memoirs recount some amusingand occasionally startling stories about the early year s of the Latvian film industry and about the political pressures with which Latvian theatre and film directors have had to grapple, not only during the Russian and German occupations, but also under the pre-World War II Ulmanis regime. Leo Ozols, who is best known for his documentary films, contributes an essay on "the new morality" in cinema. He deplores that too many producers, often concerned only about making money, have misinterpreted the concept of liberation from old social tabus as signifying only sexual permissiveness. In truth, submission to any organized system of ideology, or to any moral code, be it social, political, or sexual, results in intellectual slavery; and artistic freedom involves many other issues besides erotic explicitness. Both Ozols and Lapenieks agree that mere pornography in films ultimately bores the viewing public, whereas absolute honesty in the presentation of all controversial material must be a prerequisite for artistic expression.

"Some Careless Lines About Poetry - A Moralizing Pamphlet", by Richards Rīdzinieks, is an ironic - sometimes kindly, sometimes stinging - essay on post-World War II Latvian poetry. While apparently reproaching some writers about lack of respect for "tradition", the author parodies that very tradition through his use of language. Neither poets nor poetry critics, neither Beckettian minimalism nor resonant amplitude escape a tongue-lashing. Ridzinieks' own poems exhibit, on one hand, a curiously old fashioned idiom, on the other, the ability not to take any of it seriously. Juris Mazutis' poetry is thematically harsh, even cynical - yet his images are almost deliberately "poetic"; while Baiba Bičole expresses emotionally charged thoughts in language of beautifully comtrolled simplicity.

The exploration of abnormal psychological states has been one of the more popular post-Freudian subjects of literature. After the first quarter of our century, science fiction, having moved out of the pulp magazines, also has exerted great fascination upon the reading public - one need only mention the works of Huxley, Orwell, Vonnegut, or Asimov. This issue of JG contributes to both genres. Jānis Klidzējs' short story, "The Other", explores in horrifying detail the various gradations of manic depression and "the split personality"; the changes in style reflect the fluctuations of the protagonist's state of mind. Henrijs Moors' futuristic tale, "The Living Wax Museum", says nothing thematically new; the story of people transported to a future age (here via deep-freeze) has been used again and again. However, it is the degree of empathy that Moors exhibits in the psychological portrayal of his characters, coupled with the hope that even in a Huxleyan "brave new world" the longing to live as a mere human being, with all the attendant pains and extasies, will survive, that lends an unusual force to the story.

Juris Kessels' essay on "Siberian Parallelisms" compares Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground and Solzhenitzin's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. Perhaps it is redundant to compare once more the two most passionate and effective Russian prose stylists; but, as Kessels points out, the czarist labor camp became a catalyst of philosophical development for Dostoevsky's hero, while the much harsher conditions of Ivan Denisovitch's punishment required the mere ability to survive. Literature, even more than the film, is a portrait of its time.

I. -L

Leo Ozols

Jaunā Gaita