MosFilm Tour of a Russian Film Studio

Mama says acting, and in fact any job connected to the film industry, is a lot harder and frequently a lot less glamorous than you might first think. As demonstrated by the MosFilm Studio toilets on the MosFilm Studio tour. Which are horrible.

A mural showing two large hands pulling the strings of figures such as a cameraman, actors and musicians on a building at MosFilm Studio

Founded in the 20s (that’s the 1920s, says Mama, slightly shocked that we are back in the twenties already), the Mosfilm Studio is one of the biggest and oldest film studios in both Russia and Europe, responsible for a huge number of Soviet-era movies by people even foreigners might know about.

Like Sergei Eisenstein’s silent movie masterpieces, including the historical drama Battleship Potemkin. Remember? A pram bouncing down some stone steps? Regularly voted the best film evah. Or at least somewhere firmly in the top 100.

Andrey Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker films were also filmed here, along with the rest of his movies. Which Mama would have more to say about if she had actually seen any of them, even the remade version with George Clooney. Apparently they are good?

The Mosfilm Studio also made many films which won international awards at every possible film festival available.

Such as Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, a melodrama about the life of a female factory director, which was one of the Oscar winners in 1980. Apparently President Regan (of the US) used it as background research before his meeting with President Gorbachov (of the USSR).

Everybody else should use it as research as to what the Russian Dream looks like. Moving to Moscow, mostly.

Also worth it for the absolutely spot on early prediction (from a Western point of view) that after nearly two whole generations of mass female access to university education and state sponsored equality, women will be able to achieve modest career success despite being (spoilers) a single mother, but men will still be telling them that they should be less ambitious if they want to have a romantic relationship. Hurrah!

MosFilm produced an even larger number of films that are extremely well known within the former USSR. For example, the Irony of Fate, in which a man from Moscow gets drunk, gets on a plane for St Petersburg accidentally, and ends up in an identical street, and an identical block of flats to his Moscow home. Entering what he thinks is his flat, he meets a woman and…. It is a comedy shown religiously every New Year’s Eve and regularly quoted as an integral part of the New Year celebrations.

It’s certainly part of Mama’s salad chopping ritual.

By the end of the Soviet period the MosFilm Studio had made more than 3,000 movies, in fact. And it was by far from being the only studio in the former USSR, or even in Russia.

It is the only one now (it says) that has the capabilities of making a movie from start (I think that means scriptwriting) to finish (something something editing?)

It survived the dark, financially difficult times of the 90s (that’s the 1990s for those of you reading in the future) to benefit from fairly hefty recent investment. Which has just resulted in some lovely shiny new buildings to house props and fit 1000 actors at a time into an indoor shooting location, for example.

A woman's purple 19th century dress costume from the film Anna Karenina

The architects are super pleased (says Mama, who googled them) that everyone wants an Instagram selfie with their sign.

A large white logo saying MOSFILM in Russian stands in front of some modern buildings on the MosFilm Studio tour.

To be fair, that sort of size is something MosFilm is used to. One of their sound recording studios can hold a full symphony orchestra and a 100 strong choir at once.

There’s also quite a bit of state financial backing from the government for film making in general in Russia currently, as an active attempt to make sure that rapidly recovering box office sales go to home grown cinema rather than Hollywood blockbusters. This is somewhat controversial as commercially, many of these movies have not been quite the roaring success of Marvel’s Avengers series. In fact, very few of them have actively made a serious profit.

Three mannequin heads with large colourful curly haired wigs

MosFilm doesn’t do all that much film production under its own name any more, but it does lease its services and pavilions to other production companies for both film and TV. And luckily, it is also not so high minded that it won’t do quite a lot of high quality dubbing of foreign movies too.

Costumes in a sort of Cossack style from a famous Russian film

So all in all the MosFilm Studio territory is still a busy place, with up to 100 new projects each year. As a company, it claims to be highly profitable.

It also has its own hotel.

Therefore you cannot just rock up wander in and wander around what is very much a real working space. You need to go on a MosFilm Studio tour, which you need to book in advance, ideally collecting 20+ of your friends together first.

