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Friday, January 18, 2008

EDITORIAL: Russia's (Faux) Silver (Plated) Screen


Russia's (Faux) Silver (Plated) Screen

The Moscow Times reported on Wednesday that a Russian movie called "The Irony of Fate II" (a/k/a "The Continuation") is on track to become the highest-grossing Russian movie in history, perhaps exceeding $50 million at the box office (in the photo at left, a couple sits on a bench below a billboard advertisement for the film in Moscow).

The story is noteworthy for four reasons.

First, it's a nice insight into the nature of the "resurgent" Russian economy. The MT states: "The previous record was held by the 2006 supernatural thriller Day Watch, which earned just under $35 million, trailed by last year's Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," with $31.8 million." So the number three "Russian" movie is actually American, and the number one movie's take wouldn't put it in the top 1,000 U.S. top-grossers. The MT states: "Total ticket sales were $565 million in 2007, compared with $412 million in 2006, according to Russian Film Business Today." That's nice. But U.S. box office receipts were also up in 2006 for instance -- nearly 1.5 billion tickets were sold that year and revenues were nearly $10 billion, up 5% from the prior year. These numbers are in almost exact alignment with the disparity between the two countries' overall economies.

Second, the MT states: "The new box-office champion is a sequel to Eldar Ryazanov's 1975 television film The Irony of Fate, a story of love and mistaken identity that has become a holiday tradition, having been broadcast every New Year's Eve since its premiere." Yes, that's right, this is a remake of a Soviet film, one that Russians show every year on TV the way Americans show It's a Wonderful Life. And "modern" Russians are flocking to see it in droves. Do Germans fondly recall the feel-good films made during the reign of mass-murderer Adolf Hitler,and show them every year at holiday time with fond nostalgia for the good old days gone by? We don't think so. It's odd, therefore, that Russians would even think of doing this. And it's pretty telling that there is such a strong vein of this nostalgia in Russia even today, and that so few people in Russia are willing to say they have a problem with it.

Thirdly, the MT states that the film was produced by a company owned by Russia's Channel One television -- which in turn is owned and operated by the Russian government itself. The MT states: "Irony of Fate II" was made on a budget of $5 million, with an additional $4.5 million spent on promotion. State-owned Channel One made heavy use of its television resources to promote the film, airing documentaries about the making of the film and mentioning it in news broadcasts." So it's not just anyone that is dredging up this Soviet nostalgia, it's the government itself -- and apparently it is moving into the movie business just as it has completed to total takeover of television and print media establishments. How neo-Soviet can you get?

And fourth, the MT states: "Industry experts warned that Russian box-office results should be taken with a grain of salt because they come from self-reporting by producers and distributors, who have an incentive to overstate the success of their films. 'Companies want to sell the television rights to their films, so naturally they inflate the figures. There is no electronic system for confirming the results.' said Sergei Lavrov, head of statistics for Russian Film Business Today, a trade publication. " In other words, as is almost always the case in Russia, this is pseudo-data, a best-case scenario, and totally unreliable. Russia is fully neo-Soviet. Just like the USSR, it is virtually incapable of even collecting meaningful, reliable data about itself, and on the rare occasions when it does so it then perverts and twists the data for political reasons until it is just a sick joke. Thus blind, it is incapable of reform and doomed to destroy itself.

We report today that Russia's place on the list of countries ranked by economic freedom fell fourteen places this year compared to last. At #134 in the world, Russia's position is much the same on that list as it is on the list of countries ranked by male adult lifespan. The fact that Russia cannot even manage to crack the top 100 nations of the world in either category is startlingly bleak proof of how backward and barbaric Vladimir Putin's Russia really is. If one then considers that the Russian people laud him with 70%+ approval ratings in polls and elections, one can only see the people of Russia as lemmings rushing madly towards a cliff.

But you don't have to review complicated statistics and data in order to see what a mess Putin's Russia is. All you have to do is simply go to the movies.


Anonymous said...

'The Irony of Fate-II' is a talantless one-time-watch movie. At least a half of the audience merely doesn't want to vizit it thinking the very idea of the remake is a sort of vandalism, breaking the complete spirit of their favourite New Year movie.

'Do Germans fondly recall the feel-good films made during the reign of mass-murderer Adolf Hitler,and show them every year at holiday time with fond nostalgia for the good old days gone by?' So, what authors do you wish to prohibite besides old Ryasanov? Gaiday, Danelia, Shveitser, Naumov, Bondarchuk, Strugatsky brothers, Aksionov, Tokareva? May be, lets begin from Sholokhov or, better, from Bulgakov? Also lets prohibite (or only condemn?) poetry from Pasternak and Zabolotsky to Voznesensky and Rozhdestvensky. Or you think that people favourite movies on people's private life are more criminal than books on the same topic? And what about architecture? Do you advise to blow up anything build in the Soviet time (and also nowadays)? It would be hard, for too many public buildings all over the world have Leonidov's ideas in their basis.

Anonymous said...

The original classic 1975 Russian film The Irony of Fate needs to be sharply distinguished from this 2007 sequel of the same name, which as was said above is (most likely) a piece of consumerist crap. By contrast the original 1975 Irony of Fate is a marvelous classic Soviet film which cannot be recommended highly enough. It offers us an interesting commentary about the reality of Soviet life in the 1970’s. Although the film never entertained any lofty presumptions, it has become one of the handful of truly classic films produced by the Soviet Union’s vast cinematic machine. The film is aired on television every New Year and it remains one of the most popular films in the former USSR to this day.

As the film opens, we are informed that this is “an absolutely unlikely story that probably could never happen, except on New Year’s Eve.” We learn that Soviet pre-fab apartment buildings (the “kruschevkas”) have made every Soviet city identical to every other Soviet city, right down to street names and the locks on the doors. The lead character of the story is a Moscow doctor named Zhenya (Andrey Myagkov), who just moved into a new Moscow apartment with his mother. Zhenya hints to his fiancé that he is about to pop the question to her that night, on New Year's Eve, at long last.

