Convictions

https://vimeo.com/197503611

Convictions, doc, 2016

Password: beliefs

The 15th of May is Conscientious Objectors’ Day.

We started to make this film in 2014 during the annexation of Crimea by Russia. it seemed that by 2022 only the epigraph would remain relevant.

“You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men.”

Watching the first war crimes trial in Ukraine over Vadim Shishimarin, it becomes quite obvious that this war is also being waged by children under the control of vile old men.

I understand how and why Russian guys from the provinces ended up in Ukraine.

Source: Tatiana Chistova, Facebook, 15 May 2022. Thanks to Jenya Kulakova for the heads-up and so much more. NB. This film is freely viewable on Vimeo only today, 15 May, apparently. Since it is a “private” video, I was unable to embed it here. UPDATE (17 MAY 2022) The film seems to be indefinitely viewable, so please take the opportunity to watch it using the URL and password listed, above. An acquaintance described it as “deadly serious and very funny too.” ||| TRR

Krovfeta

“It’s a Soviet-era candy bar made with cow’s blood.”
Still from “Enervo,” Season 4, Episode 20 of The Rookie (ABC)

‘Following a drive during which we learned that Agent Fox is gay and Simone herself is bi, Fox tasked Clark with rifling through screens and screens of tipline calls possibly about the Russian, but “people person” Simone instead sneaked off to talk to locked-up Zeke, her former student, asking if he remembered anything else about the bomber. This led to Zeke sketching a Russian candy bar that the guy munched on, and that in turn — thanks to some Russian musicians that Simone’s dad Cutty sometimes jams with — led Simone to a store. Not waiting for Nolan to catch up, Simone approached and tried to chat up Gurin by herself, but that led to a brief brawl, where the Russian walloped the unarmed trainee hard, and then ran off.’

Source: Matt Webb Mitovich, “The Rookie: Grade Part 2 of the Spinoff Pilot, Tell Us If You’d Watch It,” TVLine, 1 May 2022. In Russian, konfeta means “candy,” and is derived from the Italian confetto. The Russian word for “blood” is krov’ (with a so-called soft v), not krov (as here, with a so-called hard v), which, on the contrary, means “roof” and, by extension, “shelter, a place to stay” (“a roof over one’s head”). So, in their misguided effort to confect “blood candy,” the writers of The Rookie actually conjured up a “roofy.” And the Russian word for “chocolate” is shokolad, not shokold, as here. But that mistake can be put down to Zeke’s “poor” memory. UPDATE (2 May 2022). My boon companion, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union, told me earlier today that she and other children were given sweet “Hematogen” nutrition bars to raise their hemoglobin levels, as she put it. These bars were sold in pharmacies and labeled as such, not as chocolate, candy or “krovfeta.” Adults did not eat Hematogen bars, she said, adding that she stopped eating them when she realized what was in them. In 2019, Vice published a provocatively titled article about Hematogen bars that might have inspired the writers at The Rookie. I’m happy to admit that, despite having lived in Russian twenty-plus years, I’d never heard of them until today. ||| TRR

Will Smith’s Choice

Will Smith’s Choice

The idol of millions! He went from being an insecure guy who had had a difficult childhood to being one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. This year it was he who won the Oscar for his role in the biopic King Richard. His unique autobiography will tell you about his road to becoming a superstar, and our selection will give you a chance to look at Will Smith’s bookshelf!

Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist

It is this bestseller by Paulo Coelho that the actor often calls his favorite book. This philosophical novel about dreams that defy fate can change the life of any reader.

Source: screenshot of “What Will Smith reads (and recommends you read),” an email newsletter from LitRes, a popular Russian ebook service, 12 April 2022. Will Smith’s other alleged recommendations are Richard Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad, Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Translated by the Russian Reader, who has purchased and downloaded a good number of ebooks from LitRes over the last several years.


