Friday, June 07, 2019

To Russia with Lunch--Part Two

Enfin and in short, the present hyperoccidental political-economic schema, system, mare’s nest or whatever one cares to call it, is a veritable porquería (or porcheria if you swing to the southeast) wherein asininity, frustration, futility, and exploitation are the ineluctable organic order of the day.  Consumers, perpetually and dedicatedly gulled by the will-o’-the-wisp of the digital sublime, are content to make do with the shoddiest products servicing the most somatically basal domains of their existences provided that they are in possession of electronic gadgetry attested—largely by the all-too dubious authority of the kingpins of the electronic gadgetry industry itself—to be faster and more globally integrated than any such gadgetry previously produced.  Producers are either so heavily besotted by the digital sublime themselves that they submit to the most ignominious conditions of production for the sake of nominally participating in the DS at the giving end, or so frustrated by their inability to fulfill themselves as producers in the strong sense that they condone the manufacture of the shoddiest products, or so blind to the prosaic yet existence-sustaining character of their own products—or so besotted by the non-existence sustaining pet outlets of their own so-called creativity—that they render these products all-but-unusable by their targeted consumer demographic.  And last and yet not necessarily least, circulators make everybody miserable by insinuating the most in-one’s-face advertising into every N and C of every transaction with quasi-literally every product not bespoken, purchased, and hermetically sequestered before 2010 or thenabouts.  In the light not only of all the stupidity and misery nurtured and induced by this political-economic schema—and not only qua political-economic status quo (for if this status quo could be maintained indefinitely or quasi-permanently it would be intrinsically redeemable in at least insuring that the world’s unprecedentedly tiny Geist-furthering loopholes would shrink no further) but also qua foreplay session or warm-up act for some kind of proper political-economic catastrophe (i.e., one in which all existence-sustaining products simply pack up completely or cease to be provided at all—as against such factitious political-economic catastrophes as the so-called global financial crisis 0f 2009, wherein a super-passel of something for nothing-seekers with members hailing from every stratum of the so-called socioeconomic so-called hierarchy received a salutary knee in its collective gender-neutral genitals), should one not be permitted to ask, at least hyper-tentatively, Is there not, or could there not yet be, a better-cum-easier way?  Is it not permissible at least to countenance, however faintly, a system of life in which the products that have proved most useful and creature comfort-sustaining to us are regularly, consistently, and universally provided at a price affordable by the poorest among us?—a system of life wherein, moreover, the producers of such products need not pretend that their wares are anything more or other (an other that is in any case often less and worse) than creature comfort-sustainers?—a system of life wherein, moreover, the relatively-to-absolutely tiny number of producers and would-be producers of products that actually do bid fair to displace sliced bread from its since-perch are afforded sufficient time and resources to work on their product designs?—a system of life, in short, answering in all its essential particulars to the system of life that was at least intermittently aspired to in the former Soviet Union or U.S.S.R. under the auspices of what hyperoccidental bourgeois political economists sneeringly termed a planned economy?  Admittedly no such system of life is now even intermittently aspired to in or by any polity on the old dirt ball-cum-yo-yo.  The few surviving avowedly socialist (a.k.a. Communist or Second-World) polities, polities whose constitutions have not been radically new-modeled or rewritten as non-socialist from scratch, have brazenly abandoned all aspirations to such a(n) SOL.  Of course in China the hyper-infernal, unsurpassably god-awful, Satan blush-inducing national Communist party continues to exert a considerable influence on the country’s economic cursus, but this influence is effectively more consubstantial with the influence exerted by the Nazi regime on the German economy of 1933 through 1945 than with that exerted by the Soviet Politburo under Lenin-through-Gorbachev.  (Incidentally, any attempt to merge the pre-1991 Chinese Communist Party’s political-economic program with that of the Soviet Union in any year is instantly made problematic by the consistently unabashedly agricultural and rural orientation of the former and the consistently at least-halfheartedly industrial and urban orientation of the latter.)  The Chinese Communist Party, while affording ample stimulus to commerce and industry, makes no pretense of doing so solely or even principally towards the end of improving the material lot of the Chinese people.  Like the official and quasi-official managers of the pseudo-great powers of the hyperoccident, in political-economic matters the Chinese Communist Party is interested solely in growth as a supposed thing cum end-in-itself, and its one true and abiding domestic-policy passion is GDP-engorgement.  The same, mutatis mutandis, is true of the Communist leadership of Vietnam; North Korea is of course merely a dynastic kleptocracy whose ruling family almost brazenly prides itself on starving the populace; and even the Cuban Communist regime, which has managed to keep the private economic initiatives of its citizenry within nominally perestroika-like limits, would have long since collapsed without massive GDP-augmenting transfusions of revenue from exogenous capitalist entities thanks to its ever-burgeoning tourist industry, which for the past quarter-century has been able to draw freely on the patronage of every hyperoccidental polity except the U.S.  Essentially, the State qua self-sustaining cradle-to-grave furnisher of the quasi-proverbial seven esses (i.e., [as if I need specify!] sausages, spirits, shirts, slacks, shacks, shows, and shoes) is an entity-cum-notion that seems to have gone south, foutred the camp, joined the choir invisible, or what have you, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Of course, it can be and indeed presumably has been ad-nauseam argued that the Soviet State never was such a State, that Lenin et al.-cum-seq. were always essentially as ardently and gluttonously in it for themselves as the North-Korean Kims; that in the absence of grain subsidies from the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s the Soviet people would have starved or at least been embarrassingly skinny; that across the decades the Soviet leadership invested far more heavily in the maintenance of the Union’s military prowess and profile than in the maintenance of even the most bottom-shelf consumer products on the topmost shelves of its consumer retail outlets (e.g.-perhaps-verging-on-i.e., the aforementioned GUM stores); and finally, and most damningly, that it, the Soviet State, never managed to produce the seven esses in sufficient quality or quantity to satisfy and gratify the majority of Soviet citizens.  All this, and possibly more (depending on whether etc. counts as part of this) has doubtless been argued ad nauseam and indeed with more than a heaping or super-sized dollop of plausibility, but however plausible this argument may be, it ultimately does not tell a jot against my forthcoming argument in favor of a planned economy.  I assert this because first(ly), if less significant(ly) (and yet meriting pride of place in the catalogue on account of its susceptibility to being overlooked entirely) even in a polity such as the former Soviet Union with a highly concentrated executive-cum-administrative apparatus, the aims and motives of those at the heart of that apparatus at any given moment are never entirely consubstantial with the aims and motives of the Staatsgeist-cum-Volksgeist as a whole even at that selfsame given moment, let alone over the long run.  However little Gospoda-cum-Tovarishchi Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Kosigyn (remember him?  I didn’t think so), Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko (remember the preceding two?  I didn’t think so either), and Gorbachev, together with their less illustrious-or-notorious fellow-Politburo members, may have cared about the welfare and comfort of the Soviet people (and the present writer is enough of a sentimentalist-cum-Sovietophile to conjecture that at least three out of those eight men, together with at least three-eighths of their less illustrious-or-notorious fellow-Politburo members, cared a great deal thereabout) they had in their employ tens of millions of citizen-workers whose official remit was to attend to the welfare and comfort of their fellow citizen-workers in some manner or other, and to assume that, for example, the typical Soviet doctor was in the habit of selecting prescriptions for his her patients by dartboard, the Soviet shoe assembling assembly-line worker was in the habit of hammering his full complement of sole-securing tacks into the dead center of the shoe-bottom rather than around its periphery, or the official Soviet instant kasha recipe-realizing cook was in the habit of throwing just any old combination ingredients together pell-mell into a vat, merely because Gospodin-cum-Tovarishch Lenin aut seq. could not have cared less about the resulting diminution of the quality of life of Vanya and Masha Stolichnaya (remember them?  I didn’t think so) is as irrational and unfair as to assume that the present personnel of the United States Federal Government have universally adopted a policy of mailing Social Security checks to the wrong addresses, propagating erroneous military intelligence, green-lighting substandard health-and-safety standards, and so on, merely because they happen to be serving under the nominal supervision and at the ultimate pleasure of a president whom by all accounts they by and large heartily despise, abhor, and detest.  The official aims and remits of a given political constitution have, as they say, a life of their own that can often be sustained with remarkably little encouragement and even downright discouragement from on high.  As for the Soviet domestic economy’s dependence on U.S. grain subsidies, any hyperoccidental-originating assertion that this dependence undermines the tenability of the notion of a planned economy tout court amounts to nothing less contemptible than the most brazen—or, perhaps rather, cast-iron—potcallingthekettleblackery, for as I have already shewn, the United States’ domestic economy is itself at present abjectly dependent on the financial ministrations of a polity—namely, China—whose political-economic philosophy-cum-infrastructure is every last bit-let as alien to its own as the U.S.’s was to the Soviet Union.  Indeed, I am inclined to rechristen the species of effrontery in question potcallingthecharcoalgraykettleblackery inasmuch as while the Soviet Union’s grain-dependence on the U.S. did not produce a jot of improvement in the agricultural sector of the U.S.’s domestic economy and therefore did not eventuate in the accrual of a jot of net gain to the U.S. at the expense of the U.S.S.R., the U.S.’s present commercial, financial, and industrial dependence on China is producing gobfuls of improvement in the commercial, financial, and industrial sectors of China’s domestic economy and therefore is eventuating in megagobfuls of net gain to China at the expense of the U.S.  The Soviet Union’s dependence on domestic grain subsidies was indeed regrettable, but unless or until the economically unplanned United States manages to regain a position of fiscal autonomy vis-à-vis China it is in no position to pooh-pooh the Soviet Union’s agricultural heteronomy qua case in point in illustration of the unsustainability of a planned economy.  