Today I went to the cinema, Cineworld, a round trip of some 100 miles, to see the film Bitter Harvest, a film about the Stalin’s Terror Famine in the Ukraine in 1932/3. The film takes the form of a dramatic ‘love story’, starting in a Ukrainian village (most likely but it unspoken – Cossack) as the Bolshevik Revolution has started, and news of the Tsar’s death breaks. The Revolution seems far away in this idyll and the couple who are the heroes are young children. There is an echo of Tolkien’s shire about the place, very beautiful even if life is hard. Then Lenin dies and Stalin (called ‘Koba’ by his Comrades) comes to power. The local Commissar comes around, backed by Red Army troops, and the village is to be collectivised. All land belongs to the State, as the Commissar reminds everyone, and evidently he has some targets to meet, enemies of the people to kill, kulaks to be purged, icons to be seized (for sale) and Collective Farms to be formed. His brutality is probably only tempered only by his anxiety at which target he has the greatest need to meet, something which diverts him occasionally from the most brutal option available.
The heroes of the film are a couple Yuri and Natalka from that same village. Yuri is one of several artists, he is a painter, and all his friends in his age group are keen to go to the Big City Kiev, some eagerly noting how the State has work for artists. Eventually Yuri goes to Kiev (on his internal passport*), leaving behind Natalka. On the way to Kiev, there are encounters with the starving peasantry, a passenger talks about the famine and gets arrested by the NKVD. There is a constant theme of the starving and dying, with an unmechanised disposal system of horse and carts scouring the streets for corpses for mass burials here and there, and corpses in open train wagons. The starving flock to Kiev, simply to die in the streets. The film is simply and properly unrelentingly grim, and it does not shy from showing the brutality of the Bolsheviks.
Stalin is informed of the resistance to collectivisation and the starvation that his policy is causing, he implements Lenin’s plans but without mercy, and the greater the resistance, the higher the targets become until all food is to be seized. The official line is that there is ‘malnutrition’ but not famine, a lie that Walter Duranty and the New York Times were happy to peddle, the latter partially recanting many decades later.
Yuri in Kiev meets up with his friends, and awkwardly hints and the famine and its increasingly visible consequences. He finds himself working as a painter, with his friends all doing political work, but his art lacks the necessary ideological flavour, his boss is purged (we infer) and he is then fired, working as a ‘rag and bone man‘, sorting through the possessions of the dead for sale, the only growth industry apart from terror. His friend from the village, who has risen in Kiev to be local party chief, shows some perhaps surprising independence, before shooting himself as the NKVD close in. Yuri gets arrested after a brawl, but manages to escape. Yuri’s family have been arrested for anti-Soviet activity after realising that they are doomed in the village as it is collectivised. Yuri meets up with Ukrainian partisans, and manages to spring some of his family. The film gives the impression that there was a significant amount of resistance to the Soviets, and also that people in the early 1930s spoke more freely that you might have imagined. Perhaps this has been overlooked in the face of the apparently monolithic Soviet police state. Yuri and Natalka realise that they have to escape, and they hope to make it to Canada, (long before the Trudeaus starting fawning over Castro). They head for the Polish border before making for a break chased by shooting Soviet Border Guards.
The film is very well shot, CGI is minimal, and barely noticeable. The grimy, shrunken starving hordes are a constant presence, very well done. The clothing and fashion are convincing, and whilst the dialogue is a little forced sometimes, the message that the State is your executioner (which it was) is well put across. It also mentioned famines in Kazhakstan and amongst the Jews in Belarus. The plot feels slightly fanciful, being necessarily at the high end of expectations, not in that it obviously shows a fight-back, but that there was so much spirit in those fighting the Soviets. However, it at least tells a story that should be told again and again.
That the film has had minimal publicity is a shame, even in the cinema showing it, it was not advertised except for a partial listing. In its first and only week, 11 people came to this Sunday showing, the nearest to me at 50 miles away. I enjoyed it, I appreciated it, and it was nice to be somewhere watching an anti-Soviet film feeling pretty damn certain that I wouldn’t end up sitting next to Jeremy Corbyn.
