My dear friend Sasha Razor, who’s finishing a dissertation on the work of early Soviet authors in the film industry, sometimes sends me her neatest finds. The image above, for instance, appeared in an issue of the journal Kino in 1928. It depicts the pioneering film editor Esther (Esfir) Shub (1894-1959) “operating” on Count Leo Tolstoy. The story behind the caricature is that Shub, working in the late 1920s, spliced footage of the late Count into the third part of her trilogy of historical “compilation films.” This third part — now lost, alas — was titled The Russia of Nicholas II and Leo Tolstoy (1928). As Jay Leda, the first great historian of Soviet cinema, tells it, Shub had originally planned to make the film all about Tolstoy himself, but found too little material, and so “decided to work on the epoch, using Tolstoy as a central figure, a spokesman of his time.” She did use the footage shot at Yasnaya Polyana by the Odessan half-huckster Alexander Drankov, which I posted in June of last year, and I would have loved to see it in its new context. In any case, the caricature from Kino couldn’t help but remind me of, well, me, translating and editing Tolstoy’s prose; it doesn’t help that Esther and I have the same ‘do…
But this sketch is just one of the many filmic treasures Sasha has dug up. Another is a poem by Semyon Olender, whose lovely late lyric about Odessa appeared here back in August. This time Olender writes with more humor, but just as movingly, about the Danish comic duo Pat and Patachon… Actually, those are the names by which they were known in Russia and Germany. In the US, they went by Ole & Axel; in the UK, by Long & Short; in their native land, by Fy go Bi; and so on… I think their British monikers sum up the shtick most effectively: one of them was tall and gangly, the other short and plumpish.
But as with Laurel and Hardy, those bare facts can’t possibly communicate the charm of the combo. Perhaps only celluloid can. And maybe poetry, too. I feel Olender’s ode certainly captures the magic.
Pat and Patachon
Was it real? Perhaps I was dreaming?
O amazing pals, all I know
is the two of you really gave me
quite a shock with your funny clothes!
Can’t remember, or didn’t notice,
how this pair snuck into my flat…
One was short, in a shabby waistcoat
and a crumpled old bowler hat.
The other was tall and slender,
his ill-fitting jacket all stained,
and like some enormous toddler,
he held his pal by the hand.
Crouching and bending briskly,
they spoke in the gentlest tones:
“Pat is my name,” one whispered.
“Me you can call Patachon.”
In response to my friendly offer,
they plopped themselves down, but so
excitedly that the sofa
suffered — the fabric tore!
Patachon turned to me quite sadly,
with a guilty squint in his eyes.
And Pat took it just as badly —
his whiskers would fall and rise…
I tried to console the poor souls:
so what if the sofa creaks?
But the screen: it swallowed them whole!
Boy, is celluloid quick!
I know I need to keep watching
and laughing for five more parts —
but I swear, I’ve not seen a friendship
as warm and as full of heart…
Пат и Паташон
Наяву или в сновиденьи
Поразило мои глаза
Ваше странное облаченье,
Я не понял и не заметил,
Как пробрался в мой дом тайком
Коротыш в потёртом жилете
И с приплюснутым котелком.
А другой был высок и тонок,
В замусоленном пиджаке.
Он держал, как большой ребёнок,
Руку друга в своей руке.
Приседая и нагибаясь,
Мне друзья прошептали в лад:
— Паташоном я прозываюсь.
— А меня называют — Пат…
И в ответ на моё приглашение
Оба грохнулись заодно
На диван — и в таком волненьи,
Что не выдержало сукно.
Паташон ко мне виновато
Повернулся, глаза скосив.
И подергивались у Пата
Я старался их успокоить:
Ничего, что трещит диван…
Но — стремителен целлулоид, —
И друзей поглотил экран.
И хотя мне смеяться нужно
В продолженьи шести частей,
Я поклясться готов, что дружбы
Я не видывал горячей.