Watching Battleship Potemkin

On this past Wednesday night, I went and watched the Russian film “Battleship Potemkin”. To be quite honest, I had no idea what to expect- I’ve never watched many black and white films, let alone silent films about Russian history. However, as my first true experience with silent films, I was extremely intrigued and enjoyed the experience.

The film “Battleship Potemkin” describes a sensationalized account of the mutiny that happened in 1905 when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their officers of the Tsarist regime, as well as the subsequent protests and massacre. The film, even without the aid of modern day effects, was extremely provocative. It was clearly a propaganda film, portrayed in clear-cut terms, making it obvious who the director wanted his audience to sympathize with.

Upon further research regarding the film, I found however that the reason this film was deemed so controversial was not for the reasons I expected. Instead of being controversial because of the subject matter, the film’s use of violence, which was deemed graphic at the time, was what shocked most people. I found that interesting because I figured that at the time the film came out in 1925 that the Russian government would not want a film being shown that emphasized insubordination and revolution. However, not surprisingly the most graphic images are the ones that resonate with the general population, and as a result, “Battleship Potemkin” has been deemed a highly influential film.

I think the scene that I found the most memorable was where the crowd and the row of armed soldiers marching down the steps conflicted and the soldiers began shooting into the crowd. The director clearly wanted to paint the soldiers, and subsequently the Tsarist regime as evil and cold hearted, incapable of mercy or feelings of remorse. The director’s use of a baby to symbolize the tragic nature of this event was extremely effective in invoking an emotional response from his audience. I could very easily see how watching this could instigate feelings of outrage towards a domineering government. What I also found interesting was the effective use of music throughout the entire film to emphasize the mood of a particular scene. I’ve always believed wholeheartedly that a movie’s success depends a lot on the soundtrack, but this is especially the case in silent films. In short, watching this film, and realizing the powerful and loaded meaning behind it, as well as observing the effective use of music, were both extremely interesting, and I look forward to watching more Russian films in the future.

Civil Society in Russia

So I am currently figuring out my plans next year for my study abroad experience. I’ll be in Moscow for both semesters, so I have time for a more long term project and I want to take full advantage of that opportunity. I plan on studying the recent rise of apolitical not-for-profit and volunteer organizations in Moscow. Russia has historically lacked a civil society, both during the Tsarist rule and the Soviet Union. This is why the current growth of volunteer work is so impressive, as it marks a shift of attitudes. During the Soviet Union, it was expected that the government would take care of the people. Perhaps not very well, but they nonetheless had that responsibility. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous nineties, the Russian people could no longer expect the same support they once received. I am fascinated by the shifting opinions of what the responsibilities of the government are.

Although political groups are active in Russia today, much like the Intelligentsia of the 19th century, it is all criticism and no action. When a group focuses all their efforts on criticizing the government and nothing more, they are still, in a way, relying on the government for something.  When participating in public protests, they seem to be suggesting they can have some impact on governmental policies. I think that the increase in volunteering suggests that many people are turning away from this view and ignoring the government entirely. Instead of waiting for change they may believe will never come, they are doing their best to help their communities, without any governmental aid. I hope to better understand what larger implications this shift could have on Russian society. Hopefully, gaining more perspective on Russian history will help me in this task.

Empire and Nicholas II

I began reading the Riasanovsky textbook this week about the conditions in Russia leading up to the Revolution of 1905.  Some things immediately jumped out at me in the section describing Nicholas II ad his nature as a ruler.  On page 390, he is described as having admirable personal qualities such as modesty and self-discipline.  However, the author then states that his qualities failed him in situations requiring strength and adaptability.  This reminded me of a discussion in my Islamic Empires class from last week.  In it, we discussed an article by Jane Burbank & Frederick Cooper in their book “Empires in World History.”  They describe the ideal empire to be one that retains the diversity of its people in order to profit from the skills of distinct communities, that has to be flexible in all situations, and that avoids ascribing to a centralized ideology because it leads to rival claims of authority and revolts.

I immediately drew a parallel between the Nicholas II section and this article.  Compared to the ideas of Burbank & Cooper, it seems Nicholas II failed at maintaing his empire and that the revolt of 1905 was inevitable.  I think the key problem of his reign as Tsar was his inability to adapt.  Raisanovsky states that his “traditionalist political blinders” made him unable to conform to new situations, by which I mean the removal of serfdom, the rise of the middle class, and Russia’s military and economic decline (p390).  He believed in the unrestricted power of the tsar based on an orthodox ideology to which he expected all citizens to conform.  Nicholas seems to have ignored it when this ideology no longer served the changing socio-political structure of Russia that called for reform through a national assembly.  His belief in social hierarchy no longer served the rising middle class that was torn between legal status as peasants and physically possessing more wealth than the fallen elite.  Diversity could no longer be maintained within the empire because there was a gradually closing gap between the upper and lower classes.

