The Argonauts, or: Merry Chronicle of a Dangerous Voyage

Saturnalia stretches on.  This time, we have the discovery made by Hanna Pauloskaya.  Hanna is a scholar of Neo-Latin and Reception studies, and a key player in the University of Warsaw team that leads the Our Mythical Childhood project.   Her current interest is the presence of antiquity in children’s culture of the Soviet Union, paying special attention to animation and cinema for children in communist cultures.  Hanna’s discovery is a 1986 Soviet musical film about the Argonauts, inspired by the adventures of the British explorer Tim Severin, who retraced a number of epic sea voyages, mythical and real, including the voyage of the Argonauts.   Hanna’s discovery is an extraordinary salad of influence, exploration, creativity, and more, and has given the title to her blog about her current research on Soviet children’s animation.  Enjoy!  –Elizabeth Hale.

The Argonauts or Merry Chronicle of a Dangerous Voyage

The first time I watched this movie was while posing as a model for a sculpture my husband was making. So I could only see the picture for 3 minutes every 10 minutes, turning round all the time. The movie itself is also not so conventional and it didn’t make the process of understanding easier. It was a kind of mess of a plot seasoned with nice music, after the first time I ‘watched’ it. I really liked it after the third time and further on.

The movie is called ‘The Argonauts or Merry Chronicle of a Dangerous Voyage.’ The director is Eugene Ginzburg. It was made in 1986 in Moscow (the Ekran Studio) and Tbilisi (the Georgia Film).  It is a musical, or rather a ‘revue’ as it was called officially then. The greater part of it is made by Vocal-Music Instrumental-Ensemble ‘Iveria.’ ( Sergei Zhuk has written a wonderful book about the story behind the ensembles and rock-n-roll and rock in the Soviet Union: Rock and Roll in the Rocket City!)

So here they are — this music, these dances, young Georgian and Russian actors playing Greek heroes, Georgian wine and dances. In the beginning they say they will tell ‘their own’ story of the Argonauts, their vision of why did the Greeks sail to the end of the world.

The inspiration for the movie was an expedition of Tim Severin who, aiming to reconstruct the voyage of Jason, reached the shores of Georgia in 1984. So, two years later we have the movie that starts with documentary shots of the British explorer and his team. The Soviet Argonauts have also reconstructed the ship, and they filmed landscapes of Georgia and Armenia, giving their version of the myths. The whole trip looks like a journey of young men on vacations, happy to have adventures and mighty to overcome them. It seems that the actors also had a great time while filming the movie. Now, regarding this time 30 years ago, they say:

‘A small Georgian town of Poti, where the main shooting took place, was remembered for a long time by everybody. For two days the crew could not start the work. Summer, sun and Georgian feasts ruined all the plans.’

Watch here to see the participants’ memories of making this ‘merry chronicle’

And who knows, perhaps, the Soviet young crew was right and the journey really looked like this—happy, joyful, merry, a bit drunk, where the biggest danger was a stone falling in the mountains and Medea was a beautiful, young, chaste girl, completely in love with a handsome stranger, looking like a son of a king.

–Hanna Paulouskaya

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