Putin’s is a regional politics: it is aimed at defending a particular region and its alleged ethno-cultural identity. Iran and the Islamist movements in general have served as the model for those seeking to banish all things Western in the hope that when you remove them, your true cultural identity (for example, an Islamic identify) will shine forth with its natural light. The same thing is gradually happening now in China and India. Cultural identity is discovered by purging the “Western abominations” that have accumulated like a dense layer on its surface. Russia has repeatedly evinced the desire to purge itself of the West—of Facebook, McDonald’s, modern art, rock music, of everything that the Russian does not need and can do perfectly well without. The belief is that if this stuff is removed, the divine wisdom of the Russian spirit will shine with its own light.

The only problem is (and it is an old problem that has been around since the nineteenth century) that this process of stripping and purging Russia of everything Western can never end. There is a non-European cultural substrate in Iran, India, and China. So, when you purge everything European, something homegrown, something originally non-European, does emerge. I am not saying whether this exists in Russia or not. I can only say that all attempts to find it have proved futile and suicidal. That is, the movement back to origins and the Russian World have proved completely suicidal.

In this sense, Russia has reproduced a well-known trope of German culture. In the nineteenth century, Germans also argued that German culture was inherently different from Western civilization, that German culture should be purged of Western civilization to be manifested in all its might. Upon closer examination, however, it transpired that this power was purely negative. German thinkers reflected on this, even glorifying these suicidal, self-destructive tendencies to some extent. Russian culture did this to some extent, too. We can read about the suicidal search for one’s foundations in Dostoevsky’s works, for example. From a cultural perspective, the new paroxysm to purge things Western and get back to Russianness, which we are now witnessing, is a purely suicidal operation.

Source: Boris Groys (in conversation with Liza Lazerson), “Putin: Restoration of Destruction,” E-Flux Journal, no. 126 (April 2022). Translated by Thomas H. Campbell

Ballad of a Soldier

Igor Ivkin, 19, was killed in heavy fighting outside Kharkiv. Family photo, courtesy of the Moscow Times

IT JUST BREAKS YOUR HEART… This is hard to read. And it should be.

“Born Under Putin, Dead Under Putin: Russia’s Teenage Soldiers Dying in Ukraine”

Different people will react in different ways, of course, but for me two things stand out in the story of 19 year old Igor Ivkin of Pskov. First, I could’ve taught this kid. Others actually *did* teach him, but he reminded me of more than a few Russian students I taught English and History to over the years: good kids, salt of the earth, with their whole lives ahead of them. Now, just like that — and for no good reason — he’s gone.

Secondly, the beginning of Igor’s exchange with wife Yulia, as recorded here — when he says “I promise to come back” — cannot help but remind people of my generation (and older) of another Russian 19 year old soldier who doesn’t come home alive: Alyosha Skvortsov, the hero of Grigorii Chukrai’s classic film “Ballad of a Soldier” (1959), who tells his mother near the movie’s end “Mama, I’ll come back.”

The movie is set up as a retro-narrative, so the audience already *knows* he doesn’t make it back home; and that is part of what makes it an enormously effective cinematic moment in a film that is manipulative in both good and bad senses. The short version of a viewer’s reaction, in any case, is as predictable as it is earned: if you are unmoved when Alyosha makes his promise to his mother, you need to check your wrist for a pulse.

Finally, and hardest of all to take, is a third thought born of the first two: Alyosha Skvortsov died for a good cause, one that everyone remembers; Igor Ivkin did not have that honor, dying for a cynical parody-version of Alyosha’s cause that his country’s leaders keep advancing but can never justify.

These evil people somehow succeeded in making a fine young man, Igor Ivkin, husband and father, one of the Bad Guys in Europe’s first new-millennium war-as-morality story. He didn’t deserve that.

It is important to hold the people responsible for this accountable — and even more important to do whatever we can to end the Russian leadership’s war against Ukraine, a tragedy beyond any telling of it, as soon as humanly possible.

Source: Mark H. Teeter, Facebook, 8 April 2022. Thanks for his kind permission to reprint his remarks here.


Yulia Ivkina would have preferred her husband to become a carpenter, not a soldier. 

But as the coronavirus pandemic dented the Russian labor market and the newlyweds from the western city of Pskov tried for a baby, 18-year-old Igor Ivkin reasoned a short-term contract in the army was the best option to safeguard his family’s future. 