And as for the final and most damning of the above-adduced points in illustration of this unsustainability, namely the failure of the Soviet State to supply the seven esses to the majority of Soviet citizens, I would—and indeed am going to—venture to guess that it is by no means as obdurately irrefutable as it is seemingly universally seen to be; this, in the first place, because it is founded entirely on anecdotal evidence and is therefore vulnerable to all the logical shocks that the principle of induction is heir to, and in the second place, because it has almost always invariably been adduced in relative terms—that is to say, in juxtaposition with some parallel instance in the contemporaneous hyperoccident–rather than in the absolute terms in which any such argument really ought to adduced if it is to serve as a fair gauge of the adequacy of a planned economy to the needs and wishes of the generality of those  people participating in it.  Of course the terms in which I have couched this bipartite ventured guess are as off-puttingly abstract as those of a preface of a Soviet Five Year Plan (albeit no less off-puttingly abstract than those of the preface of a present-day Fortune 500 company’s mission statement or annual report), so please allow me to concretize both arms of that couch a bit by way of an historically appropriate example, namely that of Boris Yeltsin’s visit to a Houston supermarket in 1989.  According to his official biographer, on taking in the abundance and variety of stuff on sale in this supermarket, Mr. Yeltsin exclaimed-cum-queried something to the effect of “Bozhe moi! (i.e., Mein Gott!) What have they been doing to our poor people?”  The they to which he was presumably referring was of course the Soviet Communist Party, and the thing that they had been doing to the Soviet People—at least according to Boris Nikolayevich, according to his biographer— presumably was failing to offer plausibly proximate near-analogues to most of the goods on offer at that Houston supermarket at the nearest Soviet analogues to that selfsame supermarket (again, e.g.-perhaps-verging-on-i.e., the double-aforementioned GUM stores).  It is said by the biographer that this Houston supermarket-visit catalyzed Mr. Yeltsin’s rejection of Soviet Communism as a political-economic system.  Of course, as I have already hinted, the biographer may have been putting words into Yeltsin’s mouth (albeit most likely with his subject’s consent, as the book was published in 2000, seven years before that subject’s death), and even supposing the words to have been uttered by BNY, BNY may have retrospectively overrated the Houston supermarket visit qua Soviet Communism rejection-catalyst.  But my argument can safely dispense with such meta-epistemological cavils and take the accuracy of the exclamation-cum-query and the worldview transformation-catalyzing effect of the visit as givens.  I can, shall, will, and indeed by now do, assume, that BNY was indeed decisively bowled over by the splendor and luxuriance of that Houston supermarket and that that over-bowling did indeed catalyze his rejection of the Soviet Communist system; but my concession of this assumption by no means authorizes any present-day inhabitant of the United States or any other hyperoccidental polity to pat himself, herself, or theirself on the back (let alone pet himself, herself, or theirself in or on more sensually gratifying zones of his or her person) for participating in the one true viable-cum-virtuous system of political economy, inasmuch as the circumstances of Yeltsin’s visit were circumscribed by certain historical forces and phenomena that were not uniformly in play throughout the period of the U.S.S.R.’s existence (remember: 1917-1991), such that the shortcomings of the Soviet Communist system at the moment of that visit ought not simply to be reflexively appropriated as a synecdoche for either the absolute or the relative shortcomings of that system across the decades.  (Redoubled apologies for renewed abstraction in the midst of my self-avowed concretization.) After all, Yeltsin’s visit was paid in 1989, when the economic state-of-the-Soviet-art was not pre-Gorbachevian total State control, but rather limited private enterprise under the auspices of perestroika, a quasi-system that was at best and latest in the midst of its growing pains (growing pains that it would of course not be suffered to complete) and hence could not fairly be expected to furnish, let alone hold, a candle to the U.S. economy seven-ess-supplying-wise; and when perhaps even more significantly the regional-chain American supermarket was at the acme of its heyday, when the typical American supermarket, in figuring among perhaps fifty stores thickly scattered across a single state or small cluster of states, was able to offer its customers most of the advantages of scale while not utterly forsaking the gemütlich bienséances of the independent Main Street grocery store from which it had evolved within the span of at most two generations, and to which it retained ties in living memory thanks to its perduring proprietorship by the business’s founding family.  The present writer was if not exactly privileged, then at least ultimately unviolated, to work as a so-called bagboy at a Floridian instantiation of such a supermarket during the year of Yeltsin’s visit to its Texan contemporary, and in hindsight he (the present writer, not Yeltsin) boggles at the well nigh-regimental attention to dress that was exacted from him in diurnal preparation for that crummy $3.75-an-hour (or $.40 above the then-minimum wage) job.  The company furnished the bagger with a chest-to-ankle apron and proper non-clip-on necktie, both in the company-designated shade of chocolate brown (qualified by just enough orange in the necktie to supply a minuscule-typefaced ticker tape-banner loop of the company name in lieu of the usual diagonal pinstripes); he was expected to wear these in combination with slacks (never jeans) and penny-loafers or lace-up dress shoes (never sneakers or trainers) in the same shade of brown, and a long-sleeved white dress shirt, all of his own acquisition.  I remember one day I showed up for my shift in a shirt that strayed just a few nanometers from white into the yellowish-brown or isabeline sector of the color spectrum—not, as I recall, because the shirt had not been thoroughly washed beforehand but rather because the iron filter attached to the well that fed my family’s washing machine had been malfunctioning—and the manager on duty told me that the shirt just wouldn’t do and that I would not be allowed to clock in until I had donned a spectroscopically accurate white shirt.  Whereupon, as I had no spare shirt stowed away in my car, I had no choice but to drive all ten miles back home, and once there, as I had no spare white dress shirts stowed away in my wardrobe (solid-cerulean, solid-canary, broad red-striped, beefsteak-tartan, and graph paper gray-checked dress shirts aplenty, yes, but nary a white dress shirt), I had no choice but to slip the inorganically isabeline shirt off and chuck it into the washer—this time pouring a heaping dollop of non-chlorine bleach atop the usual capful of ordinary laundry detergent—thence into the dryer, and thence again onto my torso; and finally drive all ten miles back to the store, where, Slavo Bogu!, the still-on-duty manager-on-duty now found the shirt spectroscopically acceptable, and I was allowed to clock in and begin accruing the measly $10.25 or so that by then remained of the princely $15.50 I would have been eligible to garner had that gentleman averted his eyes from the dun anti-nimbus, the veritable brown hole, that I had had the confounded cheek to presume I would be allowed to obtrude upon the fastidious gazes of the noble clientele of Kash ’n’ Karry Store No. 878.  Even at the time I didn’t blame old James “Jim” Carlino (for that was his name) for his spectroscopic uncompromisingness—although, to be sure, if I had been in charge then I would have sent him home for having the confounded cheek to obtrude a double-textured prevailingly polyester dress shirt (for he never wore any other sort of shirt) on my fastidious gaze—and now I cannot but view him as a veritable saint—nay-cum-moreover, as a veritable martyr, for every textbook published since circa 1999, if not since circa 1995, would have been or would be handsomely enriched by the inclusion of the well-nigh regimental Kash ’n’ Karry-employee dress code as an example of a lost cause.  Step into any purportedly state of the art-cum-uppest of upmarket American supermarket of 2019, or indeed, if you have access to a navigationally reliable TARDIS, of 2009 or perhaps even of 1999, and you will almost certainly find the bagging staff—supposing there even is or are a dedicated bagging staff—attired in shapeless, untucked, open-necked shirt-jacks in the company colors plus whatever loin-swathing non-shirty togs they have managed to scrounge from their respective laundry hampers that day (typically a pair of jeans or cargo shorts), plus their respective oldest, mingiest pair of sneakers or trainers.  And the decline in liverial standards has naturally been accompanied by declines in the quantity and quality of service exacted and consequently offered by supermarket staff to customers.  At Store No. 878 in my day, no cashier was ever expected to do any bagging.  Baggers were retained in sufficient number to ensure that one would be in sentinel-like attendance at every open register even throughout the typical post 5pm-to-7pm rush; during especially busy periods the stock-lads would be called up to the front to bag, and if shove was paid an impromptu visit by push, the manager on duty himself or herself would assume the position behind one of the double-steel-tipped-flaccid-dong sporting bag-dispensers at the end of each checkout chute.  Moreover, every bagger was required to offer to convey even the lightest of bagged purchased loads—say, a single packet of rice cakes or Kleenexes—to the customer’s car, and prohibited from accepting a tip for his yeoman-cum-longshoremanlike services (even if in practice an almost insultingly meager pourboire of a dollar [and never more than a dollar] was occasionally offered and not refused).  In contrast, at the state of the art-cum-uppest of upmarket American supermarkets today one will see at most one bagger for every five cashiers.  Presumably this minuscule-at-largest bagging staff are on hand only in case of emergencies, as a prophylactic bulwark against that tiny minority of checkout-lane-hours wherein enough customers have been insolent enough not to assume the position them-or-their respective selves (preferably astern of their respective own ineluctably soot, pubic hair, and E. coli-infested nominally reusable carrier bags, of course) to cause the queue to exceed old-school pre-nuclear apocalyptic lengths (for such lengths themselves are merely par for the off-peak weekend course now, as the surge of envy experienced by every present-day viewer of the supermarket scene in The Day After eloquently attests) despite the cashier’s Clydesdale-knackering intervention en baggeur; or even, H.R.H. J.H. Christ forbid!, some post-septuagenarian retiree has been brazen enough to feign to be too frail or feeble to convey some puny five-stone cartload to his or her vehicle on his or her own supposedly weak-hammed lonesome (for of course now that we are all [and I really do mean all] living longer there is no excuse whatsoever for not schlepping every last ounce of one’s own stuff well into one’s second century).  Suppose Mr. Yeltsin’s first encounter with an American supermarket had been with this kind of supermarket, the American supermarket of the present: would he then have felt half so eager to wail, gnash his teeth, and rend his two-button GUM suit-jacket as he felt upon encountering the American supermarket he actually did encounter, the American supermarket of 14/50ths of a century ago?  