As I write, some speeches are perhaps being polished for the Oscars. I’m sure that the people in this film heading for a border as a matter of life and death won’t feature in the minds of the speech makers, and you won’t hear an actor not called, say, Sterile Weep, making a heart-renching condemnation of the system that led to an estimated 7,000,000 to 10,000,000 deaths.
* per Wikipedia, The Ukraine only scrapped internal passports in 2016.
D’Souza thanked the academy for the prizes, saying in a recorded message that “being dissed by you guys, this is absolutely fantastic.
“My audience loves the fact that you hate me.”
“The reason you are giving it to me is because you’re very upset Trump won.
“You’ve never got over it, you probably never will.”
– Dinesh D’Souza, as quoted in the Guardian upon getting four Razzies for the worst film of the year for his Hillary Clinton exposé.
This approach works equally well against both left and right.
Comedy might not be Loach’s forte. But there is splendid unintentional humour in this class warrior standing up at a dinner sponsored by large corporations to denounce the Government that pays him so handsomely to keep churning out his Marxist drivel.
– Harry Phibbs
Ruth Potts, writing in the Guardian with a quill pen, says that,
…a deeper understanding of humankind’s place in a living world of materials suggests the need and opportunity for a different kind of love affair with “stuff” – a long-term relationship of appreciation, slow pleasures, care and respect.
Instead of abstinence and austerity, embracing the New Materialism could have profoundly positive effects. Inverting classic expectations of productivity in which fewer people produce more stuff for consumption, the New Materialism points to an economy in which, in effect, more people produce less stuff for consumption.
There are other steps we can take to accelerate this healthier relationship with stuff: a minimum 10-year guarantee would help end the scourge of built-in obsolescence. Community Supported Agriculture reconnects communities with the people who grow food. The same approach could be applied to more of the objects we use: Community-supported potteries could deliver tableware, gradually, by subscription. The same could apply to clothing and furniture. A culture of repair and re-imagining would create ample skilled employment; high street making and mending hubs could bring life back to the hearts of our towns and cities.
Speaking as the last woman in England who can properly darn a sock, I know well the pleasure to be had from “make do and mend”. Darning is quite satisfying. By plying my darning needle I have kept going heirloom socks knitted by deceased great aunts. I have been known to darn a hole in a beloved Fair Isle jumper in multiple colours of antique darning wool, which I acquired from an eBay seller in France. Don’t think I don’t see the appeal of caring for a dear old thing rather than buying a rubbishy new thing.
But that appeal is strictly contingent on it being a hobby not a necessity. For generations of women, darning was the most wretched of tasks, ruining their eyes and wasting their lives trying to eke out a little more use from a garment that was certain to “go” again almost on the next wearing. Men had it no better. George Orwell wrote in Homage to Catalonia of seeing the type of tools in use in 1930s Spain:
A broken ploughshare, for instance, was patched, and then patched again, till sometimes it was mainly patches. Rakes and pitchforks were made of wood. Spades, among a people who seldom possessed boots, were unknown; they did their digging with a clumsy hoe like those used in India. There was a kind of harrow that took one straight back to the later Stone Age. It was made of boards joined together, to about the size of a kitchen table; in the boards hundreds of holes were morticed, and into each hole was jammed a piece of flint which had been chipped into shape exactly as men used to chip them ten thousand years ago. I remember my feelings almost of horror when I first came upon one of these things in a derelict hut in no man’s land. I had to puzzle over it for a long while before grasping that it was a harrow. It made me sick to think of the work that must go into the making of such a thing, and the poverty that was obliged to use flint in place of steel. I have felt more kindly towards industrialism ever since
That’s because Orwell, though a Socialist, had trained himself to the habit of opening the door when reality came knocking. Ms Potts has not. Every pretty vision she describes, the minimum ten year guarantee, the “Community supported agriculture”, the idea that “Community-supported potteries could deliver tableware, gradually, by subscription” (sounds lovely, all the family sharing one plate while waiting for the rest to arrive), they all boil down to deliberately making things more expensive and people poorer.
A few years back one of my children introduced me to the glory that was Star War The Third Gathers: The Backstroke of the West.
Now I see that Mark Liberman of Language Log has flagged up this piece by Patrick Shanley for the Hollywood Reporter:
‘Revenge of the Sith’ Dubbed With Bootleg Chinese Dialogue Is a Fan-Made Masterpiece
YouTuber GratefulDeadpool has done the unthinkable: He’s made Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith cool.