A bit later in the day Zhenya’s friends visit his apartment and persuade him to meet them down at the local bath house. (This is apparently an old New Year’s Eve tradition with the men, even though now all of them have private bathrooms in their apartments.) At the public bath Zhenya reluctantly accepts a glass of vodka, and one glass leads to another, once Zhenya's friends realize there is wedding to be announced (a toast to Zhenya, a toast to the bride, etc., etc.)

In short order all of the men in the bathhouse become very drunk. They then make their way to the airport, as one of the group is supposed to catch a plane from Moscow to St. Petersburg. But by the time the plane is ready for boarding the men are now so drunk that most of them (including Zhenya) are passed out in the airport lounge. The few members of the group who are still-conscious now cannot remember which one of them was supposed to go to St. Petersburg. They conclude it must be Zhenya, since he is the one getting married, and they push him onto the plane.

Zhenya awakes in the lounge of the airport in St. Petersburg and he still thinks he’s in the Moscow airport. He stumbles outside and hails a cab. He gives the driver his address (which also happens to be a street name in St. Petersburg), and hilarity ensues.

When Zhenya arrives “home” he calls for his mother. When no one answers he lets himself in and immediately goes to bed to sleep it off. The apartment in every way resembles his apartment back home in Moscow. There are even boxes on the floor, as Zhenya and his mother only just moved into their new flat. (This is the film’s commentary on the sameness of the kruschevkas, the Soviet-era pre-fab housing units built in the 50’s and 60’s.)

After some time the apartment’s real owner, a beautiful young woman named Nadya, returns home with an armload of last-minute holiday purchases. You can imagine Nadya’s surprise when she finds an apparant "bum" passed out in her apartment. She eventually succeeds in waking Zhenya only to discover that he is blind drunk. Zhenya calls out for his mother and he demands to know why this strange woman is disturbing him in his bed. After some time they show each other their passports and the mistake is realized.

Nadya demands that the now-fast-sobering but still-hung-over Zhenya leave her flat at once, since she is expecting the arrival of her fiancé at any minute, to see in the New Year. But Zhenya says “where can I go?” (It seems he has no money and no friends in St. Petersburg.) Nadya’s fiancé arrives and immediately becomes jealous and storms out, not believing the implausible story of how Zhenya came to be in Nadya’s apartment (Though he’ll be back again several times, as we shall see.)

For his part Zhenya tries to call back to Moscow to try to explain to his fiancé what he is doing in the apartment of a strange woman in St. Petersburg when he was supposed to be with her in Moscow. She also becomes jealous and does not believe Zhenya’s story.

The charm of the film is how the initial revulsion that the main characters have for each other slowly turns into a realization that they might be right for each other. Neither one of them is involved in an ideal relationship with their respective fiancé. The film offers the hope that somewhere “out there” there is the perfect partner for every person, which is his or her destiny.

The story originally aired in 2 parts on Soviet television on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in 1975/76. Originally Soviet Censors did not want to air the film, as they felt it condoned drunkenness. But they relented when the film’s writer/director, Eldar Ryazanov agreed to appear on-air before the film to explain to the audience that this film does not condone drinking, that this was something that could only happen on New Year’s Eve, etc. (We learn about this from the writer/director’s commentary on the DVD version.)

On its first night The Irony of Fate became one of the highest rated television movie ever to air in the USSR. This began a tradition in the USSR of showing the film every New Year. That tradition continues to this day in all parts of the former Soviet Union. Brezhnev himself loved the film and congratulated the writer/director, Eldar Ryazanov. Brezhnev phoned Ryazanov and wanted to know why this film was only released on TV and not in theaters (as Ryazanov originally wanted). After that, the director of the Soviet cinema complex actually obtained the film and released it in Soviet theaters. (So Irony is a made-for-TV film that worked its way onto Soviet cinema screens, instead of the usual other way around.)

The film has a simplicity and charm that is hard to describe. It offers a glimpse into the everyday lives of Soviet citizens in the 1970’s USSR. Anyone who wishes to believe that Soviet life could only be dull, gray and unhappy will probably want to avoid this film.

The “New” (2007) Version of Irony of Fate

Now, as far as the “new” version of the film The Irony of Fate is concerned, I’ve heard mixed reviews of that film. First, it was only released in theaters of the former USSR. The films producers have announced that the film will not air on television for at least the first 2 years. Most reviews that I’ve seen have remarked on the slick production and how this film seems to be a strictly-for-profit-only venture.

Of course the original version remains incredibly popular in the former Soviet Union to this day. The producers of the new version are trying to capitalize on that popularity by releasing this new sequel (after 33 years). The new version purports to tell us what happened with the original film’s main characters. (Supposedly they never married but each went back to their original betrothed.) But as all of the original actors are now dead, this story is only told through their children, as they discover old photos and slowly draw the story out.

To tell the truth I have not seen the new film and I really have no desire to see it, even as much as I am a fan of the 1975 original. There is simply no way a 2007 slick Russian commercial production could hold a candle to the charming Soviet original. It could only take away and detract from the original.

I believe that Eldar Ryazanov, the director/co-writer of the original 1975 version said the same thing: he is flattered that someone would copy his film, and he is not opposed to the effort, but he has no plans to see the new film.

I have noticed how most recent Russian releases totally resemble American cinema (except that the dialog is in Russian.) Now we see the slick “production values” of American films, such as overdoing the special effects; overly sappy and overly-sentimental characters and story lines. I suppose in technical terms Russian cinema is today better than it ever was. But modern films cannot be compared to the Soviet-era classics from Mosfilm and Lenninfilm, which portrayed the innocence and charm of everyday Soviet life, and which better represented true cinematic art, then the let’s-make-a-fast-buck productions we see today.

Perhaps as the new film eventually makes its way to DVD release I won’t be able to resist the temptation. I don’t know. But now I still think it is a travesty that someone would try to do a “remake” or “sequel” of such a classic film, and I know many of the citizens of the former USSR will agree with me that this sequel is pure sacrilege. It would be impossible to recreate the original film unless you could also recreate the social and political conditions under which that film was made, which is of course quite impossible now.


The original 1975 Irony of Fate can be obtained from AmazonUSA as well as AmazonUK. It can also be obtained directly from the Russian Cinema Council. It is available in PAL (European) and NTSC (American) formats, with English subtitles on all versions and with many additional features included on the DVD. The film can also be rented through NetFlix. (Or if someone gives me a valid postal address I can send you burned DVD copy of the film.)

