Dec 072009


I still don’t know what to call the 2nd category into which I’d put this scene. Up to this point Inna Churikova’s character has always been dressed in 1970s business atire. She has a family life as well as a public life as town mayor, but she has never before put on a housedress. But in this scene she does, puts some stirring traditional music on the turntable and goes to work washing floors. I take it as a sort of getting herself back to the peasant roots of Mother Russia, to inspire some patriotic/nationalistic feeling in herself in order to steel herself for the big task that lies ahead, which is to raise her voice in favor of the building of better apartments for the people of her town.

Without subtitles I wasn’t able to understand nearly as much of this film as I had hoped. But just before this scene, I think I heard her tell her son that “the people need apartments.” And that understanding seems to be supported by some of the other scenes, e.g. where she is on an inspection tour of some of the dangerously defective apartments that people are living in.


I can’t make out Russian cursive writing very well, but I’m guessing the 2nd line of her note her is the title of the movie, which means something like “I wish to speak.”


And this is where she wishes to speak. This may also have been a scene in Siberiade, btw. It seems to be some big plenary session or congress. I presume it would really have taken some courage for a small-town mayor to speak up in that setting.

I’m not really sure about the “peasant” part, btw. Given that a concerted effort was made to eliminate traditional peasants in favor of communal farms during Stalin’s time, I’m not sure if peasant origins were really supposed to represent the traditional nation in the same way that American farms and small towns used to do for us, at least before a lot of people decided they didn’t like Sarah Palin talking about it.


Here is Stirlitz doing something similar in Semnadcat’ mgnovenii vesny. He has been living undercover in Germany for many years, living as a suave and sophisticated German. I’d say he had been eating German food and drinking German beer, but I don’t think any of the tavern scenes shows him with a beer stein. Cognac or wine, maybe. But at this point, one-third of the way through the series, he seems to be steeling himself for the very dangerous work ahead, by inspiring in himself a feeling of nationalism and patriotism. He does it by putting on traditional Russian music, drinking vodka and eating roasted potatoes straight from the ashes of his fireplace, getting his face sooty in the process. I would guess that that, too, takes him back to the peasant origins of Mother Russia, or something like that.

As an outsider it’s easy for me not to understand this very precisely, but it seems that in both films something of the sort is taking place.

Dec 052009


Last week I tried washing our kitchen floor the way I’ve seen it done in Russian movies. It’s a way to do a good job of it, but it’s not that easy. I haven’t done enough of it to decide whether the method should help Russian women stay young and agile, or if it would age them prematurely.

Last fall I took a one-night-a-week class in conversational Russian at MSU. In a session when our teacher, a young woman from Ukraine, was teaching us how to describe some household activities, I asked her if Russian woman really washed floors the way it’s shown in the movies. She said they did. I never got around to blogging about it until now, though.

The scene above is from Proshu slova, which I just finished watching. Below is one from Vor. There is also a floor-washing scene in Komissar, in which Klavdia Vavilova, played by Nonna Mordukova, in the brief domestic phase in her life is down on the floor washing it with rags. But she is down on her knees, which is not quite the same thing. IMO it’s a lot easier that way. I would guess that the reason women would do it in in a squatting position is not because they’re trying to save their knees but because they’re trying to save their clothes. Also, they can move around a lot faster and get the job done more quickly, even though it requires more effort.


So now I have made a start on another category of scenes to collect: Floor washing scenes.

But I think the scene from Proshu Slova also fits another category that’s found in quite a few Russian movies. I’m not quite sure what to call it, but I’ll try to describe it in another post. There is a scene in Semnadcat’ mgnovenii vesny that I hope to find for the sake of comparison.

Nov 032009


A guy on a plane in a 1979 Russian movie is reading a news magazine that has the headline “Tax Revolt!” on the cover. So who would be reading a magazine like that? A good guy or a bad guy?

This is a science fiction movie based on a Stanislaw Lem novel. The U.S. seems to be the setting for this part of the film.

The movie came out around the time of the Howard Jarvis tax revolt in California. I don’t know what the Russian and Polish news media said about it, if anything. Here in the U.S. the governing class went into eternal conniptions over it.

Oct 132009


I still haven’t worked up enough nerve to finish watching Voditel dlya Very. Instead I took in something easy and watched parts of Ironya Sudba.

I’ve watched it a few times already, but this time something caught my eye just a few seconds from the end of Part One.

In most of the Eldar Ryazanov films I’ve seen, he works something about western communication technology into the film. In Vokzal dlya Voikh (1982) it was a VCR player. In Sluzhebnyy roman it was a built-in 8-track player in a car. In these two films, the items were shown as if some new technology was being introduced to the viewers. In Beregis Avtomobilya the bad guy helped obtain a western tape player (if I remember correctly) on the black market, because the customer said a Soviet one wouldn’t do.

