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How 'Skazka Skazok' (Tale of Tales) was made.

From the letter of Lyudmila Petrushevskaya (co-writer) to Yuri Norstein (director/animator)

…Now, Yura, we approach the beginning of my letter, towards that March of 1976, when you phoned me and proposed to write the script for your new film about your war time childhood. But I could not write the script at that time and I told you that I was eight months pregnant. We did not see each other for four months, and then you arrived at my house to begin working on the screenplay. We rolled the carriage with my three-month old son Fedya outside. When we walked, he kept silent; once I would take him out of the carriage, he’d start crying. To calm him down and to work fruitfully on the script, we would walk tens of kilometers. It seemed like Fedya would listen to our loud discussions. He cried a lot. Thus, the child was also born in the script – from the leaf of paper. And that child also cried a lot.

Yura, you would bring me the piles of books – mostly romantic poetry – Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Nazim Hikmet. You brought the rare Art book with Picasso’s drawings; You were floating above the Earth. All of this was supposed to make me think of greatness. The war heroes who would go to front on train. You saw their return with the victory, you could remember great salutes. You were also charmed by the small poem of Nazim Hikmet "Tale of Tales": "Above the river stands plane tree. Cat sits. I sit. Cat will leave first. Then I will leave. Then, plane tree will leave. But the river will be eternally ". Something like that.

You wanted film about all this. You were full of poetry. As a result I devised a hero - a poet. He writes verses on the leaflets. Leaflets fly to the different people. As for me, I was full of milk and all I could think of were children. Therefore, from one leaflet in the scenario the baby should’ve been borne… Furthermore, it turned out that you needed one additional hero - a Little Grey Wolf from the old lullaby “There Will Come a Little Grey Wolf” - “Sleep my baby and don’t lie on the edge. There Will Come a Little Grey Wolf and will grasp your little flank and will take you to the woods and will leave you under trees". You wanted the film’s title to be “There Will Come a Little Grey Wolf ". How could we mix all of this - a poet, a wolf, my baby, war, the verses of Hikmet, plane tree, river, cat, and the Picasso’s drawings? How?

With all that, Yura, don’t forget, that you had insisted on putting your wartime childhood into the script. But when the war was over, you were only four and I was almost seven. During the war I had been a beggar, a vagrant girl of war. We had lived with my grandmother and my aunt without electricity, fed from the garbage-containers. I had seen everything. I remember early morning of May 9, 1945. At 4 am, there were cries, and gun shots on the street. I rushed bare-footed outside. People were running in the dark. The entire day, they sung, danced, drunk, sobbed, dragged the re-banged wounded soldiers from the hospitals on their shoulders. The music was everywhere – orchestras, accordions, gramophones. In the evening, there was a real firework at the Volga –river. Using the advantage of the three years age difference, I had taught you the truth of life. I would tell you the stories about families, neighbors and the stores. You also began to tell me about your neighbors in your old house. How the stoves were heated in the two-story barracks. How the couples danced accompanied with the accordion. But you needed poetry, too.
I thought that nothing would come out of it. How could you combine all of it together? The cat and the wolf, your wooden house covered with snow and the plane tree at the river, the war and the antique Picasso?

I wrote a script. The authorities immediately forbade us to use the title “There Will Come a Little Grey Wolf". They perceived in it some ominous prediction, perhaps the threat. It infuriated you, and you named your film “Tale of Tales”. It sounded somehow presumptuously, but it came from the Nazim Hikmet’s poem.

