21 April 2018

Nikita Mikhalkov

Russian actor and director Nikita Mikhalkov (1945) is the younger brother of Andrey Konchalovsk(i)y and one of the most famous Soviet/Russian filmmakers. ‘The Russian Spielberg’ won an impressive amount of awards, including the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film with Utomlyonnye solntsem/Burnt by the Sun (1994). As an actor he appeared in more than 40 films.

Nikita Mikhalkov
Russian postcard by Izdanije Byuro Propogandy Sovietskogo Kinoiskusstva, no. 4896, 1967. This postcard was printed in an edition of 100.000 cards. Retail price: 8 Kop.

Nikita Michalkow
Russian postcard by Izdanije Byuro Propogandy Sovietskogo Kinoiskusstva, no. 1565. This postcard was printed in an edition of 210.000 cards. Retail price: 8 Kop.

One of the Most Promising Russian Directors

Nikita Sergeyevich Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky was born in Moscow in 1945 into the distinguished, artistic Mikhalkov family. His great grandfather was the imperial governor of Yaroslavl, whose mother was a Galitzine princess. Nikita's father, Sergei Mikhalkov, was best known as a writer of children's books, although he also provided the lyrics for the Russian anthem.

Nikita's mother, the poet Natalia Konchalovskaya, was the daughter of the avant-garde artist Pyotr Konchalovsky and granddaughter of another outstanding painter, Vasily Surikov. Nikita's older brother is the filmmaker Andrey Konchalovsk(i)y, primarily known for his collaboration with Andrei Tarkovsky and his own Hollywood action films, such as Runaway Train (Andrey Konchalovsky, 1985) with Jon Voight, and Tango & Cash (Andrey Konchalovsky, 1989) starring Sylvester Stallone.

Mikhalkov studied acting at the children's studio of the Moscow Art Theatre and later at the Shchukin School of the Vakhtangov Theatre. While still a student, he appeared in the romantic comedy Ya shagayu po Moskve/I Step Through Moscow (Georgi Daneliya, 1964). It was nominated for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.

He was soon on his way to becoming a star of the Soviet stage and cinema. He had a supporting part in Krasnaya Palatka/The Red Tent (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1969) starring Sean Connery and Claudia Cardinale. His brother directed him in Dvoryanskoe gnezdo/Home of the Gentry (Andrei Konchalovsky, 1970).

While continuing to pursue his acting career, Mikhalkov entered VGIK, the state film school in Moscow, where he studied directing under filmmaker Mikhail Romm, teacher to his brother and Andrei Tarkovsky. He directed his first short film in 1967, Devochka i veshchi/The Girl and Things (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1967), and another for his graduation, Spokoynyy den v kontse voyny/A Quiet Day at the End of the War (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1970).

His first feature was Svoy sredi chuzhikh, chuzhoy sredi svoikh/At Home Among Strangers, Stranger at Home (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1974), with Yuri Bogatyryov. It was an Ostern (East-European Western, or 'Eastern') set just after the 1920s civil war in Russia.

He established himself as one of the most promising Russian directors with a vision of his own with his second feature, Raba lyubvi/A Slave of Love (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1976), starring Yelena Solovey and Rodion Nahapetov. Set in 1917, it followed the efforts of a film crew to make a silent melodrama in a resort town while the Revolution rages around them. The film, based upon the last days of Vera Kholodnaya, was highly acclaimed upon its release in the U.S.

Mikhalkov's next film was Neokonchennaya pyesa dlya mekhanicheskogo pianino/An Unfinished Piece for Player Piano (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1977) with Aleksandr Kalyagin and Yelena Solovey. It was adapted by Mikhalkov from Anton Chekhov's early play, Platonov, and won the first prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

In 1978, while starring in his brother's epic film Siberiada/Siberiade (Andrey Konchalovskiy, 1978), Mikhalkov made Pyat vecherov/Five Evenings (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1979), a love story about a couple (played by Lyudmila Gurchenko and Stanislav Lyubshin) separated by World War II, who meet again after eighteen years.

Mikhalkov's next film, Neskolko dney iz zhizni I.I. Oblomova/A Few Days from the Life of I. I. Oblomov (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1980), with Oleg Tabakov in the title role, is based on Ivan Goncharov's classic novel Oblomow about a lazy young nobleman who refuses to leave his bed.

