Monday, November 26, 2007

How Russian Hearts Are Heaving

"Moscow, 1947" gives an interesting glimpse of a Soviet culture that was probably already dead before its creators finished the animatic. Ostensibly celebrating the 800th anniversary of the city's founding, it is instead a propaganda film highlighting the city's recapture from Polish leadership in the Polish-Muscovite wars of the early 17th century and its withstanding Napoleon's siege of 1814. Then the video cuts off. I'd seen it years before on a bootleg VHS, but I can't remember if it went on to pay tribute to the WWII defense of Moscow, but even if it doesn't, the subtext of the rest of it clearly celebrates the recent WWII vitory.

You have to remember that prior to WWII, the internal structure of the Soviet Union was in turmoil. The Great Purge of 1937-1938 not only destroyed (probably) millions of lives, but also families, Soviet technological research and defense. Many able generals were sent to camps because, their devotion to bolshevism aside, their families had aristocratic lines pre-dating the regime.

The principle for which they were banished was Stalin's version of communism, which had become one-statist and self-interested. International communist struggles could go hang themselves so long as Russia survived. While initially this self-interest led to the necessary Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the foolhardy belief that it would spare Russia from war, it ultimately came to save Russia. Humiliated by literally millions of men encircled by (and surrendering to) German forces, Stalin was forced to re-build his military hierarchy on the fly. Old generals and colonels were rescued from the camps, told all was forgiven and asked to save the Motherland. Stalin's vision of "Communism in One Country" (i.e. "Russia First," for lack of a better term) immediately transformed into basic bourgeois patriotism. WWII was recast as "The Great Patriotic War." This film represents the last gasp of this liberalization of thought.

The video opens with soaring invocations of the city's name: MOSCOW! Quotes from Pushkin overlay images of patriotic medals, as animated WWII-era bombers fly out from behind them, taking flight over the Motherland. Bombers swoop and open their bay doors, dropping out thousands of love letters written to the city. But evidence of the erosion of the all-for-Russia spirit accompanying WWII can be seen in the video itself.

It's tough to argue that part of the motivation for Stalin's purges wasn't racial. There's a classic element in the Russian psyche, going back to Pushkin and Tolstoy at least, where almond-shaped eyes and yellow skin and the chaos of the east represents a kind of menace that, while not maliciously racist, nonetheless "others" easternness. But during the Great Patriotic War, much of that got set aside. Commissars — Russian political officers — even propagandized for racial diversity within units. E.g. "this commander is Tartar, and his adjutant is Russian, and these officers are Georgian, and this one's a Pole."

Yet, by 4:29 in the video, we already have the narrator invoking the "Tartar's yoke!" in talking about the periodic rule of parts of Russia by the mongol hordes. Worse, by 4:40 you have a kind of Punch and Judy Minstrel Show, with the white Russian puppet beating the crap out of the "BLACK FOREIGNER" Tartar. Already, that need to band together that WWII brought seems to be spooling apart.

Probably what's most interesting though is how by 1947 all this "Russia Only" Stalinism was being overcome by the ambition to push the Iron Curtain out to the fullest boundaries of Eastern Europe. While it might be all well and good to return to a racist mentality about Eastern peoples, Communism In One Country wasn't a doctrine that could bear up to scrutiny when more and more countries were coming under Soviet hegemony. By 1947, the Baltic States, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Hungary were communist client states.

The Great Patriotic War attitude that this film celebrates was already over and done with probably by the time any average citizen saw it. Truman had already promulgated his Truman Doctrine, fighting to contain communism on every front. American and Soviet proxies faced off in Greece. The next year, Berlin would be cordoned off Czechoslovakia absorbed into the Iron Curtain. Already the message was transitioning to the harmony and prosperity of many nations, sharing in communism, outside the boundaries of any one state. And the propaganda for that would have to be very delicate indeed, because it sounded like the multinational war for communism that all the Trotskyists had been militating for in 1937 and 1938, before they were shot and shipped east to starve to death or die of exposure.

In the end, this film is interesting because of the rarity of what it has to say. Years later, watching it is like looking at a miraculously clear shapshot taken from a moving train: unless you time it just right — just blink — that tiny era of postwar Russian nationalism and brotherhood is gone. I wish I could say the same for the print quality though. Nighttime and forest scenes are almost totally dark. A bear and an owl are virtually invisible against a dark background. I get the sense this was improperly stored in an archive for four decades. I'd be really excited to see a cleaned-up copy, if one is out there.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Found a super8 film with a miniature steam train...

remember back here i was bitching about bargain hunting with the gf?? anyway, i finally go around to uploading this film junk i got at a garage sale

pretty basic stuff like i usually picnics, etc...but this one has the granfather (i guess) giving everyone rides on a miniature steam engine...there was a photo of the train in a box of photos i got with the films too... 3 bucks, not bad.

sorry for spacing on this one so long know how it goes, life and work get in the way...two tears in the bucket, motherfuckit

i got older family in the area though. around the holidays it sort of sucks...maybe you want to stay in with the gf on thanksgiving and have turkey sandwiches and just make love three or four times and watch football and get fucked up...but instead youve got to drive out to uncle andys place and deal with rugrats and stuffing and toasts and drama. and cant drink a bunch of wine and go out behind the shed and maybe do a little petting out there, because those rugrats will FIND you

me and the gf actually DID try that one REALLY boring birthday get together out there. we were groping around behind the shed a bit one time and heard someone chunk-chunk-chunking out on the gravel and managed to straighten ourselves out at the last second, and good thing because it was my little cousin who's maybe five. we had to bluff what we were doing, so the gf started dropping gardening science...we wound up showing him how to care for rosebushes and identify weeds and teaching him how to garden, and showing him the irrigation system andy put in. it actually worked out and was a lot of fun...we felt proud to be the cool relatives who give it to the kid straight, saying "this is a chore a lot of the time, but plants are cool, and i bet your dad will like it if you help him out sometime," but obviously on the other hand i wouldve been just as happy if the gf and i had just been making out the whole time

i dont dislike my family at all, and thank fuck the gf thinks theyre pretty cool, but going there can suck because of family drama and because you cant really unwind...someone will always blow up about something or needle someone else and make you grind some fucking teeth because you have to be more mature than they are and just not make a scene. going there for one night of your weekend can be pretty draining and unfun...sort of like your gf waking you up early on saturday to to hunt bargains...unsexy

not that that has anything to do with anything right now

i swung by andys place this weekend because i know he has a good video camera (and i dont) and also because hes sort of OCD and has all the old family film projector stuff going on. if youve got an old reel of your cousin naked in a playing pool and eating grass and want to embarrass her in front of her fiancee, andys usually got something to play it on

i raided his upstairs closet and got out the projector and this weird collapsable podium or whatever, and he let me use a super8 to film what we projected. good times. as OCD as he is, hes always been cool with me...i think he knows that i might be sloppy about me but will never be sloppy about someone else's stuff...especially not with a favor. i keep a favor, i pay it back

like i said, i promised it is a little late...but its cute and sort of nice to watch. i made the effort so DIG IT

Friday, November 2, 2007

Democratic Party Killjoys End Colbert Campaign

GREENVILLE, S.C., Nov. 1 — Stephen Colbert’s nascent and satirical presidential campaign came to an abrupt end on Thursday when the Democratic Party in South Carolina decided he was not serious and turned down his application to get his name on the primary ballot.
I can see where they're coming from. Of course, every election is important, but this one has generational significance. As much as I'd love to see Colbert do a performance-art satire of campaigns while conducting one, I understand the worry the democrats would have. Now, if he could run as a republican somehow...