Multimedia for students of Russian language and culture

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12 Chairs Interactive

Interactive multimedia application with two hours of QuickTime movies for all versions of Windows and Mac OSX.

IppolitIl'f and Petrov's Dvenadtsat' stul'ev is a classic treasure hunt adventure with a Soviet twist. In the opening scene, Ippolit Matveevich learns that in 1917, just before the Bolsheviks came to throw his aristocratic family out of their house, his mother-in-law hid her diamonds in one of the living room chairs.
After more than a decade, who knows where those chairs are and who's sitting on them? chair Most likely, they've been used for firewood by the hungry and cold proletarians.
Ippolit Matveevich decides to try to find the diamonds. He is your typical bumbling aristocrat (working as an insignificant office clerk), so he teams up with a New Man, a cynical con artist who knows his way around Soviet Russia. The unlikely pair travels all over the country, usually penniless and only one step away from trouble, but always hopeful. Ostap

Ilya Il'f and Evgeny Petrov were part of the great literary experiment that took place in Soviet Russia during the 1920s. It was an exciting and contradictory time: there was censorship, to be sure, and Il'f and Petrov suffered their share of it, but there was also a sense among young writers that they were witnessing the birth of a new era in human history.

Il'f and Petrov (especially Petrov) were believers in the new age, but they also (especially Il'f) possessed a nasty cynical streak. The combination of those two impulses can be felt in their masterpiece, Dvenadtsat' stul'ev (The Twelve Chairs, 1929).

The book barely squeaked by Stalinist censorship and was dutifully ignored by critics, but it became an enormous popular success. The Twelve Chairs entered into the popular consciousness in a way that is hard for Americans to envision. People memorized this novel, and held trivia contests based on it; quotes from the books entered the language as satirical one-liners.

That popularity has not diminished. On the contrary, as the Russia of today increasingly resembles the era of the novel, with its chaos, homeless waifs, and con artists, references to the novel in daily life are on the rise: restaurants are being named for the novel's characters, and newspapers name regular columns after them. The novel is a touchstone of Russian society, and anyone who studies the language and culture must become familiar with it.

Leonid Gajdaj's film, Dvenadtsat' stul'ev, was made in the 1960s by a group of filmmakers from Mosfilm's ETO (Eksperimental'noe tvorcheskoe ob"edinenie). The word "experimental" had not been heard in Soviet culture from the very early thirties, when the pall of censorship descended, straight through to the "thaw" of the 1960s. It was totally understandable that the filmmakers would turn to Il'f and Petrov as a way of expressing their heady new sense of freedom.

"Paperno and Tsimberov’s Twelve Chairs Interactive is an excellent example of a successful reworking of a foreign language video into a format more accessible to the intermediate student. This package consists of more than two hours of digitized video of the classic Russian film, “The Twelve Chairs,” [on one DVD-ROM] and a hardcopy transcript of the twenty-one episodes." ~ Mark Kaiser, PhD, Director of the Language Media Center, University of California at Berkeley. [read the entire review in the Berkley Language Center Newsletter]

This DVD-ROM presents about a hundred very short (one to two minutes) scenes from the film. The entire story line is preserved, and, of course, they present a magnificent cultural portrait of the era. Their total length is two hours. Any viewer will find 12 Chairs to be a tremendous source of linguistic and cultural material, as well as a first-rate film.

Digital video is far and away the best medium for presenting this material. It takes only a click of the mouse to go back twenty seconds or two minutes; to jump to the end or beginning of the episode; or to replay the last phrase or two. The software links the movie to a complete transcript of the dialog, historical and cultural notes, English glosses, linguistic notes, etc. For a student who has been frustrated by the delays and imprecision of videotape and by the time spent turning the pages of dictionaries, this is a dream come true.

The DVD-ROM is coordinated with the textbook Intermediate Russian: The Twelve Chairs (Slavica Publishers,, and may be used with it. Because the filmmakers were faithful to the original novel, the events and the language in the film are, in many of the scenes, very close to the language and events in the textbook.

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