Igor enlisted in February 2021, shortly before Yulia realized she was pregnant. A little over a year later, he was killed in heavy fighting outside Kharkiv amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He was seven months short of his 20th birthday.  

“People from the draft board told me about his death, they came to me with a death notice on March 25. He was buried on March 30 in the village of Vorontsovo where he was born,” Ivkina, 24, told The Moscow Times. 

Igor Ivkin is one of at least 25 teenage Russian soldiers to have died fighting in Ukraine, according to a review of official statements and social media posts by The Moscow Times.

Source: James Beardsworth, Yanina Sorokina, and Irina Shcherbakova, “Born Under Putin, Dead Under Putin: Russia’s Teenage Soldiers Dying in Ukraine,” Moscow Times, 8 April 2022. Read the rest of the article by clicking on the link.


Grigorii Chukrai’s “Ballada” is the movie that probably best represents how Russia’s Greatest Generation saw World War II — or wanted to see it, rather, at a decade’s remove. The film is an undisputed classic of postwar Soviet cinema, combining a multi-dimensional, wide-angle depiction of Soviet soldiers & civilians during the war w/ the extraordinarily successful close-up manipulation (largely in a positive sense) of its sympathetic young hero (wonderfully played by Vl. Ivashov) and his 2 nearest and dearest (Zhanna Prokhorenko, Antonina Maksimova).

How was “Ballada” perceived outside the USSR? In an era when Soviet propaganda, actual and historical, was routinely dismissed in the West, Chukrai’s film was a revelation to American critics and audiences, producing an emotional reaction many art-house and festival viewers found overwhelming: as Time magazine’s awed critic put it, the movie “brings back the kind of catch in the throat that Hollywood movies used to achieve on occasion.” And indeed, if you find yourself unmoved as the teenage Private Alyosha Skvortsov tells his mother at the end of his odyssey through war-torn Russia, “Mama, I’ll come back” (“Mама, я вернусь”), you need to check your wrist for a pulse.

Some of the crew who made “Ballada” were unhappy w/ parts of the film during production, apparently, and some day an enterprising dissertation writer will tell us why. What emerged on the screen, in any case, became the most decorated Soviet-produced World War II film ever made, taking home something over a hundred international and domestic awards altogether (including an Oscar nomination).

Tune in and see what so impressed the world in the early 1960s about this groundbreaking Mosfilm effort — and then decide for yourself just how true its message rings two decades into the new millennium, when Moscow gears up to commemorate the next anniversary of what official Russia will always call the “Great Patriotic War.”

Source: Mark H. Teeter, Facebook, 8 April 2022. Thanks to him for his kind permission to reprint his review here.

The Theory of Small Deeds: The Case of Chulpan Khamatova

Yigal Levin
Facebook
March 21, 2022

Mitya is infinitely right. All these years I have been constantly saying that all people of good will should leave the Russian Federation. How can one imagine a “theory of small deeds,” say, in the Third Reich? All conscientious Germans left Germany in the 30s, and to one degree or another joined various resistance forces. Such regimes are not destroyed from the inside, but only by blows from outside —military, economic, political and cultural.

Russia delenda est

Mitya Raevsky
Facebook
March 21, 2022

Until recently, a segment of the Russian intelligentsia and the upper middle class had a favorite toy — the “theory of small deeds.” In practice, it meant that they said: yes, we cannot defeat the dictatorship, which means we need to do something useful in spite of that — save sick children, create foundations, hold cultural events, publish literature, defend human rights wherever possible. They had the hope that everyone would be able to influence the state and society as a whole doing what they do best, and these little drops would come together to make a sea, so to speak. Well, in the process, of course, they would have to cooperate with the state.

It all turned out to be baloney. Here is another historical lesson — do not collaborate with tyrants. Never. Under any circumstances. Don’t lend them legitimacy. Even for the sake of sick children.

Because you will never turn that debit into a debit. You will save 10 thousand children who have cancer only for the dictatorship to kill 100 thousand children sooner or later. It’s already killing them, and not only Ukrainian children. It’s killing Russian children, too, whom it will now be impossible to save without western drugs and equipment.

