“When the artists put on make-up by candles” – memories of the pioneer of Bulgarian cinema Vasil Gendov

“When the artists put on make-up by candles” – memories of the pioneer of Bulgarian cinema Vasil Gendov

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A hitherto unpublished memoir manuscript of Vasil Gendov, the author of “Bulgarian is a Gallant” (1914) and ten other Bulgarian feature films, is becoming available to readers for the first time.

The book, entitled “When the artists put on make-up by candles”, was published by “FunTesy” with the scientific editor and author of the notes and comments – Petar Karjilov.

It tells about the career of Vasil Gendov as a theater actor, who spent five years on the stage of the National Theater, director, playwright and director of a traveling theater troupe, which remained known under the name “Sofia Theater of Vasil Gendov”.

The book is available in Bulgarian and free of charge to anyone at http://funtasy.info/e-book/. The publication, dedicated to the 130th anniversary of the birth of Vasil Gendov, was made possible thanks to the support of the “Culture” program of the Sofia Municipality and the kind cooperation of the “Ivan Vazov” National Theater, where the original manuscript was stored for nearly five decades.

We bring to your attention parts of Alexander Donev’s preface to the book and a short excerpt from it:

A brief introduction to a theatrical memoir

It seems that our Bulgarian mentality does not like prominent personalities too much. Or at least he hardly tolerates them as his contemporaries. Perhaps this is the reason why Vasil Gendov’s fascinating theatrical memoir remained unknown to the general public for so many decades. It is titled by the author “Pages from the development of the provincial theater /personal memories/ by Vasil Gendov”.

The new title used by the publisher for the present publication is based on a quotation taken from the text itself. It was necessary because the author used “provincial theater” to a large extent as a synonym for a traveling theater troupe, and “provincial artist” unambiguously for “traveling artist”, while today the meaning attached to these words is different.

Written mainly in the late 1940s and 1950s, the manuscript failed to fit into the ideological molds of the communist era, despite the author’s sometimes naïve and comical efforts to please the new masters. Handed over in the early 1970s by his heirs to the Union of Artists in Bulgaria, the text was apparently deemed unfit for publication and was inventoried soon after in the archives of the Ivan Vazov National Theater.

Once declared a pioneer of cinema in our lands, someone decided that Gendov’s theatrical career as a leader, director and playwright of traveling troupes could be completely ignored. And he is devoted to the mission of the artist and to the theatrical art no less than to the film. He was the leader of the longest-running continuously traveling theater company (from 1920 to 1938), and its audience success was crucial in financing all his feature-length film productions and building his style as a film auteur.

Several decades in a row every year – in autumn, winter and spring, Gendov together with his wife and a group of close friends and associates, united in a traveling theater troupe, bring the art of theater to the most remote corners of the young Bulgarian state. It is the traveling troupes that are the true ambassadors of theater and culture in the deep countryside, where at that time 9/10 of the Bulgarian people lived. Through this activity, Gendov earns the money to finance his film productions, but also studies in detail the taste of the audience, its preferred genres, the specifics of its audience reactions.

There is no significant difference between the melodramatic style of his films and his sensational theatrical productions. Some of his screenplays turn out to be versions of texts that he puts on stage with his actors, some of whom are then filmed in the film. We can assume that most of his author’s plays and dramatizations were influenced by the style and themes of the most popular foreign film productions shown in the country at the time.

The author of the memoir makes almost no references to his film career, but reveals himself as an artist devoted entirely to the theater. Vasil Gendov is not a writer. He is observant, intelligent, reads and writes, has a sharp journalistic pen and a lively journalistic reflex, but he is not a professional writer, nor does he pretend to be one. During his life, he wrote poems, dozens of film scripts, several dozen dramatizations and original plays for his theater companies, hundreds of articles, two voluminous memoirs, but he never demonstrated literary ambitions.

In the preparation of his manuscript for printing, minimal corrections and interventions were made in the author’s authentic way of writing and expression. We are convinced that, although unpolished, the characteristic conversational style combined with the directness of the exposition and biased personal attitude will be sufficiently fascinating for the modern reader. And it will allow them not so much to “read” as to “listen” to the true, unadulterated and unedited “voice” of the author.

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