There will be signing in and registering to get through.

While waiting, you can admire the T-34 tank (among others), which MosFilm has hanging around right next to the gates, in case any of them should be needed for a film.

A T-34 tank in the grounds of MosFilm Studio

Apparently this is just a small tip of the iceberg of the tank collection held by the MosFilm props department. 170 tanks in total, in fact. Mama recommends you don’t try to invade.

From the tanks you will be taken to look at vehicles, all of which have appeared in various films. The explanatory placards tell you which ones, and the MosFilm Studio tour guide will remind you of any particularly memorable scenes as you go round as well as pointing out any other interesting facts.

Such as this not being a real Rolls Royce. It’s a Rolls Royce chassis built out of, I dunno, cardboard, around another car.

A car which has been adapted to look like a Rolls Royce at MosFilm Studio

This is a car from Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears, which Mama doesn’t have much of a recollection of ever noticing while actually watching the film.

A blue Moskvich car from the film Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears

These fine vehicles appeared in a variety of films like the Russian version of Catch 22, 12 Chairs, a biopic of the rock star poet Yesenin, and one of the sequels (the many many sequels) to a knock about contemporary comedy called Yolki.

An old car and an old fashioned red fire engine at the MosFilm Studio

There are also carriages that were in the award winning War and Peace adaptation. And the much more recent Anna Karenina movie.

Small one or two person enclosed carriage from the film Anna Karenina

But the exhibit that blew our socks off so that we clutched each other happily when we spotted it and took numerous selfies around it was this one. Mama had already given it a shout out in our film review of Viy 2 recently. Look at it! All steampunk and everything!

A steampunk style carriage from the film Viy 2 Journey to China

What refined cinematic taste we have.

Then we set off round corridors, because a number of display cases of items such as costumes, props and All The Awards are in all sorts of random out of the way corners.

A selection of film making awards, including some Oscars, won by MosFilm Studio in Moscow

Mama quite enjoyed feeling as though she was properly backstage as she was trotting along the linoleum, past the institutional decorating choices. Mind you, this was where the toilet experience occurred so it wasn’t all joy.

In the same set of Soviet era buildings as the garage is a also small room of items related to the art of grotesque make up, including a number of casts of actors’ faces, the better to turn them into monsters for projects such as a film version of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. With, y’know, the devil and a giant talking cat.

Plastercasts of a number of famous Russian actors faces

This sort of expertise probably came in quite handy when they were assisting the real life KGB by providing a body double for an abruptly deceased spy so they could catch his CIA handler too.

The Mosfilm Studio is so proud of its historical FX department they actively advertise a special animatronic exposition. Which aims to bring a whole scene from the 60 year old original Viy horror film to life. With sound and everything.

We children of the digital age watched it. We were polite about it.

Mama thinks that perhaps it doesn’t need its own bullet point in the promotional materials.

What was genuinely thrilling, was getting to amble around the mock ups of classical St Petersburg and old Moscow. In what Mama gathers are called backlots.

Street set with classical old buildings on either side of a cobbled street at MosFilm Studio, a film studio in Moscow

This is especially true as the day that we were there, at the end of December in the warmest winter on record in Moscow, it was not snowing but it was the shortest day of the year and foggy. So, extremely atmospheric, and utterly convincing. Except for the oddly piercing lights, and super modern large new apartment block right next to MosFilm.

Set of old streets and buildings on the MosFilm Studio tour with a real modern highrise building in the background

Mama also wonders what the astonishingly hard to walk on cobbles are all about. Is it to get an authentic historical swagger out of method actors trained by Stanislavsky? Or because you need really big stones in order for it to show up properly on camera?

Old Moscow set MosFilm Studio, with cobbled streets and old crumbing buildings on either side

And! A friend who went at a different time says that the sets were actually being used for filming on her excursion, so they got to watch that as well.

Cool, although we also came across filming in progress in London once, and what that consisted of was standing around admiring some admittedly spectacular camera equipment and the lack of anything at all happening for about 45 minutes, and then someone crashed through a window, taking all of a split second.

