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COVER STORY : ON LOCATION : Art and history have collided in Moscow with the shooting of a film on the life of Josef Stalin, right. Robert Duvall, left, as Stalin and Maximilian Schell as Lenin have re-enacted the deeds of the dictators in the very locations where they occurred--and with the turmoil of the present day in the background. : Awakening the Kremlin's Ghosts

January 12, 1992|DAVID GRITTEN | David Gritten is a frequent contributor to Calendar, based in London. and

Still, the day's shoot inside the Kremlin was memorable. One walked through a heavy security door into a long, carpeted corridor, with pictures of Lenin and his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, and medals, awards and mementos of Lenin's day in wooden cabinets lining the walls. Inside, Schell, made up as Lenin, strolled down a long room with a conference table where the party Politburo met. On the desk in Lenin's living room was an antique phone, an address book and a curious wood carving of a monkey holding a globe--a gift to Lenin from industrialist Armand Hammer in 1921.

The kitchen, with the original cups and pans in cabinets, was a simple affair, as was Lenin's apartment. His bedroom was almost Spartan, with just a single bed and a writing desk.

Lenin was multilingual and a voracious reader, and bookcases were prominent in every room. One entire shelf was devoted to the works of British philosopher Bertrand Russell, and elsewhere, such titles as "Women in Industry," "The Way Forward" and "Japan and the California Problem" nestled alongside works in Russian.

The filmmakers went about their business swiftly, somberly and even a little quietly, as if in a shrine. There was a strong awareness that one floor below, unseen and unheard, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev was working on state business.

Duvall, in Stalin makeup, did his best to lighten the mood, entering with a scowl beside the irrepressible British actress Miriam Margolyes, who plays Krupskaya. Seeing a picture of Lenin's wife and mother-in-law, both gazing bleakly at the camera, he growled: "Which twin has the Toni, huh?" Margolyes giggled--then tried to suppress her laughter, which she worried might have been inappropriate in this setting.

"You are all very lucky to be here," the veteran Shefov, director of this museum for 25 years, said through a translator. "This is like the Roman Empire. They're shooting history inside the very building it happened." Had he read the script? "Yes. It's only 10% true. The actors who play Stalin and Lenin look good--but many things in this script are not precise."

But since he did not assume his post until 13 years after Stalin's death, and never met him, how would he know how things exactly happened? Shefov fixed a stare. "It's not a matter of whether I met him," he said icily. "I know much about the truth, the feeling, the atmosphere."

The day's work was eventually cut short after a message came from a Gorbachev aide that the building was to be cleared for security considerations.

Logistics problems continued. Two days later, a big scene was shot in an imposing building called the Hall of Columns, where Stalin lay in state after his death. A line of 700 extras filled in as mourners, filing gravely past his expertly reconstructed corpse. But toward the end of a fatiguing, painstaking day, the extras decided they had had enough; they would work no longer without a pay increase. The event became known by the cast and crew as "the peasants' revolt."

"You should have heard some of their rhetoric," said Carliner, rolling his eyes after a meeting with the extras' representatives. But in the end, the Soviet production company that hired the extras yielded, and paid them a few more rubles per hour. Score one for the proletariat.

Then there were the scenes at a Moscow rail station, doubling for the Finland Station where Lenin made a famous speech in 1917, urging the Bolsheviks to seize power. They called for two steam locomotives to pull trains, but, as Passer recalls, "we had great difficulty in getting the trains to start or stop. We'd signal them to stop, and it would take half a mile before it happened. At first we couldn't figure out why, then we realized. Both train drivers were drunk. At 8 in the morning."

Dressed in an army uniform and boots, Duvall wears a thick wig of dark, reddish hair brushed back from his forehead; the makeup around his eyes recalls Stalin's faintly Asian appearance. On this particular day, in his trailer parked close by Red Square, Duvall is in a somewhat grouchy mood.

"This is TV," he sighs. "And everybody's got to be a chief. It's filmmaking compartmentalized and departmentalized. Everyone's got to throw their hat in. They didn't cast people until two or three days before. Give actors a chance! Ivan Passer was my choice, and they fought me. They weren't used to that, but I sensed he was the right guy and I'm very happy with him. They waited until late to hire him.

"But I'm finding a way. We've had some blows against us. We were just thrown in there. There weren't enough makeup tests and the first week was a disaster, we were fumbling. Tests were promised but those promises were not fulfilled. I didn't get a final script until two weeks before we started. And we were promised a 12-week shoot, not nine weeks." (HBO executives on the set said nine weeks was always the schedule.)

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