Artfldgr said...

on a lighter note... anyone examine that photo closely?

Its a composite... the girl is not real... or rather, she wasnt there when the photo was taken.

look at the ladies legs... where is the shadow for her feet?

his feet have shadows... her shadow is more like a person standing off camera casting a shadow on the bench. while she is inserted floating in it and seems to be sitting.

average joe with pint bottle has a woman that beautiful next to him, but a ghost that doesnt cast a shadow. nor does the shadow cast on her hit her, but it darkens the bench.

I think the idea they were going for from a journalistic view (in the west), was to take a picture of the billboard with people in it.

however, in the west they actually take those pictures and dont contrive them. (there are plenty of people giddy to get in front of the camera)

in this case they wanted the same kind of photo for the emotional impact that they see in western papers, but for some reason (of which there can be many, and not all nefarious), could not get a real one together and just let it be what it is.

Anonymous said...

I agree. The first "Irony of Fate" was a very sweet movie, not a propaganda piece. It in fact contained a sharp critique of the drab sameness of Soviet life -- a person really could easily mistake an aparment block in Leningrad with one in Moscow, because they were all identical, and even had mostly the same names. The movie also had two marvelous actors, who very acurately captured the angst of life as a middle-aged single/divorced person, especially depressing in the old Soviet Union.

As a general point, I agree with Anonymous that you're way off base in insisting that Russians apply a sort of scorched-earth policy to everything cultural that was produced in the Soviet era. Yes, the current nostalgic mood in Russia has its disturbing points (like their newfound pride in Stalin), but we need to distinguish that from the harmless and even helpful nostalgia for the handful of good things Russia had back then, like "The Irony of Fate".

Anonymous said...

I didn’t want to make any negative remarks so I confined my post to simply pointing out what was interesting and good about the classic 1975 Soviet film Irony of Fate

Of course it's ridiculous to apply a "scorched earth" approach to every cultural artifact produced during the 74-year existence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But suggesting such an idea is only to be expected in this blog. (Consider the title of it after all).

The USSR covers the period 1917-91, and not only for Russia but for the other 15 Soviet Republics as well (Georgia, Ukraine, etc.). There was an enormous cultural, literary, artistic output in the USSR during this time. While some of it may have had a political motive much of it did not. Certainly it is quite hard to find a political motive in something like the harmless 1975 Soviet romantic comedy Irony of Fate (though I confess that I haven’t tried playing the film backwards yet, so I suppose I can’t say anything for certain). But surely you understand that even that fraction of Soviet cultural output that did have a political objective is worthwhile to preserve, for historical reasons if for no other reason. (You have heard the news that the USSR no longer exists?)

Russia has always produced a lot of talented people in culture and the arts throughout its history, and the Soviet period was certainly no exception. The idea that modern Russians should knock down every building and burn every book, record and film made during Soviet times is frankly ludicrous. Such an approach would be a much worse example of the alleged ideological extremism which they claim to hate and condemn. In my opinion such ideas would only be expressed by someone with irrational hatred or fear of Russia and who has no real idea what they are talking about. Have you every even seen the 1975 film “Irony of Fate?” Have you ever even seen any Soviet-era romantic comedy or any Soviet film at all? Don’t you think it’s generally a good idea to have some knowledge of the subject matter before you make broad proclamations about it?

So what about Artfldgr’s “grassy knoll” theory of the photo of a young couple sitting near a billboard that advertises the new (2007) sequel to Irony of Fate

Artfldgr: “[The photo] is a composite... the girl is not real... or rather, she wasn’t there when the photo was taken…. look at the ladies legs... where is the shadow for her feet? His feet have shadows... her shadow is more like a person standing off camera casting a shadow on the bench. while she is inserted floating in it and seems to be sitting…. Average Joe with pint bottle has a woman that beautiful next to him, but a ghost that doesn’t cast a shadow. Nor does the shadow cast on her hit her, but it darkens the bench.”

Dude, you’re serious with this? C’mon, you are pulling my leg… Right?

Well, I can only say that you must have really looked at that photo closely and spent a lot of time on it because you caught so many things which I must admit that I didn’t even notice. But thank goodness we have patriotic citizens such as you who are constantly on patrol against the nefarious KGB propaganda lies!

Artfldgr: “However, in the west they actually take those pictures and don’t contrive them. (There are plenty of people giddy to get in front of the camera). In this case they wanted the same kind of photo for the emotional impact that they see in western papers, but for some reason (of which there can be many, and not all nefarious), could not get a real one together and just let it be what it is.”

KGB: Damn! Now they know our secret! Of course is impossible to get anyone in Russia to agree to have their photo taken on a park bench (the way people always do all the time in the marvelous west). But thank God for Photo-Shop because we can paint people into our drab Russian photos to try to create scenes of normal life’s, such as occur naturally in the west; we can trick everyone into thinking lovers sit on park benches in Russia too!

Surely you realize that pursuing this hate-Russia/hate-Russians line so zealously and taking it to such absurd extremes begins to make you look more than a little bit schizoid after a while? You need to get out more, and expose yourself to a wider world of ideas than the ones in just that little circle.

I think any reasonable person can read remarks such as the ones above and they pretty much speak for themselves as to the fanaticism and irrationality of those who hate/fear Russia. Where such hatred and fear comes from I do not know, but it most certainly is not the product of any rational thought process.

Even if there might be some truth to some of the things you post, it loses credibility when it’s blended into the whole sea of hate; it appears to be something irrational and deeply emotionally-motivated.

...Or what?


Anonymous said...

In my first post I tried to include a link to my email (in case someone wanted a copy of the 1975 film). I used the mailto: format and it worked in my "preview." When I clicked on the link in the preview, it opened up my email client with my email address already there (as expected). But it looks like this website must filer that out when the post really gets posted, because I click on it now and I just get a "URL not found."

I'm not sure if it's my mistake or we really aren't supposed to post our email address in here (if not I don't see why not - what's the harm? I'm over 18.)

In any case I'll post it here (not the one I always use but one I can use for this purpose): sandraevens at live dot com.


Anonymous said...