Rodnya/Family Relations (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1982) is a comedy about a provincial woman in Moscow dealing with the tangled relationships of her relatives. Bez svideteley/Without Witnesses (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1983) tracks a long night's conversation between a woman (Irina Kupchenko) and her ex-husband (Mikhail Ulyanov) when they are accidentally locked in a room.

Nikita Michalkow
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 53 029.

Nikita Mikhalkov
Russian postcard by Izdanije Byuro Propogandy Sovietskogo Kinoiskusstva, no. 4910, 1977. This postcard was printed in an edition of 300.000 cards. Retail price: 5 Kop.

Stalin's Great Terror

In the early 1980s, Nikita Mikhalkov resumed his acting career, appearing in the immensely popular romance Vokzal dlya dvoikh/Station for Two (Eldar Ryazanov, 1982) and Zhestokiy romans/A Cruel Romance (Eldar Ryazanov, 1984). At that period, he also played Henry Baskerville in the Soviet screen version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Priklyucheniya Sherloka Kholmsa i doktora Vatsona: Sobaka Baskerviley (Igor Maslennikov, 1981). He also starred in many of his own films.

Incorporating several short stories by Anton Chekhov, Oci Ciornie/Dark Eyes (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1987) stars Marcello Mastroianni as an old man who tells the story of a romance he had when he was younger, a woman he has never been able to forget. The film was highly praised, and Mastroianni received the Best Actor Prize at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

Mikhalkov's next film, Urga/Close to Eden (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1992), set in the little known world of the Mongols, received the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Mikhalkov's Anna ot 6 do 18/Anna: 6-18 (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1993) documents his daughter Anna Mikhalkova as she grows from childhood to maturity. He documents the history of Russia from 1980 to 1991 by annually asking Anna such questions as "What do you love the most?", "What scares you the most?", "What do you want above anything?" and "What do you hate the most?".

Mikhalkov's most famous production to date, Utomlyonnye solntsem/Burnt by the Sun (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1994), was steeped in the paranoid atmosphere of Joseph Stalin's Great Terror. The film received the Grand Prize at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, among many other honours. Mikhalkov was the third Russian director to receive Oscar after Sergei Bondarchuk (in 1961) and Vladimir Menshov (in 1980). To date, Burnt by the Sun remains the highest grossing film to come out of the former Soviet Union.

Mikhalkov used the critical and financial triumph of Burnt by the Sun to raise $25,000,000 for his most epic venture to date, Sibirskiy tsiryulnik/The Barber of Siberia (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1998). The film, which was screened out of competition at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, was designed as a grandiose, big budget romance set in the 19th century Russia. It featured Julia Ormond and Oleg Menshikov, who regularly appears in Mikhalkov's films, in the leading roles. The director himself appeared as Tsar Alexander III of Russia. The film received the Russia State Prize and became a runaway box office success.

There were rumours about Mikhalkov's presidential ambitions. The director, however, chose to administer the Russian cinema industry. Despite much opposition from rival directors, he was elected the President of the Russian Society of Cinematographers and has managed the Moscow Film Festival since 2000. He also set the Russian Academy Golden Eagle Award in opposition to the traditional Nika Award. According to Wikipedia, his style of leadership of the union has been criticised by many Russian filmmakers and critics as autocratic, and encouraged members to leave and form a rival union in April 2010.

In 2005, Mikhalkov resumed his acting career, starring in three films - Statskiy sovetnik/The Councilor of State (Filipp Yankovsky, 2005) - a Fandorin mystery film which was a Russian box-office hit, Zhmurki/Dead man’s Bluff (Aleksey Balabanov, 2005) - a noir-drenched comedy about the Russian Mafia, and Krzysztof Zanussi's Persona non grata (2005).

In 2007, Mikhalkov’s film 12 (Nikita Mikhalkov, 2007), a loose remake of Sidney Lumet's court drama 12 Angry Men (1957), received a special Golden Lion for the ‘consistent brilliance’ of its work and was praised by critics at the Venice Film Festival. 12 was also named as a nominee for the 2008 Academy Awards. He took on a role of the executive producer of an epic film 1612.