Using the original Chinese subtitles, which feature multiple lost-in-translation misinterpretations, GratefulDeadpool redubbed the prequel trilogy’s final installment — with hilarious results.
Entitled Backstroke of the West Highlights Part 1 (Star War: The Third Gathers), the recut features such memorable lines as “I has been hating you,” from the villainous Count Dooku, and “The front is a lemon avenue flying straightly,” spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi while piloting a careening starship.
Dorkly explains the bizarre translations likely “began with a machine translation of the Chinese script to [Revenge of the Sith], which attempted to literally translate from Mandarin to English, despite the multitude of barriers between the two languages.” The end result was great quips, such as “Smelly boy” from General Grievous to Kenobi and “Your dead period arrived, teacher” from a rebellious Anakin Skywalker during his fateful lightsaber duel with his master on Mustafar.
You can view either edited highlights of this semi-accidental masterpiece or the whole thing by following the links in the Hollywood Reporter piece. Back at Language Log, one of the commenters, Jonathan Smith, rightly says that, “This latest editor’s genius was to get voice actors to read it with straight faces.”
However I cannot endorse Mark Liberman’s view when he writes, “I’m skeptical of the machine-translation idea, because I seriously doubt that there has ever been an MT system that rendered “the Jedi Council” as “the Presbyterian Church”.
Doesn’t he know what happens when you say things like that about Star Wars?
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
H H Monro – who wrote under the pen name Saki – was a writer of mainly short stories. In most of them the innocent and gullible find themselves in an unequal struggle with the sly and devious.
In his novel When William Came he wrote about what would happen in the event of a German invasion. It is not a particularly good novel but it does describe the process by which die-hard patriots find themselves ever more isolated as more and more of the smart set – desperate to carry on as before – adapt themselves to occupation
When war came, Monro was a man in his 40s and as such could have stood aside. Instead he joined up. He was killed on the Somme a hundred years ago yesterday.
One our regular-ish commenters posts under the same name as one of Saki’s recurring characters so it will be interesting to hear Clovis Sangrail’s take.
By obsessing over politics above all else, identitarian artists of the twenty-first century resemble the Socialist Realists from the Soviet Union in the early- to mid-twentieth century. One could charitably call Socialist Realism an artistic style, one that glorified peasants, factory workers, and Communist values, but it was nurtured by a totalitarian police state and was the only “style” allowed by the government lest hapless artists wished to live out the remaining days of their lives in a Siberian slave labor camp. “Like Socialist Realism,” Ahmari writes, “identitarian art claims to be revolutionary, but in fact rigidly adheres to a set of political dictates. Master its political grammar, and you can easily decode any piece of identitarian art. For all its claims to ‘transgressiveness,’ identity art is drearily conformist.”
– Michael Totten
The Times 3 November 1916 p6
I thought I would try to do the National Novel Writing Month thing. It is probably a terrible idea. Announcing it here is probably an even worse idea. I have half a dozen novel ideas I will probably be mashing up together. There will be aliens, strange people who invite strangers into their flats to give and listen to talks, and a not-too-in-your-face libertarian message. Or I might give up half-way through after realising that there is no value in the sleep-deprived ramblings of a man struggling to make an arbitrary word count by an arbitrary deadline.
Use the comments thread for encouragement, to tell me I’m an idiot, give me ideas for scenes (I have some crazy alien technology that means I can do almost anything), announce your own similar efforts, or talk about what a libertarian novel might look like.
I am not a huge fan of twitter but sometimes it is a good place to get a sober heads up on breaking show biz stories…
Elfwick is a genius.
I don’t generally seek political analysis from trained monkeys responding to the commands of talented directors and screenwriters.
– Samizdata commenter ‘the other rob‘
“We live at a time when we’re offered a choice between the good, liberal Pajama Boy without an ounce of masculinity, and the Potemkin Alpha Male who mistakes cartoonish bluster for manliness, one of whom happens to be running for president. “The Magnificent Seven” presents a much better alternative, wrapped up in an exciting, action-packed plot and—oh, yes, I almost forgot—the greatest Western theme music ever written. So skip the multiplex this weekend and revisit this classic, instead.”
– Robert Tracinski