Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Young Sacha from a photograph  NdA 2003. Acrylic on canvas. 40 cm X 30 cm 
I had decided to post something on October 30th, the fourteenth anniversary of my father's final departure (1996) but I've been finding it really hard to get down to blogging recently. It could be the blogging blues, which we all experience from time to time, or it could be the advancing dark dreariness of winter, or it could be that I'm concentrating on other things. 

Whatever the reason for this twelve-day delay, I will now write this post for Sacha, my dear father Alexander d'Arbeloff (not the same person as Alex V. d'Arbeloff who died in July 2008 - see my blog post July 9, 2008).

I mentioned Sacha on this page of my ongoing autobiography - yes, the autobio will be updated: it's on my to-be-continued list so of course it will be continued - and also blogged about him on October 23, 2003 but such a many-sided individual can't be summed up in a few family memories or an obituary - he deserves a whole book to himself. I wouldn't be the person to write it but there's no doubt that he had a tremendous influence on me and certain things in his story stand out particularly sharply in my mind. 

Sacha had already undergone several life-shaking traumas by the time he was in his teens: boiling water from a samovar accidentally spilled on his chest when he was a child. Confusing (or repressed) memories of intense family upheavals. Seeing dead bodies on the streets of Baku during chaotic political riots. Escaping from Russia during dramatic circumstances of the revolution. A hyper-sensitive and deeply introspective young man, it's not surprising that he then had a nervous breakdown - or what we would now call clinical depression - and was sent to a sanatorium. There are a lot of blanks and question marks in the information we tried to gather about those years in Sacha's life but I do know that after some temporary periods in Switzerland and the U.S.A. he stayed in Paris and became involved in cinema and publishing.

The film-maker and film historian Kevin Brownlow when researching his book Napoleon, about Abel Gance's film of that name, interviewed Sacha in the 1980s about his role in that production (my father's comments are on pp 99-101 of Brownlow's book). Briefly: a small film company was formed by Sacha and his cousin, Jacques Grinieff and other associates. Eventually, they were able to raise the funds to make Abel Gance's ground-breaking movie. By then my father had resigned from the company but Grinieff went on to become a film producer in America.  (Many many moons later, in New York, Uncle Jacques gave me a job adapting film scripts. But that's another story).

After the cinema experience, Sacha decided to publish a magazine. It was called AUDACES  (boldness in the plural: boldnesses?) Below is the cover of one 1934 issue. The magazine was a mix of current events - eg: article by J.B.Priestley about an ominous fascist demonstration in Manchester. Themed interviews - eg: What role have men played in your life? answered by actresses Colette, Gaby Morlay and others. How they judge - Judges talking about their experiences. Some comic pieces. A sensational crime story. Lots of pictures of women in 'seductive' poses. Photo-montages of people in the news. Cinema reviews etc.

I don't know how long Sacha persisted in the magazine venture but apparently it was successful. It must have been around this time in Paris that he also wrote and published two novels under the pseudonym Alexandre Darlaine. One was: Il Etait Une Fois Une Femme et Une Jeune Fille (There was once a woman and a young girl). The other was titled Crépuscule de la Raison (Twilight of reason). I have a very time-scarred copy of the first. The latter was turned into a play but was never performed, although many years later, probably in the 1960s or 1970s, the well-known Italian sound-track composer, Mario Nascimbene, composed two pieces of music for it - I'm unsure about dates but I do have these music sheets: Chanson de Florine  and Scène Florine et Daniel.
Sacha's novels were poetic, romantic, melancholy - more reveries than stories. I'm incapable of judging them objectively because I know that they were about his view of Blanche, my mother, and their relationship, however fictionalised.

My aim with this post is not to analyse my father's personality but simply to present some of the achievements of his life that are little known. I'm getting the references together for Part Two so don't go away. 



Dominic Rivron said...

Interesting. It must be quite satisfying to have written a novel or two - even unfamous ones!

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dominic, yes. But my father was rarely satisfied by anything.