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    Immigration Fascination

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Like many of his films, director/co-writer Paul Mazursky’s vibrant American immigrant story Moscow on the Hudson (1984) made a handful of marvelously particularized characters a representative sampling of real people facing similar challenges, slipping, sliding and stumbling into the ways they invariably cope – with relationships, sexual liberation, divorce, growing old, big-city life, and in Moscow’s specific case, taking on an entirely new life in order to (hopefully) stake out your true destiny. Without question, bounteously talented Robin Williams, as a saxophonist who, while with a touring Russian circus troupe performing in New York, decides to defect, is the soulful center of the film. But Williams’s Vladimir Ivanoff (honed to perfection by the actor after intense study of the Russian language and the musical instrument he plays) is surrounded by others who have made their own contributions to our cultural melting pot: Maria Conchita Alonso (born in Cuba, playing the Italian Bloomingdale’s sales clerk Williams falls for), Alejandro Rey (an Argentina native playing a Cuban-born lawyer who advises the defector) and Tennessee-born African-American Cleavant Derricks as a store security guard who becomes the escapee’s close friend. Plus, there are several Russians who like the movie’s main character left their native land to start afresh in the U.S., including Elya Baskin as a circus clown lacking the courage to defect, Yakov Smirnoff as a cab driver, and playing the two KGB handlers who let the musician slip out of Soviet hands, Oleg Rudnik and Savely Kramarov (1934-1995, born 82 years ago today). Among the four expatriates, birthday honoree Kramarov left behind the most thriving career, a warmly regarded screen star who worked in 42 Russian films through the 1960s and 1970s and evolved into a beloved comic everyman figure known as “Crazy Ivan,” a goofball character who could get away with the mischief of poking fun at authority that perhaps a clever intellectual could not. But when Kramarov rediscovered and embraced his family’s Orthodox Jewish traditions, he determined to emigrate here so he could practice his faith openly; when after two years of applications and refusals he was finally allowed to leave Russia 35 years ago this month, the one-time icon became persona non grata. He took on steady movie work here in a succession of supporting roles (2010: The Year We Make Contact, Red Heat, Love Affair) and rarely looked back. In his obituary article on the actor for The New York Times, Robert McG. Thomas Jr. wrote: “Although he never achieved the same degree of fame in the United States he had enjoyed in Russia, Mr. Kramarov did not complain. ‘He said he'd known fame,’ [family friend Joan] Borsten said, ‘and while he'd like to be famous again, freedom was more important.’” Near the finale of the sweetly funny yet sometimes sad Moscow on the Hudson (which Mazursky co-wrote with Leon Capetanos, his partner also on Tempest, Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Moon over Parador), Kramarov turns up again in surprising and bittersweet circumstances that provide a full-circle grace note about how hard knocks, golden opportunities and personal resilience should be embraced in tandem. Filmmaker Mazursky, star Williams and ex-Soviet comedy favorite Kramarov just might all agree that artists and audiences are all in this movie love thing together. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of Moscow on the Hudson practices inclusion as well, featuring two Audio Commentaries, one with Mazursky and the other with TT favorites Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. It requests asylum in hi-def home players November 15. Preorders open November 2.