In a dictatorship, small deeds happen only in the toilet.

________________

 

Chulpan Khamatova. Kirill Zykov/Moskva News Agency. Courtesy of the Moscow Times

Actress and Activist Chulpan Khamatova Has Left Russia
She joins dozens of Russian cultural figures who have left the country.
Moscow Times
March 21, 2022

The Russian stage and screen actress Chulpan Khamatova told Ekaterina Gordeyeva in an interview released on Monday that she would not be going back to Russia.

Khamatova, who heads the Gift of Life charity foundation, was abroad when Russia began its attack on Ukraine. “For the first few days I didn’t know what to do,” she said in the interview. At first I just wanted to stay some place and wait for it to end, but then I was led to believe that it might not be safe for me to return. I’m in Riga for now. I am certainly not a traitor. I love my homeland very much,” she said.

Khamatova is one of Russia’s most celebrated actresses who has acted in dozens of films and television series — most recently playing the lead role in the screen version of Guzel Yakhina’s novel “Zuleikha.” She also plays Raisa Gorbachev in the hit play “Gorbachev” at the Moscow Theater of Nations.

She is just one of dozens of Russian cultural figures who have left the country since the war began.

Earlier this month the music director of the Bolshoi Theater, Turgan Sokhiev, resigned his post in Moscow and in Toulouse, France. He wrote that he felt he was being forced “to choose between my beloved Russian and beloved French musicians” and so “decided to resign from my positions at both the Bolshoi in Moscow and Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse.”

At the same time two foreign ballet dancers at the Bolshoi, Jacopo Tissi and David Motta Soares, put in their resignations.

This was followed by the announcement that Bolshoi prima ballerina Olga Smirnova left for the Dutch National ballet.

Russian television has also lost several of its best-known on-screen personalities: Channel One colleague Zhanna Agalakova quit her job as Europe correspondent for Channel One, and both Lilia Gildeyeva and Vadim Glusker quite NTV. Gildeyeva had worked at the channel since 2006, and Glusker had been there almost from the start, for 30 years.

Dmitry Linkin, the head designer for Channel One for 24 years, also quit. “I was taught that human life is invaluable,” he said.

________________

 

In an interview with Ksenia Sobchak, broadcast on TV Rain in June 2012, Chulpan Khamatova said that she would rather live in “North Korea” than have her own country go through another revolution.

No Political Harmony Among Cultural Elite
Alexander Bratersky
Moscow Times
February 19, 2012

As Prime Minister Vladimir Putin enters the home stretch of his campaign to return to the Kremlin, he is relying on the support not only of the blue-collar electorate, but also members of the cultural elite, who are helping to market his bid for the presidency.

Putin’s extended campaign team has about 500 participants, including famous musicians, actors and writers who appear in pro-Putin commercials and at rallies. But political analysts and experts said their participation has divided the cultural elite itself.

Several dozen prominent celebrities, among them world-famous piano player Denis Matsuyev, St. Petersburg Mariinsky conductor Valery Gergiev, jazz musician Igor Butman and opera star Anna Netrebko have thrown their lot in with Putin.

When contacted to explain the reasons behind their choice of candidate, most have declined to comment. The situation has even split families: in one case a well-known rock musician sided with Putin, while his brother, also a rock star, is for the opposition.

Supporting Putin, who is seen by his opponents as an authoritarian leader, might damage a performer’s reputation and can become a source of controversy. The liberal media has attacked prominent actress Chulpan Khamatova for appearing in a Putin commercial, in which she thanks the prime minister for supporting her charity that aids children with cancer. Although Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Khamatova appeared in the commercial voluntarily, sources at the charity said she was forced into the recording.

The public response against the video was so negative that even liberal Novaya Gazeta had to defend Khamatova in one of its latest articles. Khamatova has declined to discuss her endorsement for Putin. “Let everyone stick to his own vision,” she said, RIA Novosti reported.

Iosif Prigozhin, a prominent music producer and show business insider has also defended the actress.

