Unmenschionable (2)

‘Russia has nothing’, declared Louise Mensch — the former Tory MP whose departure for New York after two years left a much-needed gap in UK politics. She made her non-point via the Twitter message whose offensive ignorance I discussed in a recent posting


I don’t want to be a bore about this; but it so happens that my 1500-word discussion has been the second most widely read and shared item I’ve ever put on this blog. (The most widely read is still this one.) Modesty forbids that I should reveal how many people have now read it; but I do feel entitled to say that several of the folks who’ve been in touch have said how much they hate the negative view of Russians and Russian culture that Mensch’s Washington-serving flapdoodle perpetuates.

russiawithdollsAnd I really couldn’t agree more. Myself, I have always been fascinated by the cultural products I’ve encountered that come from Russia — and I don’t just mean the art music (of which I provided two terrific examples — by Glinka [1804-57] and Shostakovich [1906-75] — in that very posting).

In fact, given half a chance, I’d happily blog about Russian music all day long. But in some respects it seems to me that it is actually more important to enthuse about Russian creativity outside music — and about Russian film in particular. For while the fascinatingly sui generis Russian symphonic tradition, say, can to a considerable extent be explored and shared without any language barrier getting in the way, the sad fact is that parts of the anglophone world — and, in particular, large sections of the US audience — have a degree of resistance to ‘films with subtitles’ and ‘foreign films with dubbed audio’ that is almost beyond belief … and certainly beyond anything seen in some of the Continental nations I’ve visited. (In the Netherlands, a large amount of ‘mainstream’ film and TV is foreign and subtitled — while in Germany foreign stuff is regularly dubbed). As a result of this resistance, the treasury of post-WW2 Soviet and Russian film (and of other film traditions besides!) is regularly overlooked by many millions of people … who then assume Hollywood’s narrow range of filmic style, structure, expression and ideology to be all that is possible

http://media.gettyimages.com/videos/hdcoffee-break-for-relax-time-with-laptop-in-coffee-shop-video-id482149986?s=640x640Since I am currently sitting in a cafe with a laptop and a spare hour or two, waiting for a rainstorm to stop, let me share with you two clips of Russian films that have impacted my life — and one further clip from a film that has entered it this very week. Of course, this might be a lot of ‘nothing’ to cope with, all in one go; but see how you get on…

First, a clip from 1972; i.e. nearly two decades before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I’m not going to say much about the film and what happens in it: I’ll just relate that, when I was younger, I quite often heard film buffs asking each other what they thought was the best spaceship they’d ever seen in any science fiction film, ever. Eventually, I took to asking the same question myself (in selected settings: I didn’t buttonhole folks at bus-stops. Well, not usually…) — and I’m not exaggerating when I say that, among people who know their sci-fi movies, the answer has always been the same

Well, the Soviet Union came to an official end in 1991 — and it took a lot of things with it. I don’t have any ‘specialist knowledge’ about the eight-year catastrophe that then engulfed the new-born Russian Federation courtesy of the ‘Yeltsin era’; but I do remember the long conversations I had, back in the late 1990s, with a Russian woman whose family firm had suddenly made a fortune fitting bullet-proof glass in the businesses, houses and limousines of rich and famous city-dwellers… Ever since, I have pondered the nature and scale of the social collapse endured by the post-Soviet Russians — one indicator of which comes in the statistics that have emerged showing how ‘male lifespan at birth’ (briefly at its highest-ever level under Gorbachev) practically dived off a cliff in the years after Yeltsin took over…


Russian male lifespan at birth; the box shows the period 1991-99

Inevitably, the period during which that weak and pliable leader functioned as enabler for the criminal and corporate gang-rape of his nation’s institutions and resources is now seldom analysed in the West’s state-corporate media … since it was largely predatory Western capital — in association with sundry corrupt oligarchs — that was responsible. ‘Russia has nothing’ was a condemnation never uttered by the servants of Western capital back in the 1990s: Russia, in those days, had a hell of a lot — and Western capital was looting it.

bearangryQuite what happened in, and to, Russian film-making during that period of free-fall I have hardly any idea: most of the modern Russian films I now encounter date from the years after 1999. This period has seen Russia refusing to capitulate further to the West’s vampire capitalism and US-led neo-imperialism; as a result, the nation has seen itself re-branded in the West’s politics and media as an aggressive rogue state with a barbaric and destructive agenda focused on world domination and the casual murder of civilians. (Discussing threats faced by the world in a UN address of September 2014, private capital’s premier hit-man, Barack Obama — the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has bombed five countries and waged drone war in seven — treated ‘Russian aggression in Europe‘ as a threat comparable with the so-called ‘Islamic State’ on the one hand, and with the ebola virus on the other…)


Illustration from — revealingly! — ‘The Economist’

Proceeding in tandem with this propaganda assault has been the characterisation of the non-compliant Vladimir V. Putin as ‘a new Hitler’ — an operation which, to anyone who has noticed how the forces of Western greed always behave when faced with an obstructive foreign leader, was entirely predictable. As has been observed:

When the likes of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad, and now Donald Trump, are declared the latest ‘New Hitler’, we learn little except that they are enemies of the establishment. It means the ‘On’ button has been pressed on a propaganda machine designed for maximal demonisation, leaving no room for public doubt. This inevitably drives comparisons in the direction of Hitler and the Nazis.

Of some interest in this context is the seldom-discussed extent to which the West’s artistic and cultural elite has shown itself prepared to join in with the state-corporate project — lending its own supposed intellectual and spiritual ‘authority’, its deeply thoughtful ‘humanity’, to what therefore becomes full-spectrum demonisation


Needless to say, this all leads to a situation in which contemporary Russian cultural products and artistic figures are once again regarded as the tainted and problematic representatives of a global pariah — unless, of course, they happen to be such as can easily be slotted into some pro-Western, anti-Putin narrative of the time-honoured ‘harried dissident’ and ‘domestic resistance’ variety … in which case positive coverage and tremendous opportunities await them

I’ve already used this blog to ‘flag up’ what I found to be a remarkably haunting Russian film from 2012 — White Tiger: a heavily mystical WW2 story centering upon a Nazi ‘ghost tank’… [Here — as my second clip! — is an extract for anyone who refused to watch the ‘full feature’…]

… It should come as no surprise to find that this film, selected as the Russian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, did not even make the final shortlist: in my view, it was completely impossible that it could have done so — and not for ‘artistic’ reasons. And if you want an absolutely objective demonstration of the manufactured chasm that exists between Russia’s latest cultural products and the anglophone parts of the US imperium, you only have to go to Wikipedia and look at all the red (i.e. ‘unlinked’) names that appear in the film’s cast list: in an online culture that sees people fighting to be the first to ‘update’ film-celebrity entries with even the most trivial information, no-one has even the faintest idea who any of these Russian actors are…

Well, the rain appears to be easing off; but before I stop I want to introduce readers to my third Russian film — the one I discovered just a few days ago. This is the 2002 art-house hit Russian Ark — and before one of my net-buddies referred me to it in a Facebook posting, I simply hadn’t heard of it. Yes, I know: it’s a bit pitiful that it took me 14 years to catch up; but I can’t be everywhere, can I…?

Anyway, here’s the trailer…

Funny old thing, eh, Russian culture…? Every time you look, there’s more nothing than there was before. Pretty soon we won’t be able to move for stuff that isn’t there…


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4 thoughts on “Unmenschionable (2)

  1. Thanks Mark, will look forward to watching these films and exploring further. Perhaps celebrating Russian culture will provide a small antidote to the constant anti-Russian propaganda.


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