To the Concerned Citizen:

'Yes, the current nostalgic mood in Russia has its disturbing points (like their newfound pride in Stalin)...'

It's just the backward impulse of the fake, hysterical, ignorant and tactless anti-Stalinist propaganda from the late 80s till nowadays. People have heard so much outraging nonsense that some of them at last decided that the very topic of it is false.

Artfldgr said...

Misha, i think your missing the point.. first of all, in the west, technically we are governing ourselves, and so the people pay attention and look. Caveate emptor, and many of us care as to the validity of what we see, when thats the point.

For instance, no one cares if the mash up for advertising... ergo you get old movies cut togeter to make a swiffer commercial staring dead actors.

however, the reason i said somehing is that it seems they didnt learn from using western moving film clips.

ok.. let me see if i can spell it for you... advertisers are paid to convince you... newspaper people are supposed to INFORM you, not INDOCTRINATE you.

real is news, fake is propaganda

yes there are all kinds of other mixes and proportions... but generally in the west, we dont have russias problems (we have our own of course), because we dont like it when people trick us

you have shown that russian people dont mind being tricked..

you even made sure to make fun of the person that was trying to point out that they are contriving reality for the purpose of inducing a certain set of thoughts vs another set.

when russia was the soviet union, they did this constantly... to them everything meant something, and they could never let a truthful sttement stay put if it could be improved.

so in this case... they improved the image of russia to the west by contriving the same kind of thing the western person is used to.

and often as i have said before, if your not the intended target of the message then it doesnt work. so women enttitlement at mens expense works to indoctrinate women but would never work to indoctrinate men...

so in this case, what they are trying to do is change the opinion of the western people who look at the image... why would they want to do that?

well, what does the REAL image look like?

first of all, before this gets to far, let me say that i take pictures, and so what you call an analysis, pops right out at me as if its painted orange and jumping.
[if you search there is a really cool mental test that will show you that your mind sees what you expect to see and so will cover up that which will break that. so your mind didnt see it because thats the way you want to see russia...

i have no vested interest either way... after all, does it really mean anything to me if the picture is real or false? did the sky open and the angels sing and did i get acocolades for it? then dont be so snarky that your blind to people screwing with your head! i wouldnt be so proud of it as you.

if one were to take a closer look.. they put a billboard over a residence... do you think the homeowners wanted their whole house covereed up? i doubt it... but unlike the west i bet they didnt get a lot of cash for the privlege.

the other thing is that that bench is a park bench.. if it was for buses they would be turned around... and not semi circuilar..

what bothered me was that there wasnt a shadow...

but that then asks the question, why select her, and so forth...

and the image it makes is that middle age men can be seen with women as pretty as hookers in ther average day...

its a classic piece of old style utopian propaganda...

kind of like a western movie in which there is a bar scene... the scene has way to many women compared to men, everyone is too pretty, and the women are too freindly, not mean enough as women on the prowl are to htose they are not interested in, and its not so loud you cant hear the characters.

the differnce is that its a movie... we know its fake...

however if we see the same kind of contrives stuff in the west, we react in a way that stops it

inlike you, who acts in a way to supress the notice of it.

now if the newspaper is broke, i can see them using composites to create news so that they dont have to go out and take pictures and pay salaries... thats what i meant by an honest person can come up with reasons NOT nefarious. and i never claimed that i would be able to tell the motives in this case mainly because i am in the west and ll i have is the silly pictre.

if they did this... then what else did they lie about?

your wife lies as to the bills... she lies as to the shopping... she lies as to the children... and then you find her in the apartment with a man.. she says they are freinds and youi never met him..

are you more or less likely to trust her than if none of those lies every occured?

in your case, you would just go on trusting her till you found her in bed with the guy, then if she had a cool story you woulds til trust her.

oh... you wouldnt? then why do that with people who you are paying o inform you as to the facts in the world so that you can make choices?

and thats the point... you take information in, and you make choices in yor life based on them... yes a movie is silly, but its indicative of WILLINGNESS...

they are WILLING to lie for conveininece and to orchstrate and so forth.

Psychopaths, and sociopathis live hteir whole lives this way, and russian leaderhip is a leadership of sociaotpaths, thanks to lennin, derzinsky, and the worst of the russian prisons...

Artfldgr said...

oh.. forgot to ask misha..

how does not wanting the russian public to be lied to by their leaders and then controled by such manipulation to be a form of hatred?

plase enlighten me...

that to desire that peopel who are trusted to inform the public do so honestly, is a form of international racial hate... is more rediculous than your assertion that i hate russians or russia.

ok...misha you win...

hey KGB/FSB/GRU... you heard what you people want... go lie to them... tell big lies, tell little lies and keep doing it... and dont you dare stop!!!

now is that better... do you feel more love?


Anonymous said...

I disagree with "anonymous" this time. If you feel the "anti-Stalinist propaganda" is encroaching into your legitimate national pride (I think that is what you are saying), there are better ways to deal with it than by lionizing the monster.

I recall Germany had a sort of awakening on this point starting in the early-1980's (lasting until the problems of reunification gave them something more serious to think about), in which they repeatedly asked the former Allied powers how long they were expected to carry the cross for the sins of Hitler, and how heavy that cross really had to be (how deep did the roots of Naziism relly reach into German culture?). It was a lively, often emotional debate. But I recall no one saying Hitler wasn't such a bad guy after all, or that he did a great job on the economy (though the latter was, in some ways, true). Russians should go back and look at how the Germans came to peace with their totalitarian past. I think there is much to learn there.

Anonymous said...

To the Concerned Citizen:

Unfortunately, such 'propagandists' got the result opposite to what they wished, just hurting the real national pride, putting '=' mark between Stalin and the whole Soviet epoch (those, who lived in the USSR, know it's a bald lie), hysterically swearing everything connected with the Soviet time. They've got what they have worked out. At the same time people from media, who truly thought themselves liberals, made their best to promote Stalin's image mentioning him every minute and in any context. It came from jounalists' neglegence and poor taste, not from any 'Stalinism', but created a sick popularity of Stalin (very like the trivial popularity of Imperial Russia in early 90s). If by the middle of 80s the very name of Stalin was half-prohibited and half-forgotten and at the early 90s his image was totally condemned, nowadays a sort of kitsch popularity and ignorant nostalgia on Stalin really appeared, though it have no bloodthirst in its basis - the real Stalinist already died long ago. But now, on the other hand, there's a lot of good historical materials and discussions permanently appearing in Russian media those can do far better than the failured anti-communist hysteria.