Nikita Mikhalkov's first wife was the renowned Russian actress Anastasiya Vertinskaya, whom he married in, 1967. They have a son, Stepan Mikhalkov, born in 1966. With his second wife, former model Tatyana Mikhalkova, he has a son, Artem (1975), and two daughters, Anna (1974) and Nadya (1987).

Nikita Mikhalkov is actively involved in Russian politics. He is known for his at times extreme Russian nationalist and Slavophile views, and has been a strong supporter of Russian president Vladimir Putin. In October 2007, Mikhalkov, who produced a television program for Putin's 55th birthday, co-signed an open letter asking Putin not to step down after the expiry of his term in office. Since 2015 Mikhalkov is banned from entering Ukraine because of his support for the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.

In 2010 he returned as a director with Utomlyonnye solntsem 2: Predstoyanie/Burnt by the Sun 2 (Nikita Mikhalkov, 2010), in which he also starred The film consists of two parts: Exodus and Citadel. It is the sequel to Burnt by the Sun (1994), set in the Eastern Front of World War II. Burnt by the Sun 2 had the largest production budget ever seen in Russian cinema ($55 mln), but it turned out to be Russia's biggest box office flop, and received negative reviews from critics both in Russia and abroad.

His most recent film is Solnechnyy udar/Sunstroke (Nikita Mikhalkov, 2014). It is set in Russia during the Red Terror in 1920 and in 1907, and is loosely based on the story Sunstroke and the book Cursed Days by Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer Ivan Bunin. The film was selected as the Russian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards but it was not nominated.

Scene from Anna ot 6 do 18/Anna: 6-18 (1993). Source: HP 1067 (YouTube).

Trailer Utomlyonnye solntsem/Burnt by the Sun (1994). Source: Video Detective (YouTube).

Trailer 12 (2007). Source: Tevolution (YouTube).

Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.

20 April 2018


After the Second World War and the end of the fascist era, new publishing firms started to produce postcards in Italy. One of these firms was Bromofoto in Milano (Milan). Bromofoto started with topographic subjects, but soon discovered the blossoming Italian cinema. They produced a postcard series of the sensational box office hit Riso amaro/Bitter Rice (1949) with Silvana Mangano in hot pants. Throughout the 1950s, the Milanese publisher continued to make postcards with stills of film scenes and international star portraits, all in glamorous black and white.

Mamie van Doren
Mamie van Doren. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano (Milan). Sent by mail in the Netherlands in 1958.

Raymond Pellegrin and Gina Lollobrigida in La romana
Raymond Pellegrin and Gina Lollobrigida. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano. Photo: Minerva Film. Publicity still for La romana/ Woman of Rome (Luigi Zampa, 1954).

Nadia Gray
Nadia Gray. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 135. Photo: Dear Film. Publicity still for Puccini (Carmine Gallone, 1953).

Walter Chiari
Walter Chiari. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 136.

Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 316. Photo: Universal International.

Barbara Payton
Barbara Payton. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 348. Photo: Warner Bros.

Marcello Mastroianni in Febbre di vivere (1953)
Marcello Mastroianni. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 460. Photo: Atlantis Film. Publicity still for Febbre di vivere/Eager to Live (Claudio Gora, 1953).

Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy (1949)
Peggy Cummins. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 563. Photo: publicity still for Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1949).

Mara Lane
Mara Lane. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 968. Photo: ENIC.

Maria Felix
Maria Felix. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 1068. Photo: ENIC. Publicity still for Les héros sont fatigués/Heroes and Sinners (Yves Ciampi, 1955).

Franco Interlenghi and Antonella Lualdi
Franco Interlenghi and Antonella Lualdi. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 1234. Photo: Italy's News Photos.

Anita Ekberg
Anita Ekberg. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano., no. 1603. Photo: Dear Film.

Nino Manfredi in Carmela è una bambola (1958)
Nino Manfredi. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 1710. Photo: Euro International Films. Publicity still for Carmela è una bambola/Carmela is a doll (Gianni Puccini, 1958).

Mario Girotti (Terence Hill)
Mario Girotti. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 1807. Photo: Titanus. Publicity still for Lazarella (Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, 1957).

Myriam Bru in Il padrone sono me (1955)
Myriam Bru. Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 1826. Photo: Dear Film. Publicity still for Il padrone sono me/The master is me (Franco Brusati, 1955).

