Friday, 4 November 2011


If one were to compile a book of pictures of the Soviet star Tanya Ryazantsev (and indeed someone has, but it might not count: as the evidence is absent from the web in body of image and of thought. He was a Ukranian photographer (with the distinctly un-Ukranian name of Sauvage), whose collection did not survive Glasnost to arrive safely in the ultimate age of carbon-dated ephemera retrieval, the digital one), one might see a study in the the effort that it takes to construct a frown: for rarely has an icon made looking iconic seem so hard-earned. If she has pedagogical eyes and learned limbs, then she is straining every last branch of her family tree to appear this way.

The photos would show all of her body parts, in varying sequences: the tight calves, stretched as if about to snap; the protruding collarbone, as distinct from her upper torso as a garland of ceremonial tibias; eyelashes, thin and fair, invisible in the sun.

Warhol's treatment of the star in many ways fits his treatment of everything: Ryazantsev's cheekbones are flattened, her expression deadened, her complexion rendered as pale as one of his own palid hairpieces. Warhol, the story goes, lost interest in the star long before he'd finished shooting her, passing her onto David Salle. Characteristically, the Factory host found the scenes that were shot and edited by Salle to be among the finest work that he himself ever produced. If Warhol traced the dichotomies between commerce and art, his most profound statements were the ones that crossed the production line: the silk screens made by others, for example. The films at which he cast but the most cursory glance are the ones that bear his stamp most surely. Such is the paradoxical grip of a certain brand of nihilism.

Ryazantsev then, an enigma of passions, her face a colony of efforts. But to what end? She certainly had none of the ambitions that seem to drive most actresses, and starred in only a handful of films in America, and then erratically. She supposedly turned down many big names over the years, only to say yes to the made-for-TV John Milius actioner Death Or Death? Ryazantsev returned to Russia in 1990 to 'walk the countryside and breathe the air. That is all.' Ryazantev, one suspects, is far too stupid or clever to care about her legacy. If her departure from cinema threatens to lend a Garbo tint to her narrative, the robust quietness of her post-fame life quickly distills such fancy. Garbo quit the screen because she cared, Ryazantsev because she couldn't care less.

In the final shot of the film that sealed her fame across Communist Eastern Europe, дневник моего заключительного года (Diary Of My Final Year, Lev Mikhailov, 1955) the girlish Tanya conjures a frown so delicately indecisive that the viewer feels tricked; its ambivalence strikes a contrast with the repeated mantra of her inner monologue ('You have to love yourself before you can hate anybody else, you have to love yourself before you can hate anybody else...') which spins ever onwards, until the words collide on the soundtrack, overlapping, and splitting, much like Alvin Lucier's sound piece I Am Sitting In A Room. The words become hollow and meaningless in repetition, an idea that Warhol, in particular, understood.

Ryazantsev Directed by David Salle Produced by Andy Warhol, David Salle Written by David Salle, Tanya Ryazantsev Starring Tanya Ryazantsev, Geri Miller Release Date US: Oct 1970 Tagline: 'Yes. No. Maybe. Maybe Not.'

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