Anonymous said...


"...on the other hand, there's a lot of good historical materials and discussions in the Russian media that do far better than the failed anti-Communist hysteria."

I hope you are right. I think a good way to encourage that sort of discussion would be for the government to re-open the historical Cheka/NKVD/KGB archives that were in the process of opening but slammed back shut shortly after Putin came to office. I think it is pretty clear what Putin's agenda was in closing them -- and it wasn't to protect any "source and methods" relevant to current intelligence-gathering operations.

It was to to keep Russian society from coming apart at the seams, which it very well might even today if everyone discovered just how widespread the "stukach" (snitch) tradition had become in Soviet society. That is the main impediment to Russians coming to term with their Stalinist past (as it was for Germans, BTW): in truth, they all knew, and one way or another, they almost all collaborated/cooperated.

La Russophobe said...

Our Original Translator responds to the comments above, particularly that of CONCERNED CITIZEN:

I think "The Irony of Fate" IS a propaganda piece, as indeed was pretty much everything produced for adults by Soviet studios between the early 1920's and the final stages of glastnost. In fact, it was the worst kind of propaganda, because by presenting its little thimbleful of social criticism ("Our apartments all look the same! We don't trust one another at all! We're all so lonely!") diluted in a bucket full of feel-good syrup ("But thank goodness, despite the dehumanizing standardizations of Communism, we're all still individuals, and human!"), it legitimized the Soviet approach to social commentary, which could be summed up as: "Any criticism of the State or its policies must be wrapped in multiple layers of adoration for the Russian People, and preferrably the well-meaning authorities as well." To the Western eye, this still more than smacks of propaganda. Worse, it is clearly the unwritten rule that Putin wants to take the Rusian people back to, hence the re-make.

I am sure a lot of Russians yearn for the days when social criticism was sugar-coated in the manner of "The Irony of Fate". I am sure in some cases the unwritten rule of self-censorship did result in some especially fine literature - it is certainly in the Russian tradition, dating all the way back to Pushkin, to cleverly sneak things by the ever-present eye of the censor. But it is unhealthy. Russians need to stop longing for the day when all the movies were sweet and the news was good, and any social criticism came with praise for the Narod and Vozhd'. I hate to sound like a crumudgeon here, but it is time to grow up, and not demand that big daddy Putin go tell that mean old Liberal to stop telling all those scary stories to the kids.

I realize social criticsm of this sort can seem a little mean and petty at times, sort of like leftist critiques of American society that try to draw a line from Norman Rockwell to the Vietnam War, via the "Silent Majority". But if critiques like that do have a kernel of truth in the case of America, they have much more in the case of Russia, where the Silent Majority watched a lot more horrible things happen, and collaborated a lot more actively in them.

"Russia experts" -- like Concerned Citizen seems to be -- are part of the problem in America's delay in coming to grips with the new Russian threat. In most cases they have spent so much time reading the tea leaves of Soviet/Russian propapanda for little signs of change, and have risen in stature as confused American policymakers have sought them out for their skill in this regard, that they have become unwitting collaborators in the process of legitimizing the propaganda. I know, I was there, and it wasn't until I watched the system crumble in 1989 that the scales fell from my eyes and I realized just how much I had bought into the "necessity" of the lies myself.

My advice to people like CC: Be careful not to go native. Stay in the Western tradition. Call a spade a spade. And if you can't always do so publicly, at least "to thine own self be true". True, it will sometimes be a little more difficult living among Russians and the phoniness that they compulsively wrap themselves in, especially of late, but you'll ultimately sleep a lot better at night. And remember: you have friends, right here at LR. :) (Or, if you want to practice your Russian, you can find more friends at that good ol' porcupine, YeZh.)

Anonymous said...

To Artfldgr:
The man and the girl on the picture are nearly of the same age (if the massive man isn't several years older). The house covered with advertizing poster is under reconstruction. It is incircled with a fence and its side is covered with another poster and has lamps on its top. The edge of the grey building on the right seems very like the 'Izvestiya' newspaper's building in Pushkin square in the center of Moscow. If it is so, the bench and the stone border are faced to Pushkin's monument. It's a traditional place of romantic rendevous. If it's another place, it's very close to the former (some other part of the Boulevard Circle) and has a very like composition. If you seriously think that GRU (the military intelligence service) has no other job than to product pictures with cinema posters and to put it in Russian newspapers aiming to give a fake message to the outer world, it's high time to go to the doctor's. It really can be bird flu spread by FSB.

(I'm just from a theatre. The play based on 'The Dead Souls' is opened by a hidden joke on bird flu (puppet chicks are running along the scene, when the main character says: 'An epidemy has taken place recently') and finished by a terrible Kremlin propaganda from Gogol's 'Correspondence with My Friends').

Anonymous said...

To Concerned Citizen:
The archives of KGB aren't 'shut'. A huge database on the 30s repressions victims is just published by the Memorial society worked in collaboration with KGB archive.

The access to the archives can be limited. It's clear that the databases of the intelligence service can't be opened. I suppose the databases on informators must be partially being opened (after spending, for example, of 50 years or, in personal cases, juridically). I don't think it would be adequate to open the names of everybody collaborated with KGB. Andrei Karaulov, for example, very vitally described how simply such collaboration began and generally came to nothing. (And it's impossible to call such practic 'Stalinist'). If people want to proclame about there contacts with KGB, they can do it personally, as Mikhail Kozakov did recently.

Anonymous said...


1. I continue to reject the notion that "The Irony of Fate" is any kind of propaganda, any more than Norman Rockwell paintings were propaganda. That's just silly.

2. I find your tone more than a little condescending. I'll admit I had not yet even started studying Russian back when the Soviet Union collapsed, but for me that just means I'm not carrying around all the guilt baggage you apparently are. Welcome your insights on Russia, but not your diagnoses of Russian specialists.