“Khamatova is an absolutely sincere person. But imagine that I had helped you. Would you do the same for me?” he told The Moscow Times.

Continue reading “The Theory of Small Deeds: The Case of Chulpan Khamatova”

The Last Picture Show

“Cinema. Closed.” Photo by Sergei Yermokhin for Delovoi Peterburg

Due to the cancellation of premieres of foreign films, Petersburg cinemas may lose half of their customers. The business will suffer huge losses, because such pictures account for about 70% of their revenue.

Disney, Warner Bros., and Sony Pictures have decided to temporarily stop releasing films for distribution in Russia. This was reported by the media yesterday The Luxor theater chain told DP that, for now, it could officially confirm the cancellation of The Batman and the animated film Blush whose premieres were to take place in early March. Sony Pictures has removed the film Morbius from its scheduled release date for Russian distribution.

“Even the distribution companies cannot say whether the release dates will be postponed or the films will not be released in Russia ultimately, and how long the restrictions will last,” the cinema chain reported.

Mirage Cinema reported that, at the moment, the only information they had about the cancellation of releases was from the media. “We have no official letters from film distribution companies about the cancellation of premieres,” they said. The KARO chain’s press office laconically replied that they would work with what they had.

The Luxor chain noted that moviegoers choose different content at different venues. For example, in one of the the chain’s cinemas, they chose The Batman, and in another, Blush.

“Hollywood blockbusters garner most of the box office, especially family films. Viewers choose popular artists and trust the quality of the content produced by the film studios. Of course, multimillion-dollar production and advertising costs imply high traffic,” the company noted.

The network is confident that now the Petersburg film industry [sic] will return to the period of October–November 2020, when there were restrictions related to the coronavirus and blockbuster premieres were postponed. Attendance will be affected not only by the cancellation of films, but also by the general emotional and economic backdrop. The Russian film business [sic] will suffer significant losses, but it is difficult to predict further actions in the market now.

Disney and Sony Pictures are the world’s leading filmmakers. Warner Bros. ranked fourth in the 2021 global rating of film studios, behind Universal in third place. Ivan Samoilenko, managing partner of the communications agency B&C, noted that the Russian film distribution market was losing most premieres of western films, which were the main draw for Russian moviegoers. Last year, foreign films in Russia earned 30.3 billion rubles (106 million tickets were sold), while domestic projects had a total box office of 10.4 billion rubles (39.7 million tickets).

Samoilenko pointed out that out of the top ten highest–grossing films last year, eight were foreign (Hollywood) productions and two were domestic. “So we can say that in the absence of western cinema, traffic in Russian cinemas may decrease by 30-50%. This will especially affect the capital and St. Petersburg, which are national leaders in terms of numbers of cinemas, numbers of moviegoers, and turnover,” Samoylenko stressed.

In 2021, analysts at the consulting company JLL noted that traditional entertainment formats, including cinemas, had been experiencing the greatest difficulties in Petersburg’s shopping centers. Over the past year, the cinemas at the Pik shopping center and Ligov shopping mall [in central Petersburg] have closed.

Source: Darya Zaitseva, Delovoi Petersburg, 2 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The seventh protest rally in a week has been taking place in downtown Petersburg. The protesters oppose the military special operation for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.

On the evening of March 2, protesters gathered again at Gostiny Dvor on Nevsky Prospekt. According to Kommersant Petersburg’s Telegram channel, initially the protesters declined to chant anti-war slogans, but after some time the situation changed.

A scene from the seventh anti-war rally at Gostiny Dvor in Petersburg, 2 March 2022. Photo: Kommersant Petersburg’s Telegram channel

Police officers have already begun to detain the protesters: participants of the unauthorized rally have been snatched from the crowd and taken to a bus for detainees. The Petersburg artist Yelena Osipova was sighted among the protesters. She always comes to such events with placards that she makes herself. She has also been detained.

It has also known that the pedestrian underpass next to Gostiny Dvor has been blocked. The regional Interior Ministry office and the Russian National Guard have not released official information about the unauthorized protest.

