The Soviet Union's growing taste for American movies

January 04, 1991|By Alexei Vinogradsky | Alexei Vinogradsky,Special to The Evening Sun

emigrated to the United States.

IN THE LAST part of the 1970s and first part of 1980s, a wide stream of American movies rushed to the U.S.S.R., giving Soviet spectators an opportunity to learn in detail about American life.

In that time, the VCR was uncommon thing in Soviet families and therefore many friends and acquaintances often gathered at the home of one who had a VCR to see the movies. Some video owners even made a business this way, charging people to see the movies. And because all tapes which came to the U.S.S.R. were in a foreign language, another business grew up -- translation. People would pay between 25 and 50 rubles to someone who would translate the movie into Russian.

Soviet authorities tried to prevent private review of video movies because they considered them propaganda of the Western style of life. Therefore, anyone who invited even a few friends to see movies on the VCR was at serious risk to get several years of jail.

Soviet justice forbid anyone to demonstrate and to see movies where there could be some violence or pornography. But very often authorities didn't distinguish between what was a ''thriller" and what was "violence," what was "erotic" and what was "pornography." For that reason, there were several sad cases where people were put in jail for watching "Nightmare on Elm Street," "Caligula" or the erotic French movie "Emanuelle."

The Soviet press from time to time printed articles about the cruelty of "Rambo" or about the awful depravity in "Blue Velvet."

So, anyway, all these measures were in vain because American video movies were an important source of information. Many people couldn't get recent American newspapers or magazines. And in fact, that is still true today.

According to some sources, in Moscow alone today there are about 10,000 foreign video movies, and 80 percent of these are American. Now authorities can't take control over private video and for that reason the stream of movies has increased.

Of course, American cinematography definitely influenced Soviet audiences and helped to create their image of Americans.

For example, after getting "Hair" in Soviet Union, the hippies became more numerous. And today on the old Moscow street, Arbat, you can see many teen-agers who have grown their hair after watching "Hair." These people have full confidence that in U.S.A. there are many hippies too. But although I have searched for two and a half weeks since I arrived in the United States, I haven't seen one real hippie.

The movie "Easy Rider" didn't pass unnoticed either. Sometimes in the deep night in Moscow, drivers must -- aside in horror for groups of bikers. It looks like a picture from "Mad Max."

But, please, don't think that Soviet spectators see only old movies. New American movies appear in the Soviet Union about three or four months after they are first shown in the U.S.

However, the tastes of American and Soviet audiences are not always the same. For example, "Batman," which had great success in U.S.A., had bad luck in Soviet Union. You can ask, of course, why? It's very simple. Who is Batman? Everybody in America can answer this question even after midnight with closed eyes. Unfortunately, in Russia nobody knows who he is. And despite stunning performances by Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, this cinema was almost disaster in Soviet private video market. Nobody wanted to be like Batman. I think it's wrong because criminality is not only American problem but Soviet, too.

You cannot imagine what kind of madness embraced many people, and especially teen-agers, after just one look at Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And for that reason sometimes it's very difficult to use city transport because some young person who has been body-building occupies two seats instead of one.

At first I thought all these people were dreaming about revenge for the bruises of Ivan Drago, the Russian boxer from "Rocky IV." But now I'm calm. I saw how these same people admire Rambo. And after that I don't worry about war breaking out between U.S.S.R. and U.S.A.

I expected that in America every fifth man looks like Schwarzenegger. But I was wrong. Maybe only every 25th.

I too gave way to video fever. I saw about 300 American movies. Thrillers, horrors and love dramas were fixed in my mind. When I came to U.S.A., I expected to see a life like in "9 1/2 Weeks" or in Dirty Harry movies. Before my visit to New York City, even my American friends warned me about crime. And all my trip I listened constantly for the wild scream: "Freeze! Drop it! . . . If you stir you will see the color of your brain!" or something like this. But nobody touched me during two days in New York. Not criminals, not police.

And I want to note the quantity of cops on the American screen is much more than in the city streets. So I lost another of my stereotypes.

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