Mama still enjoys watching Kingsmen to spot that very moment though.

Getting to see an actual sound stage, was also cool, again because, aside from the chandeliers, it comes just as it is.

Empty room used as a film studio at MosFilm Stdio, apart from two chandeliers hanging from the ceiling

They do let you into the permanent mock up of an Orthodox chapel interior. Which Mama has made a mental note to look out for in any future Russian film/ TV watching she does. She was particularly impressed that they have even recreated the little booth of religious essentials, candles, bible verses and domestic icons.

A large movie camera in a tripod stands in a set of a Russian Orthodox church at MosFilm Studio

Should you go on a tour? Even if you don’t know much about Soviet or Russian films? Yes, of course. It’s not wildly expensive, and what you are getting is a genuine unprettied up look behind the scenes at the reality of the film industry. Akin to being allowed to go and admire how everything is held together with gaffer tape at a theatre, or watch the dancers massaging their torn up feet between set pieces at the ballet, and so on.

Mama would have liked the MosFilm excursion to include the new buildings, but you can’t have everything.

Costumes of different types of armour at MosFilm Studio

Of course, you might want to pay special attention to any cars, bikes and carriages in any Russian films you do decide to watch between then and now. And see all the versions of Viy available.

If you do want to learn more about Russian classic cinema, then the street festival for City day a few years ago was quite Mosfilm heavy.

Alternatively, there is an English language podcast devoted to Russian and Russian interest films by a former Moscow resident, Russophiles Unite! which also features a number of MosFilm creations, and special guests.

And MosFilm itself has made a number of its films freely available on YouTube, many with subtitles.

What did we children think of it? We thought it was GREAT, mainly, as far as Mama could gather, because of the walking involved between display cases and little chats by the tour guide.

Children, Mama has concluded, are weird.

More information

The MosFilm Studio tour website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the Bechdel Test: Women in Film.

Address: Mosfilmovskaya str. 1, Moscow, 119991, Russia

Admission: Tours start at 460 roubles for adults and 310 roubles for schoolchildren.

Getting there: Kievskaya metro station (light blue or brown line) and then a bus or trolleybus 7, 17, 34, 119 or 205 . Or Universitet metro station (red line) and bus or trolleybus 7, 34 or 119.

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Moscow City Day Street Party 2016

Moscow was 869 years old on this year’s City Day, and that’s official.

I think it must be very hard to decide what to give someone who is 869. There are only so many My Little Pony dolls, accessories, houses, ice cream parlours, DVDs, costumes, card games and apps out there, whatever Mama might think. The Moscow authorities looked at the profusion of round numbers and gifted the capital of Russia a new circular metro line encompassing the more outlying areas of the city. Which was nice of them. A train set is always acceptable, even if it isn’t actually pink or covered in unicorns. But despite Mama’s keeness to ride the rails, we decided it might be a bit busy on its first day of opening. Instead, we went to the giant street party in the centre.

Living fountain of friendship Moscow City Day 2016

There’s always a street party for City Day.

But as it turned out, this one was not transport related. 2016 is the Year of Film in Russia and so instead we had  pop up cafes, stage shows, cosplayers and street performers all working around the theme of movies set in Moscow. You could even hunker down and watch the films themselves in tiny temporary cinemas if the other entertainment on offer got too much for you.

Now, by films set in Moscow, of course I mean those made by the very prolific Soviet and Russian film industry. Surprisingly, that means virtually none of them feature Brucik Willisov speeding around fighting the mafia and/ or the KGB among grim tower blocks and dilapidated nuclear power stations or fighting off prostitutes in seedy nightclubs.

Says Mama.

So what we had instead was the circus, time travel, Tolstoy, precocious children, singing in the rain, time travel (again), vampires and hipsters. Naturally.

