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Yuri Norstein and Tale of Tales

Yuri Norstein and Tale of Tales

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Yuri Norstein and Tale of Tales

An Animator's Journey

By Clare Kitson

Publication date: 2005
Total pages: 176
ISBN: 0 86196 646 5
Price: £ 17.50


In June 2002 the Zagreb Animation Festival published the results of an international, four-year poll to establish the best animated film of all time. The winner was not Japanese anime, Disney or Wallace and Gromit, but a 1979 film by Russian animator Yuri Norstein.

Yet when Tale of Tales was first delivered to Goskino, the body then responsible for all Soviet cinema activity, it had caused consternation. How, in a system still geared to the principles of Socialist Realism, where all studios’ script departments teemed with KGB informants, had they ended up with this poetic, impressionistic amalgam.

Tale of Tales fuses Norstein’s memories of his past and hopes and fears for the future: his post-war childhood, remnants of the personal tragedies of war, the little wolf character in the lullaby his mother used to sing, the neighbours in his crowded communal flat, the tango played in the park on summer evenings – and the small working-class boy’s longing to emerge from the dark central corridor of the kommunalka into a luminous world of art and poetry.

This book examines the passage of these motifs into the film but it also looks into later influences that affected it: the officially-sanctioned anti-Semitism under Stalin that launched the boy on a campaign of self-education in the arts, in an attempt to shake off the ‘second class citizen’ label; the period of Khrushchev’s Thaw which, coinciding with Norstein’s teens and early twenties, introduced new ideas and the habit of independent thought; then a spell in a furniture factory, followed by seven years as an animator on other directors’ often pedestrian films, through which he acquired an extraordinary range of technical skills; and a clash with the authorities over his debut film, which persuaded him never again to compromise.


Clare Kitson has written an exemplary book ... She illuminates and deepens the mystery, leaving the power of the images intact and strengthened, which is what good criticism should do.’
A.S. Byatt, Guardian


Clare Kitson, a Russian-speaker who knows the Russian animation scene well, was until 1999 Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for animation.

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