3. I am sure the writers of Yezhdnevny Zhurnal do not consider themselves Russophobes and would find much of the material on this blog unattractive. They would probably be offended by your implication that YeZh is somehow a Russian equivalent of LR. It's not.

4. My honest recommendation: Stick to translating interesting articles written by others.

Finally, I think we just need to agree to disagree on this one. We know our respective positions, and it is obvious neither one of us is going to change the other's mind. Shalom.

Anonymous said...

Only a very naïve person can suppose that the aim of such movies as ‘The Irony of Fate’ was an imitation of social critic. It was more simple, like those of many other films of all nations: to tell a story and to amuse people. So, if it’s a communist crime, what else do you want to prohibit of destroy? All the Soviet cinema and animation (communist propaganda), new year toys (a terrible sentimental part of the Soviet heritage), sorts of candies (sweet communist past), ideologically uncommitted poetry and music. Moreover, let’s destroy or rebuild the masterpieces of Soviet architecture and constructing (beginning from Shukhov’s tower) and provide the lustration of people who became the faces of the last Soviet decades (damn them all!).
This practice was already well-developed by Savonarola and Mao. Lenin, Trotsky, Hitler or Stalin wasn’t so sanctimonious in such an aspect.

Artfldgr said...

thanks anonymous... thats the kind of help i need when i think i see something. though she is pasted in. as i said not the more nefarious thing (the arctic thing was different).

i couldnt see a lot of detail since the image was small, and wasnt sure as to the sign. though i was sure about the girl. (thigh high boots are common among russian ladies? even in the west were tramp stamps are rampant and they describe doing things the head of the whores guild in rome would find embarrasing, as empowering, the boots are not common in public at all)

i think you also miss the way things worked... there was a time when they did watch such things. however, its like not knowing when your watched, and so what people did was "tow the party line", in the west its called politically correct... right thinking... party line... etc

so no. there is no need for fsb to be stationed, thats not how it works or worked. if that was the way, then no one would hsve been caught doing anything. everyone needed enough rope to hang themselves, and not knowing the current party line and following it was one way you got in trouble.

in this case... in the choice of which newspapers stay open and closed, the ones that showed some leanings towards promoting party ideals (a better looking russia than real), would get better considerations than one that showed the naked truth and by doing so exposed a negative.

so even though there isnt a person sitting there jotting things down in a little book, there are people who consider things and make tally when they have control over the press and other things as well.

little lies show that they are willing to lie. a person willing to lie is a person willing to dupe the public, the size of the lie is only convenience or what they had to work with. they wont have a rule that says... ok... we will allow little lies, but no medium sized lies and no large lies. where is the line in which they stop, and you know that the information they sell is valid?

did they lie on other things and so was the only reason you know here is that they didnt put the work into it they should have?

was it done only to pump up the movie sales and its appearance? if the movie is propaganda, isnt that then using propaganda to make a false image so that people spend their hard earned cash entering something that is not what they thought it was nor as popular?

so if the film is propaganda, then isnt this just making a wider net to help insure more people are subject to the movies than would be if they saw things as they are, not as some artist decided they should look like to trick them.

in a way, your pulling the party train in that you and others are saying ignore the lies... go to sleep... do not pay attention close enough to see the man behind the curtain, you have to beleive in the wizard.

"because of the wonderful things he does".

but how do you know he does wonderful things? oh, the press that lies to you told you so.

Artfldgr said...

maybe studyng the history of art in that period would make more sense than looking at it through skewed eyes and delcaring it in focus.

read this and let me know if the film fits this description.. if so then its the old sneakier propaganda, that people deny is what it is!!!

In 1934 Maxim Gorky summarized the four key features of socialist realism. First, socialist realism is a programmatic literature that affirms something. Second, it is a literature in which collectivism is presented as the main factor in shaping man. "Socialist individuality can develop only in conditions of collective labor," said Gorky. Third, socialist realistic literature provides an optimistic outlook on life. Fourth, this literature must have an educative function.2 Zhdanov, another prominent critic at the time, offered this definition: "[T]ruthfulness and historical concreteness of artistic depiction must be combined with the task of ideological remolding and re-education of the toiling people in the spirit of Socialism. This method in fiction and in literary criticism is what we call Socialist Realism . . . ."3
Gorky and other critics who helped define socialist realism often contrasted it with critical or bourgeois realism--the realism of Balzac, for example, or of Russia's great nineteenth-century novelists Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. According to Gorky, the problem with critical realism was that it was too negative, too pessimistic. It was good at exposing the evils of pre-socialist society but it was not upbeat enough to develop a new socialist personality.

so what your watching in this movie, is a form of propagandic art that makes one wax nostalgic, and fill one up...

[you an apply that to the western movies od today... and also the ones that in re-imagining have destroyed positive cultural icons an left the population naked and exposed]

Artfldgr said...

The term "socialist realism" and the theory it referred to were, like most everything in the Soviet Union at this time, ascribed to Stalin himself, but Soviet critics and writers, particularly Maxim Gorky, were chiefly responsible. A resolution passed by the Central Committee of the Communist party in 1932 created a single Union of Soviet Writers. Writers who wished to join had to accept the general policy of the Soviet government, support socialist reconstruction, and adhere to the method of socialist realism. Though socialist realism is now seen as a restrictive doctrine, it was formulated in Russia as a reaction to an even stricter regimentation by a group known as the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers. This group insisted on proletarian literature that would serve Russia's Five-Year Plan for industrial and economic development. Approved works glorified workers in factories and on collective farms. Disappointed with the quality of this proletarian literature, party members established a new Union of Soviet Writers and the new doctrine of socialist realism in order to improve literary quality. Restrictions were still in place, writers had to produce socialist realism, but they were relieved of the requirement to write purely industrial or political novels.

Artfldgr said...

