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25 TH – THE FIRST DAY (1968) co-director with Arkadi Tyurun (10 minutes). Norstein's first film and his personal salute to Russia's leading avant-garde and post revolutionary artists. The name of the film refers to the first day of the October Revolution. He combines poetry of V. Mayakovsky, with motifs of K. Malevich and images from K. Petrov-Vodkin, A. Deneka, V. Tatlin, S. Chehonin, P. Filonov, N. Altman, Yuri Piminov, The score is taken from the 11th and 12th symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich. Both the art and music had been banned in the 20s as 'too formalistic.' Forty years later Norsten's elegant film - edited in the style of Sergey Eisenstein -- was also banned as 'too formalistic' and politically weak (Many of the politcal posters used by Norstein in this film emphasize promises made, but not kept, by Lenin.). This film has rarely been seen in Russia or the West.
THE BATTLE OF KERJENETS (1971), co-directed with Ivan Ivanov-Vano (10 minutes).
This film depicts the struggle of Russian people against foreign invaders. Ivanov-Vano recognizing Norstein's talent, gave his young protégé considerable artistic freedom during production of this film and a co-directing credit. Fresco and icon paintings in the traditions of the ancient masters are combined with music from Rimsky Korsakov's opera Tale of the Invisible City Kitezh.
FOX AND RABBIT (1973) (12 minutes)
Based on an old Russian fairy tale, this film was commissioned by a now defunct European television distributor who changed the music and effects. This version includes Norstein's original soundtrack, previously unavailable outside the former USSR . The animation is based on the folk art and colorful images found on ancient Russian prialkas, which were used for carding wool. Like BATTLE AT KERZHENETS and Norstein's first solo film, 25th -First Day, FOX AND RABBIT was animated using levels of glass, a method that Norstein would hone to a high level of sophistication in his next films. The music written by a regular member of the Norstein team, M. Meyerovitch, was inspired by folk tunes. Norstein's wife, Francesca Yarbusova, was the main artist. According to Norstein, FOX AND RABBIT is a story about the destruction of belief, justice, honesty and fear which has "big eyes"
HERON AND CRANE (1974) (10 minutes)
Norstein 's third feature is based on a Russian fairy tale. It marked the first of several collaborations among Norstein, his wife, the artist Francesca Yarbusova, and a cameraman Alexander Zhukovsky. To achieve Norstein's artistic vision, they invented a special piece of equipment which allowed them to animate on layers of glass. Norstein's original script was not approved by the studio administration. Veteran director Roman Kachanov was assigned to serve as project "supervisor" and write an acceptable script. Unbeknownst to the studio administration, Norstein filmed the original script. Thanks in great part to support from Fyodor Khitruk, Norstein's HERON AND CRANE - with Norstein credited as co-writer - was approved for distribution after numerous additional clashes with the studio management. Very Popular in the former USSR , the film also won many honors abroad.
HEDGEHOG IN THE FOG (1975) (10 minutes)
After Heron and Crane, Norstein and his team thought about making an "easy" film. Writer Sergey Kozlov brought a "a little fairy tale" about a hedgehog who one evening, as usual, went to see his friend the bear cub and count the stars. The more Norstein thought about the script, the more difficult became the creative and artistic demands of the material. And although the Norstein team consisted of only three persons (Norstein, Yarbusova and Zhukovsky), the studio imposed on them the same production schedule given to films with large crews of 30 or more. By the day the film was due to be delivered to the studio, Norstein had only 20 percent completed. The director of Soyuzmultfilm was enraged and decided to shelve the project. He sent Norstein and Zhukovsky to a Communist Party committee meeting (as members of Soyuzmultfilm) to be reprimanded for disgracing the studio. Neither Norstein nor Zhukovsky were party members, but many of their friends were. Zhukovsky arrived early with a bottle of vodka and convinced a projectionist to stay late. He insisted that members of the committee see what Norstein had accomplished before making a final decision as to the fate of the film. The sixty meters the committee viewed were so impressive that all agreed to allowNorstein to complete the film. Seen widely abroad and within the USSR .
TALE OF TALES (1978) (29 minutes)
Named the "Best Animated Film of All Time" by the Los Angeles (USA) Olympic Arts Festival, the film weaves threads of realism and nostalgia with consummate artistry. At its core are a popular Russian lullaby, Pablo Picasso's minotaur, and images of the lost glories of Alexander Pushkin and the golden age of Russian literature.
1980 Lille (France) International Festival of Films Jury Grand Prize
1980 Zagreb (Yugoslavia) International Festival of Animated Cartoon Films, Grand Prize
1980 Ottawa (Canada) International Animation Film Festival, First Prize1984 Los Angeles (USA) Olympic Arts Festival "Best Animated Film of All Time
Interview with Yuri Norstein excerpted from the documentary about russian animation "MAGIA RUSSICA" (2004) (15 minutes)