Mongols Everywhere

I went to see the Russian director Sergei Bodrov's film "Mongol" the other night. It was beautifully shot, tho did 12th-century Mongols, still rustling horses and stealing one another's wives, reallly have such spotless clothes and perfect teeth? The casting and acting were good, the images striking, and the battle scenes pretty much up to Peter Jackson's standards in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. On in Ridley Scott's contemporaneous crusader movie "The Kingdom of Heaven," which I just saw again (the kids rented it) on DVD.

"Mongol" is also the first film in a trilogy, this one aiming to trace either Genghis Khan's life or that of the Mongol Empire to c. 1400. But if you want to see spectacular shots of central Eurasian steppes, yurts, yaks and such, you could do just as well with Ulrike Ottinger's documentary "Taiga." I only saw an hour of this, at the 1992 Berlin Film Festival (the whole thing lasts 501 minutes, but who besides is counting?). The steppes and the way of life have hardly changed a bit, assuming Bodrov's vision is historically accurate.

I got into the Mongol business last summer in the aftermath of the Lincoln Center Festival presenting -- courtesy of the Festival d'Automne a Paris, which curated the programs in the first place -- Mongolian bardic history, music and dance. The bardic history consisted of solo chanting of a fascinating manuscript called "The Secret History of the Mongols," which forms the basis of much of what we know -- and what Bodrov knows -- about the inner workings of the empire, and especially the early life of Genghis Khan. Assembled back in the 13th and 14th centuries by scribes writing for the exclusive readership of the Mongol royal family (hence secret), it came to public view a century or so ago and was translated into English more recently than that. A terrific read, if you wish to pursue it, though full of weird, decades-long gaps in the narrative, like the whole process by which Genghis united the Mongol tribes. Bodrov doesn't try to fill in those gaps, which makes for sudden forward lurches in time.

Better still is Jack Weatherford's book "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World," which combines personal biographical detail, the sociology and anthropology of the Mongols, military tactics, political and economical analysis of the empire and sometimes polemical speculation of the Mongols' role in elevating barbarous Europe toward the Renaissance. Weatherford is determined to portray the Mongols not as rapacious slaughterers of the innocent but as enlightened harbingers of modernity. Rather like defenders of Moorish Spain, so much more advanced and tolerant than primitive late-medieval Europe. Despite one churlish and semi-llterate put-down among the Amazon reader reviews, I recommend Weatherford's book most highly. Among other things, it's a barn-burning summer read.

July 20, 2008 3:00 PM | | Comments (1)


I found very informative. The article is professionally written and I feel like the author knows the subject very well. keep it that way.

Leave a comment


For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by John Rockwell published on July 20, 2008 3:00 PM.

The Obamas, the New Yorker and Satire was the previous entry in this blog.

Presumptuous Presumptions is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.