Grisha

It’s been a long week. My intention had been to blog every day, but between work and the afternoon crashes from dealing with obligations back home every night instead of sleeping, it wasn’t gonna happen.

Moscow is fascinating. It kills me that I’m here working 16-hour days because this is the kind of city I could easily just head off into with no real destination in mind, the way K & I used to explore.

The everyday contradictions here are mind-boggling. These people very much want to be of the future, but their past still defines them.  As I write this, I’m shooting time-lapse footage of the Kremlin, an act that would have once landed me in Lubyanka prison without question. Today, everyone photographs the Kremlin, but we all do so expecting a tap on the shoulder. Even though I know nothing will happen, my passport is in the van so it can’t be seized if I get arrested.

The cognitive dissonance comes from the fact that so many people here expect the Communist era to return, and many of them, while they dread it, long for it at the same time. Every Russian over the age of 40 who has passed has eyed me and my camera with a combination of fear and indignation. They cannot believe my audacity, they cannot believe I’m getting away with it, and they long to turn me in… but there’s no one to turn me in to.

It’s apparent in the Soviet era monuments — and there are a lot of them — that they simply don’t know what to do with their history. They’re told to be ashamed of the Communist era, and they are, but at the same time, they have great nostalgia for it.

Hollywood & I in the Garden of Fallen Heroes

A perfect example is the Garden of Fallen Heroes, a park containing all the statues of Soviet era icons that have been pulled down over the last 20 years. There’s a huge statue in the Garden of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the father of the KGB. He was one of the most hated and feared men in the USSR, and yet today, someone is still putting roses at the feet of his graffiti-laden statue.

All of which is way too much to contemplate, so let’s talk about women.  Moscow women are striking. They’re tall, in good shape, and most seem to wear crazy-high heels, even when out walking. It’s a bit like visiting a city populated by high-class hookers. I approve.

The project we’re shooting is something I’ve never done. It’s a documentary about an artist, Grisha Bruskin, and his work. That seems straightforward enough, but the director, Shannon, a pretty young art history professor who hero-worships Bruskin, wants the doc to be a living analog to his sculptures.

As a result, most of what we’ve shot have been explorations of various sculptures. Hell, I’ve been here a week and haven’t shot a single human… just statues, buildings, and statues on buildings. If I’m being honest, I don’t think Grisha’s work is quite equal to the amount of attention we’re paying to it, but it is interesting.

Shooting a city’s architecture tells you a lot about its people. The Russians are obsessed with symmetry, and they were terrified of America. Everything in their cold war public works screams overcompensation.

When I say we brought a LOT of gear to Moscow…

Because we were so unsure of exactly what the hell we were filming until we got here, we brought an insane amount of gear. A lot of it will go untouched.  Naturally, a lot of shit we now know we needed didn’t come at all.

Getting this pile of equipment to Russia was actually easier than we expected, and everything arrived intact. Getting it out of Moscow airport was another thing entirely, and we sat in baggage claim for three hours while Hollywood ran from one end of the airport to the other working out how to get us through customs.

On Sunday and Monday, while Hollywood and Shannon scouted locations, I built and prepped cameras (the Sony FS-700U is fucking awesome). As a result, I spent the first two days at the hotel and didn’t really get to see the city until we headed out on Tuesday.

Moscow has a well-deserved reputation for horrible traffic. It’s partly from the awful road system, and partly from the fact that the drivers in Moscow treat all traffic signs, laws and restrictions as something to be ignored. Hollywood takes great pride in having driven in some of the most congested cities on Earth (say, Cairo) and he fits right in.

Since arriving, we’ve driven up one-way streets, driven on the sidewalk, been stopped for an illegal left turn and run from the police. He’s accomplished some of this stunt driving while texting and shooting pictures with a Canon 7D at the same time. Literally. He’s having the time of his life and I’m learning to read the Cyrillic for “restaurant” at a distance since slowing down simply isn’t an option, even when we’re looking for somewhere to eat.

The spire of the Cosmonaut Museum

Our first few days were spent shooting in Grisha’s apartment, which is in an old Soviet-style building. We had to take our gear up in a battered old elevator the size of a closet since the stairs had been gated off to build more apartments in the stairwell landings.

No, really. In a fire, those people are doomed.

That elevator actually worried me a bit, and I don’t spook easily. If the Indiana Jones ride were an elevator, that rattly little lift is what it would feel like. If it weren’t for the fact I know those old Russian women in that building have been using that Cabinet of Horrors since before the birth of Christ, I would have been genuinely concerned.

On Saturday, Hollywood and I got up at zero-dark-thirty to shoot time-lapse of sunrise over Moscow. Our lookout is apparently a popular spot for young Russians to get drunk and hang out all night. I had a drunken Asian Moscovite flirting with me in broken English (at one point, she grabbed my junk to illustrate some point about me being a man; I replied by grabbing her ass, which was met with approval.

Our interpreter, Natasha, and the mind-boggling USSR fountain

By sunrise I had a small cadre of Russian twentysomethings asking me questions. These were largely about what I thought of Moscow, asked so they could then expound on their feelings about Moscow.

Yesterday was more B-roll, mostly of gigantic monuments to the USSR. North of Moscow is a giant park dedicated to the various countries of the union, with the biggest, most ornate fountain I’ve ever seen. There’s also a museum dedicated to the cosmonauts, highlighted by a pretty stunning metal spire honoring Yuri Gagarin.

It’s been a great trip. The job can be frustrating, and I’m anxious to get back to work on C&E. I’ve been doing a lot of flirting with the girls back home, but mostly I miss LL. Looking forward to seeing her when she gets off work Friday night. Until then, I’m enjoying this bizarre city and it’s interesting, serious people. The Russians are so surly, they make me seem downright cheerful by comparison.

Can you imagine such a thing?

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