A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 291 – Jack Frost (Morozko)

Jack Frost (Morozko) – December 16th, 2010

This movie is one we purchased specifically for this project. We didn’t own it when we started and we weren’t planning on buying it. But when we started this whole thing and started to really consider what it was that we were going to be watching, we added some titles. We’d seen this as an MST3K episode before. It’s one of our favorites. And I’d read a few things online from MST3K fans who also had fond memories of this movie being a childhood favorite in Finland and Russia around Christmas time. It wasn’t really all that hard for us to convince each other that we needed to find a copy of this and add it to our collection for Christmas.

We’ve always rather liked this movie, even with the jokes made at its expense. It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s that it’s got a lot of silliness and it’s from the 1960s and has dated special effects. It’s a folktale at its heart, and I can’t fault the story or the acting or the special effects. To be quite honest, I find it all charming in the same way I find any of my own childhood favorites charming and I can totally see why this would captivate a kid.

My biggest criticism, really, is the rhyming. From what we could tell, the original Russian does have a rhyming cadence to a lot of the lines, and that’s fine. For a fairy tale that’s not entirely unheard of and I can see how it would work. Unfortunately, the subtitling tried to follow suit. Now, I have done poetic translation. It’s not easy at all, because you have to decide if you want to sacrifice something. You have to be really good to maintain everything in a poetic translation. The rhyme scheme, if there is one, the meter, the mood. It’s hard to put it all in a translation. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the rhyming to keep the feel and the point. And while we’re not dealing with an award winning piece of literature here there is a certain narrative that has to be maintained. The dubbed version used for MST3K doesn’t seem to try and force the rhymes. I noticed a lot of lines in common, but the rhyming was kept to a minimum. And that’s a good thing, because in the subtitling? It is so labored and so forced and so utterly bizarre in places. There are definitely words used just for the sake of the rhyme, not because they mean anything pertinent. I found it horribly distracting, especially since some of the worst instances don’t even rhyme in American English.

Rhyming issues aside, I do like the story here. It’s got a few convoluted bits, but for the most part it’s a solid story with some very familiar elements. There’s a bit of Cinderella and a bit of Hansel and Gretel, there’s Baba Yaga and there’s some themes of humility and kindness. There are two major players in the story: Nastenka, a girl living with her father, stepmother and stepsister. Of course the stepmother is mean and favors her own daughter, ordering Nastenka around and threatening to chop off her beautiful braid. And then there’s Ivan, a boastful young man who leaves his home to seek his fortune and the girl of his dreams. Ivan runs into Grandfather Mushroom, whom he offends. When he meets Nastenka later and offends her too he ends up turned into a bear by Grandfather Mushroom. Ivan runs off and Nastenka is left to be banished to the woods by her stepmother. But all is not lost! Thanks to her kind nature she befriends Jack Frost, who takes her to his home and promises all will be okay. Ivan, on the other hand, has to break the curse and then find Baba Yaga to help him save Nastenka.

It’s the end where it gets a little convoluted, with Ivan turning into a bear and Nastenka getting taken in by Jack Frost and the whole Baba Yaga encounter that eventually leads to Nastenka and Ivan being attacked by bandits. But when watching the movie it’s not hard to follow. It’s just a lot to explain. That’s not a bad thing, really. It’s kind of nice to see a story that’s not oversimplified but still isn’t confusing. There are some bits that aren’t terribly well fleshed out, and Ivan manages to break the curse not by doing a good deed as he was told to, but by intending to do a good deed, which is an odd lesson to impart. But for the most part it’s simply a fun story. It would be kind of interesting to see it made now, but there’s definitely a charm to it as it is and I’m glad we have it.

December 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jack Frost (Morozko)

December 16, 2010

Jack Frost (Morozko)

This is not the Michael Keaton movie with the possessed snowman. Nor is it the cheesy horror movie of the same title. Instead this is the 1964 Russian fairy tale. Amanda and I were delighted when we were able to find this DVD in the original Russian with English subtitles since we had seen the American dub so many times as an episode of MST3K. It makes it into our Christmas collection because Amanda had heard that this was traditional Christmas viewing in Russia and Finland. It kind of makes sense that this magical adventure with its winter theme and lush production values would make great winter solstice viewing, especially in Soviet Russia when anything overtly religious or Christmasy would have been forbidden.

This is the magical tale of two young people who will of course inevitably fall in love. There’s Nastenka, an industrious and beautiful young girl who is cruelly forced to do chores by her domineering step-mother. Then there’s Ivan, the brash handsome youth who cares about nothing beyond himself. Fairy tale things happen to them. Nastenka must accomplish impossible tasks at her step-mother’s request. Ivan must learn humility and discover that there are people besides himself worth caring for.

For the most part this movie is made up of very familiar tales and tropes. Indeed I think the parts that are not instantly familiar to me are probably recognisable to the target audience of Russian children. The story of Nastenka as the much abused step-daughter clearly has its root in whatever folk tale also gave rise to Cinderella. Then there’s Baba Yaga the Russian witch with her chicken-legged house who flies in a mortar. I’m familiar with her mostly due to the writings of Neil Gaiman who uses her a couple times in different works, but I know she’s a traditional Russian fairy tale villain. Morozko himself, the Jack Frost of the title, is a fairly self-explanatory magical figure – the elderly gentleman responsible for coating all the trees in frost as winter begins (by means of his magical scepter.) But then there’s the little magical dwarf with the mushroom hat – I feel sure that if I knew my Russian folk-lore better he’d also be a familiar figure, but I don’t so he’s just a strange little fellow who puts a curse on Ivan to teach him a lesson. There’s a whole plot point where Ivan is given the head of a bear until he can break his egotistical ways which I’m sure is part of another popular Russian folk tale, but which is unique to this movie for me.

There’s a sing-song rhyming quality to a lot of the original Russian dialog in this movie. This was a great discovery for me since I’m so used to the English dub, which doesn’t feature that. This is probably a good thing since the subtitles attempt to do the rhyming thing and end up just seeming goofy – I think this is definitely a case where the original language clearly does something that cannot be replicated with sub-titles or a dub. On the other hand I never would have noticed the constant rhyming in the Russian if I hadn’t been reading the awkward and non-sensical subtitles. Once it became clear to me what the subtitles were trying to replicate I ignored them and listened to the Russian and I could hear the cadence and the rhymes.

I was impressed, however, by how closely the English dub matches the original Russian inflections and voices. I’ve seen this movie MiSTed many, many times and have huge portions of it memorised, and I frankly could probably have turned off the subtitles altogether and still known exactly what the characters were saying. Listening to the Russian I found myself hearing the dub I’m so familiar with, and the two are extremely close to each other.

This is a beautiful, magical movie. It doesn’t have a lot of complex special effects (just some double exposures, backwards film and dissolves) but it has beautiful locations, some quite intricate costumes, and wonderful use of a vibrant color palette. It’s a treat for the eyes. The DVD features a particularly clear print of the movie that has been lovingly restored. It makes it hard to believe that this was produced way back in the sixties. Say whatever you will about those “godless Communists” they sure knew how to manufacture a rich film stock.

The magic, the beauty, and the wonder of this movie makes it appropriate for a Christmas collection even if it actually doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas. I could easily see this becoming traditional viewing in my household at this time of year at any rate.

December 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment