March 12, 2007

Every little cloud always sings aloud

Some people out there know that I'm a confirmed Winnie-the-Pooh freak, so imagine my delight to find Fyodor Khitruk's 1969 Russian version, Vinni-Pukh, had turned up online:

(Courtesy of Cartoon Brew.) If you're used to the E.H. Sheperd illustrations, or their crude Disneyfication, the visuals may be a surprise (albeit a vibrantly pleasant one), but once that bear launches into his unbelievably catchy song, Khitruk's version leaves all others behind.

The music is by the Polish-Soviet composer Mieczysław Weinberg, who remains largely unknown in the West, although that seems to be changing. Born in 1919, Weinberg hardly had an easy life—the rest of his family perished in the Holocaust, and his father-in-law, the great Soviet Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels (famous for his Yiddish King Lear) was killed on orders from Stalin. But Shostakovich noticed Weinberg's talents and befriended him, and when, a few years later, Weinberg himself was arrested on charges of "Jewish bourgeois nationalism," Shostakovich sent a letter to the head of the NKVD, Lavrenta Beria, on Weinberg's behalf. (He was released upon Stalin's death.) In turn, Weinberg was most likely the driving force behind Shostakovich's turn towards Jewish subject matters in the 1960s and 70s. Before his death in 1996, Weinberg wrote over 20 symphonies, several operas (the work he himself thought his best, the Holocaust-themed opera Passazhirka ["The Passenger"] was posthumously premiered in 2006), and quite a bit of film music, including two more Pooh shorts for Khitruk. Here's another one:

That's Vinni-Pukh idet v gosti ("Winnie-the-Pooh Goes on a Visit"), from 1971. Khitruk was one of the first Soviet animation directors to break out of the rut of Socialist realism, and you can see the Russian folk influences in his Pooh films. Weinberg's music is a perfect fit, vaguely folk-like but also sophisticated and scintillating, setting the mood with a stylish economy of means.


Elaine Fine said...

Thanks for the great Vinni-Pukh films. My nickname as a small child was Pooh, but oh now, how I wish it could have been "Vinni-Pukh."

Jessica said...

This is priceless!!! And puts Disney to shame. Thank you!