The “Freedom” of Soviet Cinema

(p. A13) In the world we live in–and the system we’ve created for ourselves, in terms of it’s a big industry–you cannot lose money. So the point is that you’re forced to make a particular kind of movie. And I used to say this all the time, with people, you know, back when Russia was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and they’d say, “Oh, but aren’t you so glad that you’re in America?” And I’d say, well, I know a lot of Russian filmmakers and they have a lot more freedom than I have. All they have to do is be careful about criticizing the government. Otherwise, they can do anything they want.

George Lucas, from an interview with Charlie Rose, as quoted in:
“Notable & Quotable: George Lucas and Soviet Cinema.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 4, 2016): A13.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 3, 2016.)

Compare what Lucas says, with the following:

(p. 164) Auteur cinema encountered difficulties in the and 1970s, partly because its poetic language remained inaccessible for the masses and made no considerable win at the box office, and partly because its symbolism was often feared to lead (p. 165) astray Soviet cinema’s political agenda. Sometimes international pressure or support could mean that film was released for screenings, while it remained undistributed or in low distribution at home. This applies to films of the leading auteurs of the period: Andrei Tarkovsky, whose Andrei Rublev was delayed for several years; Alexei Gherman, whose Trial on the Roads was banned; Alexander Sokurov, whose films were stopped during production (Anaesthesia Dolorosa); and Kira Muratova, who had two films banned and was prevented from working as director until the 1980s.

Auteur cinema, which emphasized the artistic impulse, in sharp contrast to socialist principle and was condemned, even with hindsight, by Sergei Gerasimov in 1988: ‘They [the auteur filmmakers] want to preach like a genius, a messiah. That is a position that is compatible with our communist ethics.’

Source:
Beumers, Birgit. A History of Russian Cinema. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2009.
(Note: bracketed phrase in original.)

“The Circus Is Gone, But the Clowns Stayed”

(p. A1) SHCHYOLKINO, Crimea — When residents in this typical Soviet factory town voted enthusiastically to secede from Ukraine and to become Russians, they thought the chaos and corruption that made daily life a struggle were a thing of the past.
Now that many of them are being forced to cook and boil drinking water on open fires, however, they are beginning to reconsider.
There has been no steady electricity supply in this hard-hit town since Nov. 22, when protesters in Ukraine blew up the lines still feeding Crimea with most of its electric power. The bigger towns and cities are only marginally better off.
Yet, people here are not sure whom to blame more for their predicament: the Crimean Tatar activists and Ukrainian nationalists who cut off Crimea’s link to the Ukrainian power grid or the local government officials who claimed to have enough power generators stored away to handle such an emergency.
“The circus is gone, but the clowns stayed,” said Leonid Zakharov, 45, leaning on a wooden cane. Moscow may have purged Ukrainian authority, he said, but many of the same corrupt and incompetent officials remained in office and life was only slightly less chaotic than before.
. . .
As often happens in Russia, some blame Washington rather than Moscow or Kiev.
“If it wasn’t for the Americans none of it could have happened. The Tatars, who are supported by the United States, would not do a thing,” said Tatyana Bragina, 57, an energetic woman who also once worked construction at a nearby, unfinished nuclear plant.
“Please write that we are not desperate. On the contrary, we are full of joy,” Ms. Bragina said, standing near a black iron kettle boiling away in the courtyard of her apartment block.

For the full story, see:
IVAN NECHEPURENKO. “Months After Russian Annexation, Hopes Start to Dim in Crimea.” The New York Times (Weds., DEC. 2, 2015): A4 & A12.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 1, 2015, and has the title “Months After Russian Annexation, Hopes Start to Dim in Crimea.”)

Smugglers Respond to Putin’s Ban on Cheese

(p. A4) When the Russian government banned dairy products from a host of nations, including the United States and members of the European Union, last year in response to Western economic sanctions imposed over Russia’s military meddling in Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin said the restrictions would create a profitable opportunity for domestic industries.
Instead they appear to have created an opening for forgers and smugglers. The “cheese ring” was busted with an estimated $30 million worth of the stuff, nearly 500 tons, according to the Interior Ministry police.

For the full story, see:
NEIL MacFARQUHAR. “A Crackdown in Russia on a Creamy Contraband.” The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 19, 2015): A4.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 18, 2015, and has the title “Russian Police Get Tough on Illicit Cheese.”)

Stalin Showed that a Single Individual’s Decisions Can Matter

(p. C29) . . . , [Stephen Kotkin] is not shy about assailing what he regards as false interpretations by other historians. His Stalin is not a disciple who deviates from Lenin; he is Lenin’s true disciple, in pitiless class warfare, in the inability to compromise, and, above all, in unshakable ideological conviction.
. . .
There is little equivocation in Mr. Kotkin’s judgments. Scholars who argue collectivization was necessary to force Russian peasants into a modern state are “dead wrong.” The conclusion by the British historian E. H. Carr that Stalin was a product of circumstances, and not the other way around, is “utterly, eternally wrong.” On the contrary, it is one of Mr. Kotkin’s major theses that Stalin “reveals how, on extremely rare occasions, a single individual’s decisions can radically transform an entire country’s political and socioeconomic structures, with global repercussions.” Or, as he puts it in a more graphic passage: “The Bolshevik putsch could have been prevented by a pair of bullets” — one for Lenin and one for Stalin.
. . .
This reader, for one, still hopes for more evidence that Stalin was indeed singular, a historical malignancy, and not a product of circumstances of the kind that might already be shaping the next chapter of Russian history. And that only whets the appetite for the next installment, in which Stalin decides to starve Russia almost to death to bring peasants under state control. That, Mr. Kotkin has already declared, was an assault on the peasantry for which there was no political or social logic, and that only Stalin could have done. It is a testament to Mr. Kotkin’s skill that even after almost a thousand pages, one wants more.

