Monday, 4 November 2019

The Mysteries of Rublev

Last week my mother presented me with the 1974-1975 annual Film Review book, once part of my film book collection until it mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again. It was found quite by accident, stashed away on top of a wardrobe at her home, where it had accumulated the dust of the ages. Reading the capsule film reviews of the year covered, I chanced upon an entry for Andrei Rublev, which had some interesting devil in the detail. I knew the film had taken several years to emerge out of the Soviet Union, but I was surprised to learn that the film’s first non-festival playdate in the UK was as late as 1973.

My initial thought was that the Film Reviewer had seen the film in rep, but not so - according to BBFC records, the film was first examined and certified in August 1973, and was issued an AA cert with cuts. The Film Review entry notes the film was screening the following month at Camden’s Bloomsbury Cinema (now the Curzon Bloomsbury), but I was less than sure - turning to Sight and Sound magazine from the same era, I could find no mention of the film’s release, although the film’s unavailability was mentioned in the Spring 1973 issue, where Ivor Montagu, in his Tarkovsky retrospective lamented: "Who has it here and what, if anything they intend eventually to do with it has not yet transpired. Our loss". Fortunately, the October 1973 issue of Films and Filming put the matter to rest, when that issue carried an ad for the film’s London run (photographed from my copy below).

Interesting too, that this version of the film distributed by Columbia-Warner ran 145mins, well short of the 182min international version. BBFC cuts aside, I was curious to know how this truncated version of the film was prepared, whether some editor shorted or eliminated sequences considered longueurs, or perhaps were episodes within the film simply removed a la the original theatrical release of Kwaidan. Perhaps a clue can be found in Margaret Tarratt’s’s lengthy and thoughtful review of the film in the November 1973 issue of Films and Filming: “It is in many ways complex and difficult to follow although something of this may be due to the cuts that have apparently been made”. The next appearance of the film in BBFC records comes in 1991 where the 182min was passed uncut for theatrical and home video distribution by Artificial Eye, which would suggest that Tarkovsky’s preferred version of the film, was only finally unveiled to UK audiences, some 25 years after the film was completed. But chatting with film writer and DVD producer Michael Brooke on Facebook earlier, it seems the 182min version did do the rounds of rep houses in the 80's, while the film had two known TV screenings on BBC - one in 1976 (length unknown), and a second airing in 1987. Abel Ferrara biographer Brad Stevens confirmed to me that the 1987 screening contained the complete shot of the horse falling down the staircase which was eliminated from all BBFC-sanctioned editions of the film, so I'm wondering if the BBC had access to the 205min version ?

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