Of course, short of traveling back to 1989 in a navigationally reliable TARDIS, kidnapping Mr Yeltsin immediately before he crossed the presumably automatic door-serviced threshold of that 1989 Houston supermarket, and immediately setting him before the still automatic door-serviced threshold of a 2019 Anytown (including Houston), USA supermarket, there is no way of determining the answer to this question.  But I would confidently and even smugly wager that to the extent that his attention was absorbed by every accoutrement of the 2019 supermarket other than the holdings of its shelves, he would have been inclined to ejaculate, “Slovo Bogu!-cum-Hot Dog! Our rich people back in the U.S.S.R. don’t know how bosh-darned lucky they are!”  But suppose—under the aegis of a thought experiment that somehow seems much more modest and low-budget than the preceding one even though it is predicated on an event that is not a jot more effectable than the construction of a navigationally reliable TARDIS –suppose, I say, that Mr Yeltsin, having visited the Houston store in 1989, were still alive today and somehow, for some reason, amenable to paying a follow-up visit to the typical American supermarket of 2019.  Is it not at least a smidge conceivable that upon taking in the slatternly-cum-n****dly state of customer service in this store he would now ejaculate something to the effect of “Bozhe Moi!-cum-Svyatoyo Govno! What have they been doing to their poor people?”—the poor people in question now being us gormless American consumers and the they being the congeries of rogues, megalomaniacs, louts, vampires, imbeciles, nincompoops, and f**k-ups now in charge of our most powerful and prestigious commercial concerns.  Of course, it is not a smidge less conceivable that he would be virtually or entirely blind to the evidences of decline in customer service since 1989 owing to his ocular captivation by evidences of the indisputable concomitant increase in the range and quantity of products on display; by, say, the quintupling of the number of shelves devoted to bread, and the number of varieties thereof from, say, 5 to 25 and 50 to 250, respectively, and the emergence of entire aisles devoted to products that were entirely absent in 1989—to kimchi, quinoa, larb, poutine, and huîtres de montagne (much as one aches here to rib Yeltsin’s notorious dipsomania via a mention of an actual wall of 99 bottles of beer or, doubtless more appropriately, vodka, one’s knowledge of the heterogeneity of so-called blue laws in this country precludes one’s assuaging this ache in good faith).  But is it not equally not a smidge less conceivable that, having taken due and comprehensive ocular stock of this superaddition of superabundance, BNY would yearn for the comparative simplicity and traditional American-ness of the 1989 store—this out of a combination of incuriosity about or outright aversion to the newly introduced products (“What, after all, is this quinoa but a poor muzhik’s kasha, and this kimchee but a rat-svoloch’s borsch?”) and a suspicion (one perhaps nurtured by parallel developments in the by then-thoroughly privatized post-Soviet Russian consumer sector) that the proliferation of varieties of the old products had been attended by a decline in their overall quality?  Or suppose, in an equally infeasible if likewise non TARDIS-exacting scenario, that Mr Yeltsin had paid his first visit to an American supermarket not in the late 1980s but in the early 1960s, a microepoch wherein even the twice-aforementioned super-Sovietophobe Barry Goldwater was obliged and possibly even fain to aver that everyday life behind the so-called Iron Curtain, although still palpably lagging behind its counterpart in front thereof in point of the abbondanza of its consumerist smorgasbord, was on the whole eminently bearable and constantly improving: may we not plausibly conjecture that in such a scenario the then-perforce barely trentagenarian Mr Yeltsin, although doubtless even more decisively bowled over (or, perhaps rather, positively floored, if decisive-overbowling be a logically insuperable threshold) by the complaisance and sartorial regimentation of the staff (the humblest of whom, to extrapolate backward from my own experience as a bagboy, must have been required to wear three-piece suits, if not instantiations of that white Eton-jacketed modification of men’s full evening dress sported by all bellhops and bartenders in pre-World War II Hollywood movies) than his non-counterfactual 1989 counterpart, would have been at most very mildly impressed by the selection and presentation of products, that at the sight thereof he would have merely shrugged and muttered (rather than outright ejaculated), “Go-gum [this either in accommodation of the Russian language’s lack of the aitch-phoneme or in encouragement of the aspirations of the Soviet State’s umpteen times-aforementioned flagship supermarket chain]!  We will bury you in soup-cans soon enough.”  Admittedly the present writer, having been born in the early 1970s, has not been privileged (and in this case he does not hesitate, however commonsensically unwarrantably, to term the counterfactual term of duty in question a privilege rather than a mere non-violation) to work in any capacity in an early-1960s American supermarket, but he flatters himself that he has seen enough still-photographic and cinematic representations of American supermarkets of that microepoch to form a kind of composite image of the layout and inventory (albeit not, as previously acknowledged, of the personnel-comportment) of such a supermarket, and that image, while certainly appealing enough to the present writer, who would be content to live on cold baked beans on untoasted Wonder Bread (while other brands of white bread are certainly available, none has been so thickly and well nigh-irremediably blackened by the tar-brush of whiteness as the bad-old polka-dotted WB) for the rest of his natural provided he could wash it (or them) down with plenty of booze (and the booze can be Everclear chased with Hamm’s for all he cares), is certainly no trans-epochally alluring poster supermarket-child for the consumerist wonders made available by so-called free-market capitalism.  Take (as if you had a choice, tovarishch!) as an example the Texan (albeit not specifically Houstonian) supermarket frequented by George Peppard in the 1960 Vincente Minelli-directed and Robert Mitchum-starring pork opera Home from the Hill.  Its aisles are almost impassably cramped, its products piled up au hasard (emphatically not to be confused with willy-nilly) either in shapeless heaps or, where occasionally (i.e., in the case of boxed and canned goods) possible, makeshift pyramids.  Its perishable readymade section would appear to consist solely of a dwarf armoire-sized freezer stocked with nothing but personal-sized frozen pizzas—evidently, to judge by Peppard’s decidedly unballetic hefting of his weekly quota thereof into his trolley, those of the petrified-crusted sort that are now to be found only in the frost-burnt back-corners of low-slung, top-opening oblately orientated coolers in the most down-market liquor stores and off-licenses offering a smattering of groceries qua booze-absorbent for the substantial proportion of their clientele habitually too soused to stagger even to the nearest convenience store or corner shop, let alone supermarket.  But I digress.  Or do I?  For the ineluctable salience of the Home from the Hill supermarket scene qua succedaneum for firsthand experience of American supermarkets of the early 1960s uncannily both anticipates and ratifies the principal mode of persuasion that I have all along been determined, for lack of a more compelling alternative, to employ in my argument in favor of a planned economy on the Soviet model—namely the argumentum a picturis moventibus or argument from movies.  The name of this argumentum almost says it all, but not quite; whence the following explication: I am going to attempt to persuade the reader that life under a planned economy is preferable to life under an unplanned one by citing scenes from movies produced under the auspices of the most successful thoroughly planned economy in human history so far (remember: the present Chinese model, being only strategically planned, does not count)—viz., the Soviet Union-ian one.  The employment of such an argumentum is of course and as they say fraught with difficulties (or dangers [I am unable to determine which fraughteur is more applicable in this case]), the stickiest and most ineluctable of these being that of being mistaken by some intellectual-lumpen proletarian f**k for a clinically infantile imbecile who has not yet learned, and presumably never will learn, that there is a difference between the movies and real life; who assumes, for example, that Star Wars is a documentary presentation of certain military transactions that actually took place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; that there are genuine accredited old-school British public schools that award diplomas in non-pointy-hooded wizardry, and that the likes of Nicole Kidman, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Brett Gelman are competent actors [one must always round out such a snarky triplet with such an utterly unprepared, differently veined snarky sub-triplet (whose third member must in turn be someone not particularly famous who is in any case not at all notorious for the stigmatized shortcoming {albeit genuinely long-overdue for stigmatization therefor})]; and the second stickiest and ineluctable one being that of being mistaken by some intellectual petit-bourgeois f**k for an actionably hyperignorant ignoramus who has yet to learn (and yet someday may learn [i.e., via a lecture {the ineluctability of which leads me to ponder whether this difficulty or danger is not after all the first-stickiest}]) that those in charge of the Soviet Union’s film industry were not absolutely disinterested promulgators of an absolutely objective and candid view of everyday life in their country.  It is fraught with such difficulties or dangers, and yet one must soldier on like whatever stereotype of plucky military fortitude is most appropriate in this setting (for in the first place, I am unsure whether an American or Soviet stereotype is preferable herein; in the second, I am unsure which historical micro-epoch to pluck this plucky fellow from; and finally, and most materially, I am almost completely unschooled in the argotic lexicon from which stereotypes of plucky military fortitude must be plucked), albeit not before obligatorily albeit undoubtedly futilely chucking into one’s intellectual lumpen proletarian and petit-bourgeois adversaries’ shared armored tank-path the puny (yet plucky) grenadic remonstrations that all-too-candid glimpses of the local historical circumstances of a movie’s production are often afforded in diametric defiance of its so-called production team’s intentions and that these glimpses tend to become more frequent, more vivid, and more gaping with the passage of time.  In the mid-twentieth-century eyes of Mr. Minelli &co. the frozen pizzas at the Home from the Hill supermarket were merely and entirely metonyms of feckless bachelorhood, the feckless bachelorhood of the George Peppard-portrayed wastrel whose fetchingly femininely undersized trolley they threatened to overflow; in our early twenty-first-century eyes they are merely and entirely synecdoches of the appallingly primitive state of mid-twentieth century ready-meal technology.  Of course, Home from the Hill, unlike the films I am about to consider, was the product of a privately rather than governmentally owned cinema studio, but this distinction is of far less material heft than the typical intellectual petit-bourgeois Anglo-Saxon Russo-ignoramus would suppose, for in general and at bottom the makers of movies in the U.S.S.R. were no more interested in or dedicated to celebrating the supposed wonders of Communism than their Hollywood counterparts were in or to celebrating the wonders of Capitalism; rather, like those counterparts they were mainly interested in and dedicated to entertaining their viewers via the combination-cum-alternation of slapstick, tragedy, farce, melodrama, suspense, sex, historical period-knick knackery, etc., such that even the original viewers of their productions would not in general or at bottom have regarded them as advocating any specific political or political-economic program.  