Soviet Cinema at the end of the Thaw.
Referring to capitalist films, in 1969 two French film critics postulated, “every film is political, inasmuch as it is determine by the ideology that produces it (or within which it is produced, which stems from the same thing).” In the case of the Soviet film, this statement requires that all films produced under the direction of the state film studios, which would nearly all of the domestically produced pictures, would inherently be political. The Communist Party took full advantage of this viewpoint and used film throughout its history to politicize culture. The Soviet brand of film differentiated itself from other world varieties through its direct propagation of government ideology. So, as cinema played an important cultural role to many societies through the twentieth century, the cinema played a triple role in the Soviet Union not only entertaining and educating the populace, but also inculcating them, and providing a looking glass, in which was reflected a distorted picture of their own lives.
The Soviet government saw the cinema and the arts in general, as a culturally driven means to inculcate the masses just like youth Communist groups and other organizations. The arts were built around the shaping of the individual into the collective. In fact, Brezhnev during his speech to the 24th Party congress in 1971 made statements on the increasing role of cinema to mold the worldview of the new Soviet man. Hundreds of full-length motion pictures were created and distributed in the 60s and 70s with just these criteria in mind. These films came from a multitude of genres, but were all criticized in a similar manner: based on the portrayals of the main characters and topics in light of the ideal socialist behavior.
The late 1960s into the mid-70s present a vibrant time in the Soviet film scene. Under the diminishing censorship during Khrushev’s Thaw, Soviet films flourished and became a powerful artistic tool. But by 1968, Brezhnev was in power and tightening the reins once again. What occurred was a transition in film content. Though there were numerous works based on contemporary issues coming to the screens, many directors were making short use of old masterpieces to avoid the political repercussions of touchy issues. Those directors that succeeded in making popular films on contemporary issues used themes less and less optimistic as the decade wore on.
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the smaller, specialized unions below them treated the arts as a didactic tool. First Secretary of the Cinematographers’ Union L.A. Kulidzhanov reported: “The interests of the cinematographer, the studio, and the State Committee on Cinematography all coincide to raise the ideological and artistic level of the films, their educational effect upon the audience, their social role.” Cinema offered a wide range of opportunities for dissemination of propaganda. Daily attendance to motion picture screenings ranged from 13 to 14 million people with about 5 billion in yearly attendance. Many of these multiple attendees were comprised of teen-agers and the younger generations. This made cinema a prime teaching tool, as youngsters were less and less apt to endure the rigors of literature as a form of entertainment and training. The call for more movies appropriate for those younger age groups sounded throughout the sixties and seventies. Teachers felt a gap opening between the fashions of even their small age differences and attributed it to the growing influence of the media. In most cases the verdict proved true. By simple calculations, pedagogues rationed that an average adolescent had seen six to eight films a week compared to maybe two for the average citizen. In a following statement, the same pedagogue called for a new school curriculum to include film education in order to properly teach these youngsters how to watch films. The films that the public were seeing affected their world view and careful work had to be done to make sure that the effects were not detrimental to socialist society.
In order to judge a cinematic work’s worth, standard criteria had to be established. The Soviet leadership had plenty of experience in this area and a strong model for all criticism in the form of Marxist-Leninist principles and Socialist Realism. Film critiques included evaluations of ideological accuracy and depth of social analysis in excess of simple esthetic treatments on form and production. The Socialist Realist method rooted out many types of experimental or avant-garde pieces that could be open to interpretation by the audience. A strong basis for artistic critique kept many films in line with state policy and promulgated sharply ideological films to keep critics happy but also produced artists ready to push those bounds and bring something vivid to the Soviet screens in order to interest the viewer and give them cause to deliberate their identities.

here is where they start to comment on films like irony.

Further into the seventies comedy took a darker turn. It was not a turn so much to black humor as it was a turn to dry humor, and dark satire. In the 1970s “the Soviet middle class was sliding into an abyss of pessimism.” Comedic films from Eldar Riazanov and Georgy Danely make use of distorted realities and confusion to sardonically view the existence of the main characters and their role in society. The heroes fall amongst the so-called anti-heroes due to their eternal struggle despite verified ineptness. Riazanov directed “Irony of Fate, or ‘Enjoy Your Bath’” as a comedic love story set over a drunken New Year’ Eve. The seemingly optimistic story actually worked to destroy some of the power of the respected Soviet man. In the film, the emotionally driven hero displaces the down to earth and morally strong character in an emotional struggle over love. The traditional Soviet male is downgraded with respect to impetuous youth. The movie does make the attempt to prove that this relation will eventually fail and the steadfastness of tradition will again triumph, but the finale is all but indicative of that result. “Irony of Fate” works to dismantle much more than personality types though. It reveals something of the Soviet character in its endeavor to conquer all lands under its purview and Russify them. The entire plot of the movie is based on the standardization of life in the Soviet Union. The same street names in similar cities are filled with apartments of the same construction that yield to the same keys. For all the merits of an industrializing society, the lack of personality that comes with modern production is satirized and denounced.

so as you can see... propaganda isnt the way that purile people think it is... its subtle... its part of the world view that one has to adopt to understand the movie... its not the movie parading around soclialist flags...

ever notice that spiderman is oppressed by the fat cat capilist jameson who doesnt want to pay him for his work? of course peter is a intellectual that is downtrodden, who gets special powers to fight evil... but he doesnt ahve the common sense to offer them to anothe newspaper for more money...

so this socilaist realizm is now EVERYWHERE, and like air, most dont notice it..

even funnier, that they can watch filmes from an era when nothing was made for entertainment purposes, and claim its only for amusement!!!!

Anonymous said...

To Artfldgr:

I really can't understand, are you sick or severely joking.
If you really believe that the image of the girl is put into the picture (for exemple, because it's impossible to meet such a girl in the very center of Moscow), I offer you to make the picture larger and see that the right leg of the girl makes two distinct shadows (of her boot and of her high heel), and the heel or the girl's left boot makes just the distinct shadow on the ground, when the left foot's shadow lies at the man's right leg's one. If the photographer wished to make such a picture he had simply to come to the square, there a bit poster is situated. There's always a plenty of couples in such a place.

If you are confused by the boots of the girl, I can say that the majority of women in Moscow prefers to wear boots not so high, but it's simple to meet a girl or a woman in boots up to her knees. My mother now prefers low boots and wears trousers only. I wear boots to the middle of my shanks with a classical suit. The majority of my former girlfriends (which are of different ages) wear high boots according to their tastes and heels according to their comfort.

I don't want to watch the movie according to several reasons.