As DP reported earlier, almost 150 administrative hearings were conducted by the district city courts after one of the previous anti-war rallies. As a result, forty-nine participants of the unauthorized protest were jailed for a period of 5 to 10 days. Some protesters were fined and sentenced to community service.

On the afternoon of March 2, a rally in support of Russia’s actions in the Donbas [sic] was held next to the Bronze Horseman monument [in downtown Petersburg]. RIA Novosti has published video footage from the scene.

Source: Delovoi Peterburg, 2 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Our Blood Is Wine

Earlier this afternoon, my dog was feeling “agitated,” as she put it, so she asked me to lie down on the couch with her and watch this doco. Emily Railsback’s Our Blood Is Wine is unpretentiously lovely and informative and reassuring. It’s a treat for people like me who love Georgian wine, food, music, cinema and culture. You should watch it too, especially if you know nothing about Georgia. See below for a hint on signing up to the streaming service I watched it on. NB. This is not a paid endorsement of this service. ||| TRR

Our Blood is Wine
A Film by Emily Railsback

“Embraces both its subjects and the audience in a kind of cultural exchange that you rarely find.”
—Third Coast Review

Filmmaker Emily Railsback and award-winning sommelier Jeremy Quinn provide intimate access to rural family life in the Republic of Georgia as they explore the rebirth of 8,000-year-old winemaking traditions almost lost during the period of Soviet rule.

By using unobtrusive iPhone technology, Railsback brings the voices and ancestral legacies of modern Georgians directly to the viewer, revealing an intricate and resilient society that has survived regular foreign invasion and repeated attempts to erase Georgian culture. The revival of traditional winemaking is the central force driving this powerful, independent and autonomous nation to find its 21st century identity.

Source: Ovid Email Newsletter, 19 November 2021

Give the gift of OVID and your friends and family will be able to watch over 1,300 documentaries and films from around the world! From now until December 18th, get 50% off – just enter the promo code JOYFUL at checkout.
Purchase now: https://misc.ovid.tv/gift.html

Source: Facebook

Courage

COURAGE
In the course of the presidential elections in Belarus in the summer of 2020, three actors from an underground theatre, Belarus Free Theatre in Minsk, get caught up in the maelstrom of mass protests. They are drawn to the wide streets of Minsk to protest vociferously for freedom of speech and the long-awaited change of power. But the people‘s voice is brutally crushed by the regime‘s security apparatus. Members of the theatre group and many other people get arrested. The country is on the brink of civil war. COURAGE accompanies the courageous and peaceful resistance of Maryna, Pavel and Denis before and during the protests. The film takes a very personal look at the events and thus provides a close and gripping insight into the lives of people in today‘s Belarus who are fighting for their freedom and the right to democracy.

Director: Aliaksei Paluyan
Producer: Jörn Möllenkamp
Writer: Aliaksei Paluyan
Cast: Maryna Yakubovich, Pavel Haradnizky, Denis Tarasenka

Running through Thursday, November 18, at Laemmle Glendale in Glendale, California. Thanks to Sasha Razor for the heads-up. ||| TRR

No Woman Is an Island

Alexander Sokurov. Photo Andrey Chepakin/globallookpress.com. Courtesy of The Island of Sokurov Facebook page

The Island of Sokurov
Facebook
August 26, 2021

Yesterday (August 25), Alexander Sokurov sent the following letter to the [Presidential] Human Rights Council:

Dear colleagues!

I have just read the news on the internet that the Presna [District] Court in Moscow has imposed a fine of 200,000 rubles on people who picketed in defense of the women of Afghanistan.

I understand that the male members of the Council and our head, most likely, will not be interested in this event, so I appeal to the women who are members of the Council with a request to defend those who have been punished.

The female picketers are the only ones in our huge country who have shown solidarity with the real victims and those who will inevitably become victims.

The women involved in the picket in Moscow defended humanitarian values and were punished in Russia for doing this.

They have also been punished because the Presidential Human Rights Council did not protect them and their right to defend humanitarian solidarity.