And this consideration impels me to issue yet another caveat before I press onto my conspectus proper—namely, that this conspectus is going to be something of an analogue of the famous Seinfeldian (or, rather, Kramerian) coffee table book that is itself a coffee table, inasmuch as a movie, being every bit as much of a staple consumer product as a disposable razor and a photocopier, cannot help likewise serving as a synecdoche for whatever political-economic system under whose auspices it was manufactured, and hence cannot help redeeming that system to the extent that it, the movie, has been well-made or damning it to the extent that it has been poorly made; and I have found the products of the Soviet cinema to be very well-made indeed, and although of course the proof of the cinematic popcorn (or its U.S.S.R.-ian equivalent [regrettably I cannot now call to mind what, if anything, any of the viewers were eating in the sub-handful of Soviet-made depictions of a Soviet cinematic audience that I can now call to mind]) is ineluctably in the viewing, I flatter myself that my accounts of these flicks alone will convey a sense of the technical finesse with which they are uniformly instinct.  This is not to say that I am going to be implying that even a minority—let alone all—of them are so-called great works of art, but merely that I am not going to have occasion to draw attention to any facet or element of any of them that would seem outré or bungling or otherwise off-putting in the setting of a canonically classic Hollywood movie.  Pace the protestation to the contrary implied by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s motto (at least vis-à-vis its 15 to 20 percent share of the films made in Hollywood before, say, 1970), even the most justly critically acclaimed films in the classic Hollywood canon—your Citizen Canes, your Vertigos, your Nutty Professors, etc.—are highly or deeply problematic sub specie the in-itself highly problematic category or concept called art, and the highpoints of the Soviet cinema are no less problematic sub eadem.  Like even the very best classic-epochal Hollywood films, even the very best Soviet films may be impugned for pandering to an essentially petit-bourgeois Weltansicht, a Weltansicht according to whose lights the social ties emerging from and feeding into the so-called nuclear family are the measure of all things, such that any shortcoming in or of the world is ultimately and solely redeemable and reparable via the rectification or reinforcement of such ties—by, essentially, the saving of a parent’s, spouse’s, or child’s life; a reconcilement with a parent, spouse, or child whose life is unsalvageable; or the replacement of an unsatisfactory parent, spouse, or child with a satisfactory surrogate.  (Perhaps not quite needless to say, the entire purportedly dark-cum-subversive strain of American cinema-cum-television [i.e., the noir-cum-gangster strain] from Beast of the City to Breaking Bad boils {hardly} down to a single tireless and tiresome stump speech in favor of the third and last mode of rectification-aut-reinforcement.)   Not that the present writer wishes to be taken to be tendering the antithetical thesis that the nuclear family and its near kindred are intrinsically utterly worthless, but merely that he wishes it to be observed that history has shewn that humankind is at the mercy of forces (yes, forces largely of its own making [oh, the pathos!]) that cannot be evaded by hunkering down within the nuclear-familial bunker, and that since probably ca. 1917 and certainly since 1945 (sic on the absence of the circa) the discrepancy between the magnitude of these forces and the minitude of the nuclear familial-fetishism has been nothing short of laughable.  The paleo-ancients—in whose calcified ranks I include all human beings deceased between the dawn of recorded history and the first French Revolution, the one of 1789—thoroughly understood both the intrinsic limitations of the nuclear family and the nature and scale of the forces then impinging upon it—whence the unabashed wrangling over jointures, annuities, half-pay commissions and the like in their memoirs, plays, and novels; the neo-ancients, i.e. the Biedermeierians and Victorians, while aware to some extent of the forces then impinging thereupon (i.e., those of revolution and repression), by withdrawing into the nuclear family qua cocoon-cum proto bunker allowed certain others (e.g. and above all, consumerist commodity fetishism) to germinate and burgeon under their noses; and the moderns, the post-ca.-1917ers, carry on an unprecedentedly sanctimonious charade of the sacrosanctness of family life while brazenly pretending certain of the impinging forces (e.g. and above all, the threat of thermonuclear annihilation) are not in play at all and allowing certain others (e.g. and above all, consumerist commodity fetishism) to stay in the master bedroom of the family domicile free of charge.  In Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell represented the nuclear family of the future as one wherein children would be rewarded by the State for catching their parents out in minute lapses in patriotism, and in this, as in so many other registers and respects, Mr Blair (as I must call him, for a mere pen-name ought never to be granted the civilities exacted as a matter of course by the legal name of a tax-paying citizen or subject) was painfully lengthily behind the times—not, as one inevitably assumes, vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and other supposedly totalitarian polities, but rather vis-à-vis the entire greater Occident, in which the child qua domestic Fifth Columnist had been a demographically significant phenomenon since at least the 1920s—not, to be sure, qua mole of the State but qua whip of a no-less-imperious entity, namely, youth-orientated fashion.  At some point during that decade, one of the major American newspapers published a feature headlined something at least very close, and possibly identical, to “The Flapper’s Apologia,” wherein a young woman, a self-identified member of the factitious tribe of flappers and espouser of the factitious flapper modus vivendi,  self-righteously apostrophizes her parents in defense of her predilection for wearing her hair very short or bobbed, dancing the so-called Charleston, and so on—mainly or perhaps exclusively on the grounds that this is just the way things must be from now on and that if they, Mom and Dad, have any reservations about it, they had best keep them to themselves, lest they should be not merely figuratively trampled to death by the ineluctable and irreversible course of history (one wherein presumably flapperdom at length becomes the modus vivendi of every man, woman, and child in the world à la that Mr. Show sketch in which a cadre of 1970s so-called streakers envisages a version of the 1990s wherein everyone is perpetually naked like themselves [and wherein, naturally, they themselves qua pioneers in the streaking revolution are at the top of the socioeconopolitical totem heap]).  And by 1950, only a year after the publication of Orwell’s swansong-cum-greatest hit, David Riesman (q.v.) could report on this sort of imperious adolescent bumptiousness as an absolutely mainstream American sociocultural phenomenon, as the signature-cum-vanguard exemplar of his long abovementioned flagship sociocultural phenomenon, other-directedness.  He wrote of parents servilely vying with their children’s school chums for compliance in even the traditionally most non-negotiable departments of their everyday domestic lives; of publicly impassable justices of the peace and captains of industry being outflanked on the domestic-management front by bubblegum-popping Perry Como and Frank Sinatra-affecting teenyboppers.  With homebred friends like these, one assuredly did not need—and indeed still does not need—enemies implanted from abroad-cum-on high.  Quasi-ironically yet completely unsurprisingly, and Orwell-debunkingly, paterfamiliases and materfamiliases on the other side of the so-called Iron Curtain were most likely on the whole less subject to this sort of domestic subversion, given first that, except perhaps during the so-called NEP period of the late 1920s, sycophantic loyalty to the Soviet Communist Party was never exactly hip, and second that their bairns were less mercilessly exposed to (or more mercifully insulated from) youth-orientated pop so-called culture than their hyperoccidental counterparts—at least until the late 1960s, when the State-owned Melodiya record label foolishly began pressing their own editions of platters by the likes of the Beatles and the Monkees, whereupon every Soviet citizen over 30 was effectively instantaneously transformed into a hypo-occidental Archie or Edith Bunker; and thence it was an easy transition to the god-awful likes of Billy Joel performing to an idolatrous crowd of a butcher’s-score-thousand in downtown Moscow, and thence further to the god-awful collapse of the entire Soviet system of life.  But I am getting ahead of myself, way ahead of myself; or perhaps, rather, way behind myself, in which case it will not be amiss to restate my point about the shared petit-bourgeois orientation of the Soviet and Hollywood cinemas in the phraseology of the Sting song quoted near the very beginning of this essay: the super-subtextual upshot of a typical Soviet movie, and indeed almost all Soviet movies, is simply that the Soviet Russians (and their fellow citizens in the non-Russian F.S.S.R.s) loved their children too.  The present writer, suffering as he does perhaps more acutely under the tyranny of the of petit-bourgeois ethos than any of his contemporaries on the almighty dirt-ball, cannot but regard this upshot eo ipso as a demerit of, a black eye on, a strike against, the Soviet cinema; at the same time, qua champion of the Soviet way of life he cannot help being grateful to it qua instance in proof that even when most materially beholden to the Soviet State and most abjectly duty-bound to champion or at least not undermine its official agenda, the Soviet Russians et al. were no more obsequious to the powers that officially were (or, perhaps, rather, be’d) than their hyperoccidental contemporaries; at the same time-prime qua that selfsame champion, he cannot strongly enough emphasize that what he will be looking to emphasize ever so strongly in his conspectus of these movies will not be their political sins and virtues—whether of omission or commission—but rather their aura of a way of life that is more pleasant, even more gemütlich, than any of its counterparts elsewhere before, then, or since at both the most fine-grainedly and coarse-grainedly creature-comfortly resolutions; and at the same time-sub-prime, he cannot but grudgingly acknowledge that the creaturely-comfortly comforts brazenly advertised by the first, because chronologically earliest (Do you want to make something of my prima-vista hyper-pedestrianness in opting for a chronological organization of my material non-DGR?  If so, save that something for its postscript, when it will be more apparent whether that something has legs, wings, or your alternative propulsive member of choice) movie in his conspectus, 1957’s The Cranes Are Flying, are difficult to disentangle from its no less brazenly advertised political virtues of omission.  By which I meantersay that…well, perhaps the most concise, most punch-packing way of putting it (albeit that some not-uncircumstantial unpacking of that selfsame punch will perforce have to follow its delivery) is to say that The Cranes Are Flying is the second-best human interest-orientated non-documentary movie about World War II ever made.  Hyperoccidental chauvinists will of course assume that I have relegated The Cranes Are Flying to this argentine or three(?)