Monday, December 06, 2010

Lubitsch and Wilder bring you the Revolutionary as Dweeb

Il Teatro Buce enjoyed a screening last night of Ernst Lubitsch's classic Ninotchka with Greta Garbo.  It's good fun, perhaps not least because the dialogue has Billy Wilder's thumbprints all over it.  It does tend to drag after the first half or so and I suspect it wouldn't have its status as a semi-classic were it not so closely woven into the legend of Garbo herself.

But what impressed me most was not its Garbohood buts place in the narrative of the Soviet Union and our perception thereof.  This is 1939: of course we had long since demonized the Soviets for their violence and corruption.  No surprise there; but the movie offers us much more--not just violence and brutality but also meanness, cowardice and bureaucratic time-serving.  Especially in the early scenes we focus not on Garbo herself (she isn't there yet) but on three petty strivers who remind you of nothing so much as the Marx brothers cross-bred with the three little bats out of Pogo--figures of contempt or ridicule, not remotely of fear except insofar as we fear for them.

I've commented with admiration before on Victor Serge's  great Case of Comrade Tulayev, in which he demolishes any possible illusions about the intentions of the Soviet elite.  When I first came to political awareness in the 50s, there were still people who tended to mist over at the thought of Soviet crimes and malefactions.  I've often wished they could have studied Serge.  Silly me; all they needed to do was to go to the movies.

For extra credit, what were the names of the three bats in Pogo?  Go here.

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