19 April 2018

Jacques Pills

French artist Jacques Pills (1906-1970) was an agreeable light singer and crooner. Before the war, he formed a successful duo with Georges Tabet. In 1959, Pills was the Monegasque entrant at the Eurovision Song Contest 1959 with the song Mon ami Pierrot. He also appeared in several films, but Pills's main claim to fame are his marriages to two illustrious singers, Lucienne Boyer and Édith Piaf.

Jacques Pills
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 260. Photo: Carlet ainé, Paris.

American jazz and Hawaiian style songs

Jacques Pills was born René Jacques Ducos in 1906 in Tulle, France.

After studying medicine, he turned to the music hall by participating in shows at the Casino de Paris, alongside Mistinguett.

He started a duo with the pianist Pierre Courmontagnes, under the name of Pills and Ward. When the latter left, Georges Tabet replaced him at the Casino de Paris. In 1931, they performed American jazz at Boeuf sur le Toit.

In 1932, Pills et Tabet reached success with the song Couchés dans le foin, written by Mireille and Jean Nohain. Several hits followed. Pills and Tabet separated in 1939. That same year, Pills married French singer Lucienne Boyer.

Jacques Pills started a solo career while Tabet became a screenwriter for the cinema. Pills recorded songs of Bruno Coquatrix, his impresario: Mon Ange (1940) and Dans un coin de mon pays (1940). He also had a huge success with a song in Hawaiian style, Avec son ukulele.

Like many other singing stars, Pills made films, including a few alongside Tabet, nearly always in the role of a singer. In 1932 he made his film debut in the sports film Chouchou poids plume/A Gentleman of the Ring (Robert Bibal, 1932), starring Geo Laby.

His films like the comedy Toi, c'est moi/You, it's me (René Guissart, 1936) and Prends la route/Take the road (Jean Boyer, 1936) were no masterpieces, mainly musicals designed to entertain undemanding fans. They cheered up enthusiastic crowds, but are forgotten today.

Jacques Pills and Georges Tabet
Jacques Pills and Georges Tabet. French postcard by PC, Paris, no. 78. Photo: G. Marant.

Pills et Tabet
Pills et Tabet. French postcard by EC, no. 70. Photo: Studio Paz.

A welcome dark spot

From the 1940s on, Jacques Pills continued to appear in a string of light comedies.

The only exception in the unexpected thriller, Seul dans la nuit/Alone in the Night (Christian Stengel, 1945) starring Bernard Blier. In the film a singer (Pills)'s hit Seul dans la nuit is heard whenever a woman is murdered by a lady-killer. Worse, this beloved singer might be the serial killer himself… Guy Bellinger at IMDb: “A welcome dark spot in too sunny an output.”

Jacques Pills and Lucienne Boyer divorced in 1951. The following year, he married singer Édith Piaf. However, in 1957, this marriage also ended in a divorce.

In 1953 he played the lead in the film Boum sur Paris (Maurice de Canonge, 1953). The film was built around the popular radio program La Kermesse aux Étoiles, hosted by Jean Nohain, mixing lottery games and performances of various artists. In the film the show is disturbed by a man (Pills) and his bride (Danielle Godet) seeking to retrieve a dangerous perfume bottle (explosive) which was inadvertently mixed with prizes. Among the performing stars were Gary Cooper, Édith Piaf, Juliette Gréco, Gilbert Bécaud and Gregory Peck as themselves.

In 1959, Pills was the Monegasque entrant at the Eurovision Song Contest 1959 with the song Mon ami Pierrot. The song ended last, in eleventh place and got only one point. Pills was the father of Jacqueline Boyer, who won the 1960 Eurovision contest the year after her father's participation for France singing Tom Pillibi.

Jacques Pills died in 1970 in Paris. He was 64. In the Édith Piaf biopic La môme/The passionate life of Edith Piaf (Olivier Dahan, 2007), his character is interpreted by Laurent Olmedo.

Jacques Pills
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 253. Photo: Harcourt, Paris.

Jacques Pills
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 186. Photo: Carlet ainé, Paris.

Jacques Pills sings Seul dans la nuit. Source: holdabaum (YouTube).

Sources: Guy Bellinger (IMDb), Le Hall de la Chanson (French), Wikipedia, and IMDb.