-star rank in deference to From Here to Eternity, but I have done no such thing, inasmuch as according to my lights, such as they are, From Here to Eternity is at best the third-best such movie (for it may after all be outranked by Mrs. Miniver), the first-best undoubtedly being Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood.  Why, then, have I not—if not in deference to textual economy (a supposed virtue to which the present screed, in now exceeding the single-spaced 100-page mark, has patently already long since bidden defiance) at least to intellectual vanity, the vanity of one who notoriously (at least in the doubtless empirically nonexistent eyes of anyone who has read his publicly available non-translational corpus in its entirety) prides and preens himself above all else on his presence of mind (Besonnenheit)—opted to discuss Ivan’s Childhood in place of The Cranes Are Flying in this conspectus?  Why, simply because at bottom the entire Tarkovskian oeuvre, whether regarded en bloc or film by film, evinces a different Weltansicht and points up a different truth or fact about Russia (and, yes, specifically Russia; not the Soviet Union) than the one to be spotlighted in the present conspectus, and will therefore be addressed (touch would) in a separate conspectus. Ivan’s Childhood is first and foremost and at bottom about the disruptive effects of war in general—or of a war that is only contingently the Second World One–on a specifically Russian psyche, Weltansicht, and system of life.  The Cranes Are Flying is first and foremost and at bottom nothing but a film about the disruptive effects of a particular war, the Second World War—or as it was known in the Soviet Union (and probably still is, not only in Russia but also in all the other former F.S.S.R.s, even the most Russophobic ones), the Great Patriotic War—on the purportedly organically natural rhythms of a single typical Soviet, and most assuredly not specifically Russian, family; and such being the case, the likes of From Here to Eternity, in touting for the viewer’s sympathy via the diffuse presentation of the heterogeneous vicissitudes suffered by a motley passel of non-consanguinous blokes, or even Mrs. Miniver, in taking as its eponym the consort of a latter-day rural grandee and consequently devoting a goodly portion of its footage to the miseries of that eponym’s extended Umwelt, cannot hold a candle petit bourgeois human interest-wise to Cranes.  Both its dramatis personae and its plot are simple to the point of delivering a two or middle-finger salute to the very notion of the necessity of a synopsis (not that a synopsis can be entirely forgone or hence will fail to materialize to the right of the next colon): a beautiful young Muscovite couple are presumed to be engaged when war is declared against Germany.  The male of the couple, being both a model plyer of some unspecified trade and a model patriot, enlists in the army, leaving the female, after her parents are conveniently (albeit, to be fair, doubtlessly not improbably) killed off in an air raid, obliged to lodge with her fiancé’s family.  The dude, having been posted to some god-awful mud-pit, is fatally wounded in a trice, but in the final half-minute before his expiration, he dreams of the now-never-to-be wedding to his beloved Squirrel (an endearment by which he has repeatedly addressed his sweetheart before their parting), and the dream is conveyed to the viewer in a panoramic slow-motion sequence with all the appropriate hymenal fixins (blindingly white wedding dress, sober but impeccably well-fitting groomish attire, perspective-defying lines of applauding guests, etc.) that would not fail to jerk a veritable cataract of tears from pre-visitational Scrooge himself, were he as ancient as cold-balled Nestor himself at the time of the viewing.  So forceful an impression did this sequence [along, perhaps, with certain allegedly spectacular sequences in his Castro’s-flesh-cigar-puffing pseudo-documentary I Am Cuba {which the present writer freely owns he has not seen owing to his allergy to all non-gustatorily oriented things Latin- American}] make on viewers on both sides of the old Icey that Cranes’s director Mikhail Kalatozov went on—not as a defector, mind you, but as a loyal and unrepentant ankle tag-sporting Soviet citizen—to direct an expensive English-language (albeit Soviet and Italian-financed) cinematic Zep-opera called The Red Tent, starring Sean Connery and Peter Finch and featuring its own slow-motion whirligig connubial pre-death dream sequence—only this time against the diagetic backdrop of politically unclaimed Arctic snow rather than Soviet-Russian (or perchance Byelorussian, Estonian, autc.) mud.  But to take up again the thread of the plot-synopsis of Cranes: meanwhile, i.e., since Squirrel’s endomicilement at her prospective in-laws’, her fiancé’s draft-dodging brother, a purportedly promising piano student, has been aggressively and unsuccessfully courting her.  When an air raid leaves him, her, and his concert grand piano alone together in the familial apartment, he decides not to take No (now underscored by a succession of unambiguous face-slaps) for an answer any longer.  Very little in the way of immediate interpersonal contact—let alone explicitly sexual contact—is shown, and yet thanks to a deft intercutting of shots of the pianist’s face with shots of both the piano keyboard and Squirrel’s face, the viewer immediately perceives what is happening.  Now, while I by no means wish to make light of the calamity obliquely depicted in this scene—which is as ineluctably bone-chilling as the above-described wedding-montage is ineluctably tear-eliciting—I must aver that for the purpose of the present argument the chief element of interest in it is its presentation of the rapist’s piano, specifically of the portion of it just above and at a right angle to the keyboard (no diagram I have been able to get hold of seems to think this piano-part worthy of a name), on which the maker’s mark of STEINWAY AND SONS can be seen and read in full and in daylight-bright illumination (courtesy, within the film’s diagesis, of the German Wehrmacht) multiple times.  Such brazen showcasing of an American proprietary name in a Hollywood blockbuster from, say, the late 1970s onwards, would be instantly flaggable as product placement and transparently up-chalkable to a payoff from the named corporate entity.  This showcasing’s presence in a Soviet movie of the late 1950s is less easy to flag and upchalk, at least by hyperoccidental eyes of the late 20teens.  The pedestrian academic champions of Cranes, who regard it principally as a skillful adaptation and streamlining of the techniques of Italian neo-realism, have doubtless accounted for this presence to their own satisfaction as a bare registration of the global prestige of the Steinway brand as a metonym of pianistic excellence.  The dude, so these PACs (no DGRs they, let it be said!) must have reckoned, is supposedly an accomplished pianist, and so new-model Italian neo-realism demands his playing a Steinway concert grand, an instantiation of the most highly regarded brand of piano; if he were supposedly instead, say,an accomplished yo-yo-ist, he would have to be seen slinging a Duncan Imperial, an instantiation of the most highly regarded brand of yo-yo--and there’s an end on’t.  The present writer tends to agree with these conjectural PACs that within Cranes’s historically straitened intentional horizons, the emblazonment of STEINWAY AND SONS is meant to serve as such a metonym, and he will even go so far as to throw to them a doubtless unlooked-for bone in support of their boneheadedly formalist thesis in the form of a conjecture that the emblazonment was received as exactly and nothing but such a metonym by the cinemagoers of not only 1957’s Moscow, Leningrad, East Berlin, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, etc. but also of 1957’s New York, St. Petersburg (Fla.), Milan, Dieppe, etc.; but he emphatically disagrees with them that there’s an end on’t, for the simple and eminently respectable (if prima vista hyper-pedestrian) reason(s) that Cranes has been watched on both sides, and later former sides, of the old Icey, since 1957, and the semiology of pianism has undergone some pretty seismically significant changes over the course of that half-century.  Suppose one were making a movie about or at least including a promising young pianist now, in 2019, in any corner of the almighty dust-ball.  Would one then show that promising young pianist playing an unmistakably Steinway and Sons-manufactured concert grand in the family living room in Poughkeepsie,  Jodhpur (a city perhaps better known by its unshakable nickname of Hitlerhose), Addis Ababa, or, indeed, Moscow, et al.?  Most likely one would not, and not at all because Steinway and Sons is an iota less prestigious a piano manufacturer than it was back then (for if anything it is even more prestigious to the tune of several mega-iotas), or because Steinway and Sons would not be an iota less grateful for the publicity (for if anything, &c., mutatis mutandis), but rather because unless the promising young pianist happened to be the son or daughter of an Emir, oil-oligarch, Hitlerhosen-manufacturing magnate, or some other sort of person worth more than the combined GDPs (not that this invocation of GDP qua financial yardstick constitutes anything like an endorsement by the present writer of GDP qua purported noumenon) of, say, the world’s poorest countries, he or she would not be likely to have the usufruct of a Steinway concert grand at home.  Most likely, indeed, he or she would be habitually tickling the ivories of a wee spinet piano manufactured by some humble Midwestern-headquartered firm with insufficient means to secure so much as a microsecond of name-exposure, or an untuneable upright grand turned out by some long-defunct firm a century-and-a-quarter ago, or at best a baby grand of almost comparably obscure—and hence well-nigh comparably impecunious—provenance to that of the wee spinet, or at most efficiently and hence super-most likely, some sort of closet-storable touch-sensitive electronic keyboard manufactured by some company like Yamaha or Casio that had (or has) its fingers in so many product-lineal pies that it would not have been statistically likely (or would not bother) to single out this particular one for onscreen flogging.  In other words-cum-in short, a Steinway concert grand, despite being the ideal vehicle for the cultivation and exhibition of his or her talents, is evidently not affordable by the average promising concert pianist of 2019 in even the most supposedly hyperdeveloped precincts of the supposedly hyperdeveloped world.  And yet, if Cranes is to be believed, a Steinway Concert grand was affordable by the average promising Soviet concert pianist of 1941.  Carping Whiggish cavilers across the present hyperoccidental so-called political spectrum, from the most tight-sphinctered free-marketeering Tea Partyists to the most loose-sphinctered governmental money tree-mongering Corbinistas, will doubtless carp and cavil that the pianist in Cranes doubtless did not own the Steinway concert grand in diagetic question, that any such piano in any such setting doubtless would have been present merely as a long-term loan from the Soviet State, but such carping and caviling merely gormlessly carries my point over the finish line—for if the Soviet State was indeed willing to lend such an expensive piece of furniture out to one of its citizens on trust, and in the middle of a war jam-packed with furniture devastating air-raids, no less, it must have had a very high regard both for the trustworthiness of that citizen qua guardian of such an expensive piece of furniture and for the end to which that piece of furniture was to be applied (viz. the attainment of pianistic excellence); and, indeed, a much, much, much higher regard therefor than is presently evinced by any government or piano manufacturer in the hyperoccident.  But the Soviet system of life-redeeming virtue of Cranes’s showcasing of the Steinway and Sons brand name does not end here.  Oh no: for what vice (if a vice it indeed be) is the Soviet system of life most harshly vituperated for if not its abhorrence of both private enterprise and foreign-made products?  