Mikhail Bulgakov, star of stage and screen

Having come to his full powers as a writer whose novels and stories could not be published during Stalin’s growing stranglehold on power, whose plays could almost never hope to be performed, Bulgakov is now a hot commodity in the entertainment world.

The latest news is that Stone Village Pictures – makers of The Human Stain and Love in the Time of Cholera – was shopping its Master and Margarita adaptation at the American Film Market trade fair in Santa Monica this week along with a yet to be named Pablo Escobar film project. Woland meet Pablo, Pablo this is the Prince of Darkness.

I am not terribly optimistic that anyone can adapt this brilliant novel to film, least of all anyone remotely connected to Hollywood. The screenplay was written by Caroline Thompson, writer of Edward Scissorhands, The Addams Family and Corpse Bride among others. This has naturally led to speculation that Tim Burton might direct it, which would be the surest way to shrink a masterpiece into something digestibly weird and quirky. Johnny Depp could play Satan, maybe Danny DeVito as Behemoth. Oh, Satan save us!

Perhaps Roman Polanski’s ill-fated adaptation from the late 80s would have been better before the studios backed out due to “budgetary concerns.” (Build a set of 1920s Moscow, of Herod’s Jerusalem, of a spectacular black mass – what budgetary concerns?).

There have been many versions over the years – a recent TV mini-series, a Yugoslav/Italian film version from 1972 that was so bad I walked out of the theater. I came to the conclusion that the only hope for adaptation would be to animate it, which is what Rinat Timerkaev is in the process of doing. You can see the trailer for yourself. The style is a bit commercial for my taste.

Mikhail Afanasyevich on stage

Far more artistic promise might be found in the play Collaborators being put on at London’s National Theatre and written by John Hodge. Hodge is best known for his screenplays such as Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, and here puts Bulgakov and Stalin together on stage and into a sinister literary complicity. The play has received mixed reviews, with some complaints that its satire missed its target others found it a fascinating and imaginative combination. There will be film broadcasts of the production in London and elsewhere from December 1.

And the last bit of Bulgakov theater news comes from the always interesting John Freedman’s blog about culture and art in Russia in the Moscow Times. At a performance of The Master and Margarita at the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater, Freedman had reached the famous scene where Woland and his crew take over the variety theater and fulfill the audience’s vain requests for material goods. At one point money floats down from the ceiling. Catching the prop money used in the scene Freedman noticed that it featured Bulgakov himself “sitting atop Moscow with a distant image of the moon hanging over his left shoulder.”

Photo – 1) Master and Margarita illustration by Peter Suart, 2) Mikhail Bulgakov with monocle

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Categories: Writers


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  1. Literary roundup: Bulgakov, Faust and Yiddish in Japan | literalab - 20/01/2012

    […] and fuller account of the film on this exhaustive Master and Margarita website. I’ve already written about filming the book and the potential Tim Burton version (Just say no!) and might be content to stick to the book. Other literature-related films on the […]

  2. literalab - 05/11/2012

    […] the way, Gap and other clothing stores whose names I can’t remember, with work on a Master and Margarita adaptation potentially underway it’s probably time to get started on that satanic ball, black […]

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