Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bulgakov's 'The Master and Margarita

I first experienced "The Master and Margarita" as a play at university. It was the final presentation of a Russian exchange student for her (I think) MA in directing. It was an odd but strangely haunting experience. Since then I have read the book, reread it (in a different translation), listened to two different audiobooks, and watched three different movie/TV adaptations. I also plan to read the graphic novel once I seek out an affordable copy.

Bulgakov's masterpiece is a tough one to describe. It is a beautiful and touching love story, a slapstick attack on Soviet-era hypocrisy, a rewriting of the bible and an homage to Goethe's Faust. It features a talking cat, a hyper-real Jesus and a fascinatingly bureaucratic 'Satan.' Magical and profound, it deserves a second, third or fourth read.

There are two audiobooks available. One is an unabridged and 'serious' reading. The other is abridged, and the reader clearly interprets the novel as comic. There are also three adaptations available on video. The love and respect for the original is clear in the Russian TV miniseries is reflected in its faithful adherence to the text. The same love and respect are apparently (and not surprisingly) found in Poland. The Polish version also follows Bulgakovs text and dialogue faithfully. These two versions differ in style, and because the Russian version is more recent the special effects are more impressive. But both are well worth watching. The third version, however, is not. Perhaps the director felt he was paying homage to Bulgakov, but by rewriting the story as a realistic autobiography, he squelches the originals magic.

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