An Animating Genius: Alexander Tatarsky, 1950-2007

By Antonova, Maria | Russian Life, September-October 2007 | Go to article overview

An Animating Genius: Alexander Tatarsky, 1950-2007


Antonova, Maria, Russian Life


One of the great masters of Russian animation died in his sleep on July 22. Alexander Tatarsky, 56, was a teacher for hundreds and an inspiration to the millions who grew up watching his animated films.

His films, which appeared in the perestroika era, were distinguished by their grotesque yet charismatic characters. Chaotic storylines and humorous dialog reflected the absurd atmosphere of survival in the Soviet Union during the 1980s and 1990s. His films are never condescending, trading wisdom in for laughs, preferring instead to offer "inside jokes," ones the whole country is in on. This took farce to the level of tragicomedy, turning it into a social commentary. For instance, at the end of Last Year's Snow was Falling, (Padal Proshlogodny Sneg, 1983), which documents the hapless travels of a comical muzhik, sent by his authoritarian wife into the woods for a Christmas tree, the joke ends when the muzhik sighs, pulls out a hidden and unexpected flute and plays a sad melody to the falling snowflakes. That song was played at Tatarsky's funeral.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Alexander Tatarsky was born in Kiev in 1950 and began working in animation in a Kiev studio at the age of 18. He made his first film with a camera rescued from the studio junkyard. The work got him noticed in Moscow, and in 1980 he was invited there to work. His 1981 film, The Plasticine Crow (Plastelinovaya Vorona) was Russia's first claymation film, set to the poem by author Eduard Uspensky. A sidenote: Soviet clay came only in ghastly colors, so some 800 kilograms of it had to be painted over to fit the needs of the film.

Tatarsky's second great creation was the pilot for what became Good Night, Little Ones (Spokoynoy nochi, malyshi), one of the world's longest-running television programs. …

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