Nikanor Ivanovich Shilovsky

November 17, 2012

Today, the Ukrainian edition of the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published an interview with Sergey Shilovsky, the self-proclaimed heir of Mikhail Bulgakov’s literary legacy. Shilovsky is the grandson of Elena Sergeevna, Mikhail Bulgakov’s third spouse. Although he claims that his main objective is “to safeguard the integrity of the work of Bulgakov”, Shilovsky is particularly notorious from his numerous attempts to prohibit the screen and stage adaptations of The Master and Margarita in a rather idiosyncratic way. Unless there is money on the table, of course…

One year ago, for instance, Shilovsky banned a representation of the Valery Teryoshkin Jazz Ballet at the Philharmonic Hall in Krasnoyarsk (Siberia) two days before its premiere, just because of its title - The Master and Margarita. He didn't care about the fact that the ballet was not retelling the plot of Bulgakov’s novel -  it was just a musical homage to commemorate Bulgakov’s 120th birthday. In fact, Shilovsky didn’t care about the content at all. According to the ballet’s art director Olga Sergeevna, he was just asking “an obscene amount of money” to allow the performance to go on. The ballet didn’t pay. They just  changed the title into Movement for the truth.

Shilovsky is also known for his rudimentary language. When you hear him talk, it is, to put it mildly, hard to believe that he would be somehow related to a wordsmith like Mikhail Bulgakov - which indeed he is not, by the way. If you follow the link below you can see how he "guarantees the integrity of the work of Bulgakov".

Click here to listen to how Shilovsky justifies his actions

The reason for the interview with Shilovsky in Komsomolskaya Pravda was the planning of Hollywood producer Scott Steindorff for his screen adaptation of The Master and Margarita. But the most remarkable part of the article was Shilovsky’s opinion on Vladimir Bortko’s renowned TV-series Master i Margarita from 2005. He said that he was very disappointed by the series and that he even could “sue Vladimir Bortko” for it.

First Shilovsky commented on Yuri Kara’s film from 1994. “I was satisfied with the work of the actors in the first picture from 1994 with Gaft and Ulyanov”, he said. Which is quite remarkable since, in 2006, when production company TAMP was at long last willing to release Kara’s film, it was Shilovsky who forestalled the release, so that it could only be premiered in 2011, 17 years after the shooting.

But after having praised Yuri Kara, Shilovsky set his sights on Vladimir Bortko. “The last screen version by Vladimir Bortko is in general awful, with a lot of mistakes in the locations and the plot”, Shilovsky said.  “The script, despite of my preliminary coordination, has been changed, and there were many gags which, undoubtedly, did not positively mark a person who is considering himself a genius”.

Shilovsky said it wasn’t worth the trouble to speak about Bortko’s choice of actors, the quality of the shootings or the incarnation of the Cat Behemoth. “At the beginning, I have made many changes to the script, with the sole concern of conformity of the text with the original of the novel, and this corrected version has been agreed upon and signed by three parties: the producers, the director and me. But Bortko decided thathe could afford not tocareaboutthe legalaspects of the case, and made it all in his own way”. This quote may surprise those who have watched Bortko’s film, because one of the most remarkable features of this TV series is that Bortko followed Bulgakov's dialogues almost word for word - exactly as they are written in the novel.

Shilovsky also said that Bortko had been unethical, and that, if he wanted, he could have banned the film because it did not meet the agreements. So why didn’t he? Well… he wanted “to leave it up to Bortko’s conscience”. “My grandmother said that ‘The Master and Margarita’ is a novel about goodness and evil, and if people don’t pay due respect for its realisation, they usually don’t get to good results”, Shilovsky said. Got the message, Vladimir Bortko?

Normally we would not waste many words on someone like Sergey Shilovsky. With his attitude, he would fit perfectly in a lineup next to Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy and Aloisy Mogarich - the Shilovsky look-alikes which Bulgakov excoriated in an unprecedented way in The Master and Margarita. It is a shame though that someone who has no connection whatsoever with the genius of Bulgakov, can invoke the “safeguarding of his literary legacy” to prevent or to belittle the work of people who have much more talent. Or that he, as Azazello would say in a bit irreverent way, becomes rich by no other merit than the simple fact that his grandmother decided to cheat on her husband in 1929. Behemoth - einz, zwei, drei!

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