It is interesting to see a practical example of an empire in which retaining diversity had actually served it well.  I did not believe in the validity of the claim that making clear distinctions between peoples actually ensured peace, but before 1861 Russia, as witnessed through the eyes of Firs in the Cherry Orchard, diversity is what kept operations running because the peasants did not question their place in the hierarchy.  With a Tsar stuck in the ideology of this previous time and unwilling to adapt to the current state of the empire, an “ineffective relic of the past,”, the building of a revolution was inevitable (p392).

Anna Karenina

This past weekend I went with several of my friends to see the most recent film adaptation of Anna Karenina at the Carlisle Theatre. I was very glad that the movie was playing there, because due to the limited release, I had missed the run of it at my local theater when I was home for break.  Despite the fact that other movie theaters may have digital projectors, or other fancy things, I really like that the Carlisle Theatre does not, especially when watching period films. Because of all of these factors and my fond remembrance of the novel, I was greatly looking forward to seeing this movie. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

There were definitely things I liked about the movie. I am not sure what the film terms are, but I found the cinematography and scenic design to be amazing. I even liked the way that the scenes transitioned and how it was set on a stage, but it was so mesmerizing that it took away from the character development.

Upon reaching the end of the movie however, I felt no connection to any of the characters, even at the end,when *SPOILER ALERT* Anna jumps under a train. This neglect starts at the beginning. The dance scene when Anna and Vronsky leave the rest of the ball behind is beautiful, and it is very similar to a scene with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in the director’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but Anna and Vronsky lack the tension that Elizabeth and Darcy had. The director is trying to employ the same effect and make this a pivotal moment in their relationship, but he didn’t build it enough. It was more like they decided that since they had danced a lot, they might as well have an affair, so that the plot can continue.

The Levin/Kitty storyline worked a lot better, though I was unhappy with the marriage proposal scene at the end. It seemed too prompted and lacked the magically unspoken understanding that the book portrayed, but it was sweet.

For the most part I liked the casting, especially Oblonsky, but I am deeply unhappy with the choice of Keira Knightly for Anna, and nothing will change my mind about that. Full disclosure: I hated her as Elizabeth Bennet too, so this is probably just a stupid personal prejudice against an otherwise fine actress, but it nonetheless affected my satisfaction with her portrayal of Anna.

As I read through Cherry Orchard I noticed an interesting relationship developing between the characters. I think that many of the behaviors that the characters exhibit the aristocratic decline that was occurring while Chekhov was writing.

In most interactions between aristocrats and their servants, you would expect there to be a sense of supremacy among the elite. However, the servants, such as Dunyasha, seem to have a certain amount of status in the household. One such example of this would be the informality that Dunyasha shows when she greets Anya upon her arrival in the first scene. Dunyasha immediately says that she has something to tell her that cant wait another minute. Although Anya doesnt appear to be interested in Dunyasha’s problem, she still allows her to talk. This familiarity between the classes shows the breakdown of the social system and the beginnings of the middle class.

However, Madame Ranevsky’s behavior is the best representation fo the coming change in the social system. Ranevsky was born in a period when her family’s wealth was maintained by their name as they would always be held above the peasants. However, in this new system, Ravensky’s wealth has quickly been depleted as she continues to waste her money on pointless things. Throughout the play, Ranevsky never learns her lesson, eventually giving her money away to a passing drunkard. Ranevsky then refuses to sell the orchard for villas and is forced to auction it off. Lopakhin, a peasant made noble, buys the property from the family and proceeds to chop the orchard down. This interaction is a perfect representation of how the middle class is overcoming the aristocrats as the orchard is symbolic of the power of the upper class. In cutting it down, Lopakhin asserts his dominance over the failing aristocrats.

Cherry Orchard is an excellent example of how the old and the new have to learn to coexist as society changes. Lopakhin was able to adapt to the new system and gain massive amounts of wealth for himself, while Madame Ranevsky was unable to change her ways and fell prey to the new social system.

The Significance of Wooden Objects in “The Cherry Orchard”

In addition to the significance of the cherry orchard, there is also meaning in the use of wooden objects throughout the play.

