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.
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.
The architects are super pleased (says Mama, who googled them) that everyone wants an Instagram selfie with their sign.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are also carriages that were in the award winning War and Peace adaptation. And the much more recent Anna Karenina movie.
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!
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.
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.
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 (originally a short story by Nikolai Gogol) 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pin for later?