Ryazanov has made a lot more films than that, most of which I have not seen. So I don’t know if this is a theme that recurs throughout. Until I saw the above screenshot in Ironya Sudba, I thought it might be an exception. But the close-up of the phonograph turntable shows the English words “Party-Time.”

Why an American (or English) phonograph in a film in which Barbara Brylska had her voice dubbed because it wasn’t Russian enough? I presume that in 1971 there were Russian phonographs, too. Is Ryazanov playing a little game with us?

Google hasn’t helped me learn much about Party-Time phonographs, btw. I’ve found a few that are sold as collectors items, but they look cheaper than the one shown in the film. It’s not a brand name that I recall ever paying attention to.

Aug 242009


This scene towards the end of part 8 of “Seventeen Moments of Spring” is superb. Heinrich Mueller (played by Leonid Sergeyevich Bronevoy) is just now learning that the Russian agent they’ve been after is our hero, Stirlitz. He already had suspicions and had acted on them, but also didn’t think Stirlitz really was the one. His coming to grips with his new knowledge is excellent acting. He’s alternately surprised, disappointed, disbelieving, irritable, and more. It takes time for it all to sink in, and the movie doesn’t rush. It gives us time to watch it happen. There is nothing trite about the way it’s played.

This movie is unlike most Russian war movies I’ve seen (and unlike most American ones, too, that I know of) in that it doesn’t demonize the Germans. Mueller and the others are played as very real people, not only in this scene but throughout. Well, we’ve only watched to the end of part 8, so I can’t speak for parts 9-12 yet.

BTW, in American movies the Germans would usually be made to speak English with a fake German accent. If in this movie they’re speaking Russian with a fake German accent, I’m not able to tell. Nor can I tell if the Americans speak Russian with a fake American accent.

The screenshot above is from the version I got from Memocast. If you click on it, you will go to a YouTube version that isn’t as good, and on which the aspect ratio is messed up. I’m glad I’ve been able to watch it in a better quality version than that.

Aug 112009


Interesting line: “What can I say… It’s hard to be honest to the end, Pastor. And the more honest my answer is, the bigger liar I may appear to you.”

This line comes toward the end of a long dialog in part six of “Seventeen Moments of Spring.” The English is slightly awkward, but that’s how I found it on the subtitles from Memocast. I presume it’s good enough, though I must confess that in this part of the dialogue I can’t follow the spoken Russian except for a few isolated words. I wish I had a Russian transcript to study like I do with some other movies I’ve gotten from Memocast.

It’s a good scene, with just the two men talking to each other — Col. Stirlitz (the Russian spy working as a Gestapo officer) and Pastor Schlag — the two not daring to be completely honest with each other but trying to come to an understanding without revealing how much each knows. The acting is just right — expressive, not overdone.

Aug 102009

There is an amazing article by Josh Levin at “How is America Going to End? Five steps to totalitarian rule.” It makes a lot of good points, even going to the trouble of pointing out FDR’s authoritarian tendencies and abuses of power during the 1930s.

The truly amazing part is how it managed to put out so many words without once mentioning Barak Obama’s actions in the direction of totalitarianism. It mentions Bush & Cheney quite a bit, and gives a fairly balanced account of what they did and didn’t do in the totalitarian direction. Richard Nixon gets a mention. But there is not a word about Barak Obama’s new detention policies that go farther than Bush’s ever did, or his politicization of the Justice Department, or his takeovers and attempted takeovers of various sectors of our economy, or his intolerance of dissenting viewpoints.

How could anyone who is not a partisan hack write such an otherwise balanced account without mentioning our current President, I wondered.

Then I got to thinking that it’s not so unusual after all. Slate is well known as a leftwing magazine. Young leftwingers are not very tolerant these days. If Levin wants to be able to be allowed to work, breed, and not have others treat him like a pariah, it’s probably not something he dares to talk about directly. He needs to talk in parables and circumlocutions to get his point across.


It’s not unlike in movies made in Soviet Russia. In those I’ve seen there is (to me, at least) a surprising amount of social commentary that would probably not have got past the censors if they had discussed the topics directly. So a comedy like Kin-Dza-Dza could be criticial of a government infested with bribe-takers and abusers of power — if the action took place on another planet.

That movie is probably not the greatest example, because Kin-Dza-Dza was released in 1986 when the Soviet Union was already much more open than it had been previously. But I happen to have the movie handy, including the above part where our heroes have just reached the point when they cannot take it anymore and have decided to fight back, starting by taking down the police officer who is helping himself to bribes.

Tarkovsky’s Solaris is probably a better example. It came out in 1972, a very different time, and it, too, got by with a lot by putting the setting on another planet. That way any messages wouldn’t strike too close to home.


