Father

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My father was back. He had been rehabilitated. He immediately returned to work at vgik (All-Union State Institute of Cinematography, which everyone referred to as the Moscow Film School), where he had taught since 1924.

The first thing he did was go to the library.

''Where are my books?'' he asked. He had published close to fifteen works by then.

''We were forced to remove them,'' the librarian said. ''Well, and what did you do with them? Throw them away?'' I knew that librarian, from the time when I was a student. She was an old woman, very amusing.

Later, the legendary Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, with whom Father worked at vgik, jokingly referred to him as the Prisoner of Chillon—not because of any Byronic romanticism about Father but because of the Lubyanka prison, whose facilities Father had enjoyed, alas. Eisenstein anticipated arrest several times in his life, and he used Father's sorrowful experience (or, depending on your point of view, exceptionally lucky one) as a yardstick for himself. Whenever anyone asked him what it was like, Father used to reply with a chuckle, ''Not like a resort, that's for sure.''

Father wasn't supposed to talk about it, but he did, rather fearlessly. He told some people about Shumyatsky—only a few glimpses, never the whole story. After Father's death, I asked my mother, ''Did he ever talk to you about his imprisonment?''

He didn't tell her, and he didn't tell me.

I don't know why she had never asked him. I do know why I didn't ask. I didn't want to traumatize him. He wouldn't have lied, of course, and I didn't want to make him talk about his beatings.

In the late 1940s, Father was walking down Ordynka Street and bumped into the interrogator who had been in charge of his case at Lubyanka. The man was on a bicycle, and when he saw Father, he stopped and gleefully waved. ''Evsei Mikhailovich, hello!'' he cried.

They shook hands. He said something. Father said something, trying to be polite.

When he got home, he exclaimed, ''God, can you believe who I met today! It was horrible!''

I remembered that, even though I was only six or seven then.

In late 1952, at the peak of the anti-Semitic campaign when everyone was expecting the worst—arrests, pogroms, mass deportation to Siberia—the same interrogator called up on the telephone out of the blue.

''Evsei Mikhailovich, my daughter just graduated from college. She needs a job. Can you help, please?''

At the time, Father was heading the research department at nikei (the Film Technology Research Institute).

''Sorry, but we don't have any openings at this time,'' he said. ''I can't help you.''

At home, he commented to Mother, ''Why did I have to be so abrupt? I don't know. It just came out. I couldn't say anything different. What is going to happen now?''

But, fortunately, there were no repercussions.

Father died in 1971 at the age of sixty-eight—by today's standards, a young man. He was very strong physically, but the doctors said that the insomnia that had tormented him throughout his life had undermined his health. He never slept more than three or four hours a night, and always with very strong drugs. After his sixty-third birthday, he began having heart attacks. I am sure that they were the result of his incarceration in 1938 and the always-present threat of a new arrest during the years of Stalin's dictatorship.

He also worked very hard, to the point of exhaustion—holding at least two jobs at the same time. He was head of the cinema technology laboratory at nikei and a department head at vgik. He was an adviser on many projects and worked on the development of Russian sound film. Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, he created Soviet wide-screen systems, including Cinerama and Circa-rama. He was also in charge of designing and installing the famous ruby stars that to date adorn the Kremlin towers.

Every morning, he was at his desk by six. He had ninety-two books published, two of them posthumously. One of his books was a profile of Louis Lumière, whom Father met in 1935 during the first visit made to France by a Soviet delegation of filmmakers.

Perhaps this is why, as a child, I had already developed such a strong feeling for the art of filmmaking. I had the privilege of growing up among the people who shaped this art from the beginning.

Even when I was very little, Father used to tell me, ''Darling, you must work. You must do all kinds of work. No work is ever wasted. It will always have some use.''

''Papa, but why do you write so many books? Why do you torture yourself?''

The books did remain. But I don't know if anyone reads them these days.

Now I blame myself for not having talked more to my father—not only about his incarceration in Lubyanka but about everything.

Nowadays I tape the video memoirs of old filmmakers—but I never filmed my own parents or seriously questioned them. Yet I could have learned so much from them!

There didn't seem to be enough time to ask Father anything. He was at work from morning till night. And when I was young, I had no time for conversations. My head was empty, and whatever my elders had to say was by definition boring. Later I was too busy with work, family, and friends.

The only things Father liked talking about and I liked listening to were stories of his own childhood and life in the tiny Ukrainian town of Nikopol. ''When I was a little boy,'' he would begin, and then came reminiscences of what marvelous apricots and tomatoes the people had there, the delicious aroma of the sausage that cost only two kopecks, how you could buy a cow for a ruble, and where he went to school. All those trifles settled in my brain, but we never got around to the important things.

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