21 April 2009

The Tale of Tales (Сказка сказок)

Yuri Norstein made this 27-minute stop-motion animation film in 1979. Consistently selected as "the best animated film of all time", the film remains surprisingly obscure. Norstein wanted to make a movie about his childhood memories of World War II in Russia. He remembered little more than a feeling: a smell of frost and snow, and a haunting melody of a tango (The Weary Sun, see my previous post), which in the 1940s was being played all the time in Russia.
Rather than just reconstructing this feeling in a film, Norstein structured the film itself as a fleeting collective memory of those who, like him, were little children in the 1940s. This is why creatures from Russian poetry, folk stories and even lullabies (such as сeренький волчoк, the little grey wolf) are no less real than mothers, soldiers and dancers. Go to sleep, batyushka, or the little grey wolf will carry you away into the woods...
Note how the wolf for a brief moment hums the tango, not the lullaby (at 7:25). Сказка сказок is all poetry, music and psychology. As a result, the film leaves you with a fleeting feeling - almost a memory; as if you yourself, in Norstein’s words, stood on the floor of a departed sea.


  1. It's one of my favorite animation movies ever, maybe also because it's one of those art works you can't get enough of - in this case, probably also because it's made to remain an ultimate puzzle.

    I hear Norstein is now for years working on an animation movie after Gogol's novel Overcoat, but since he is doing everything by hand, is known to be rather perfectionist by nature and recently broke his arm, I suspect it might all, well, take some more time than previously expected.

  2. Some excerpts of Overcoat leeked (perhaps even by Yuri himself). See at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjSGIjGy1qQ
    I will be posting more of Norstein, and soon; I am one of those who think that Skazka Skazok is in fact the second best animation in the world. The first best is Hedgehog in the Fog, by, ahem, Yuri Norstein. My personal favourite is Heron and Crane.

  3. And, btw, he had been working on Overcoat for close to 30 years now... How did he break his arm? Drawing? Lol, 'figures.

  4. LOL, I'd almost bet - imagine this: a pencil falls on the floor [sound of wood touching wood] while a slightly absent-minded tall figure lurks in the distance and improvidently taps over his coffee-cup. Yuri bends down into the darkness under his working table [sounds of birds outside his dacha] to rescue the damn thing, while doing that, his wooden chair - oh, misfortune! - looses balance and slips on the coffee stain [sound of 12 violins in short strokes piling up into a Hitchcock-eanesque high pitched AaaaaAAaaa]. Yuri falls on the floor [tough sound of violent fall]. Brief silence. Yuri gets up again, shouting of pain, his arm limp as a penis of a very old drunken diva. His only thought: "Oh my God, the Overcoat - delayed again!!!"

    PS: Hedghog is a legend. We use some words of it as a quote in our household - "PSYHO," for example, or "JOŽIK!!" Oh, just can't beat the feeling. :D

  5. I am completely smitten by Медвежонок (bear) and Кто-то (Someone).
    Did you notice how Ёжик acts out an internal dialogue with Медвежонок while pursued by Филин, and then it actualy takes place? As always. Only, this time Медвежонок adds:
    "И... и... и... и в... и в... ведь кто же, кроме тебя, звёзды-то считать будет?!"
    (And... and... and... and loo... and loo... look who but you will count these stars?!)