Only after you had finished the film, I began (just began) to understand your concept. I’ve seen “Tale of Tales” no less than 50 times but nevertheless the mystery still remains. It was the combination of incompatible. It was a symphony with the different themes. One character went through entire film – Little Gray Wolf, the small creature, the war child. The eternal soul, who freely attends the Golden Age, the peaceful abode where a happy fisherman lives with his family, where a little chubby baby lies (quietly) in his pram and his older sister in the ball dress and hat jumps through the rope in the company of the Picasso’s bull…Where Yura himself and his wife Francesca live eternally under the plane tree; the wife washes clothes and he goes fishing; where they always have dinner outside, and their cat Murka is with them and their guests – a bald poet with lyre and a random young man, free of material possessions, a pensive passer-by.. The Little Wolf also lives in a sparkling modern night city with the roaring cars on the highway. Where the prewar girls always dance like the butterflies under the lamp, with their cavaliers and always plays the tango of those 1940s, the famous "The Tired Sun"...Where the soldiers always depart to the War…Where they come back but not all of them… Where the wet bushes of lilac around the funeral table drop the tears above the glass of vodka that is left for those killed and is covered with the piece of bread according the Russian custom. My God, how much I cried every time when I watched this film! …

Now days, they show it on TV almost each anniversary of Victory. But then, do you remember, Yura? They forbade it immediately, "this will be incomprehensible for the people!" We discussed the situation on the telephone. In order to save the film, someone advised us to write the narration. I tried - it did not work out. It simply could not be done. Having being the experienced forbidden author, I became angry – I’ve been often advised to write the happy endings for my stories with the promises to publish them. Do you remember what I told you? “This film will enter all textbooks of cinema! Don’t worry and change nothing in it!”

But miracle occurred. Do you remember, you called me in the beginning of November? – “Lyusya!”, you said in disbelief, “they gave me The State Award “ Yuri Norstein, the artist, Francesca Narbusova, and the cameraman, Zhukovsky were rewarded with the main Award of the Soviet State for their cartoons. It was a miracle. I laughed. We both laughed on the telephone for long time but we should’ve cried from happiness. Francesca sewed an amazing dress from the inexpensive woolen shawles. If I remember correctly, Yura, you did not even have a decent suit to put on for the ceremony. You went even without the necktie. Given a short speech in the Kremlin, you thanked your parents (but not the party, nor the government as the others did)… They began to show ”Tale of Tales” at the evening screening in one cinema, among other four cartoons. That had been going on for the whole year. First we knew nothing about it but some rumors had reached us: that it was impossible to buy the tickets for the screening, that the long lines of people would form... You told me once with the laughter that an American producer, after arriving to Moscow and after watching the "Tale of Tales" told you that no more than thirty six people in the whole world would understand it, but there will be always a room for you in his house.

Once, my American translator, Alma Low came to Moscow and I decided to take her to the movies to see “Tale of Tales”. In order to get two tickets, I told the administrator that I was a co-writer and I’d like the American professor who came especially from the USA to see the film. It was the complete truth but it felt so awkward – like I had been telling lies. Our film was fourth of six. As soon as “Tale of Tales”, began, a young man who sat in front of us, opened his briefcase, took out a candy bar and started to unwrap it with the loud crunch. At the same moment, three hands from three different sides lay on his shoulders (one of the hands was mine). The young man got scared and closed the case. Something strange was going on. The audience watched the film, all twenty six minutes of it in the reverential silence. Neither whisper nor rustle. Not a single squeak. When the film ended, almost all arose and left the theater. Only the young man with the briefcase remained (in total amazement). The lights were turned on even though the show was not over.
I know the man who has seen our film sixteen times. Then, he bought the tickets for all old ladies in his apartment building and took them to see “Tale of Tales”...
...In the summer of 1980, Yura, you and I began working on the screenplay for the film based on Gogol’s “Shinel” (“Overcoat”)

Several years later, you were expelled from the pavilion of studio "Soyuzmultfilm", for constant being behind the schedule. You became unemployed. But you had shot twenty minutes of “Overcoat” about which I will repeat my words , “This film will enter all textbooks of cinema”.
Now you have your own workshop that you have rebuilt by your own hands from the former militia-post and you continue to work. You make your small masterpieces and dream about finishing “Overcoat” – if they don’t expel you from your workshop again. But this is how the world is arranged – we live in the normal country that first chases its Artists and then builds the museums for those whom it expelled. – translated from Russian (GK)

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."


Just saw Tales of Tales around a week ago, simply beautiful; just as this letter, thanks a lot for it.