Ed. note: The movies of Rustam Khamdamov are impossible to find in the West, and for the most part in his native Russia as well. Read this article (to our knowledge the most extensive retrospective of Khamdamov to be found on the Internet in English) to discover how this legendary, and very weird, director has managed to fall through the cracks in world culture.
By Irina Goncharova, edited and additional material by Greg Smalley. Original research and Russian translations by Irina Goncharova.
– What is your father’s occupation?
– My father writes poetry. That’s all he does. He is one of the greatest unknown poets of the world.
– And when does he get money?
– Never. It’s impossible to be great and be paid for it.
The quote above is an exchange from Rustam Khamdamov’s V gorakh moyo serdtse [My Heart’s in the Highlands] (1967). When he was a third year student of the All-Union Institute for Cinematography (VGIK in Moscow, USSR) Khamdamov shot this movie that was called “the work of a master” and was included in lists of the best Soviet movies. The film swept the VGIK internal festivals. Although Khamdamov is mentioned in the credits only once, along with other students, everybody knew he was the one and only author of the movie—not just its director, but the one who wrote the original screenplay (after William Saroyan’s play), who penned the absurd dialogue, who made all streamers and costumes with his own hands, who selected the best actors when doing the casting. The response to the film was polarized and conflicting. The VGIK Communist Party Committee—just imagine, at that time the Communists decided the destiny of everything and everyone in the country—introduced ideological censorship on the works of the VGIK students straight away.
Really, it’s not easy to write for an American audience about a director such as Rustam Khamdamov. I believe there are very few people in the USA who have ever heard his name, although it may be found by Googling or searching the Internet Movie Database. Still, this search would hardly clarify the situation. The list of his movies is incredibly short, and practically each one has a very sad production history, but those critics who mention his name do so with much respect and even a kind of devotion, often calling him “legendary.”
What makes this director so legendary?
Rustam Khamdamov is of Uzbek descent and took his film production course from the renown Russian film director Grigori Chukhrai 1. As mentioned above, his first movie was the student work (some critics say it was his graduate project) My Heart’s in the Highlands (1967), a short, approximately 30 minute black and white film. This was the first film where viewers saw the beautiful Elena Solovey, a future Soviet movie star.
Elena Solovey in Raba Lyubvi, 1975.
My Heart’s In The Highlands (1939), initially a play by William Saroyan, was a comedy Continue reading RUSTAM KHAMDAMOV: IMPOSSIBLE TO BE GREAT…