Russians Through the Looking Glass: How Hollywood Created Russian Reality

Russians Through the Looking Glass: How Hollywood Created Russian Reality
Russians Through the Looking Glass: How Hollywood Created Russian Reality
13 July, 13:32Photo: Кадр из фильма
The modern version of capitalism in Russia was largely "written off" from American films about the mafia.

Sergei Mitroshin

“The factor of influence on the domestic consciousness of such a thing as the Soprano still remains unexplored, ” writes a network publicist and once popular television speaker Andrei Nikulin. - At one time, half the country watched this series about the life of the Italian mafia in New Jersey. As far as I remember, he enjoyed especially close attention in the "power structures" and their "opponents", as a kind of teaching aid .

I was pondering the same idea at the same time, but more broadly, noting that the contact between the “Russian world” and “other worlds” took place mainly in the field of narrative or war.

So it was in the era of the tsars, when Nice was available only to Russian aristocrats, and the rest knew nothing about Nice. Then 1914 (war), 1917 (coup), and almost a century of severe isolation. However, then we were visited by a quarter of a century of relative openness (“a quick “thaw” burns like gunpowder”), which brought up the generation of “open universities”. And then something happened that is not yet amenable to objective analysis, but again tore us away from civilization, including tactilely and visually, and possibly for decades.

The question is, how then did we form an idea of what was happening “behind the wall”?

It is obvious that for the majority of old and new Russians who were not allowed to travel abroad, the outside world was presented exclusively by artistic and journalistic models of humanitarian intermediaries.

Capitalism - Mark Twain. The West as a whole - Western, and East German, and even social relations in the form of stories about the mafia and gangsters. Not surprisingly, Marx's "for the sake of 300 percent of the profits, capitalism will commit any crime" was understood not so much as the sarcasm of a critically thinking social philosopher, but as a guide to action at the time of the launch of a market economy. After all, Marx himself ordered us to do so! (Although in fact it was not Marx who said it first, but TJ Dunning, criticizing the slave trade.)

I am ready to swear that stories like “How Tom Sawyer made the boys paint his fence” stuck in the mind of the Soviet schoolboy.

The cunning capitalist boy, evading the work entrusted to him, passed off the painting of the fence as entertainment in front of his friends and even began to take a fee, as it were, for franchising.

“... Tom had a great time doing nothing and having fun, and the fence was covered with lime in three layers! If he had not run out of lime, he would have ruined all the boys in the city ... ".

And it seems that most of today's hiring relationships in Russia stemmed from this episode. “And take your car, boy, get to us for 100 km, do everything for us here, what we say, and then we, maybe, will pay you. Tomorrow. Or in a month. Or at the end of the year, ”is a typical version of an employment contract.

If capitalism in Russia, therefore, was formed from a satire on capitalism, then mafia romance came to us with movies about the mafia.

But it didn’t start with The Sopranos ( The Sopranos, TV series, 1999–2007) , as Nikulin thinks, - after all, this series was for the “advanced”, but with The Godfather, 1972 , which has become cultural for the West an albatross, a harbinger of an ethical storm.

By the way, I was always amazed why The Godfather included Coppola and Puzo in the rank of great ones, although they did not have anything philosophical or very artistic in the disclosure of this topic.

Well, the inner world of bandits, is it business? Are we missing bandits? Do we misunderstand their spiritual strings? The only strange thing is that in Russian a bandit is a foul-smelling muzzle with an ax and Kushchev's Tsapki, while the Western "gangster", "mafioso" sounded both mysterious and attractive ...

And indeed, the gangster is dressed to the nines (“Only Girls in Jazz”, 1959 ), carefully shaved, in a good suit and in a fast car - there is something to imitate. Moreover, this was not always an artistic exaggeration. “Beyond the wall” people really started to wear suits and ties much earlier than we did in Sovka, even if we remained unemployed and homeless. It's just that there were no other clothes there, which, apparently, has been the custom since religious meetings. Remember at least the character of Charlie Chaplin - although he is unemployed from the Big City, he is always in a bowler hat and with a cane. And in Russia, they would have thrown him with contempt: “And he also put on a butterfly.”

However, by describing the Mafia, Puzo and Coppola have revolutionized. They said: come on, we will show you a kind of mirror world in which the same passions are played out as in yours, respectable, but everything is built not on the law, the religious ideal, the American dream, but on gangster concepts, also in a sense consecrated by age-old traditions, but which pervert everything. A kind of "gangsters cry too." At the same time, Coppola did not immediately fire up making such a film, and Puzo did not immediately write an adequate script, and the “gangsters” themselves, having learned about the project, at first were also very jealous of the fact that someone was going to dissect their inner world.

Frank Sinatra, for example, almost got into a fight with Puzo in a restaurant, accusing the writer that the image of the singer Johnny Fontaine from the saga was slanderously copied from him, thereby, however, confirming such a suspicion. This is described in detail in the educational series The Offer, The Offer, 2022 , filmed in the wake of the Godfather project.

Describing the “attractiveness” of the looking-glass ethics of The Soprano for Russians of the era of the great transit – from socialism to capitalism, and then somewhere else, Nikulin rightly notes what, in his opinion, Russians might like in this looking-glass world and it will be able to take root .

Namely: “ Value nihilism, cynicism, confidence that anyone can either be bought or killed, the priority of personal devotion and building your own team, which is personally obliged to you, the requirement from the team of loyalty and regular “drifts”, simple patriotism, jingoism and obsession on the past World War II as a hobby. Further - moderate religiosity, ostentatious and deceitful nepotism, hatred of gays and contempt for other minorities, a look at any landscape or person around you as a fodder base that can only be gutted to zero and thrown away, the same attitude towards local businesses .

All of this is true despite the various implied quotation marks. Still, we put “attractiveness” and “the American dream” in quotation marks, expressing the hope that it is not for everyone, since there are probably “real pioneers” as well. It is more important that a modern respectable citizen - both in the West, in Russia, and even more so in Russia - found himself, as it were, sandwiched between these two ethics and two traditions, that is, between mirrors.

On the one hand, he has a state that is constantly and, as it were, legally usurping powers, climbing into the field of civil rights. Like how it just closed the trade union of journalists under a dubious pretext and spreads punitive practices beyond the limits of judicial decisions. And the mafia, which freedom-lovingly ignores this state intention, but imposes the ethics of life according to mafia concepts. Moreover, sometimes these mirrors are reflected in each other. After all, there are “concepts”, and here, in general, there are also “concepts”. And there are gangsters, and here are corrupt prosecutors. Twin brothers.

How to live between mirrors is a topic for yet another artistic search.

In films, she is usually labeled as a "gray zone" and a "complex, ambivalent character". Dexters, spies, financial devils. But it seems symbolic to me already a rather old picture of "Blue-eyed Mickey", Mickey Blue Eyes , 1999, with a young Hugh Grant. His respectable and intelligent hero set out to marry, but the girl turned out to be from a mafia family, who immediately got into the affairs of our Mickey and climbed even further and deeper, giving the hero a gangster nickname "Blue-eyed Mickey".

And in a sense, part of everyday problems - hurray! - miraculously decided, as they would be decided by any conformist of our century. But they were replaced by more abrupt problems with the FBI. How to get along with all this, how can a modern intellectual live between real, not comedy mirrors, defend a position, but without going beyond the limits set by the usurping state? And so as not to indulge in illegal extremes. About this, in general, this is an old movie that suddenly became relevant.

Encourages long and complex reflections. And the short answer here is: “How-how, you need to spin!”

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