Sep 132011

Over at Cape Girardeau History and Photos, Ken Steinhoff posted a 1960s photo of a man wearing a straw cap of what I call the French Foreign Legion style.   It elicited some admiring comments.

It also reminded me of another type of hat from the same era — A type of dress hat that I’ve seen in at least two Russian movies.   These are not movies from the 1960s, but are set in the late 50s and 60s.   The first is Serye Volki, in which Nikita Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan are wearing see-through dress hats.  I presume these were considered good for the relatively warm weather of Crimea, although in this case it was October 1964 and Khrushchev was in the process of being removed from power.

The hat is so transparent that you can even see Khrushchev’s (Rolan Bykov’s) bald head through it.

This hat, worn by the Savva Ignatevich character in Povrovskiye Vorota, is not quite as transparent, but in the movie (as opposed to screenshots) you can more easily see that it’s a porous material.   It goes well with his white summer suit.

Were hats like these ever worn in the United States?   I don’t recall ever seeing any, but then, where I lived as a kid I  never saw a man wearing a white summer suit, either.   I’m pretty sure they existed.

One thing we didn’t have in the U.S. (unfortunately) is the kind of Ukrainian shirt the Khrushchev and Ignatevich characters are wearing.  I presume there’s a name for it but I don’t know what it is.  (I’m not even sure it’s Ukrainian, as opposed to Russian.)

Mar 102009


Andrei Myagkov’s voice gives him away the moment he opens his mouth in this movie. I recognized him not by the way he looks, but by the way he talks. Same for Nikita Mikhalkov, though in his case I was expecting his appearance from what I read in the YouTube description. It wouldn’t have mattered. His voice gives him away.

It reminds me of how remarkable it was that Aleksandr Belyavsky could put on a such a different voice to play Leonid Brezhnev in Serye Volki.

Mar 072009


The Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev character in Serye Volki, played by Aleksandr Belyavsky, has a distinctive voice. It helps me to follow some of the plot, because in the end a secretly recorded conversation of him is turned over to Khrushchev, and I had no trouble remembering whose voice is on it. In the above scene, he’s referring to something different — the fact that he isn’t capable of being very convincing if he’s the one to call Khrushchev to lure him back to Moscow.

I’m not quite sure what to call his voice — a combination of nasal and raspy? Did the real Brezhnev have a voice like that? I don’t know. I don’t recall ever hearing him speak.

I wondered if the actor put on this voice for the movie, or if it was his own distinctive voice. I went to IMDB to see if I had ever seen Belyavsky before.


It turns out I had, in “Mesto vstrechi izmenit nelzya.” He played the bad guy, Fox. His voice was entirely different there.

It looks like he put on thick eyebrows for the Serye Volki movie, too.

He seems to me a good enough actor, but one thing that wasn’t made clear from the movie was what he brought to the table that made the others want to put him in Khrushchev’s place. Yes, some of the others thought he was only a “transitional” figure, that he would soon be replaced by someone else. But he had to have had some leadership ability, or following, or power position, to make the others push him forward.

It’s difficult for an actor to portray charisma or leadership ability in a movie. Sometimes the point can be made by the way the other actors react to him, and that part is done very well in Serye Volki. It’s done very well in the case of the Mikhail Andreyevich Suslov character — done so well that even though he has only a minor role in the movie I immediately went to Wikipedia to learn more about the real Suslov. But there seemed to be something missing in the Brezhnev character. I won’t rule out the possibility that that’s exactly what was intended.

Mar 072009

We finished Serye volki tonight. There were no big surprises in the final 30 minutes. The main surprises (to me) had come closer to the midpoint of the film.


Back to the role of Mikhail Andreyevich Suslov in all of this. The film made him sound like a reluctant participant in the coup. But Wikipedia says he led the coup. I confess that took an immediate dislike to him based on the Wikipedia information about his career. But how to reconcile those two very different views of his role?

