It is said that Stalin was entranced with Sergei Eisenstein’s art film, Ivan Grozny Part I. Stalin identified with the younger, more idealistic Ivan the Terrible. Who was actually a nice guy but was forced, almost against his will, to deal harshly with enemies, both internal and external; and all for the glory of defending the Russian people and protecting Russian statehood.
It is also said that Stalin was appalled when he went to a private viewing of the sequel, Part II, it wasn’t what he expected, and he promptly had the movie banned. In the Soviet Union this cinematic and operatic masterpiece was only showed later, after Stalin’s death. See, you can never trust an artist. Eisenstein touched a nerve when he depicted the aging ruler as demented and cruel, engineering his cousin’s death and turning on his own inner circle.
I am drawing an obvious analogy with the popular Russian TV historical soap opera, Godunov. Season 1 which I previously reviewed in this 4-part series, showed a young and idealistic Boris, eager to make Russia strong, wealthy, and also to bring education and Enlightenment to this civilizational backwater. In the Tsar’s openness and mannerisms, one was drawn to make comparisons with President Putin. And then Season 2, where everything just … sort of … falls apart… SMU-ta! (Russan spelling смута)! Which is pronounced exactly the way it is spelled. Russians call this the “troubled times”, or “time of troubles”.
Upfront: Just like Comrade Stalin, I liked Season #1 better than #2. But that’s just me. I shall explain my problems with the Godunov “Continuation” as we go along. It’s mostly with the writing and the ideology, not the production values, which remain superb.
So, what is my game plan here? Unlike most of my other posts, where I just make it up as I go along, this series is pre-written, was carefully crafted over a period of several weeks, as I watched the episodes and penned my recaps. At first I was just going to post my review as one horribly long piece, but then I decided to break it up into digestible chunks, one post per episode. Since there are 9 episodes (in addition to this Intro, “The Making Of…” and a sidebar on Filaret/Romanov), seems like I can dine off of this story for most of the month of July. And, if I have planned correctly, this series will climax on July 22 which is a special day: It’s the Birthday of the Romanov Dynasty! Yay! (or Boo!, depending on one’s political ideology.) I did leave myself a little wiggle room, in case I need to insert a “Breaking News” story or two. Otherwise, we’re good to go.
Speaking of recaps, I read somewhere, possibly in Khrushchev’s memoirs, that Stalin had a man on his staff whose job was to recap movies for him. See, Stalin loved Hollywood Westerns, he used to watch them in his private cinema with a 16mm projector. But these films had no subtitles and had not been dubbed into Russian, so Stalin couldn’t understand a word that was being said. He hired a guy who pretended to know English, and the man would stand near the Leader’s ear, whispering what was going on: “Now he’s pulling out his gun… Now he’s jumping out the window….” And Stalin would scream at him in rage: “I can see that with my own eyes, you idiot! Just tell me what they’re saying!!”
In that vein, I am hoping that my recaps may help some of my loyal Anglophone readers, until such time as the Russian Television Authorities see fit to finance and post a Godunov version with English subtitles!
(And please, I beg you, Producers, in advance: Do subtitles, not dubbing. Dubbing is the devil’s work and should be banned in all civilized countries.)
Here is my recommendation for utilizing my recaps: If you don’t speak Russian and your computer has 2 monitors, then run the youtube video of Boris on one monitor, and have my recap up on a second monitor. Then you can follow along with the action quite handily! If you only have one monitor, then you will have to flip back and forth.
But before we get started with the recaps, this piece dishes the behind-the-scenes gossip and interviews with the actors, etc.
[to be continued]