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Today Capitol Commentary would like to present something very special from writer Katya of sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue. She wrote a fascinating article on a television mini-series from the Soviet Union titled The Adventures of Elektronik.
In case you missed it, Part One it may be found here.
Soviet Fiction and Socialist Reality: Part Two
Some describe “Elektronik” as a Soviet cult film, and perhaps it is, only how different a Soviet cult film is from a Western one! In the US a cult film is reasonably rare, maybe overlooked, and, for reasons not necessarily obvious, appealing to a niche audience.
Think The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
A Soviet cult film was omnipresent and dear to a whole generation, but, despite the fact that it was a huge production, it looks like it was done on the cheep. Because of the technical drawbacks, the film doesn’t even begin to compare to American children-centered films of the era, like Star Wars (sci fi) or The Blues Brothers (a musical).
The most famous song from “Elektronik” was “Krilatie kacheli” or “Winged Swings” about carefree kids playing on swings. Adult singer Yelena Shuenkova dubbed the song. Here it is:
And that’s where it gets creepy. Viewer comments on You Tube are mostly along the lines of what a great country Soviet Union was. Sure, the song is serene, and the movie is a happy movie. To be sure, we kids who grew up in the 70s and 80s had happy childhoods, at least the ones who had ostensibly sober parents did.
Sober parents were not a given, considering that the alcoholism rate, a perennial Russian problem to be sure, skyrocketed over that period. Maybe the period of life preceding puberty is always happy, at least the way it’s remembered. I have to give credit to my parents and their generation, people who grew up in wartime or immediately after the war, for trying to give us a happy childhood. When I hear this song I remember my playground and my friends, and it is a sweet feeling. However, I know that I didn’t grow up in a happy country.
Much of the film is pokazuha, Russian for show off. The depiction of everyday life in Soviet cinema was a bit of science fiction. Syroezhkin rides a scooter, something completely beyond reach of an average Soviet 13-year-old. You might think that Syroezhkin’s school is tacky 70s architecture, and shabbily built at that, but it’s supposed to be modern and full of light.
You might think that he lives in a project, but no, it’s a nice modern apartment building. Syroezhkin’s apartment is not bad by Soviet standards where many people lived in crowded shared housing. And imagine: Syroezhkin had his own room! I didn’t; I slept in the living room, which was very normal, particularly for families with more then one kid.
Interpersonal relationships in the movie are also pokazuha. Some degree of Pollyanna is required for children’s cinema, so I’m not holding it against “Elektronik”. I am holding it against Soviet nostalgia, though.
In reality there was much meanness and hostility in the Soviet Union. Our parents and grandparents came home complaining about verbal abuse at the hands of all-powerful saleswomen (that was the age of lines and shortages). Rudeness was omnipresent, and it trickled down to us kids, too. Then there is the issue of alcoholism and a myriad of other vices. A 13-year-old boy, like Syroezhkin, could be well on the way to an early death.
Crony capitalism didn’t work so well in Russia — or anywhere else for that matter. But many Russians like to imagine that it’s American ways that destroyed their great Soviet Union. They should be so lucky to have American capitalism for a day…
Perhaps they’d invent their own You Tube…
Inexplicably Soviet nostalgia extends to the censored “Ti — chelovek!” Here is the cover of the song by Garazh Syroezhkina (Syroezhkin’s Garage), a band fronted by the twin brothers who played the main characters. An MTV-style video features footage of Gagarin with children, proud soldiers (not a word ondedovshina), construction sites and other traps of Soviet nostalgia blending into dreams of rebirth.
From what I gather this is not tongue in cheek. Brothers themselves do not appear to be in a sway of Soviet nostalgia. One of them says that he studied Marxism-Leninism in college, and after reading classical philosophy found Marxism bunk. This realization does not preclude him from peddling dreams of totalitarian glories to the masses.
In one of his recent songs he calls the Soviet Union “the country where any man is happy.” In America that would make him a sell-out. From the standpoint of music, Garazh’s execution of “Ti — chelovek!” lacks the finesse of the original Soviet children’s choir version.
A follow-up mini-series, “Priklyuchenia Electronika XXI Century,” is now in production. Director Konstantin Bromberg, who now works in the US, developed the content for 30 new parts, each has to do with a Russian scientific invention. The new mini-series is being produced by Detroit-based Parliament Studios.
*Russian “chelovek” can be translated as both “man” or “human”. This particular lyric has been translated either way, but I chose “man” for two reasons. First, this translation would be most consistent with the language used when such ideas were in vogue in the West. Second, the movie is very pro-boy.
One of the more famous lines is “Boys, they will solve any problem!”