Rasputin gets angry…and then I do

25 Apr

Today, I’m talking about the rock opera Brother Russia. Haven’t heard of it? Well, it just debuted this month and as far as I can tell, it’s a pretty small venue. Here is a link. The summary’s in the description box. I don’t want to talk too much about the play itself, because the acting, the singing, lyrics were great. It’s the subject that I have issue with.

I don’t feel like I’m asking for a lot when I say I want a straight story of the Romanovs and Rasputin. But yet again, I find myself face-palming and head-desking for two hours in lieu of great exaggerations, history-bending and magic. And, oh, get this, there’s a romance between Anastasia and Rasputin. I’m going to let that mental image simmer for a bit.

It was like watching really bad fan fiction, like a Disney sequel no one asked for. All the players were there and the time frame was…sort of right, but everything was…wrong. I’ll interject here and say that historical fiction doesn’t have to follow the script to a T.

Trust me, I’m getting to you.

HF is one of my favorite genres and it would be dull if authors weren’t allowed to take some artistic license. But, can we all agree that it shouldn’t have real people? Or, if it does, shouldn’t they be treated with care and delicacy? Like, how front-and-center the real historical person is, should be to the degree your story is true. To me, at least, that seems the most respectful. But who am I, right?

It was as if the writers sat around the table and tried to one-up each other on how controversial to make the story. And you know? I could almost buy the changes if there was a point.  Anastasia, might have gotten everything wrong (and I mean everything), but at the end of the day, that was a story about family and finding a place to belong. It is a by no means a good movie, but the wild history-bending that happens has a purpose. In Brother Russia, there’s actually a point where a character says, “Ok, everything we’re doing is wrong.” But that never gets addressed again. He’s treated as the bad guy. The audience (re: me) walks away without closure.

In  Anastasia, you know, from start to finish that poor Don Bluth is trying his hardest to rip off the Disney formula, and damn it, he gave it a good go.

It would have been one thing if the writers just changed dates and had odd ships, but they completely changed the family dynamics as well. Say what you will about Nicholas II’s leadership abilities (or lack there of), but he doted on his family. He was the dad–had Facebook been around back then–who would have written on their Walls, tagged them in posts all the time, invited them to FarmVille. The embarrassing, albeit completely endearing parent.

One of my favorite scenes, not just in the movie, but in animation in general, is the “Once Upon a December” number. Not only is this sequence hand-drawn in a time where computer-based animation was becoming the norm, there’s a lot unsaid in these four minutes.

So to see in Brother Russia, where the Tsar essentially hates his youngest is disturbing and, to be honest, makes me really, really sad. It would be like in fifty years, to see a story about the Obamas and Barrack being resentful/distant/hostile to his daughters. I might not like the guy’s policies, but you can’t deny that that’s a tight-knit family.

Nicholas was a quiet, small (5’7″–yikes) who was a product of his environment. Sheltered as a child, and when Alexander III died, he was simply not ready to be tsar. He was surrounded by advisers and extended family members with their own agendas. He was detail-oriented and had his eye trained on the past and Russia’s traditions. I didn’t notice this the first gazillion times I watched Bluth’s film, but in the opening ball scene, the guests are wearing very traditional garb, because that’s the kind of thing Nicholas II dug. When I realized that, I had to tip my figurative hat to Bluth. Molodets, good sir.

And then there’s the title character, the girl that’s captured the world’s heart and imagination–Anastasia herself. She was 12 when World War I broke out, so, again, point goes to Bluth for getting the age close enough to the real thing (she’s 8 in the prologue). She was very close with Alexei and Maria. From what I understand, she was kind of a brat and a bit aloof, but she lived a sheltered, royal life.

At least in the movie, Bluth acknowledges that there was a larger family: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Alexei. Olga was the oldest and with second eldest Tatiana and the Tsarina, was a nurse during World War I. Alexei, the baby, was hemophiliac. Was Rasputin a charlatan or not? Who knows, really, but one thing’s for certain, he had an effect on Alexei and the young tsarevich seemed to be fairing better under his care. Point goes to Brother Russia, as this is a huge plot device throughout the narrative.

I’m also sick and tired of people giving Rasputin a bigger role in the fall of the Russian Empire than he really had. Yes, he was controversial. Yes, he had the favor and ear of the Tsarina, but by no means was he the defining figure in the February Revolution.

So, where does this leave us? For as many leaps of logic and plot holes as Anastasia has, I’m going to say that I preferred it’s history-bending to Brother Russia’sI would rather not see historical figures in historical fiction, just because I feel that that’s disrespectful to the dead. In the same way I don’t like to see contemporary figures in my action, spy novels, because it’s disrespectful to the living. But if you’re going to do it, if you’re going to  history-bend, have a reason behind it.

But the music for Brother Russia was excellent. And if you happen to be in the Northern Virginia area and have two hours and thirty bucks to kill, check it out.

Most of my information on the Last Royal Family of Russia comes from the Alexander Palace, a wonderful resource for turn-of-the-century Russian history. Go give those good folks a holler. It’s got good stuff.


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