If the Soviet State at the time of Cranes’s production (or indeed of its setting, about fifteen years earlier [the distinction is not as important as it might initially seem, for reasons that the parenthetical nature of this passage precludes me from disclosing but that will be disclosed as soon as the thread of the extra-parenthetical argument permits]) had been chauvinistically dedicated to Communism in general-cum-Soviet economic autonomy in particular, it would at minimum have seen to the concealment of the name of the piano’s manufacturer and at a pinch would have replaced its Steinway and Sons with the Cyrillic-character’d name of some real or even fictitious Soviet-state pseudo-firm, a piano-manufacturing analogue to the pseudo MGM-analogue, Mosfilm, under whose quasi-factitious auspices Cranes was produced.  That it did neither such perfidious thing is proof of its high regard for realism in two senses—the aesthetic one celebrated by the aforementioned pedestrian cinephiles, and the popular-philosophical one that is virtually indistinguishable from the popular-philosophical version of pragmatism.  First to the popular-philosophical sense: doubtless the Soviet State was always aiming at complete meta-pianistic autonomy, at having even not only its promising young pianists but also its most accomplished old ones (Yudina, Gilels, Richter, et al.) performing on domestically manufactured pianos, but pending the attainment of this aim it evidently was willing to allow all its pianists from those of middling promise upwards to use Steinways rather than allow the development or exhibition of their talent to be impeded by substandard instruments.  And it seems inconceivable that by 1957—which was, after all, the year of Sputnik (and yet also and consequently, to be fair to my anti-Whiggish other hand, presumably also the year of the dawn of they-can-put-a-man-on-the-moon-but…-ism, a mini-school of thought for which the very notion of a State-industrially produced piano seems tailor-made to serve as an incorrigible, perennial whipping boy)—the Soviet State had not attained if not complete meta-pianistic autonomy (for I am virtually certain that the accomplished pianists played Steinways uninterruptedly until 1991 and beyond) then at any rate sufficient M-PA to allow its middlingly promising young pianists to make shift with mass-produced MOSKLAVIER claviers.  Yet even assuming such a middling meta-pianistic idyll had been achieved by 1957 (here is where realism in the second sense kicks in), when Mikhail Kalatozov &co. came to script and storyboard the mise-en-scène of the rape scene of Cranes, they refrained from availing themselves of a MOSKLAVIER piano out of their scrupulosity on the score of realism in the pedestrian cinephiles’ sense, on the score of showing WWII-time Moscow life as it had actually been lived, warts (or, perhaps, rather, in the case of such constituents thereof as Steinway concert grands, imported beauty spots) and all.  This impartial commitment to old-fashioned realism in the aesthetic sense is perhaps even more patently in evidence in the movie’s second half depicting Squirrel and her adopted family’s forced emigration from Moscow to some unspecified hinterland, where they work in a military hospital beset by all the torment and slenderness of means to relieve it typical of such a Soviet hospital during WWII, and where Squirrel eventually learns that her fiancé is dead from the man who saw him die.  And in the film’s final moment, its aesthetic realism is transfigured into a kind of epistemological magnanimity—for whereas at the conclusion of the typical war film of any political provenance or persuasion, or indeed in the peroration of any typical meta-military eulogy (think, for example, of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) the sacrifices of the dead are posited either as already redeemed or at least still potentially redeemable in virtue of upholding or propagating some lofty political ideal—the maintenance of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” for example, or in a specifically Communist context, a world in which “workers will enjoy the fruits of their own labor”—here, although there is a speech, one made by the fiancé’s comrade to a train platform crowded with people hoping—some successfully, others, like Squirrel, unsuccessfully—to welcome their husbands, fathers, et al. home from the War, that speech makes no promises of redemption; it promises, merely, that the dead will not be forgotten and that the Soviet people will do their utmost to prevent a war on such a death-exacting scale from ever again taking place.  In consequence, while Squirrel’s personal tragedy is indeed contextualized—put into perspective, as they say—by being juxtaposed with the personal tragedies of others, it is by no means transformed into a triumph through subservience to some cause of interest merely to the living, as death never should be but almost invariably is, in defiance of every survivor’s experience of bereavement.  In refusing to endorse the consolation afforded by such subservience, Cranes is far more realistic than even the allegedly most harrowing and uncompromising cinematic treatments of the Second World War produced in the hyperoccident.  Moreover, in making no mention of the Soviet Union’s main adversary in the War, either concretely or abstractly, either as Germany or fascism, Cranes’s concluding speech quietly but eloquently bespeaks an ethos of cosmopolitanism and latitudinarianism, one wherein war is decried for the damage and death it inflicts on human beings tout court rather than on those of specific polities or political philosophies.  Kalatozov’s next feature film, 1959’s Letter Never Sent, takes up this cosmopolitan-cum-latitudinarian thread by opening with a scrolled message reading, “To those who in any field of endeavor—be it in the settlement of wild, desolate lands on in the daring rush into space—follow in the path of the pioneers [i.e., the earliest discoverers and achievers in that field]—and to the Soviet people, this film is dedicated.”  Inter alia, this dedication effectively states, The Soviet people en bloc are important, to be sure, but they are less important than individuals of whatever polity who manage to extend humankind’s power over nature.  And the 95 minutes of utterly captivating footage that follow this message bear out the hierarchy implied by the dedication.  For Letter Never Sent you see, depicts the efforts of a quartet of Soviet scientists to find a diamond mine—not, as in hyperoccidental films on the same theme (e.g., notably, the Burt Lancaster-starring Rope of Sand), for personal enrichment but rather to further the disinterested cause of the exploration of outer space.  To this pocket-synopsis the hyperoccidental cynic will doubtless be inclined to retort, “Personal enrichment-versus-disinterested cause, schmersonal enrichtment-versus-schmisinterested cause!  This flick was made only two years after the launching of Sputnik, two years before Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth, and a full three years before John Glenn did—in other words, at a time when the U.S.S.R. reigned unchallenged in outer space and the Soviet State must have been ruthlessly exploiting every opportunity to crow about its extraterrestrial supremacy.”  Unquestionably LNS was made at such a crow-worthy juncture, and very likely the Soviet State was exploiting numerous crow-worthy opportunities, but as such opportunities go LNS is manifestly at best (or worst) a badly (or virtuously) underused one.  A strictly Soviet-regarding sentiment is given an airing only once in the entire film; namely, at the pivotal moment when, having at last found a source of diamonds, the four explorers are drinking a series of toasts, the first-proffered of which is, “To the liberation of our motherland from dependence on foreign diamonds!”—hardly an expression of the most aggressively imperialist of aims, and in any case it is immediately succeeded by a toast to the conquest of outer space that is couched in universally human terms.  What is more, as in Cranes, the bigger picture is always vying for pride of place with the characters’ immediate preoccupations with one another as fellow-subjects.  The leader of the expedition, Sabinine—played by Innokenty Smoktunovsky (whose surname, in being a virtual homophone of Smoked-enough-ski, positively begs for the composition of a Monty Python sketch pairing him with Eric Idle’s champion windbag Mr Smoketoomuch), who later played the title role in Kozinstev’s Hamlet, which in the present writer’s view vies with the same director’s King Lear for the accolade of best Cinematic Version of a Shakespeare Play Ever—is constantly thinking about his far-distant wife Vera and periodically apostrophizing her in a letter that he never gets an opportunity to post (whence the film’s title).  Meanwhile a far-from-bizarre (and therefore all the more painful) love triangle is simmering among the three remaining—and substantially younger—members.  Tanya (played by the Galina Kozhakina, the same marvelous actor who played Squirrel in Cranes) and Andrei (Vasili Livanov, an actor whose uncanny resemblance to the notorious 1990s television comedian Andy Dick unfortunately undercuts the present-day hyperoccidental viewer’s sympathy with him [though presumably the future hyperoccidental viewer, if such a being comes to be, will judge his performance more impartially]), met and fell in love while studying geology together at university and are now presumably engaged to be married, just like the central couple of Cranes.  The expedition’s beardy, burly, plain-speaking guide, Sergei (played by the perhaps not entirely aptly surnamed Yevgeni Urbanski) is also in love with Tanya, but she gives him no sign of reciprocating his affections.  Predictably, he takes his frustration out on Andrei, berating him for his eggheadishly scrawny physique and feeble constitution.  The scene of this tongue-lashing is worth singling out to the present-day hyperoccidental viewer (and indeed would have been worth singling out to a hyperoccidental viewer of 1959) because it shows that the Soviets were neither blind to the fact that the Revolution had failed to abolish class distinctions nor too politically house-proud to reveal this failure to the rest of the world.  Sabinine, Andrei, and Tanya are all examples of what were known during the Soviet epoch as intelligenti ([pronounced with a hard g and an accent on the final syllable] a word from whose singular form the thoroughly Anglicized word intelligentsia is derived), people earmarked by their heritage and education to perform intellectual rather than manual labor. It is unclear whether Sergei has had any scientific training or indeed any sort of university education at all; at any rate, the film makes it clear that he is valued principally for brawn rather than brains, and that this is something that he resents—unjustly, perhaps, but ineluctably nevertheless.  As in Cranes, the dynamic of frustrated suitor and uninterested suitee builds to a tête-a-tete éclat—this time not in an apartment but rather in a muddy pit where Sergei and Tanya are digging for diamonds.  Happily, here there is no assault; Tanya, inferring Sergei’s intentions from the miasmic glaze on his eyes, gently but sternly adjures him to take a break from his labors—which he contritely does, just in time (and here one cannot but marvel at Kalatozov’s sense of form) for Tanya’s discovery of the diamond Fundgrabe for which they have all been searching.  From this point onwards it ought to be smooth land-sailing for the quartet, as they have nothing further to do but radio for a plane to collect them qua carriers of a map marking the place of the discovery.  Unhappily, nature seemingly perversely throws them a curve-ball or googly in the form of a thunderstorm-induced forest fire that almost immediately kills off Sergei and renders their radio incapable of transmitting while pathetically allowing it to continue receiving, such that they are mercilessly bombarded by a torrent of unanswerable plaudits and queries from Moscow.  