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by Norman Warwick

I had been persuaded, sometime in the mid-sixties, by my academically and culturally more-advanced girl friend of the time that there was a one-night showing of a film that she said was acquiring a cult following due to the stir caused by the novel from which it emanated. A Day in the Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Alexandr Solzhenitsin, a book, an author and a film I had not then read or seen and was only faintly aware of. Nevertheless, the opportunity to visit this house of whispered ill-repute was one I was not going to miss, so I assumed a scholarly air and off we trotted. Excited as I was though, I had a fear that this artsy film to an artsy crowd might remind my university bound girlfriend of my own secondary modern status.

I am reminded, now, by Wikipeadia (meaning my memories remain hazy) that One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich is a novel by the Russian writer and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, first published in November 1962 in the Soviet literary magazine Novy Mir (New World). The story is set in a Soviet labor camp of the nineteen fifties and describes a single day in the life of ordinary prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov.

The book’s publication was an extraordinary event in Soviet literary history because until then no one had found the courage or the means to openly discuss Stalinist repression or openly share concerns.

Novy Mir editor Aleksandr Tvardovsky wrote a short introduction for the issue entitled Instead Of A Foreword to prepare the journal’s readers for what they were about to experience.

At least five English translations were subsequently made available. However, the fifth translation, by H.T. Willetts, (New York: Noonday/Farrar Straus Giroux, 1991), is the only one that is based on the canonical Russian text and the only one authorized by Solzhenitsyn. The English spelling of some character names differs slightly among the various translations.

The main themes of One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich are totalitarian oppression and camp survival. Specifically discussed are the prison officials’ cruelty and spite, as Solzhenitsyn explains through Ivan Denisovich that everything is managed by the camp commandant to the point that time feels unnoticed by prisoners who always have work to do and never have any free time to discuss other issues.

Survival is of the utmost importance to prisoners and ´attitude´ is a crucial factor in that achieving that survival. Since prisoners are each assigned a grade, good prison-etiquette demands hierarchical obedience. This is outlined through the character of Fetiukov, a ministry worker who has let himself into prison and scarcely follows prison traditions. Another such incident involves Buinovsky, a former naval captain, who is punished for defending himself and others during an early morning frisking.

I was aware when we entered the cinema that this was not to be a film in the realms of Summer Holiday or The Sound of Music.

Nevertheless, we joined a cinema audience that was part hippy-trippy and part bohemian but mostly earnesty-studenty, and to be honest, all just a bit too ´right on´. The audience as a whole seemed keen to learn, desperate to support, and eager to be seen supporting the social changes the book and film seemed to be calling for. Hence there was no popping of corn nor slurping of cola; instead there just a kind of intense and somewhat reverential hush as the showing began.

The film starred Tom Courtenay, who had already starred in The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner.

There was also a leading role in the film for Alfred Burke, who played the lead character, Frank Marker, in Public Eye, a long running tv series of the time, and later played in a 2002 package in the Harry Potter franchise.

My memories today of this arts-house presentation today are that it had a very loud soundtrack and very dark photography, all presumable to convey the cacophony and gloom of the conditions the ´prisoners´ were serving under.

The portrayal of such dreadful conditions, though, was certainly impactful and moving, and as the credits rolled I already had a lump in my throat. By the time the appropriately chosen accompanying theme song began I was already in tears. The fact that I knew the song reassured me somewhat that I had at least the right folky credential to be part of this crowd.

The Ballad of Joe Hill was a song I knew from my collection of Joan Baez albums, but this may I have been a turning-point night in my life in that I realised, from hearing the song in this context, how vital it is to pay attention to lyrics. Over the following few days I would learn everything I could about the song and follow it back from Baez, to Phil Ochs and to Paul Robeson who had also previously recorded it.

The song tells, in its lyrics, the biography of the legendary Joseph Hilstrom, who emigrated from Sweden with his brother to the United States in the early nineteen hundreds, although they lost touch shortly after arriving in the new world. Joe took a few jobs but was struck by all the injustice and tragedy he saw around him. He became active in the forbidden union IWW, a union for workers without trades. It was forbidden to demonstrate and to speak in public but Joe got around that by singing his manifests with the Salvation Army. He managed to persuade more and more people to join in strike action with him but made powerful enemies in doing so. Finally he became connected with a murder and during the trial he fired his lawyer and took it upon himself to become his own defender.

The song was written by poet Alfred Hayes in the nineteen thirties and certainly captures the same feeling of the oppressed and downtrodden of America that we encounter in the film of The Russian archipelegos. Of the versions I have on my record shelves Robeson´s is without doubt the angriest and most powerful and Phil Ochs´ version reminds me of what we lost when this folk singer, who wanted to be Elvis, tragically took his own life.

Baez, though, took the words, and the tune by Earl Robinson, and turned it into a hymn and in recalling the dream in which she says she saw Joe Hill last night, turns that dream into a religious visitation.

When I visited that Manchester cinema, with my posh girlfriend, a venue that I had until then thought of as a grubby flea pit for the macintosh brigade, in fact created my empathy for the suppressed, my increased awareness of lyric and poetry as social comment and protest, and years later led me to build a public visual arts exhibition around a bust of Paul Robeson (left) in chains.

In case you are wondering, though, why I have rambled on about all this for a piece on Lanzarote Information let me tell you what brought about the previous few pages.

It was all brought back to mind when our Sidetracks & Detours office received a press release, all about a little arts-house cinema in Arrecife,,  from Cultura Lanzarote. The news item informed us that the Cabildo has invested 43,711.36 euros from FDCAN funds to update and modernize the lighting and audio equipment of of the small theatre / cinema upstairs at CIC El Almacén.

The Department of Arts And Culture at Cabildo of Lanzarote, coordinated by the councillor Alberto Aguiar, has authorised this expenditure to renew the technology at the Buñuel Cinema of CIC El Almacén. Re-installation work has recently been completed with Aguiar himself assisting his technicians in testing and supervising the new equipment.

It was in October 2019 that The Cabildo de Lanzarote agreed the go ahead of the supply and installation of audio-visual equipment, sound and lighting to CIC El Almacén, with the expense to be met by The Canary Islands Development Fund (FDCAN) for an amount of 47,925 euros, effectively match-funding the Pre-de-Pre-de-Media SL awarded a total of 43,711.36 euros.

Equipment subsequently renewed includes all the sound and lighting material of the Buñuel Cinema room, including speakers, subwofer, digital table, digital matrix, LED even spotlights, 25/50 LED clipping projector focus, wireless DMX transmitter and receiver, DMX/Ethernet converter and laptop. That might not mean too much to most cinema goers but it will surely enhance our visiting experience.

The work has been carried out taking advantage of the fact that the cinema is still closed to the public.

´The renovation of all the audio-visual equipment of Cine Buñuel was a necessary measure that was already delayed too long and we decided to undertake it during the last year, 2019. Funding was made available at the beginning of 2020 and we are taking advantage of that now, while the room is still closed to the public, to undertake the replacement work”, said Alberto Aguiar.

´With this step´, added the director of Cultura del Cabildo de Lanzarote, ´we faced the necessary improvement of the quality of the audio-visual equipment of cic El Almacén, which could not continue to be further delayed, since too often the equipment failed. When we can resume screenings and other activities in the Buñuel Cinema, which we hope can be done as soon as possible, the public will enjoy a remarkable improvement in the quality of the sound and the lighting of the events that are held there,´ concluded The Director Of Arts and Culture.

For further information visit Cultura Lanzarote.

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