There is very little information about this film on the web in English — nothing to help me understand the agendas of those who made it. Anna M. Lawton writes about it in Imaging Russia 2000, but she tells about the movie as a movie, and not as history. (I’ve just now put in a request to get that book from our university library, anyway.)

Sergei Khrushchev, son of Nikita Sergeyevich, was one of the authors of the script. Was it his idea to portray Suslov this way? Does he agree with that portrayal now? I’ve decided it’s now time to read some of his books, too, starting with “Nikita Khrushchev : and the creation of a superpower” (2000). Maybe I’ll get some insights from that.

There is an aspect of this film that I very much distrust — somewhat reminiscent to me of some of the conspiracy mongering in the U.S. about John F Kennedy’s assassination. It’s the idea that Brezhnev and those who threw Khruschev out had foreign bank accounts and were lining their own pockets. I can easily believe that personal slights and jockeying for position played a role in the coup; I find it much harder to believe that foreign bank accounts were a factor. The really dangerous, cruel tyrants of the world are not the greedy, selfish people, but the ones who put aside personal greed for the sake of power to enact their utopian ideologies. If all we had to worry about was corrupt people who were lining their own pockets at the expense of others, the world would be a far less dangerous place. In other words, I fear the Suslovs of this world (as described in Wikipedia) more than the Brezhnevs (as portrayed in that film). But whether the historical Suslov and historical Brezhnev were actually like the characters portrayed in the film is to me an open question. I suppose there is also the question of the degree to which the historical Khruschev was like the character played in the film, but that part seems more plausible to me.

Mar 062009


We’re about 2/3 of the way through The Gray Wolves (Serye volki).

At first I wondered if I had remembered the events of 1964 wrongly. The conspirators were talking about replacing Nikita Khruschev in November, but I thought it had happened before that. I recall that it happened during the presidential campaign, and that it was a final nail in the coffin for Barry Goldwater, whom I was doing as much to support vocally as could be done by a high school junior in rural Minnesota. The media were doing as much as they could to use this coup de etat to finish off Goldwater by putting out the line that during times of uncertainty, nobody likes to throw out the established leader. (They maybe weren’t in the tank for Lyndon Johnson as much as they are now for Obama, but they were far from neutral, objective reporters.)

I don’t know all of the historical characters in the movie, so tonight I’ve been spending some time looking some of them up on Wikipedia.

For most of the movie I wondered where Kosygin was in all of this. That was a name I did know. The information we in the U.S. got when Khruschev was thrown out was that Breshnev and Kosygin were now in charge. Of course, Kosygin became less prominent and Brezhnev more as time went on, but I had assumed he was in on the conspiracy. He hasn’t been seen in the movie, but at least his name was finally mentioned about 2/3 of the way through.

Mikoyan was a name I recognized, but other than that I didn’t remember much about him. It appears that he’s with Nikita Sergeyevich at Pitsunda. Wikipedia gives me a clue as to what’s really happening with him — and what to expect from him in a scene towards the end.

One person I knew absolutely nothing about was the one portrayed in the above screen shot — Mikhail Andreevich Suslov. In the movie he seems to be a person who was brought into the conspiracy and who went along with it because he made a political calculation. But after reading that article I came away with a chilling portrait of an intelligent, intellectual cut-throat — the worst kind.

But this blog is supposed to be about more superficial things, so I should point out that I never would have recognized by myself that it was Rolan Bykov who was playing Khruschev. He’s playing a very credible Khruschev, at least for this outsider.

But the Leonid Brezhnev character seems so young — and so unsure of himself. The acting is good, but do Russians consider that to be a realistic portrayal?


And what is the deal with these Russian desks that have a smaller, plainer table for guests portruding from the front? I’ve never seen anything like that in the U.S. But I do see these on RTR Planeta, e.g. when somebody holds talks with Putin. Is it strictly a Russian thing, or is that kind of furniture used anywhere else?