Saturday, August 11, 2012

Yul Brynner, Movies, Gypsies and Gypsy music

Yul Brynner in Anastasia. I watched it again this morning on Fox Movie Channel. A Russian playing a Russian – what a novelty. Brynner played Russsians in a couple of other movies, but he also played a lot of other nationalities: the french pirate Jean Lafitte in the Bucaneer, a thai king in the King and I, a Mexican revolutionary in Villa Rides and a cruel American southerner in The Sound and the Fury.

Brynner was a native Russian and played one in the film The Brothers Karamazov and in one of my favorite films The Journey with Deborah Kerr.

He plays a Russian Major during the time of the Hungarian Revolution who has detained a busload of refugees, including Deborah Kerr, trying to escape into Austria. I saw this film as a young teen and was quite taken with it (and with Deborah Kerr). I remember a scene in which Brynner is drinking shots of vodka and throwing the empty glasses into a fireplace. He has become smitten with Kerr and is unnerved. After a few shots and the resulting thrown glasses, he actually eats the shot-glass. I remember seeing the glass shatter in his teeth and the blood from his lips run down his chin. That scene made a hell of an impact on me.

In Anastasia, there is a scene in a Russian expat cafe in Paris in which Brynner plays guitar with a Gypsy dance and musical group. I was reminded of an album I purchased in 1968 of Brynner playing Gypsy songs. It is titled The Gypsy and I: Yul Brynner sings Gypsy songs. I still have it – I never get rid of my vinyl.

He played the Russian 7-string guitar and was part Romani (Gypsy) himself. The Romani – Roma people - don't particularly like being called Gypsy, because of the negative connotation the word and name imply but it is impossible to avoid. I saw a terrific documentary at last years Starz Denver Film Festival titled A People Uncounted which delves into the story of the Roma people, historically and presently.

So now, I have to dig out my album and play some Yul Brynner Gypsy music. Maybe my favorite song on the album: Two Guitars.

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