I appeal to the female members of the Council to bring attention to what has happened and publicly protest the court’s decision.

Alexander Nikolaevich Sokurov

Thanks to Nikolai Boyarshinov and Elena Vilenskaya for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

It’s the Apocalypse, and We’ve Got Our iPhones

A still image from the DDT video “Shadow on the Wall.” Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

It’s the Apocalypse, and We’ve Got Our iPhones
The Summer’s Best Music Videos: Aquarium, DDT, Oxxxymiron, Vasya Oblomov, and Amen
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
July 14, 2021

There are almost no concerts, albums are released rarely, because they require significant outlays of cash, and everyone is running out of money. And peace of mind ran out long ago. But the ancient art of the music video has suddenly blossomed amidst the apocalyptic coronavirus climate. Dozens of worthy clips have come out one after another this summer. We have chosen five. They are very different, but their subject, if you think about it, is one and the same: saying goodbye to the past and fear of what may be about to come.

Aquarium, “Masala Dosa”

This is almost the only item in Boris Grebenshchikov’s gigantic chest of songs with obvious gangster music motifs, something like “Fried Chicken.” The lyrics, which Loza has already dubbed a meaningless jumble of words, find BG up to to his usual absurdist playfulness: there are mentions of Indian tea, a People’s Commissariat of Education office, and Kali Yuga. It’s a bizarre canvas that seemingly has nothing to do with what is happening here and now, but it does. The line “And if they ask why we are sitting here, say, ‘I don’t know, but the people are invincible!'” is about the present moment. We are firmly sitting our hearts out, “invincible.”

The video’s director, Sergei Debizhev, is no stranger to Aquarium. He shot Grebenshchikov back in the 80s at the Leningrad Documentary Film Studio. Debizhev’s most famous feature film is Two Captains 2, starring Sergei Kuryokhin and BG. The film is an enchanting parody of everything at once: the early Soviet aesthetic, silent cinema, the heroics of dangerous journeys, and adventure bombast in general.

There is something of Two Captains 2 in “Masala.” Grebenshchikov was filmed in a Petersburg garage with a vintage car in the background, and then documentary footage was added to the mix: machines operating, a woman taking bath, the bolt of a weapon clicking, a blast furnace blazing, X-ray skeletons dancing. Some will see irony in all this, while others will see references to the broken wheel of history.

DDT, “Shadow on the Wall”

DDT is not the most cheerful group, especially recently. Their videos are always frankly gloomy, albeit with glimmers of a hope that fades and fades. But even against this background, “Shadow on the Wall” is something beyond hopeless. For seven minutes, a man walks along a country road among hills to meditative trip hop, eventually arriving nowhere. The key line is “I couldn’t do it, but I tried.” And yet, this is one of the most powerful and majestic works by DDT in recent years. Because the “tried” turns out to be more important than “couldn’t do it.” Life is, in fact, about trying.

The images in the black-and-white video, directed by Timofei Zhalnin, match the lyrics: we see a food delivery courier going nowhere, a young blindfolded man weaving from side to side, men pointlessly hammering posts into the ground, and a riot policeman pointlessly performing somersaults. You get the sense that, camouflaged and wielding a baton, he is attacking himself.

Fans have identified the location where the video was shot as the Koltushy Heights, ancient sand hills in the Leningrad Region, a Unesco-protected natural monument. Today, their existence is under threat. Greedy developers want to build residential complexes on the heights, basically destroying them. Activists have been fighting back, of course, but the fight is clearly one-sided: “I couldn’t do it, but I tried.”

Oxxxymiron, “Verses on the Unknown Soldier”

Oxxxymiron has not released anything new since 2015, since the legendary album Gorgorod, that is, for six years. This track is an exception: it was recorded specifically for the January tribute album Preserve My Words Forever, in honor of the 130th anniversary of Osip Mandelstam’s birth, featuring Shortparis, Noize MC, Ilya Lagutenko, Tequilajazz, Pornofilms and other first-class artists.