1. I think such films (or books) don't need sequels, especially the ones breaking the final of the classical story.
2. I wouldn't like even the idea of remaking of such a story. May be, I would have said 'Let it be', if it had been talanted, but I see it's a pure business (though the movie's creators truely think it's an art).
3. I'm quite amused with your long passages on the Theory of State Propaganda. I think it's far more funny and frankly than a talantless comedy fullfilled with hidden advertising of goods.

Going in such a way you should look first for communist propaganda in 'Winnie the Pooh' that has been extremely popular in Russia (in the authorized Russian version) for almost half of century. It also would be a nonsense, but far more reasonable.

Anonymous said...

"It reveals something of the Soviet character in its endeavor to conquer all lands under its purview and Russify them." Heavy Freud!

"Even funnier, that they can watch filmes from an era when nothing was made for entertainment purposes, and claim its only for amusement!!!!" I'll muse about the ideological meaning of Hamlet, Figaro or Winnie the Pooh. Though I guess that the Soviet versions of 'Hamlet' or 'Til Ulenspiegel' weren't made for simple entertainment. I even guess it would be useful to you to read or to watch Grigory Gorin's play 'Til'.

You are really odd. Such long pathetic Sovetological texts even don't need parodizing. It's more original than 'I didn't read Pasternak, but I'm outraged!'

'The traditional Soviet male is downgraded with respect to impetuous youth.' A bashful bachelor named 'an impetuos youth' is a capital joke itself.

'The satirizing of standartization' takes ten or fifteen minutes from two and a half hours of the story, when the drunk main character tells to a taxi driver his adress (without mentioning he's come to another city), enters the house very like himself's, opens the door with his own key and falls asleep to be shocked a bit later. If some Sovetologists suppose here is a limited satire made for drawing the Soviet people away from the fight for human rights, such Sovetologists have even less common sense than Soviet censors had.

I'll tell Eldar Alexandrovich about the hidden meaning of his film. I'll even try to read all his films in such a way and present him a thesis on this topic. Let him prepare himself for the trial. Though I don't know who from the so-called 'true Russian patriots' are so deep-watching and desperate to go so far.

Unfortunately, I hardly imagine who is Spider Man. Long ago I had an action video game with him as the main character, but I don't know the detail of his story. In any case, I didn't come in touch with Spider Man for ages. May be it seems terrible, I often have to face one or another of Ryazanov's twenty films. I don't think they are all of the same merits, nor I have an extreme passion for some of them, even if I know them by heart. But his last film on Andersen (though I suppose it was made quite roughly) really helped me to cure myself of a heavy depression. Many films of Ryazanov (and also some of Danelia, whose very name was transliterated with a mistake) became Russian (and not only Russian) cultural archetypes, and those, who think fighting with them is an importent part of the fight with the dead 'Communism', shall get nothing but outraging people or at least making them laugh.

Anonymous said...

There are beautiful women like that one all over Russia... No shortage of them as Russia has the most beautiful women in the world.

Boots are very practical as Russia has harsh winters, but that doesn't mean they have to be ugly; boots can also be fashionable and sexy, as the photo shows.

And I will say again, the Irony of Fate is not a political film; it is a light romantic comedy which just happened to be produced in the 1970's USSR.

Yeah, there are bound to be elements of Soviet life shown in a Soviet film, just like elements of American and French life slip into films from those two countries.

For example, the men all go to a bathhouse. Such a cultural reference wouldn't make a lot of sense to 1970's Americans (grown men arranging to meet each other down at the corner bath house). Most Americans would have no idea. But for Russians they understand this reference. Most Russians had private baths by the 1970's, as the film makes clear: Nadya has a private bath (recall that Ipolit is doused in the shower at one point); and Zhenya's apartment is a carbon-copy of hers. As to the other men (Zhenya's friends), two of them are seen debating the merits of a bath house vs. private bath as the bath-house scene opens. (Private baths are nice, but you can't meet your friends there.)

So the fact that the four friends chose to meet at a public bath house is really only because it is their annual New Year tradition, not because Russian's in the 1970's lacked indoor plumbing.

But only someone like you could look at the bath house motif and find it some nefarious propaganda effort (the authorities telling people that bath houses - socialistic and communistic - are better than good old fashioned private baths).

But let's also remember that in your spare time you are searching the pixels of a the film-promotion photo featuring a young couple on a park bench, to find the hidden meaning. (The boot gives no shadow; it's all a KGB plot.)

I will ask you once again: have you ever even seen Irony of Fate? How can you speak like an expert about something you know nothing about? That's the trademark of a fool, not someone intelligent. (Or are you afraid you might fall under the commie hypnotic spell if you actually ever watched a Soviet comedy?)

I will not deny that propaganda films were produced in the USSR. Of course they were, as they were in the USA too. Many hollywood films contain strong elements of cultural propaganda, of course, because it's unavoidable.

But the idea that all (100 percent) of Soviet art, literature, film, etc was nothing but propaganda is absurd, and no one who is familiar with Soviet works could accept that idea.

The Soviets were also big lovers of Circuses, especially Soviet children. But what's in a circus? Mostly it is high-wire artists, dancing bears and the like. Such performances were pure amusement, and had no political content at all.

It is so hard for you to believe that the Soviet people sometimes just wanted to sit back and be entertained, and that such entertainment (in many forms) was one of the many products that was produced in abundance for the people by the Soviet socialized economy (like bread and butter and trolley cars and ten thousand other things)?

Anonymous said...

I've had to see the chief of 'Mosfilm' Karen Shakhnazarov and have informed him he was and still is a socialist realist, as well as almost everybody he worked together. We have laughted a lot trying to find somebody who can't be called a socialist realist in such severe definitions. The most funny he has found the very word 'propaganda' that was never used in Russian so often and with such a passion. I have also told him it would be interesting to make a book or a movie parodizing the Western picture of old, Soviet or modern Russia and made some examples of the most funny pieces from Voltaire and Verne to Frederick Forthight and Martin Cruz Smith.

To Misha:
In my humble (and absolutely private) opinion, nowadays the most beautiful women live (or at least the most beautiful one does live) in Kyrgyzstan. Under different circumstances I can change my mind, but now I'm quite sure in it.