In a trice, the material bases of both the love-triangle and the fulfillment of the mission have been destroyed.  Soon fire qua nature’s executioner yields to snow and ice, which prompts a lame (and probably gangrenously)-footed Andrei, who wishes not to be burden, to set off on his own, leaving Sabinine and Tanya trudging on in search of a river that might take them to warmer climes.  In order to avoid perishing from exposure, the two of them are obliged to sleep pressed close against each other.  As they are both trying to fall asleep, Sabinine urges the understandably demoralized Tanya to recite the oath she took upon joining the Young Pioneers (i.e., either the Soviet Boy-cum-Girl Scouts or the Soviet Hitler Youth depending on one’s political persuasion, supposing one is not enough of a tiresome hyperoccidental pseudo-radical to void the field by regarding the Boy-cum-Girl Scouts as but an Anglo-Saxon offshoot of the actual Third-Reichian Hitler Youth).  She gets no further than “I swear, as a member of the Young Pioneers to…” before conking out.  The typical present-day hyperoccidental viewer, who has been taught by four generations of oversexed sitcoms and rom-coms to regard every scenario involving two people of mutually complementary sexual orientations as a life-and-death struggle against the urge to rip each other’s clothes off, and by six of decades of de facto Dulles-ism (a.k. in its less overtly sectarian form a. Orwellianism) to regard all things Soviet-Russian in provenance as sinister at best, will doubtless find Tanya’s and Sabinine’s chaste co-recumbency laughably lacking in verisimilitude (presumably in compliance with the prudish old prunes at the Soviet analogue to the Hayes Office), and Sabinine’s evocation of the Young Pioneers’ oath as but a chilling adjuration to the Soviet citizenry to sacrifice themselves to the State with lemming-like passivity; but in my Kalatozov-admiring eyes, K.’s presentation of the two elements in concert strikes an entirely plausible balance between—or, rather among—the three potentially mutually contentious claims of loyalty to one’s actual or prospective spouse, loyalty to one’s fellow-citizens (not qua fellow passive receptacles of the will of the State but qua fellow maintainers of what Samuel Johnson termed the system of life), and loyalty to oneself.  Sabinine and Tanya sleep together quite literally and chastely because each of them finds it the best way to prolong his or her own life; but the wish to prolong that life is partly bound up with the wish for reunions with their respective beloveds, and so they refrain from copulating; at the same time, not only as would-be re-seers of these beloveds but also as parties to a kind of contract with the Soviet people, they must at least try to check the suicidal impulse suggested by the quasi-Arctic environment in which they find themselves, the impulse simply to lie down uncovered in the snow and painlessly die of exposure—whence the calling to mind of the Young Pioneers’ oath.  In the end, Tanya’s contractual obligation to the Soviet people proves inadequate on its own to keep her pressing on: upon their discovery of a boot that proves almost beyond a doubt’s ombre that Andrei is dead, she pitches over dead herself in a fit of hysterical despair, as is quite fitting in a young person as ardently in love as she is, but it was also quite fitting in Sabinine-qua-Kaltozov mouthpiece (and also qua older person no less ardently in love after his own more hard-bitten fashion) at least to attempt to get her to entertain the notion that the realization of conjugal love is not the only thing worth living for.  But in his depiction of Tanya’s very last moment Kaltozov pulls back from an apotheosization of any sort of raison de vivre: we see the lids of her skyward-pointed eyes flutter in a final spasmodic assertion of biological defiance, then the camera cuts to what is being seen just then through those dying eyes of hers.  The engulfment of the mise en scène by treetops here makes it impossible not to draw a parallel with the very-end-of-life dream sequence in Cranes, but here the treetops neither spin nor dissolve into a montage of connubial bliss; rather, they simply tower statically and blearily overhead for a few seconds; then the camera cuts back to Tanya’s eyelids as they fall still.  In this movie love manifestly does not conquer all, even on the astral plane.  Like Countess Geschwitz in Alban Berg’s opera Lulu (though utterly unlike the same character in the play on which the opera is based), Tanya spends her penultimate moment grieving for her beloved, and yet, like Geschwitz’s, her final moment is vouchsafed to nature, death itself, or what have you, as it makes her a part of itself, absorbs her into its own indifferent quiescence.  But after Tanya’s death, the film’s dialectic of desire and obligation continues to play out as Sabinine presses on on his own, eventually finding the river and sailing, barely conscious, downstream on a makeshift raft; when he is just on the point of succumbing to starvation and exposure, his wife Vera appears to him in a vision and urges him to live not for her sake but rather for the sake of all those other Soviet citizens who are counting on him to bring home the map locating the diamond find.  And just after he seems to have closed his eyes for the final time, a helicopter discovers him; the viewer sees him lying prostrate and utterly still from his rescuer’s point of view for several seconds, at the end of which, though he gives no other sign of life, his eyes tentatively flutter open, whereupon he is lifted into the helicopter.  End of film.  According to my lights, this is a perfect ending, but I am sure every man Jack and woman Jill of my fellow hyperoccidental viewers will or already does disagree with me.  Either each of them will or already does view the diamond-finding mission from the outset as an irredeemable, ruthless cannibalization of infungible human individuals by the State, in which case they will or already do find Vera’s apparition not only sinister but outrageous and regard the ending as an affirmation of an outrageously antihuman, State-centered worldview.  Or, even supposing they have been broad-minded enough to swallow or set aside their Dulles-ism or Orwellianism for the picture’s duration and accordingly have come to regard the diamond-finding mission as worthwhile after a certain transnational pan-human fashion, they will see both Vera’s apparition and Sabinine’s survival as schmaltzy, saccharine betrayals of the transnational, pan-human essence of the mission.  But the present writer, while conceding that the apparition participates in the petit-bourgeois worldview whose pervasiveness in cinema of every national and political provenance he has already excoriated, is convinced that in association with Sabinine’s survival it inculcates a significant metaphysical and moral truth—namely, that in the absence of some thread of continuity of living experience, no human achievement at the material world’s expense can be regarded as an achievement at all, as something wrested from that world by the human will rather than quiescently yielded to it.  As Sabinine is presumably carrying the find-pinpointing map among his belongings, from a purely teleological point of view it is presumably a matter of indifference whether he survives or not, but insofar as the find is to be regarded not as one of a thousand inert and impassive pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of the Soviet Union’s conquest of space, insofar as some sense of the human cost of the find must be conveyed to the world, his survival is utterly indispensable.  To put this another way: Letter’s denouement epitomizes and apotheosizes the film’s main driving tendency to demystify the consumer commodity-like character of technological advancement through scientific discovery.  Such advancement, Letter argues, does not simply happen automatically, like the debouching of products from some endlessly self-retooling and self-perfecting rotbotized assembly line; rather, it invariably exacts great sacrifices of human energies and often involves confrontations with a hostile natural world that ultimately has the power to put paid to its human counterpart and that, because it is utterly impersonal and apparently insentient, cannot be propitiated.  On the whole, there is neither much use nor much virtue in belaboring the relevance of this argument to the hyperoccident of the late 20-teens, as it is an argument whose relevance was already in force on both sides of the SCIC at the time of the film’s production and has since perforce ripened with the inexorability not of a robotized self-improving assembly line, but, rather of a vintage port, and will doubtless continue to ripen until the last, and yet in some ways the strongest-heretofore, remaining pillars of commodity fetishism, those of the digital and medical sublimes, collapse (and indeed possibly not even then, if stronger pillars have been introduced in the meantime).  But in the light of a certain kind of synthetic hysteria that had not yet been discovered in 1959 but that now rages through the collective pseudo-political sensorium of the hyperoccidental pseudo-left with a virulence and perfervidness exceeded only by that HP-L’s scandalization at Vladimir Putin’s homophobia, namely the hysteria about so-called global warming, the starkness and historically transcendent character of Letter’s presentation of the Man-vs.-Nature conflict is potentially freshly instructive to the present micro-epoch’s tree-swiving environmentalist crypto-Whigs who would and indeed do lay all the blame for present and future natural-phenomenon-involving calamities at the feet of hyperoccidental consumers and policymakers, the selfsame tree-swivers who would have everyone believe that if only we had foregone air conditioning and refrigerated foods and carried our moldering groceries home in carrier bags woven out of our own pubic hair throughout the twentieth century, not a single human being or human-erected structure would have suffered the slightest inconvenience, let alone death or destruction, during or consequentially following a hurricane, flood, forest fire, blizzard—hell, why, not, as long as we’re on a roll?—earthquake, solar flare-up, or meteor-descent in the present millennium.  Eo ispo, the notion that since the year 2001, hurricanes, floods, etc. have been more frequent and severe than they would have been had emissions of various heavy-industrial effluvia been radically curtailed at some point closer to the beginning than to the end of the twentieth-century seems, if not indisputable, then at least highly gratifying and serviceable, to the present writer, who would like nothing more than to roll the clock of the conditions, forces, and relations of production back to 1788 A.D. at the most recent.  But the environmentalist crypto-Whigs do not stop at the maintenance of this notion; they would have us believe that every man, woman, et al. supposedly god-awful Jack, Jill, aut al. hyperoccidental born since ca. 1920 has been a kind of turbo-charged Prospero who can alter the global climate-scape at will, who can command the sea to drown entire continents or the sun to shrink-bake the earth into a desiccated tortoise-turd, merely by taking a shower of more than thirty seconds’ duration under a fixture dispensing water more forcefully than a dandelion-misting mister, or flushing a toilet while its flushing-handle is not yet utterly engulfed by a Devil’s Tower of feces.  In short, these environmentalist crypto-Whigs apparently have never even heard of, let alone ever believed in, the all-powerful lightning-and-elephant-commanding  Mother Nature whom hyperoccidentals of my micro-generation were taught, courtesy of a certain run of margarine commercials, that “it” was “not nice to fool”; in these crypto-Whigs’ view, premillennial nature was a sort of globally immanent Oliver Twist, an innocuous puny, abject waif of an urchin who never would have dreamt of raising a finger against humankind had not the latter ruthlessly turned it into its spreadeagled-buttocked kept boy by not only inventing but embracing the flush toilet, the high-pressure shower head, and the shopping bag made of materials less biodegradable than the customer’s own pubic hair (not that hair is all that biodegradable, a consideration that really ought to compel each and every environmentalist crypto-Whig to commit suicide in the as-yet-only-truly-bio-friendly manner by pitching himself or herself into the core of the nearest nuclear reactor).  