Frederick Abrams

The Underground Cathedral


Q. In “Under Lenin’s Tomb” the underground appears for me as a mirror of history.

A. This is addressed in both “Under Lenin’s tomb” and “SamoobsÅ‚uga,” which specifically concern Central and Eastern Europe. “Under Lenin’s Tomb” is composed of sounds and photos from the Moscow Metro, some documentary film scenes from the construction and completion of the Moscow Metro, and also scenes that I videotaped in the metros of Berlin, Budapest, Prague and Warsaw. Again, the metro becomes a metaphor, also about radical recent historical changes. Actually, when we talk about history this goes back to the totalitarian era in Russia (USSR).

There’s one video scene where Stalin is speaking before a large audience celebrating the opening of the metro. There’s a photo of a sculpture of Lenin early in this episode and at the end you see a sign when leaving the underground in Berlin at the station named after Karl Marx. Symbolically this part of the film shows the difference between life during the dark era of the Iron Curtain and now, but there’s also numerous references to the ages of people from young to old. You see this throughout both “Under Lenin’s Tomb” and “SamoobsÅ‚uga.” The music was the first that I started composing with a synthesizer in Barcelona as well as the last that I completed.

It starts out as a fairly light piece but as it develops becomes very dramatic and heavy. This likely resulted from spending the first four months of my life in Barcelona in a dingy pension listening continually on a Walkman with two tiny external speakers to Rachmaninoff’s Concerto Number 2, which is my favorite classical composition.

Q. The Moscow Metro appears very different from the others in Eastern Europe.

A. The Moscow Metro is a monument. It’s a palace. It’s the most extraordinary underground I’ve seen, although I understand that the one in St. Petersburg is also incredible. It’s truly an amazing achievement and a great contradiction also. The trains themselves are nothing special at all. Most of the trains in Budapset, Prague, Warsaw and in Moscow are the same. They all have a plaque on the side seen in the film which says “CCCP” with a date of when they were made.

The trains are not very attractive. They look very simply made. Yet, in Moscow they pass through a stunning subterranean palace.

Yet, it wasn’t only designed to be a palace, but also a nuclear bomb shelter. It’s very deep underground. A great portion of it is marble with great sculptures, stained glass, tile artworks, chandeliers, artworks on the ceilings and on the posts. It’s really remarkable when you think of this representing an extremely poor society. And the people that you see in the trains themselves…Oh, my God, the wear on the faces of old people there is like nowhere else I’ve seen. You can see they’ve really lived hard lives.

The metros of Prague, Budapest and Warsaw are very simple and unattractive by comparison. Aside from the first constructed line of the Budapest Metro, the oldest line in Europe, they’re also much more modern. The only design that is at all unusual again expresses an other worldly quality and can be found inside some of the platforms of the Prague Metro.

The walls behind where the trains stop are metallic, in each station in various shades of one color. It’s a repetitive pattern of large circular shapes either convex or concave. I am reminded of a favorite childhood science fiction thriller, “Invaders from Mars,” who underneath the earth’s surface built many tunnels with walls covered with large bubbles the size of balloons.

I videotaped these walls from inside of the train as it entered and departed from different stations. Through the windows you can see these colored circular shapes one following the next passing by. Aside from creating the illusion that you are not in the reality that you are actually in, I’m also showing a documentary aspect. The Soviet Union built this incredibly elaborate system for the people which represents their social life in public, but the money that was allocated for their satellite systems was very small in comparison, obviously, because their metro systems were comparatively very simple. The first line of the Warsaw Metro was completed only after the Iron Curtain was finished. They never even had a metro, only an unfinished first line for many years, a project that was begun in 1927, in fact. The part ends with an image from the last completed station entrance to the Warsaw Metro. It is seen as an upside down reflection in a dirty overhead glass domed ceiling.

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