There’s a running joke in the excellent (if very short-lived) Mitchell and Webb series the Ambassadors, set in a Former Soviet Country, which all expats in the Former States really should watch if only to cringe at the spot on portrayal of their foibles. This gag’s about the propensity of the natives to offer the circus as a high treat to any and all visiting foreigners. And the propensity of the expats to cringe with horror at the paucity of this unsophisticated entertainment.

Not a view shared by us, let me tell you! Even if Mama doesn’t have the faintest clue what the film it was referencing was, you can’t go too far wrong, in our opinion, with colourful costumed stilt walkers prepared to lift you up for a selfie, acrobats prepared to teach you some of the tricks of their trade and unicycle riders who took my Jammy Big Brother up with them and rode round the assembled audience, to his everlasting delight. Except I didn’t get to have a go.

Says Mama.

Circus performers at Moscow City Day 2016

Next up was Ivan Vasilievich Changes his Profession where, in a freak accident, the very medieval medieval Tsar, Ivan the Terrible, gets swapped with a lookalike petty criminal from 1970s Moscow, with predictably hilarious results. That one’s based on a story by Bulgakov, in case you didn’t think the Master and Margarita was obscurely satirical enough. But it meant that the organisers of this event could dress people up in robes and fighting gear and trot out the people doing live action metal work again, so that’s alright.Medieval Guards Moscow City Day 2016

Plus, the rather fabulous costumes from the actual film were on display, and that was definitely worth a gawk.

Ivan the Terrible robes Moscow City Day 2016

One of what I can only assume is War and Peace’s many iterations, saw the interactive fun themed around members of the public being invited to dress up in early 19th century dresses and hang out with the main characters whilst admiring the uniforms of the soldiers sitting around staring moodily into the distance or playing on their iphones. Mama says that Russians admit to skipping the War bits in the novelisation. This must be why. Not much happens.

War and Peace Moscow City Day 2016

Mama, being British, particularly enjoyed the installation where you could stand underneath umbrellas and have water poured on you. A bold choice, she thought, given that it’s mid September and last year’s City Day was a bit of a washout. And you thought Russians don’t have a sense of humour. I, on the other hand, was delighted to be able to show off my performance skills as this was the bit of the street devoted to the musical film, Here I Go, Walking Through Moscow, the title song to which I learned in school! Singalongs! With actions! That’s what every good party needs!Singing ion the rain Moscow City Day 2016

Then it started to get weird, otherwise known as Soviet sci fi.

Soviet cosplay Moscow City Day 2016

Now, they weren’t celebrating Mama’s favourite film in this genre, about a robot boy who takes the place of his lookalike human counterpart at school (The Adventures of an Electronic). Which goes about as successfully as you might expect but also gives a surprisingly interesting insight into what Soviet childhood was actually like in the 80s. No, this one, Guests from the Future, was the one where visitors from the future end up fighting for control of a little black box, to be ultimately thwarted by upstanding members of Muscovite youth culture. I gather from the rolling interactive performance of the main scenes which this area of Tverskaya Street consisted of.

Sci fi street theatre Moscow City Day 2016

Frankly, my Jammy Big Brother and I were decidedly sceptical about the fabulously dressed people milling around, although Mama, who you may have gathered is a bit of a geek, didn’t really see this as a problem as it allowed her the opportunity of getting her photo taken for once. More than once. More than twice, actually. But we enjoyed playing tug of war with the bad guys (we won) and chasing them through the streets of Moscow on our imaginary motorcycles (we won) and generally contributing to the triumph of the gentleman dressed in silver lame over the men in yellow (we won). I mean, who wouldn’t?

We also enjoyed taking part in the obstacle course races, the aim of which, was to act as good Soviet pioneers (like the scouts/ guides but more…. compulsory), and carry the milk in string bags home to Mama through tunnels, and so on. We both won our rounds in that one too. Mama notes we seem to have become a tad competitive over the summer.

