This film seems to be a a rather obscure one, but as I am trying to learn Russia and as Rimsky-Korsakov may be my favorite Russian composer, I decided to seek it out. Unfortunately, I found that it's obscurity was largely rather deserved.
On the plus side, our star Grigori Belov acts fairly well and, when made up for the role, bears an eerily exact resemblance to existing photographs of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Viktor Khokhryakov in equally uncanny in how much he manages to look just like Glazunov). The directors must have been aware of this as well, as there is no shortage of static, lingering shots of Rimsky-Korsakov posing and looking thoughtful as he does in historical photos. The film also generally looks scenically excellent, with the exception of some poor model work on oceanic scenes.
Extensive use is mad of Rimsky-Korsakov's music, which is excellent and would be so independent of what the film did with it. Unfortunately, the filmmakers felt that an appropriate use was to take several minutes out of the film to show several minutes from many of the composer's operas as they appeared. The scenes are presented without enough context to impress on their own, and they destroy any movement that the film may have had.
This is a Stalin-era production, so perhaps it should not be surprising that the historical subject is used to gain some unsubtle propaganda value. The Rimsky-Korsakov here is one who claims to avoid politics, then spends most of the film declaiming about politics. It's no fabrication that Rimsky-Korsakov lost his job for his principled support of student demonstrations during the Russian Revolution of 1905, but in this representation of events he comes across as a stiff mouthpiece rather than a human character.
It's impossible to escape a sense of irony, knowing the influence the Stalin government must have borne on the content of this film, to hear its central character declaim on the necessity of freedom of expression for the artist in contrast to the Tsar's censorship. But politics aside, "Rimsky-Korsakov" commits the sin of dullness, which the real Rimsky- Korsakov's music never did. I haven't been able to see the American film "Song of Scheherazade" yet, but supposedly it is almost completely fabricated. Rimsky-Koraskov deserves a better representation in film.
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