The nobles are able to use wooden objects to their advantage and comfort. This comfort is not only physical comfort, as when Firs places a footstool for Madame Ranevsky, but also psychological comfort.  This is seen when Madame Ranevsky adresses a cupboard and table with affection, while caressing them. Gayef later speaks about the significance of the hundred-year-old cupboard, directly addressing it while lavishing it with praises. This psychological comfort is derived from what these objects represents, vestiges of the past, a past the nobles loved and knew. No longer understanding their place, they look back to the past.

There is also significance of the walking stick, another wooden object. The walking stick is first introduced by Firs, who walks with it. Firs, although a peasant, clings to the old order, believing he was better off as a serf. For Lopakhin, however, walking sticks carry a different memory, as he was beaten with a walking stick by his peasant father. Lopakhin seeks to escape the oppression of the old order that the walking stick represents. This symbolism is seen again when Barbara uses the walking stick to threaten Ephikhodof, who annoyed her with his request to be treated with respect. She then accidentally hits  Lopakhin with the walking stick, perhaps representing his continued feelings of oppression.

These are but a few examples of the rich symbolism of wooden objects in the play, which play much the same role as the orchard. However, unlike the orchard, their physical presence on stage creates a more nuanced symbolism.


Symbolism in The Cherry Orchard

Theatre is not merely for the enjoyment of an audience. Rather, theatre can be used as a political statement, a way to unite social classes, or even as medium to retell a historical event. The play The Cherry Orchard, written by Anton Chekhov, is no exception to this statement.The play, through its presentation of the inability of the aristocratic class in maintaining their power and stature, is used to demonstrate and explain the tumultuous and class driven struggle that defined and plagued the Russian Empire for many years, particularly in the beginning of the twentieth century.

The use of symbolism in the play The Cherry Orchard, particularly with the use of the cherry orchard itself, clearly demonstrates and helps to explain the aristocratic struggle that is central within the play. Within the play, the cherry orchard, for which the play is titled, is the central, immense object at the center of the play; all the characters are drawn to the orchard, and its mere presence drives the action within the play. However, it is immediately discovered that the cherry orchard, which once produced a prosperous crop every year no longer yields any profit. It has become a mere relic of the past, a glorified symbol of what once was. On a more metaphorical level, the cherry orchard represents the past, and in turn, the individual memories associated with it.

These memories are as unique and varying as the individual personalities that each memory is associated with. They vary by age as well as by class. Regarding age, it was clear that the older generations of Firs and Ranevksy thought of the cherry orchard with a deep sense of nostalgia and associate the orchard with a glorified past where class lines were obvious and never challenged. In contrast, the younger generations of Trofimov and Anya come to connect the idea of the orchard to that of repression of and the abuses towards the peasantry class. Within the context of class, there is again a stark difference in viewing the cherry orchard. For instance, Lopakhin of the middle class, associated the cherry orchard with the harsh life of growing up as a peasant with an abusive father. In contrast, Ranevksy of the upper class connects the orchard with her own affectionate childhood memories.

In conclusion, in the playThe Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov, the symbol of the cherry orchard is all encompassing and truly drives the action of the play. It serves as a source of nostalgia, whether that is good or bad, and depends on the individual nature of the character.



“The Cherry Orchard” and changing social order

In his work “The Cherry Orchard”, Anton Chekhov illustrates a population divided by a desire to cling to the Tsar’s final vestiges of power and a desire to see social orders reformed to accommodate the emergence of a new middle class.

The Liberation and the decline of the Tsar’s power in Russia allowed for the reordering of social power and structures. As Lophakin explains, “until a little while ago there had been nothing but gentry and peasants in the village, now villa residents have made their appearance.” These “villa residents” represent the new middle class – peasants who were no longer bound to their masters or who – like Lophakin – have become landowners and secured their own autonomy. Members of the old wealthy class, such as Madame Renevsky, are not ready to face social reordering: Madame’s reluctance to sell her cherry orchard to make room for members of the middle class mirrors the reluctance of the gentry to facilitate changes in social structures, which necessitate a redistribution of power. Madame Ranevsky’s cherry orchard symbolizes the power of the gentry and the Tsar, and without it, “ [her] life has no meaning.” Her daughters, Barbara and Anya, are also members of the gentry but have more complex attitudes towards the potential for social change. Having lived abroad, Anya is unsure of her place in Russian social order, a fact that is represented in her ambivalence towards the orchard: she confides to Lophakin that she does not love it as much as she used to.

