Movie-makers try to capture on film the Russian coup that captured world attention

THIS TIME, TANKS ROLL FOR THE CAMERAS

October 28, 1991|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW — Moscow--Boris N. Yeltsin strode determinedly out of the Russian building, the famous White House, toward the tanks on the street, carrying his message of . . .

Try again, with fervor.

Boris Yeltsin strode bravely through the cheering crowd, his jaw set . . .

One more time.

Boris Yeltsin, played by Aleksandr Skorochod, burst into view a third time and, with the camera rolling, walked quickly and purposefully through the mob of flag-waving extras toward the tanks below. He scrambled onto one, read his thunderous decree calling upon all Russians to oppose the junta, basked in the chants of "Yeltsin! Yeltsin!" -- and this time director Jan Jung said the shot was good.

Call it "Coup: The Movie."

Just two months after the real coup galvanized the real Boris Yeltsin to enter into his finest hour, a joint Soviet-Danish-American film, a family melodrama set against the putsch of August, is now being shot in Moscow.

From history-making to movie-making in 60 days: The stirring, tension-filled moments when the future of a nation hung in the balance were replayed yesterday, but over and over and over again, as filming, of course, requires.

And a crowd of curious Muscovites turned out to test their See memories of the uniquely real events of Aug. 19 against the banality of make-believe.

"There are far fewer people now, and our signs were better in August," said Konstantin Orlov, a 19-year-old who, like most of the other onlookers, had been taken on as an extra in the movie. Mr. Orlov was working as an electrician in August. Today he is unemployed.

"There was some tension, anyway, back then. Now, it's all quite calm. But, you know, everything should be saved for history."

Sitting on his tank nearby was another participant in the events of August -- Vladimir Usov, a private in the Tumansky Division, which had been sent by the junta to intimidate Mr. Yeltsin but which had turned its guns around to protect him instead.

Private Usov was looking rested, clean, shaven -- his tank was clean as well. And he was grinning a great, wide grin.

"This is nothing like August," he said. "It's mostly a holiday. August, of course, was the most important event in my life. I wasn't scared then, but it was a special feeling when people kept asking me if I was going to shoot. How could I shoot, when I have a mother and family back home?"

The crowd that flocked to the White House in August lived through nearly three days of grim, quiet, unremitting fear, fear that the army or the KGB was coming to storm the building. They put up barricades, built smoky fires against the constant drizzle, and waited. They waited for the dawn, they waited for news, they waited for the end.

Everywhere was mud, tiredness, a hollow-eyed stubbornness.

Yesterday they were told please not to climb on the tanks because they were new and clean. They were told when to take their hats off -- it wasn't raining but it was bitterly cold -- and when to shout.

They were given banners to carry, many in English and many made of red cloth, which was absent in August because for 73 years a red banner here has stood for something altogether different from democracy.

There was a lot of hair-combing and tie-straightening going on.

The movie, which will be called "Three Days," is about a family whose loyalties are torn apart by the coup. It is being produced by Just Betzer, a Dane best known for "Babette's Feast," which won an Oscar in 1988.

The hero of yesterday's action, Mr. Skorochod, is not an actor. Chosen after an "international" search for a Yeltsin look-alike, he's actually director of a construction enterprise in the city of Taganrog, far to the south on the Sea of Azov.

He was enjoying himself immensely yesterday. He's slightly shorter than the Russian president, and his hair has more blond in it, but he has the same way of striding through a crowd and the same no-holds-barred growl of a voice.

"Everywhere I go," he said, "people say, 'Look, Yeltsin's coming.' On the train, in the metro, it's, 'Look, there's Yeltsin.' "

He said a relative sent a photo to the Gorky Film Studio, he survived two rounds of elimination, and now he's part of history. His time in the limelight: Two days. Then it's back to being a construction boss in Taganrog.

Vladimir Tushkanov, from his vantage point in the semi-permanent anarchists' campsite at the back of the White House, was singularly unimpressed by the event.

"It's all untrue," he said. "The clothes are wrong. The flags are wrong. The slogans are wrong. Even the soldiers are well-dressed. I think they're just making money. To my mind, they shouldn't use historical events for such purposes."

But Nina Chukova, a pensioner, said coming back to the scene had helped her sort it all out in her mind. But she added, "when I came back here and I saw those tanks, it gave me such a feeling of fear -- well, Iknew then, we should never have this again."

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