Wednesday, June 25th is the 75th birthday of Vladimir Motyl, the producer of "White Sun of the Desert." Motyl went down in history with just one film, "White Sun of the Desert." He created it 32 years ago, in 1970. Back then, nothing predicted the birth of a masterpiece. The task facing the filmmaker was to shoot a Russian western about the Soviet Army combating basmatches, the Russian name for armed counter-revolutionary robbers in Central Asia.
Screenwriters Valentin Yezhov and Rustam Ibragimbekov suggested several versions of the script, but neither had much kick in it. Eventually, it was decided to turn for help to a witness of the Civil War in Central Asia. The witness promptly recounted all the war tales he knew, including the one about Asian khans fleeing and leaving behind their harems, and about what a bother it was to deal with all those paranja-wearing women in the middle of a desert. "Eureka!" exclaimed Motyl.
Originally, the script was entitled "Save the Harem." The authorities tried to shut down the filming process but failed.
Filming was done in a blistering heat on the coast of the Aral Sea. Each episode of the film was immediately flown to Moscow to be developed. The process was extremely difficult. Horses didn't want to gallop, actors kept fainting from the heat, but Motyl seemed to know that the film would be a success and relied on humor to save the filming crew and himself, and won.
At first, hardly any of Motyl's colleagues knew what the film was all about. The film spent a lot of time being harassed in the corridors of power. It was there that then-deputy Chairman of the Cinematographic Committee Vladimir Baskakov uttered the legendary phrase about the Orient being a delicate affair.
The film was given a PG category and put out in a small circulation, without any advertising. All of a sudden, the film was an enormous success. It continues to be so for more than 30 years now.
"White Sun of the Desert" is a case of excellent montage and an absolute masterpiece from the point of view of the audience. The film combines good acting and the pathos of Civil War, comedy and tragedy, the excitement of a combat for an ideal of honor, a woman and a hero.
The film became a national saga, a western interlaced with humor. Apt expressions like "Open your face, Gyulchatai," "I don't take bribes," "the Orient is a delicate affair," etc. instantly became proverbial, which was no wonder considering that they had the capacity of a proverb and the exactness of a linguistic formula.
In the meantime, Motyl became an exile among his envious colleagues. Over the thirty years of his fame, the film -- whose circulation grew to dozens of thousands of copies, and which every inhabitant of Russia watched at least two or three times -- was not given a single national award, while Motyl's life grew increasingly problematic. On several occasions, he was nominated as a candidate for the State Prize. He was ignored on each occasion. In the long run, Russia's first President Boris Yeltsin personally decreed to award Motyl an Order of Honor of Russia /1995/ for the film "White Sun of the Desert." Today, the film enjoys the status of a national amulet and "lucky charm," which travels into space with cosmonauts and abroad with athletes, is screened on TV during national holidays, a film which drives away ill feelings, cures diseases, restores your health, and raises your spirits.