Director of Soviet Union's 'first Western' dies

Director of Soviet Union's 'first Western' dies

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The director of the movie hailed as the first Soviet film to resemble classic US Westerns, and still traditionally watched by cosmonauts before each launch, has died aged 82, Russian media said Monday.

MOSCOW - Vladimir Motyl's 1969 film "White Sun of the Desert", set in the eastern Caspian Sea region at the climax of the Russian civil war, spawned a whole new genre of Soviet films known as "Easterns".

The film portrays a demobbed Red Army soldier on his way home from the Russian civil war in 1920 on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea who then finds himself put in charge of the harem of a Muslim guerrilla leader.

The popularity of its portrayal of the clash of of cultures in the eastern Soviet desert has proved popular ever since and the film is traditionally watched by cosmonauts for good luck on the eve of their launches into space.

Its shoot-ups amid the scorching sand of the desert immediately drew comparisons with the Hollywood Westerns of the Soviet Union's arch foe the United States.

The director died early Monday after being admitted to hospital earlier this month while suffering from pneumonia, Russian state media said.

"Vladimir Motyl left a clear, brilliant legacy in our cinema and in Russian culture," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in a tribute posted on the government's website.

"This was a true master, a sensitive artist and a person with a great and generous talent," he added.

Motyl was the son of a Polish immigrant who was arrested in the early Soviet purges and died in detention. Sent with his mother into exile in the northern Urals, he nonetheless managed to produce his first film in the 1960s.

After "White Sun of the Desert" he went on to create several other highly regarded Soviet classics in the 1970s and 1980s, including the "Captivating Star of Happiness" of 1975.

However, his independent streak and refusal to join one of the established state film studios irritated the authorities in the 1970s, who refused him permission to travel abroad to see his films and did not decorate him.

"White Sun of the Desert" was finally awarded with Russia's state film prize by then president Boris Yeltsin some three decades after its premiere.

"I think that Russian cinema has sustained a great loss with the death of such a great, talented artist and great director," the star of "White Sun of the Desert", Anatoly Kuznetsov, told the RIA-Novosti news agency.


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