Another example is in the 1973 TV series that Myra and I are currently watching: “Seventeen Moments in Spring”, which takes place in Nazi Germany. The English subtitles for the narrator for Göring’s words at the point of the above screenshot say, “Our concentration camps are humane instruments to save the enemies of national-socialism. If we don’t put them in camps, there will be a mob law. In such way, they’ll be completely reformed and realize our rightness”. Even in 1973 it was probably easier and more effective to talk about that than about the GULAG system of corrective labor from the same World War II period, which had very similar methods and purposes.

I’m not sure if the movie was really intended as social commentary, though. So far what I’ve seen of it is a very patriotic movie that doesn’t seem to be getting in digs at problems that include the producers’ own country. But I wonder if a viewer, perhaps living in the same household with former inmates from the GULAG, could help but think about how their own country once did such things, too.

This sort of indirect system of social commentary is of course not just a feature of Soviet Russia. Authors and producers in other countries have sometimes had to approach issues indirectly, too. And if you consider the type of people who usually read Slate, it’s probably something that happens in our country, too. The Josh Levin article may very well be an example.

Late note:  Also cross-posted to The Reticulator

Aug 012009

I’ve uploaded my first YouTube video — a scene from Kin-Dza-Dza. The ruckus between police Sgt. James Crowley and Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. reminded me of this scene.

There has been talk about how it’s important to be polite and respectful to police. If you mouth off, they might arrest you for disorderly conduct. In the movie, the people on Planet Pluke, whether Chatlanian or Patsaki, are respectful to the police, who are corrupt and expect bribes and who also expect the visible signs of respect you see at 00:45.

But then Uncle Vova blows up at them and demands that they do their duty. And instead of arresting him for disorderly conduct, the police officer backs down.

I have a vague recollection that there are other Russian films, including others from the Soviet days, in which citizens get angry at police officers and criticize their conduct, demanding that they do their assigned duties. I can’t remember just where I saw them, but I do remember being surprised that people in a police state would talk to the police this way. Of course, there are many other films in which people are afraid of the police.

Jul 302009


Alexander asked for some comments on Seventeen Moments of Spring.

I’ve only watched the first four episodes so far, but our slow going is not because we don’t like the film. We just don’t get in as much movie-watching at this time of summer.

I have been meaning to say something about this part in episode 3, though, though wasn’t sure just how to say it without being misunderstood. And it may be that I misunderstand, too.


The English subtitles are as follows:

Looking at Werner who was standing near the coffin, Stirlitz only now realized how the two brothers resembled each other. Karl’s younger brother, Werner, didn’t know that Stirlitz had got him released from the camp where he had been thrown on a denunciation.

Whoa! A denunciation? I thought it was the Russians of that time could get someone thrown into a prison camp on a denunciation. Germans and Russians both used informers, but I thought this system of easy denunciation was a unique feature of certain episodes in some communist regimes. Here are some possibilities I can think of for why this film series has the Germans doing it.

  1. The Russian filmmakers are projecting their own system on the Germans, probably not realizing it.
  2. The distinction I’m making between informers and denunciations is not a real distinction.
  3. The translation into English is all garbled. (I certainly can’t follow any of the Russian I hear in this part.)
  4. The Germans really did denunciations, too, and I just didn’t notice it in any of my reading.
  5. Other.

If choice #1 is correct, it wouldn’t be at all surprising. That sort of thing happens all the time, and probably goes back at least as far as Aristophanes. American filmmakers are especially bad at projecting their own sensibilities on everyone else, which is one reason I can’t stand to watch many American films. When I see it in American films I’m irritated. But when I see it in Russian films, I’m amused.

For example, I was once amused to see a show on RTR Planeta in which the American bad guys, in a plot hatched in the White House, poisoned one of the Russians. And I thought, no, no, no, that’s not right! Russians are the poisoners. It’s a common theme in Russian movies of all kinds, and in real life (see Alexander Litvinenko). Russians even joke about it. It’s not that Americans haven’t been involved in their own nasty assassination plots (see, for example, what happened to Ngo Dinh Diem) but poisoning is just not a standard part of the American repertoire. It’s not the American MO. But it was amusing to see Russians projecting that technique onto Americans.

Maybe something like that is happening with denunciations in Seventeen Instances, too. It doesn’t really matter to the plot, but this blog is mainly for superficial remarks, so that gives me license to talk about it.

Jul 142009


Some time back I wrote about the lack of pipe organs in Russian films, and how the only one I had seen was associated with the bad guys. (Where bad guys = the Germans, in “Alexander Nevsky”). Now I’ve found another. But again, it’s in a German church. The organist is shown here in a screen shot.

This instance occurs in part 3 of “Seventeen Moments of Spring”. (Wikipidia link here because it wasn’t easy for me to find the article for that film, believe it or not.)

The word mgnovenij in the title was new to me, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the consonant cluster “mgn”. But the word occurs in the theme song and it turns out it’s pronounced pretty much as I had guessed it might be. At least it is when it’s sung.