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From a child’s psychedelia to an eerie political satire. How did the cartoons of the inventive Armenian Sahakyants

“What did Armenian multipliers smoke?” – modern students wonder in the comments under the cartoons of Sahakyants. Nothing illegal. Armenian animator Robert Saakyants gained fame great sumptuous creations that every centimeter of film filled phantasmagoria. But the artist has much sharper, topical cartoons that reflect the spirit of the times. About how the cartoons of the inventive Armenian have changed, we will tell.

The works of Robert Sahakyants are surprisingly different: from children’s naughty parables to hard, and sometimes cruel surreal political satire. For most of us, his work is familiar precisely in the most prolific and stellar period of the first half of the 80s, when his cartoons were simply bubbling with imagination and rattling the whole Union. Then they were filmed “You, Shrovetide!”, “Who will tell a fable?”, “In the blue sea, in white foam …” and other works. Naughty children’s cartoons, bright and unexpected.

However, before that, and even more so after the director filmed radically different in spirit, but all the same witty cartoons. In addition, Saakyants was an incredibly efficient and prolific director. And so the changes in his work can be very clearly divided into several periods:

  • young 70’s, in which Sahakyants was still feeling for his style, but he was ready to make bold statements;
  • prolific first half of the 80’s, when Sahakyants took off the cartoons that entered the gold fund of Soviet animation;
  • perestroika political naturalism of the late 80’s and 90’s;
  • and a return to childhood, more cognitive in the 2000s.

And it is more accurate to talk about Saakyants precisely through the prism of his changing inner sense of the world.

Hippie gang leader

Robert Saakyants, or Rob, as his close people called him, was born in 1950 in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan to an Armenian family, and moved to Yerevan together with his parents by the age of 14. There in 1970, Robert settled himself as an animator for the studio “Armenfilm”. His mother saw an ad in the newspaper and advised her son to try. There, the studio gave the Sahakyants homework: draw a horse. But he decided not to postpone the work in a long box and immediately portrayed the running horse in different poses. The studio was slightly shocked: “This great hippie will make a great animator.” And they were not mistaken.

Sahakyants really was a Soviet hippie. More precisely, he adhered to the hippy style: long hair, beard, “bell pants”, rock music on the verge of ban. Of course, there were no drugs and communes. Like free love. With his wife Lyudmila, he met at the studio.

After an internship in Moscow, the debut cartoon “Lilit” (1972) , which he got into the load of another fool and fired director, as well as a couple of trial shorts, Rob was ready to make his debut with the author’s project – a rock ballad based on Armenian fairy tales “Fox Book “(1975) . This is a kind of curtsey towards the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. ”

Rob was sure that after the “Fox Book” he would be torn off the studio, and so went to all the serious ones: he subjected his characters to various transformations, one tattooed Jimmy Hendrix’s tattoo on his chest, did not hesitate to use all the riot of available colors. But such courage proved to be even in his favor. And let the chairman of the State Committee of Armenia do not understand anything at the viewing, but decided to be safe: “At one time I did not understand the” Color of the grenad

e “, but it turned out to be Paradzhanov. I will not accept it now – it will turn out to be Parajanov. “

It was the “Fox Book” that strengthened Saakyants in his free-thinking. And at the studio he was not only creative authority. This bearded strong man with glasses liked to pose in front of the camera with two or three colleagues in his hands, and also to use his fists. If necessary: ​​one day he threw down a drunk from the stairs, nadya to his daughter Nana, and another time for the scruff of the led to the site of a Moscow policeman, who nags his son.

By the end of the 70’s, Rob released two more landmark works – a surreal musical film “The Hunters” (1977)and a comic retelling of Tumanyan’s fairy tale “Kikos” (1979) . This wonderful short film with the unpredictable visual humor of Sahakyants seemed to have finalized the artist’s becoming. In it you can find references to “Othello”, to the “Color of the Pomegranate” and even to the themes of the physiology of adults. The artist did not hesitate to leave Easter eggs, as if flirting with his audience, enjoying recognizable elements in unexpected processing. Used in “Kikos” techniques, which will be called “comic surrealism”, and became his business card, which was admired by the whole of the USSR in the first half of the 80’s.

Comic Surrealism

From 1981 to 1985, Saakyants released a film a year. And every year he beat exactly ten: “… Three blue-blue lakes of crimson color …”, “Who will tell a fable?”, “Wow, talking fish!”, “In the blue sea, in white foam …”, “Look you, Carnival! “. These cartoons turned out to be extremely saturated metamorphoses, balancing on the verge of insanity, but not slipping into frank thrash.