Pioneer obstacle course Moscow City Day 2016

In fact, as you can see there was quite a lot going on for us kids, despite the fact that they didn’t seem to be celebrating any of the excellent Soviet cartoons we have been brought up on. And while it was crowded for Moscow, we’d recently attended one of the cultural hat tips on Trafalgar Square, and believe you me, you haven’t experienced packed until you have been to Maslenitsa, Diwali, Eid, a Japanese Matsuri, St Patrick’s Day and Pride in a space which can comfortably fit about a tenth of the people attending it, and you definitely haven’t felt frustrated until you have seen the queues for the interesting looking food or waited in line to get you hand hennaed for ages and ages and ages and ages and ages.

In contrast, for Moscow’s City Day it didn’t take us long to get the obligatory ice cream, or find seats in the obligingly comfortable bean bag chill out zones when our stamina started flagging about half way down Tverskaya.

Chilling out Moscow City Day 2016

Mama wasn’t, inexplicably, all that keen on experiencing food from a mock Soviet café. But we could have popped into any of the usual eateries which line the street had she not promised us fast food as compensation for indulging her love of spectacle – Moscow city centre is amply provided for refreshment options.

Soviet dining Moscow City Day 2016

Buoyed by our break, we hit the final film sets and were away. There were a few at this point Mama didn’t recognise, including the one which involved a giant Christmas New Year tree and ice/ roller skating rink. So we ignored them. Especially as Mama feels we will have had quite enough of Christmas New Year trees, snow and ice rinks in a few months.

The first one Mama was interested in neatly combined one of the mock ups of Moscow architectural landmarks dotted up and down the street with an actual scene from the film involved. Members of the public were climbing the archways to stand and survey the city. Just like the vampire members of the Day Watch police force, tasked with making sure that the magical forces of Light don’t take advantage during the times when most upright citizens of the Dark are having a well-earned nap from drinking blood, promoting the evil agenda, and so on.

Night Watch Moscow City Day 2016From the films (and books) called the Night Watch. Which are pretty bloody good, says Mama, and widely available in English. Hint hint. And the films are worth it for the subtitles alone, Mama says. Hint hint HINT. But as Mama feels that the plot of this one isn’t really very suitable for our ears and as we think vampires are to be avoided, perplexed is what we were.

Day Watch Moscow City Day 2016

Stilyagi (Hipsters), which ended the film parade, is another fairly recent film. This time, about the people who listened to that alternative underground music of the West,  RocknRoll. It’s another pretty good film, and does a very neat balancing act between the jauntiness of the soundtrack and colourful musical numbers and a glimpse at what happened to non conformists in the Soviet Union back in the day. But there’s also a refusal to turn them entirely into entirely righteous martyrs to individual freeeeeeedom and the American way. And a frankly odd ending. Mama thinks they just ran out of plot, or possibly money, but it’s still worth seeing.

Of course, for the perspective of a giant street party, it’s an excellent excuse to have beautifully dressed people performing energetic, hysterically happy, highly danceable music. And have beautifully dressed people mingle energetically with hysterical happiness with the crowd. Carrying a double bass! Mama was cross that at this point her camera battery died and she didn’t get to hysterically happily mug at us with correct hand positioning on the fretboard. You’ll just have to imagine the big skirts, the fifites hairdos and the hysterically happy grinning.

So, will you enjoy City Day, should you be in Moscow sometime in September next year? Will you enjoy a saunter down a street full of colour and distraction with the occasional snacking opportunity? Even if you are not the target audience and may find whatever theme they have a bit incomprehensible? Well, we certainly did, and so we can highly recommend Tverskaya Street on City Day to anybody. Other venues for celebration are available, but this is our top pick.

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Celebrating Moscow's birthday with a city day street party.

 

More Information

Had your interest in Soviet and Russian films whetted? Have a look at this website, which has links to Russian language films dubbed or subtitled into English.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about temporal mechanics in TV and the movies.

Address: Tverskaya Street, Moscow

Metro: Okhotniy Ryad (red line) Teatralnaya (green line) and Ploshard Revolutsii (dark blue line) are at one end, and Chekhovskaya (grey line), Pushkinskaya (purple line) and Tverskaya (green line) at the other.

By other means: What part of the centre is closed to traffic did you not understand?

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