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Friday, March 27, 2015


constantin brancusi

It has been a two-week film festival at my house of Romanian films. Found six. Today's was a documentary of the Ceausescu years, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu. I've known little to nothing about Romania. It was behind the Iron Curtain where the only news we heard of Soviet satellites was propaganda. I remember the name Ceausescu equated in my mind like Tito of (then) Yugoslavia, a tyrant dictator. Before seeing this film, I questioned self what I knew about Ceausescu, and all I could find was tyrant dictator overthrown for I did not know what reasons. Four films made in Romania gave me a sense of the culture, what the people look like, clothes, styles, the cities, the landscape, the architecture, the cars. The second film in my at home festival, The Way I Spent The End of The World, followed a family, kids in school, working people, Bucharest, showed a life of paranoia under Ceausescu, and the jubilation when he fell. Another, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, concerned a girl in college getting an illegal abortion in a hotel room, accompanied by her roommate in the dorm, her friend. I sometimes consult the Atlas during foreign films to get a sense of place. First clue to location was the desk clerk in a hotel saying they were full, people from Bucharest. It was not Bucharest. Later, I heard in a conversation at a dinner table, "Here in Roman." Went to the Atlas, looked up Roman, Romania, in the index. Found it. Went to the map of Romania and found Roman. It is north of Bucharest on a highway that looks like it follows a long valley, something like the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, between two rows of mountains. The Danube flows through Romania. 

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I've learned from studying the Atlas, Romania is bordered on the north by Ukraine, on the west by Hungary and Serbia, on the south by Bulgaria, and on the east by the Black Sea and Moldova. I know nothing of Romania's history. Just now went to amazon and bought a history that had some good reviews and a good price, a hundred pictures with the text. Just what I want. The Autobiography of Ceausescu by documentary film showed me a great deal about Romania and the people, just by what I saw. It was composed of newsreel footage for television from Ceausescu's beginnings to his end. Some b&w, some color. Film footage of big Party gatherings, speeches, rallying people to his support, Ceausescu was a politician doing it well. I saw Khrushchev visit, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Nixon, Ford, Carter, He  went to North Korea, the subject of a big celebration. In London he rode in the carriage with the Queen in a parade, waving. He was good at waving. He did it automatically in a way that looked like it was meant personally for anyone seeing it. He had a male charisma about him. Maybe what one would call a man's man. Men liked him. Or gave the appearance of it. He was a believer in Marx and Lenin. He studied while he ruled. I liked about the documentary of nothing but newsreel clips, no commentary, many of them with no sound. The ones with sound provided translation in subtitles. Mostly, it was in silence. Three hours. I saw it in three viewings. Came out of it with a sense for his period of Romania's history. And by the end, I had no more idea of why he was reviled as a tyrant than I did at the beginning. All the footage was State controlled. 

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At the end of the documentary, his overthrow had something to do with what they called a "genocide at Timisoara," a large city in the western part of the country near Hungary and Serbia. I may want to google that. I looked it up. Turns out it was just as he said at the end when he was detained. He was accused of a massacre of thousands, 4,500 at Timisoara. Turns out it was exaggerated by the people of the rebellion for the press. Ceausescu said it was not like that, it was much less. Turns out, after the fog of misinformation cleared, it was a hundred. It was the crackdown on rebellion that got him executed. I knew there was a dark side to these bright side newsreel films, and appreciated that the makers of the film gave no hint of judgment. And it is apt as an autobiography as all of it was self-serving, adoring the great leader. He appeared to me to be a good leader. As age crept up on him, his walking was less firm, and his demeanor was only partially present. His mind was still sharp, but he was fading. Seems like he would have saved the country and himself a good measure of grief to turn his power over to someone else. But power was the thrill. It had a hook. Outliving a role of immense power, being a once-was, seeing your significance fade into irrelevance while you're living, is not easy to live with. I have the impression he hung on tight in his drifty years to the power his out of bounds ego could not let go. He outlived his significance and caused rebellion by the opposition. I'm looking forward now to the history of Romania. I've read a history of the Ottoman Empire, so I have the little I remember from it to make the first step. I've wondered about Romania for so long I don't remember when the curiosity began. 

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I only knew of Romania that 20th Century sculptor, Constantin Brancusi went to Paris from Romania. I have a big picture book of his works. The text was written by his closest friends, husband and wife, Romanian, living in the apartment above him in Paris. I will read the text. Dadaists Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco went to Zurich, Switzerland, draft dodgers during WW1. French playwright, Eugene Ionesco, was Romanian, writing in Paris in French. Historian, philosopher, Mircea Eliade, was born in Bucharest. These are not insignificant people in the chopping-block moment that cut off the progression of European art as it was evolving--the birth of the Modern, and the art that sprang from it. Eliade is one of the great minds of the 20th Century. Brancusi is the soul of the Modern. I've wondered for a long time without pursuing the question what it is about Romania that contributed so directly to the birth of the modern. The Absurd came out of the Balkans, too. WW1 was kicked off in the Balkans. Seems some powerful energy was tapped into something. The Balkans being behind the Iron Curtain so long as Yugoslavia, disappeared from my attention, having no idea about the Balkan nationalities. Then the Balkan wars, and now the different countries have their own identities again. The Soviet period brought progress for a time, while at the same time diminished the spirit of the population, put people into depression from suppressed anger and the impotence of frustrated initiative. I've learned from the film festival that Romania is pronounced with the accent on the i, the third syllable, Roman-ee-a, like Carolina has the accent on third syllable. I'm enjoying getting to know a country and its culture, how people live there. I knew nothing at all about Romania, except tyrant dictator, and didn't even know that.    


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