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The Little Grey Wolf: Yuri Norstein and Tale of Tales

Recalling specific time and conditions of making Yuri Norsteinís famous animated film Tale of Tales, Clare Kitson discusses the connections between Norsteinís life and art.
Kitson argues that this film is pure Norstein, filled with re mem bered details from his life and no one elseís ó except that he shares the types of memories with a whole generation. His actual life is there, as well as his virtual world of literature and art; some of it above sea level and much below the surface.
Thus we see, in the film, the dark corridor of Norsteinís childhood home, and the light at the end of it, the glow from an idyllic world of happiness, friendship, poetry and eternal memories. We see the Little Wolf make that journey along the dark corridor into the light and we now know that young Norstein also made the journey. He has traveled from a (physically dark) communal flat in a working-class suburb of Moscow via a junior art-school and animation school to become an artist who, despite the Soviet system and considerable opposition, made a non-narrative film (which is unique in Soviet post-war animation) that took the top prizes at animation festivals all over the world.
Although Norstein, his scriptwriter Petrushevskaya and the Russian critics always talk of the film as dealing with Norsteinís childhood, what was actually intended was a film about the role of the poet in contemporary society, incorporating only a small section dealing with Norsteinís beloved house and yard. The poet will be the main character in the shooting script also, and although he is reduced, time-wise, in the final film, he is functionally crucial there as well. So, is there a possibility that the film is not as autobiographical as at first appears? Perhaps the author is simply making a universal and quite abstract point about art and society?
But it is not the case. Firstly, Norstein loves poetry, as is all too plain to a translator trying to track down the many and varied quotes which pepper his writings. He also feels that poetry, of all the arts, is the most closely related to animation ó to his own animation, at least. He often compares the perfect animation script to a haiku, and has also likened the economy needed in putting together an animation sequence to that required in composing a poem, because both media are so highly condensed.
Furthermore, Norstein not only sees close parallels between the two arts, but surely the same quandary faces the director of a non-narrative, ípoeticí animated film and the poet, penning lofty sentiments couched in not very plain language. Both face an uncomprehending, materialistic public. This is, of course, an eternal problem, and Norstein will quote in his shooting script from Pushkinís poem on the same theme, The Poet and the Crowd. Norsteinís struggles with his bosses, and his experience of the rough justice meted out to other artists, gave him enough insight into the hearts of men to realize that philistinism is a constant in life. So philistinism is a universal problem ó but it was also a problem for Yuri Norstein in Brezhnevís USSR.

Clare Kitson

The Community of the Mind
An Overview
Three Outstanding Films
Under the Sign of Auctorial Creativity
Itís about another Kind of Life ó An Interview with Caroline Leaf

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