Here is what Yury Norshtein, the creator of “The Hedgehog in the Fog,” wrote about Sahakyants in a farewell letter to him: “My imagination never contained what he had done. The amount of action per square centimeter exceeded any fantasy. The made is staggering. The strength of his personality is great. He came to the Armenian animation and turned everything upside down, as if he was humming the mountain air, and then put it in place . 

No matter how childlike the works of this period of the Sahakyan could seem, but, having grown up, they look only with great pleasure. After all, they all represent a kind of festival of phantasmagoria, exciting fantasy hidden somewhere in the backyard of youth. Unfortunately, many modern witches have forgotten the way to this important creative ingredient, they cut everything off by their philistine standards and find nothing better than leaving a humorous commentary on drug addiction and the quality of colors in the USSR under the next video of Saakyants on YouTube.

And Sahakyants continued to flirt with the audience. So, in “Who will tell a fable?” (1982), one could see the reference to the painting “The Girl on the Ball” by Picasso, to “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” and the books of Chukovsky and even the ideas of flat land.

“In the blue sea, in white foam …” (1984) we find an allusion to the sculpture “The Little Mermaid” and a simplified version of Darwin’s evolution. Literally in every frame you can find something interesting. What are the only figures 007 and 747 on wrecks that are sent to a Korean Boeing 747, shot down by a Soviet fighter, who was flying KE007 and carrying 269 people with the crew.

Metamorphosis of adjustment

In the 80’s over the country councils smelled of perestroika, and Saakyants, apparently tired of the harmlessness of their cartoons. Already in the “resourceful peasant” (1984) there was an eerie scene with severed heads, which should not be shown to young spectators. Although the plot of the tale was quite childish.

Sahakyants caught the draft of changes that was hovering over the country, and from the second half of the 80s his cartoons became much more mature, harder and more relevant. Some were frankly politicized statements about Soviet reality, but all the same inventive.

“Wind” (1988) tells about strange events, witnessed by the duty officer at the military base. He checks the documents of the incoming and outgoing colleagues, but each time visitors to his checkpoint are becoming more and more strange: some get hair off, some grow their tails, and the “Start” button on the launch pad of nuclear missiles sticks. All this accompanies the charitable hit, written by Michael Jackson.

Attention! Violence and frank nakedness appeared in Rob’s works. So keep in mind that the following cartoons contain bare parts of the body. And if your upbringing does not allow such a look, then refrain from pressing the Play button.

A year later the premiere of yet another anti-militarist cartoon “Button” (1989) . At this time, inter-ethnic strife intensified in Transcaucasia, and in Armenia, however, like in Azerbaijan, a strong anti-communist opposition emerged, which received broad support among the population. There are no dialogues in the film, traditional hymns to the Soviet Union sound, and every pressing of any button by the main character leads to a new explosion in the vicinity. He also observes this very detached and indifferent from the window of his special car. At the premiere in Yerevan, where Soviet troops were already introduced, the audience applauded the cartoon for more than 10 minutes.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the artist dedicated to the memory of the deceased Union cartoon “Everything is Good” (1991) . Under the well-known song “Everything is good, the beautiful marquise …” Sahakyants demonstrates the ruined cities, food shortages, the comedic old Soviet nomenklatura, mass slaughter, a nuclear explosion and many other plots from the seething Union.

The remarkable parable “Ax” (1994) with all its might exploits black humor and cruelty. The peasants freeze at a fading bonfire, some of them go to break branches and chop trees with clubs. Naturally, they have nothing worthwhile, until a passer-by with an ax appears. He shows how to cut down trees, and gives the tool to the peasants. But they do not know how to handle it, several people die of stupidity, and they decide to burn the ax with a general advice. After all, it has all the problems. But as a result, the entire village burns, the peasants are warming themselves with the peasants.

With the proper desire behind this plot, one can consider the allusion to the Chernobyl catastrophe, and to the democracy that the new-born countries found on the shards of the USSR.

In general, this period of Sahakyants’ creative work is imbued with political squabbles surrounding him, local conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, poverty, hunger and cold. The quintessence of all this obscurantism of the 90’s is reflected in one of the most harsh cartoons “Elections” (1994) . Unfortunately, on the Internet it is rather difficult to find the translation of the song accompanying the video series. But many personnel should be well understood by those who experienced this period of post-Soviet history on their own skin.

Let his animation of the ’90s be frightening and in some places shocking, but through it one could still see the love for the common man, the firm civic position and freedom of thought that he carried through his career.

When, in the 2000s, Armenia established any kind of financial stability, Sahakyants switched to educational children’s cartoons. He released dozens of animated travels in history, entertaining lessons in chemistry, English, geometry and many other areas. But they are not so interesting for an adult audience.

Robert Sahakyants left very early. At the age of 59 years after a serious heart operation, he died in one of the clinics of Yerevan. The artist loved the Beatles and punished his son, that at his funeral they would sound all night.

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