For the full review, see:
SERGE SCHMEMANN. “From Czarist Rubble, a Russian Autocrat Rises.” The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 8, 2015): C29.
(Note: ellipses, and book author’s name in brackets, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2015.)

The book under review is:
Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928. New York: Penguin Press, 2014.

“Rebel” Russian Thugs Kill Plans and Entrepreneurship in Donetsk

(p. A13) “We do not go out at night,” said Irina, a journalist who lost her job when the rebels closed her newspaper in May. “We have stopped planning.”
Her boyfriend, Evgeny, lost his job, too, when his security firm folded. He said the business collapsed after the rebels seized money from the central bank and armored vehicles from other banks, leading them to close. He turned to his secondary business, fixing motorbikes, only to be ordered at gunpoint to fix some stolen motorbikes for the rebels.
“I came to the conclusion there is no sense,” he said. “You start a business and get a bit successful, and two weeks later men with guns come and say, ‘Good boy, get lost.’ “

For the full story, see:
CARLOTTA GALL. “Lured Back by a Cease-Fire in Ukraine, but Not Feeling at Home Yet.” The New York Times (Thurs., SEPT. 11, 2014): A6 & A13.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 10, 2014.)

Russia and China Redistributed Wealth “to Disastrous Effect”

SmithShane2014-04-26.jpg

Shane Smith, entrepreneur behind VICE media company. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 10) You believe that young people worldwide are disenfranchised. Do you think popular uprisings will fix things? No. I’m actually worried, because I believe that it’s going to get worse. Look, economic disparity is bad. But we’ve already tried having governments redistribute wealth. We tried it in Russia and China to disastrous effect.

News Corp. bought a 5 percent stake in Vice, and now James Murdoch is on the board. Why did you sell to them? I’ve said that I want to be the next MTV, the next CNN, the next ESPN. Cue everyone rolling their eyes. MTV went to Viacom, ESPN went to Disney and Hearst, CNN went to Time Warner. Why? Because to build a global media brand, it’s almost impossible to do it alone. James has been involved in one of the largest media companies in the world since he was in short pants.
Do you ever fear that Vice will become legacy media itself? It’s our time now. Then, I don’t know, it’ll be holograms next, and some kid will come up and eat our lunch.

For the full interview, see:
Staley, Willy, interviewer. ” ‘Have We Unleashed a Monster?’: The Vice C.E.O. Shane Smith on His New Kind of News.” The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 12.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MARCH 21, 2014, and has the title “Vice’s Shane Smith: ‘Have We Unleashed a Monster?’.”)

Little Estonia Prepares Defense Against Russia’s Evil Empire

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Toomis Hendrick Ilves, President of Estonia. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Perched alone up in eastern Baltic are Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Their fear of Moscow propelled them to become the first and only former Soviet republics to seek the refuge of NATO. But now doubts are appearing. The West has responded tepidly to the Crimean aggression. Military budgets are at historic lows as a share of NATO economies. The alliance, which marked its 65th anniversary on Friday, has never faced the test of a hot conflict with Moscow.

In this new debate over European security, Mr. Ilves plays a role out of proportion to Estonia’s size (1.3 million people) and his limited constitutional powers. A tall man who recently turned 60, he has the mouth of a New Jersey pol–he grew up in Leonia–and wears the bow ties of a lapsed academic. Americans may recall his Twitter TWTR -0.15% feud two years ago over Estonia’s economy with economist Paul Krugman, whom Mr. Ilves called “smug, overbearing & patronizing.”
. . .
Estonia managed on Thursday to get NATO’s blessing to turn the brand-new Amari military airfield near Tallinn into the first NATO base in the country. This small Balt tends to be proactive. While European governments axed some $50 billion from military budgets in the last five year amid fiscal belt-tightening, Estonia is only one of four NATO allies to devote at least 2% of gross domestic product to defense, supposedly the bare minimum for security needs.
“It lessens your moral clout if you have not done what you have agreed to do,” Mr. Ilves says of defense budgets. His barb hits directly at neighboring Lithuania and Latvia, which both spend less than 1% of GDP on their militaries.

For the full commentary, see:
MATTHEW KAMINSKI. “THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW; An American Ally in Putin’s Line of Fire; Estonia’s president, who was raised in New Jersey, on how Crimea has changed ‘everything’ and what NATO should do now.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 5, 2014): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 4, 2014.)