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Mel Novikoff Award: Tom Luddy: A Long Happy Life

Sunday, April 09, 2017
4:00 p.m.
Castro Theatre

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Guests Expected

Honoree Tom Luddy expected.


The Mel Novikoff Award is given to an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the film-going public’s appreciation of world cinema. Tom Luddy has been involved in making and showing movies since he directed student film societies at UC Berkeley. Since then, he has worked in film distribution; programmed repertory cinema; served on the board of the Festival; co-founded the Telluride Film Festival; produced landmark movies; and collaborated with filmmakers such as Agnès Varda, Chris Marker, and Jean-Luc Godard. Luddy has been associated with American Zoetrope since 1979. Join SFFILM Festival for this program featuring a conversation followed by a rarely screened Godard short and A Long Happy Life (1966).

In the history of Russian, perhaps, even European auteur cinema, A Long Happy Life (1966) is unique. Now a rarely seen classic, this autumnal drama of love and disenchantment (with strong autobiographical overtones) marks the debut of Gennady Shpalikov’s career as director. It also marks its end. Acclaimed abroad but barely appreciated in Russia, he was never allowed to direct another film, even though he continued to write for the screen until his suicide in 1974 at the age of 37. Like all great artists, Shpalikov was in a dialogue with his great predecessors and contemporaries. An admirer of Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante he turns this cinematic fairy tale about simple bargemen who live happily ever after into its opposite—a Chekhovian drama about the solipsism and narcissism of modern characters, amplified in the infinite echo chamber of the Eurasian plain. The film begins with a long bus ride along a winding highway; it ends with a barge floating down one of the world’s longest rivers. By grafting Chekhov’s pessimism onto sunny Vigo and setting his action in the haunting dusk and darkness of Siberia, Shpalikov produces a Russian take on the archetypal road film, Fellini’s La Strada, with his wife Inna Gulaya assuming the role of Gilsomina—in his art, as in life. A gifted lyric poet, Shpalikov was, like Cocteau or Pasolini, a master of subtle moods and resonances that fill the soul in moments of erotic intoxication or despair. A consummate master of monochromatic chiaroscuro, cinematographer Dmitry Meskhiev brought this poetry to life, encouraging the director to develop his own script, originally a melodrama, into a powerful existential cinema. Plays with Une bonne à tout faire (Jean-Luc Godard, 8 min, 1981/2006), a rare short filmed at Coppola’s American Zoetrope and revolving around a tableau vivant of a Georges de La Tour painting. —Gregory Freidin

Filmmaker Bio(s)

Gennady Shpalikov (1937-1974) was a poet and screenwriter. Among his scripts were those for Walking the Streets of Moscow (1964) and I Am 20 (1965). A Long Happy Life (1966) was his sole film as a director.
Film Details
  • Country(ies): Russia
  • Language(s): Russian
  • Year: 1966
  • Running time: 72
  • Director(s): Gennayi Shpalikov
  • Writer(s): Gennady Shpalikov
  • Cinematographer(s): Dmitriy Meskhiev
  • Editor(s): Aleksandra Borovskaya
  • Music: Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov
  • With: Inna Gulaya, Kirill Lavrov, Yelizaveta Akulicheva

Print Source:
Seagull Films
526 West 111th Street, Suite 2CC
New York, NY   10025