The video was shot by Dmitry Maseykin, a music video director who has worked with Monetochka and Husky, and received Cannes Lions and other awards in his time. As interpreted by Maseykin (and writer-producer Roma Liberov), “Verses” is about the clash of world religions and civilizations, followed by the apocalypse. It’s a dicey interpretation: it is hardly what Mandelstam meant when he wrote about “millions killed cheaply.” And the Jewish theme, accentuated in the video, is definitely not in the poem. But what Mandelstam and Oxxxymiron/Maseykin share is a premonition of slaughter and apocalypse. The poem, one of the most poignant anti-war texts, was written in 1937. Mandelstam would die a year later, and a year after that the Second World War would break out.

It’s the apocalypse, and we have our iPhones. When you read “Unknown Soldier,” the horror of Mandelstam’s prophecies  overwhelms you: “There will be cold frail people / Who will kill, starve and become colder”; “Am I the one who drinks this broth with no choice, / And under fire do I eat my own head?” Even more terrifying are the famous lines “—I was born in ninety–four, / —I was born in ninety–two…” People born in [nineteen] ninety-two, ninety-four and ninety-one, like Mandelstam [born in 1891], walk the same streets as we do. I don’t even want to think about what awaits them.

But when you watch the video, you feel no terror. It is grounded in something else — in the grandeur, solemnity, and significance of events. So, after watching it, I felt like saying, “The apocalypse is cool.” Maybe, but not for those who will live to see it.

Vasya Oblomov, “Youth”

This is a rare instance for Vasya Oblomov: Russia’s principal musical satirist and feuilletonist has recorded an unusually kind, touching and lyrical song. It’s not like he doesn’t have any such things in his repertoire. They exist, of course, but they are far and few between.

The video and the song are about the time “when you are seventeen years old / And the answer to any question / Comes,” about a time of endless and inevitable happiness: “I close my eyes / And I see twenty-five years ago, / How happiness simply, without obstacles / Finds us.” Here’s what Oblomov told Novaya Gazeta about making the video:

“In the video, my friends and I are recording the first songs by our group, Cheboza, in the studio in Rostov-on-Don in 2000. These are people who are dear to my heart, with whom I started my musical journey, people without whom I would not have become what I became. It was captured on film because Ilya Filippov (one of us, he is sometimes present on screen and shot the footage) got a video camera somewhere. The tape lay in the closet for twenty-one years and was put to good use in ‘Youth,’ which I dedicated to my friends. After the video was made, I sent the link to it to the people in it asking them to film themselves watching it for the first time. I think it turned out great.”

The magic of the shoot is incredible. The band members are all young, happy, and silly, and there is light and love in their eyes. When you again feel the urge to write on social networks that Vasya Oblomov is a spiteful person, says nasty things about everyone, doesn’t like people, and mocks the Motherland and its underpinning, just watch “Youth” and take those words back.

Amen, “Sailor Girl”

Although the Moscow band with the strange name Amen has been playing for several years, it is virtually an underground band and not involved in big-time show business. That’s a pity, because their strange and not very typically Russian mix of post-punk, electronica and garage rock, sporting clever, non-linear lyrics, would wow listeners. Amen are crooked, melodic, and brazen and sing about people like us. Amidst all the current clean-cut artists, fawning, servicing and entertaining their audiences, Amen are a big lungful of pure oxygen.

Not only is this song, “Sailor Girl,” good. The entire album Amen put out this year, Let It Be So, is good. You can listen to the whole thing on YouTube

I also recommend the video for “Don’t Get Hung Up,” a kind of locker room exercise in Schopenhauer, an amazing mix of street corner braggadocio and a profound understanding of the foundations of being.

Amen, “Don’t Get Hung Up”

“Sailor Girl” is urban art song in a form that is comprehensible and interesting to current twenty-somethings. The story is simple: the singer’s pal has gone missing and sends a letter: “A sailor girl has carried me away.” You’re living in the urban jungle when suddenly you fall into another world.

The video, featuring crazy dancing in sweatpants, was shot at the Event Theater by director Yurate Shunyavichute. And it is really an event. It is not so often that artists with their own aesthetic and their own voice emerge in our country.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Amen, Let It Be So (LP 2021)