Buying one of the items below helps a little to fund my projects
- Of Freaks and Men (1998) — This is one of my very favorite films, and I think maybe the best movie of the 1990’s. Superb cinematography by Sergey Astakhov, brilliant acting and direction. Plus it has a short scene at the fabulous ruined stables at the Znamenka estate (when Putilov is out trying to photograph Liza), as well a number of shots of old Petersburg in its contemporary condition. I’m so happy this film finally found a U.S. distributor. DVD | VHS
- Downfall (2004) — A powerful and frightening film about Hitler’s last days underneath Berlin. Hitler is depicted in great detail, really as a human and not simply as a monster and madman. So in many respects the film is a fascinating psychological study of a charismatic leader obsessed with abstract, nationalistic ideals and how everyone around him—from generals to average, otherwise decent people—was all too eager to be misled and drug down with him. Ironically, most if not all of the exteriors were shot in St. Petersburg, and a number show the Polovtsov Dacha. In particular, it’s the white building next to the outside exit of Hitler’s bunker. A brief scene of a decadent party (when they seize Fegelein in bed) was shot in the Tapestry Hall. Official Website. DVD
- Stalker (1979) — Tarkovsky is one of the great masters of cinema, and this is, I think, one of his more approachable films. If you’re expecting a standard Hollywood-style pot-boiler with a “plot” and in which “something happens,” you’ll hate this film. But if you’re willing to work at it, the movie will reward you. It’s a beautiful film, and takes place mostly in some very choice industrial ruins. DVD | VHS
- Russian Ark (2002) — an incredible production that covers 300 years of Russian history in a single 90 minute take. There are hundreds of actors in period dress and the movie shows off a lot of the Winter Palace (Hermitage). The thing I liked best on the DVD, though, was a little documentary called “Mon Paradis — Der Winterpalast” (2001), which follows the lives of several Hermitage workers. They’re wonderful examples of some of the best kinds of people you’ll meet in Russia, and the film presents a sincere look at their everyday lives. DVD
- Chistilishche (1997) — This film chronicles a real blood-soaker of a battle for a hospital complex in Chechnya. Everything was shot at the old hospital in Razliv, though you don’t see much of the building what with all the smoke and incessant explosions. At least you can see what the windows looked like before they were blown out, probably by the film crew. Overall a really poor movie.
- Lost Russia: Photographing the Ruins of Russian Architecture — The photographs in this book are a bit flat tonally, but they do a decent job of documenting some amazing structures, mostly in the area around Moscow. The accompanying text gives some of the historical background for each building, as well as personal observations and anecdotes — pretty enjoyable reading. William Brumfield is one of the most knowledgeable American professors in the area of Russian architecture.
- Studio St. Petersburg — very atmospheric black & white photography. Many of the pictures are of people, but a number feature ruins or otherwise dilapidated buildings in and around Petersburg. Not much text, but the photographs are interspersed with good quotes from Russian literary figures.
- Life on the Russian Country Estate — a comprehensive and well-researched but still very readable work on all aspects of estate life from its rise during the reign of Peter the Great to its fall after the 1917 revolution. Besides the text, there’s a good number of illustrations and photographs.
- St. Petersburg: The Hidden Interiors — This book offers a look inside many remarkable buildings in the city which are either hard to gain access to or are just off the path of most tourists and many residents. The photography is good quality and the text provides a brief history of each location. The cover photograph is from the Polovtsov dacha.
- Winfield: Living in the Shadow of the Woolworths — Monica Randall had the fantastic and enviable fortune of growing up on New York’s Gold Coast at a time when many of its opulent mansions had fallen into disrepair and were being demolished. In this memoir, she describes her adventures into this ruined paradise. “Winfield” is both a pretty elegy to bygone days, and a very suspenseful mystery. I really enjoyed reading it.
- Lost Buildings — a book and animated documentary film about the Louis Sullivan buildings in Chicago. Sullivan’s buildings were wonderful and whimsical examples of turn of the 20th century architecture; most of them have been demolished. “Lost Buildings” offers many historical photographs, a touching story, and much insight into the lives and personalities of buildings. It’s a collaborative project between radio host Ira Glass, Chicago’s cultural historian Tim Samuelson, and cartoonist Chris Ware. Beautiful story, illustration, design, everything. Right now, it’s only available from some public radio stations as a gift for pledging (a very worthwhile investment, I think), but it may be offered for sale directly from the This American Life website later in 2005.
- Zones of Exclusion: Pripyat and Chernobyl — A 2001 photographic exploration of Reactor 4 and the adjacent plant operators’ city of Pripyat, abandoned after the 1984 accident. You can find some of the best pictures from the book here. Overall pretty interesting, though if you’ve seen many former Soviet cities, some of the pictures aren’t going to amaze you.
- Gravity’s Rainbow — This book has no pictures, but it’s got enough underground factories, bunkers, and assorted Nazi war secrets in it to keep any urban explorer happy. “Gravity’s Rainbow” is an amazing work, but not a book the average, sane person would enjoy reading, I think :-)