Madame’s servants represent the members of Russian society who, after the Liberation and the end of serfdom, are unsure of their places a social order that doesn’t account for them.  As Charlotte laments “who I am, or why I exist, is a mystery.” Firs, the oldest servant, frequently invokes old traditions and laments the liberation; he is one of the few characters who represents the traditional peasant class. The others – including Lophakin, Trophimof, and Ephikhodof, – are more eager to see what further changes the Liberation bring about.  Even Lophakin, a former peasant who has become a wealthy landowner, does not find solidarity with members of the upper class. He cannot understand Madame’s attachment to her orchard, nor can divorce himself from his past as a peasant and share in their frivolity and wastefulness. By buying and destroying the orchard, Lophakin made room for the villa owners, and thus, the new middle class. Indeed, it was people like Lophakin – those who were not peasants, not gentry, but members of a new and trepidatious middle class – who led the revolution and secured a place for themselves in the social order.


The Cherry Orchard

The cherry orchard itself plays a fascinating role in Chekhov’s work. Early on in the play, Madame Ravenskey makes a particularly revealing comment. She states, “If there is one thing that’s interesting, remarkable in fact, in the whole province, it’s our cherry orchard.” Lopakhin responds by saying, “There’s nothing remarkable about the orchard except that it’s a very big one. It only bears once every two years, and then you don’t know what to do with the fruit. Nobody wants to buy it.” This is important because it reveals a perspective held by the upper class in general; the perspective that their lifestyle, possessions  personal worth etc are actually of greater import than those below them. In reality, rich or poor there is no true difference (in the context of social worth) between these characters. I believe that is exactly the point Chekhov is trying to make.

The cherry orchard is a carnal manifestation of the upper class in this sense. Ravenskey believes it to be something more grand than it truly is. In the end, it is no greater than many other orchards found throughout Russia and the entire planet. It is also not immune to the presence of the poor. As the upper class live among servants (that they may or may not treat poorly) anyone may walk through the orchard, such as the Tramp who frightens Barbra.

The rich and poor are directly integrating each day in a societal context. The metaphor continues as the cherry orchard is literally torn down bit by bit, eliminating the presence of the upper class and mixing it’s components into a world of social “equality.” Indeed, it is a strong social metaphor found throughout the play.

Symbolism in The Cherry Orchard

The nobles in The Cherry Orchard are Anya, Madame Ranevsky, Barbara, Gayef, and Pishticik.  The nobility of the play has fallen drastically, the two families out of money but trying to cling on to a previous way of life in the wake of change.  Anya and Barbara are the two nobles that seem to recognize and accept the new order.  Anya is fascinated by the ideas of Peter and Barbara acknowledges her affection for Lopkhin despite his family history.

Firs, Yasha, Dunyasha, and are all peasants, but have different outlooks on change of social construction.  When the Liberation occurred, Firs refused to leave his master and laments the complexity of social interaction now that the peasants are freed from their masters, calling the Liberation a “great misfortune” (25).  Yasha is an opposition to Firs because he has travelled the continent and seen how to live in civilized freedom, which is better than the Russian “barbarism.”

Lopakhin, Trophimof, and Ephikhodof all represent the emerging class of “others” at the end of tsarist Russia because they are those born of humble origins who raised their status through education.  Lopakhin’s father was a serf of the estate and now his son is a wealthy landowner in his own right, even suggested to be married to the daughter of a noblewoman.  This new class seeks some kind of personal retribution for the enslavement of their ancestors by replacing the symbols of noble authority, like the cherry orchard, with symbols of the middle class, such as the villas.

In The Cherry Orchard, wood represents to the characters a connection with past memory and the grandeur of an older time.  Gayef discovers that a cupboard in the home is over a hundred years old and proceeds to laud it for upholding “the courage of succeeding generations” and “faith in a better future” as well as the riches of the past (10).  This characterization of the cupboard could be interpreted as a reflection of the glory of tsarist Russia contrasted against its place in the modernizing world in which it exists.  It is an attempt of the nobles to hold on to their legacy.

The cherry orchard itself serves the same purpose.  It brings back memories of the estate when it was in its prime, contrasting with the current state of the family that has squandered the money.  The act of destroying the orchard is reminiscent of the destruction of the old social structure, particularly since it is carried out by a man of the new middling class that rose from a family of peasants to become a wealthy neighbor of the Ranevsky estate.  Despite his age and connection to the past, Firs acknowledges the idea because no one alive knows how to make they cherry jam, and therefore it cannot provide the economic support of its past.  As she comes to understand the changing social climate through her relationship with Trophimof, Anya remarks that she no longer loved the orchard as she once did, in effect symbolizing her transition from old to new ways of thinking.  The wood of the orchard contains “human spirits” that were contained in the estate during the time of serfs, and the new freedom offered to humans is echoed through the orchard’s path.  The suffering that Madame Ranevsky experiences at the thought of the orchard being destroyed is a way to “redeem the past” in the mind of Trophimof (27).