Video

Telling the racy story of Rasputin...with puppets

Puppeteer Jamie Shannon is bringing Rasputin back to life in his new short film about the mystic’s tumultuous time during the Russian Revolution.

Puppeteer Jamie Shannon is bringing the Russian mystic back to life in his new short film

Jamie Shannon's Rasputin. (CBC Arts)

How do you tell the story of the Russian Revolution with puppets? Artist Jamie Shannon (of CBC Arts unicorn horn fame) has made a new short film, called Rasputin, about the enigmatic Russian mystic who rose through the political ranks in the 19th century — all the way to being Tsar Nicholas II's right hand.

Oddly, "Rob Ford was my inspiration for Rasputin," muses Shannon, who has noted that with many notorious political figures (those ranks might include former Toronto mayor Ford, the aforementioned Rasputin and current US president Donald Trump), the media often characterizes them in many dramatically different ways, from heroic to quite evil. Shannon's workshop is stocked with an orange puppet imitation of Trump, alongside his model from the Rasputin film and his most beloved green character, Mona from Nanalan'.

Watch the video:

Puppeteer Jamie Shannon is bringing Rasputin back to life in his new short film about the mystic’s tumultuous time during the Russian Revolution. 5:15

You might remember Nanalan', Shannon's best known work that aired on CBC Television back in the early aughts. The half-hour kid's program follows the life of a toddler named Mona spending time at her Nana's house with their dog Russell. Many Canadians regard the after-school program as a forgotten fever dream from childhood.

Since then, Nanalan' has gained viral notoriety on Tumblr and Youtube with edited segments slowed down to 50% playback speed for stoner comedic effect. The dialogue on Nanalan' was improvised straight to camera, which made prime fodder for meme makers online. A dubbed version of Mona's ramblings has been viewed over one million times on Youtube.

After Nanalan', Shannon went on to produce Mr. Meaty, a gross-out comedy puppet show aimed at an older audience of teenagers. After airing a series of shorts on CBC Television, Nickelodeon picked up the show in 2005 and it became a cult hit.

Jamie Shannon. (CBC Arts)

Twenty-seven years into his puppeteering career, Shannon decided it was time to tackle mature (read: a bit racy) content with Rasputin. "Rasputin is an evolution of me being able to do more adult themes," says Shannon, "which I've always wanted to do."

Working with a small puppet scale allowed Shannon to create an extravagant immersive world of the Russian royal family in the 19th century. The flamboyant wardrobe of the royals was much easier to recreate in a smaller puppet form.

In this video, you get a deep dive into Shannon's bonkers Russian world.

You can follow Jamie Shannon here. And catch Rasputin airing at the Art Gallery of Ontario as part of the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival, March 2-3.

Rasputin and company. (CBC Arts)

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists on Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT) on CBC Television.

About the Author

March Mercanti

March is a filmmaker who is living and working in Toronto. He is a frequent contributor to CBC Arts.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.