This post constitutes a review of the Netflix original movie “The Russian Revolution”.
First some backstory, how I came to watch this gem. See, officially I am boycotting Netflix, because of their egregious pro-Al-Qaeda movie “The White Helmets”. However, my personal boycott does not extend to my friend Joey, who is a bit of a couch potato and probably could not live without Netflix. In the past Joey had spent some time in a Turkish prison. He intends to write a book about his experiences; but in the meantime he indulges in his first love: Gladiator movies.
So, Joey and I, holding hands platonically on the sofa, just finished watching Troy: The Fall Of a City, which involves a lot of man-on-man sword-waving combat and gore galore. Followed by the series Roman Empire: Reign of Blood, the story of Emperor Commodus and his amazing feats in the Colosseum. Commodus had always been one of Joey’s personal heroes, so he was horrified to learn (SPOILER ALERT!!) that the games were rigged in the Emperor’s favor. Like, his opponents were given fake plastic swords that could not cut even through melted butter. Allowing Commodus to easily disarm these tough guys and plunge his own (sharp) sword through their beating hearts.
This was the first recorded occurrence in the ancient world, in which cheating took place in the arena. Up until then, from the time of Gilgamesh on through the Greek Olympics, with their famous Greco-Roman wrestling matches, the notion of cheating was simply unheard of. In essence, Commodus invented “the rig”, his main legacy to mankind. Sadly, it caught on, and to this day everybody follows the Roman Emperor’s methodology. With the exception of Mexican wrestling, it goes without saying, which is exceptionally clean.
But I digress… Barely had we finished watching the well-deserved assassination of the Cheating Emperor, when Netflix helpfully popped up with: “Since you enjoyed the death of Commodus, you might like these movies as well:” And it presented us with a choice of “Hitler’s Generals” or “The Russian Revolution”. Joey asked me if the Russian Revolution involved gladiators, and I had to tell him, sadly, No. But there might be galloping horses and that sort of thing, and there was also sure to be lots of gratuitous violence. And so we clicked on it.
The Howling Historians
“Rag-tag revolutionaries… Joseph Stalin…. A brutal reign of terror…”
So, right out of the gate, even before the titles, the narrators show their ideological colors – aha, what a shock! Okay, Joey, let’s settle in for a big wopping dose of propaganda. And we soon learn that the Russian Revolution was really all about a “personal battle” between Lenin and Tsar Nicholas. So, in essence, this is a gladiator movie! But with the roles reversed: Lenin, the rag-tag revolutionary is the cheating Emperor Commodus; and the real Emperor Nicky is the guy who was given the plastic sword!
The first blooper (of many) at 1:00 minute in: The lady historian consistently refers to the Empress as the “Tsarina”. Which shows that this auguste historian of Russian history does not speak or read a word of Russian, since there is no such word in the Russian language. The actual Russian word for the Tsar’s wife is царица (“Tsaritsa”). Word to the wise: Only ignorami say “tsarina”. Just saying…
For the record, the team of “historians” (air-quotes) narrating this ludicrosity are as follows, and I take care to spell their names correctly, so that these twits can be held accountable for their hilarities:
- Professor Donald Rayfield, author of “Stalin and His Hangmen” [later wrote a second book called “Stalin wasn’t such a bad guy after all”, just made that last one up…]
- Doctor Daniel Beer, author of “The House of the Dead” [followed by the sequel, “Things got better”]
- Frances Welch, author of “The Russian Court At Sea” [she’s the idiot who keeps saying tsarina]
- Victor Sebestyen, author of “Lenin the Dictator” [followed by his sequel “Lenin the Legitimately Elected Democratic Leader”]
A major blooper occurs at 11:53 minutes in when the unseen narrator intones, pompously, that Lenin swore to follow in the path laid out by his just-hanged anarchist brother, Sasha. In reality, as any Russian schoolchild knows, the fact was exactly the opposite: In eschewing that type of “individualist” terrorism, Lenin emitted his famous utterance, immortalized by the poet Mayakovsky:
тебя сменить готовы,
но мы пойдём путём другим
(“Brother, we are here and ready to replace you. We shall be victorious, but we will take a different path…“) See, “different path” is not the same thing as “same path”, just sayin’…
Skipping over a whole series of objectionable utterances, such as the assertion that Chernyshevsky’s novel “What is to be done?” is a “lousy” novel (matter of opinion; I personally think it is well-written, and the guy who says it’s lousy doesn’t even read Russian); and the equally opinionated assertion that Lenin looked down his nose at ethnic groups who were not Great Russians (which is untrue, and also more like the opposite of the truth), and moving along to:
Yes, my Fellow Romans, the garland goes to Professor Rayfield for Best Blooper in the whole show, clocked at 18:20 minutes in. Rayfield, while discussing Lenin’s 3-year term of exile in Siberia (where he lived quite comfortably in a little cottage with his wife and mother-in-law), asserts: “He [Lenin] had a serving maid of 12, whom he paid 1 ruble a month and kept her in a sort of cage under the stairs. So much [chuckling ironically] for Bolshevik egalitarianism!”
Some eagle eyes on the Intertubes fact-checked this assertion, on Reddit of all places, and discovered that Rayfield had hilariously mistranslated the Russian word клетушка (“small room”) as клетка (“cage”). In reality, the maid whom Lenin’s wife hired to help clean up around the house, consisted of a 15-year-old (not 12-year-old) girl who was paid 2 1/2 rubles (not 1 ruble) per month. A modest income, but also not chump change, for the time. She was hired to clean the house every Tuesday, i.e., once per week. Which makes it mysterious where the small room (клетушка) comes into play. Although one could speculate that this tiny room under the stairs was a guest room, where she was allowed to sleep if, say, the weather was bad and she had to stay overnight. Just speculating here…
The factual component is this letter written by Krupskaya on October 9, 1898, and Professor Rayfield could have read that letter himself if (1) he ever checked the archives; and (2) knew how to read Russian:
Наконец мы наняли прислугу, девочку лет 15, за 2 1/2 р. в месяц + сапоги, придёт во вторник, следовательно, нашему самостоятельному хозяйству конец.
“We were finally able to hire a maid, a young girl of 15 years, for 2 1/2 rubles per month plus a pair of boots. She will come every Tuesday, this will give some relief in the housecleaning chores, etc.”
Joey was disappointed to have that particular story debunked. He quite liked the notion of a girl in a cage, sort of like, dancing the twist at a disco party. Or perhaps as one of the Colosseum’s sadistic displays, in between the Emperor’s sword-swinging antics and the Lions vs Elephants show number.