I call these creatures crypto-Whigs because for all the doom-laden-ness of their rhetoric (N.B. In calling this rhetoric doom-laden I by no means wish to imply that it ever comes within shoe-clutching distance of the likes of Jeremiah, Ecclesiastes, and Jonathan Edwards in point of rhetorical sublimity), they regard the doom that is supposedly in store for us as counterfactually entirely avoidable by human ingenuity, because they regard human powers—or at least all hyperoccidentally originating human powers of more recent provenance than the mid-twentieth century—as both limitless and absolute, in the sense that those of an absolute monarch are theoretically supposed to be.  In their view the buck of every humankind-afflicting problem always stops at humankind itself, and no human being has any right to blame any share of his aut al.’s misfortune on any facet or aspect of the nonhuman world.  In their view, when a person drops dead of a heart attack at the age of 107, his decease is owing entirely to his having opted for a cholesterol-rich diet when he was in his teens or twenties [owing entirely in turn, of course, to a completely canny and calculated turning of a blind eye to the dangers of cholesterol by the governmental powers that then be’d {owing in turn to these governmental powers’ completely wide-eyed servitude to the chicken farming magnates, natch}], and not at all to his being 107.  Likewise, in their view, when a hurricane flattens a Caribbean village sited a micrometer above sea level, this is entirely owing to the fact that some eighty years ago a just now-deceased hyperoccidental 107-year-old flushed a toilet a microsecond too early after expelling from his bowels the remains of a cholesterol-rich egg sandwich and not at all to the fact that the village was sited a micrometer above sea level in the Caribbean.  Letter, I say, may as yet administer a corrective to such asininity in presenting nature as a force that attacks the film’s dramatis personae entirely without provocation.  For the forest fire that must ultimately be blamed for the deaths of three-quarters of the diamond-hunting quartet cannot by any means be construed as being caused by anything that any member of this quartet is doing beforehand; it is ignited not by, say, a manmade campfire set up too close to a tree, or by any other instrument accessible to human agency, but rather by the classic Jovean implement of a lightning-bolt from the sky.  Kalatozov would seem to have taken the utmost pains to drive home the point that these things sometimes just happen.  In the long term, the project with which the diamond-hunting quartet of Letter have associated themselves will doubtless involve the exploitation of the earth, and depending on how sizeable and extensive their find proves to be, it may even involve a version of exploitation that is more than negligibly environmentally destructive, but the puny exploratory incisions they themselves make in the earth in the course of their explorations are of no environmental consequence whatsoever, and only the most flakily unscientific of worldviews, namely some karma-centered version of Buddhism, can regard their fate as being in any way causally implicated in their material investigations.  A final point regarding Letter must be made before we move on to our next film, inasmuch as more nearly purely than any other film the present writer has encountered, it, Letter, seems to instantiate that much-maligned quintessentially Soviet tendency or quasi-school in art known as socialist realism.  The present writer is most familiar with the term socialist realism in the context of hyperoccidental-originating writings on Soviet music, most frequently certain quasi-hagiographic writings on the biographies and compositions of the Soviet Union’s two most illustrious composers, Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev and Dmitriy Dmitriyevich Shostakovich.  In these writings, socialist realism always figured, and presumably still figures, as a term of opprobrium, as a designation of the supposedly oppressive official artistic credo of the Soviet State, against whose pricks DDS and SSP were supposedly incessantly kicking.  Left to their own supposedly infallibly authentic artistic impulses, SSP and DDS wrote music that bore absolutely no trace of influence by socialist realist doctrine, as supposedly could be seen, and indeed heard, in this music’s unapologetic abstractness, its non-sporting of any title or program overtly evincing its interest in the lives of supposedly ordinary Soviet citizens, and in its unregenerate pessimism—i.e., effectively, inasmuch as both composers were operating within prevailingly diatonic sound-worlds, its predilection for minor rather than major keys.  When, and only when, supposedly pushed to the utmost verge of desperation by the threat of incarceration in the Siberian gulag, SSP and DDS wrote music that toed the socialist realist artistic-aesthetic line in bearing titles like “Song of the Forest” (along with a libretto extolling the Soviet State’s ordinary Soviet citizen-enabled efforts to plant umpteen-thousand acres of forest) and “Hymn to Stalin” (along with a text that requires no elaboration), and in being overwhelmingly upbeat and optimistic, even smugly triumphal, in its unvarying major-modedness.  Whether Letter Never Sent is officially or even unofficially regarded as an instantiation of socialist realism is unknown to the present writer.  For all the present writer knows, the movie may be celebrated by the cinephile cognoscenti as the most anti-socialist anti-unrealist movie of its microepoch, as a late-50s flick that makes Last Year at Marienbad look like Tibor’s Tractor, but inasmuch as during the year of its release Letter, like Cranes before it, was puffed like mad by the Soviet authorities and flocked to like a hotcake-superstore by the Soviet public, I cannot but conclude that at least according to all the then-available Soviet lights, it was a textbook example of cinematic Socialist Realism—this, indeed, despite its prevailingly downbeat, even tragic, tone, and despite all the hardship, misery, and death it presents as inalienably associated with all striving for the most marginal augmentation of the corpus of human knowledge or improvement in the conditions of human existence.  And such seeming to be the case, the present writer cannot but conclude that Socialist Realism has gotten something of a bum rap in the hyperoccident, that it was hardly ever about well-fed babushka-sporting babushkas contentedly bouncing their grandchildren on their knees as their children of both sexes merrily drove combine harvesters through mega-acres of chest-high 24-carat golden wheat; that it was, indeed, mostly about people of both sexes and all ages and walks of life trying their best to do something worthwhile in the face of always unpredictable and frequently disastrous contingencies–an artistic-cum-aesthetic ethos neither radically different from nor markedly inferior to not only that of Italian neo-realism (which often enough does tend to concentrate too narrowly and sentimentally on the peasantry and lumpen-proletariat) but also those of the so-called British New Wave and so-called New Hollywood, quasi-movements-cum-quasi-schools celebrated for their uncompromising grittiness.  But not to leave hanging out there or ungathered a certain matzoh ball or loose end that must not be left in such an embarrassing state despite its prima vista irrelevance to this cinematically orientated episode: the Letter-supported seeming fact that Soviet socialist realism was not an intrinsically and thoroughgoingly upbeat and triumphalist dogma or credo should not lead us to infer that in their prevailingly downbeat-cum-tragic compositions Shostakovich and Prokofiev were socialist realists malgré eux-mêmes (or at least malgré their hyperoccidental hagiographers), for even at its most downbeat, socialist realism—like British New Wave and New Hollywood—does fundamentally seek and find its telos in the world of living human beings, and while both composers’ oeuvres do contain a few works that manage to square a sense of tragedy with such a telos (one immediately thinks here, in Shostakovich’s case, of the Seventh and Eleventh Symphonies, and in Prokofiev’s of the Fifth Symphony and the music to Eisenstein’s film Alexander Nevsky), on the whole, the downbeat side of SSP and DDS participates in a completely different strain or strand of Russian aesthetics-cum-poetics, one that I shall address when I finally get around to discussing Tarkovsky &co. in the less wholeheartedly celebratory portion of this episode.  Inasmuch as for the present I am heck-bent on using Soviet movies qua building blocks of a case in favor of the Soviet Union qua relocation destination, I am obliged for that selfsame present to discuss an entirely different class or genre-constellation of Soviet films from those instanced by Kalatozov’s and Tarkovsky’s.  For both Cranes and Letter, like all of Tarkovsky’s films, place their characters in manifestly unquotidian settings—settings in which a routinized everyday life has been disrupted by the background events of the scenario (as in Cranes and the aforementioned Tarkovsky opus Ivan’s Childhood, in both of which the disruptor is of course the Great Patriotic War) or is simply absent as a given therefrom (as in Letter and Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which in many ways can be seen as a blokier and more overtly metaphysically orientated remake of Letter), and so for all their unsurpassable eloquence qua testimonials of the Soviet mind’s commensurability with the hyperoccidental mind in point of Empfindlichkeit and esprit de finesse, they neither furnish nor evince a case for the Soviet Union qua worthwhile place in which to live day in and day out for Vanya or Masha Stolichnaya qua everyday Stolichnaya-swillers rather than qua once-in-a-blue-moonish defenders of the Fatherland or out-sussers of precious natural resources.  Whence the necessity of turning to a cluster of movies that, while typically (although not by any means invariably) lacking the grandeur of Kalatozov’s masterpieces, present quotidian Soviet life in a light that is perhaps seemingly paradoxically both highly appealing and not fulsomely flattering.  In the main here I am perhaps unsurprisingly thinking of comedies, and even more in the main I am perhaps rather less unsurprisingly thinking of a class of comedies whose closest hyperoccidental near-counterparts would probably be described as farces—namely the Shurik films, so called after the name (whether forename or surname I cannot recall) of their shared recurring hero, a fairly nice-looking, good-natured, and bespectacled young man of variable hair color.  I suppose as a type Shurik would best be described in hyperoccidental terms as a schlemiel or nebbish or possibly even a fuck-up—that is to say, a fellow who is always getting into scrapes on account of his incompetence in some sphere or other (to attempt to preciser and enoble the type by describing it as a direct descendant of, say, Candide or Don Quixote [or indeed Chamisso’s Schliemel] will do it no favors, or perhaps rather more favors than it deserves, inasmuch as the provenance of the schlemiel autc.’s incompetence cannot be chained down to a specific character trait [e.g., naivety or undiscriminating magnanimity]).  The schlemiel autc. repeatedly fucks up on account of his stepping into an epistemological coverless manhole that you or I, the viewer, are understood to be far too savvy to step into, and that is all that you or I, the viewer, ever need to know about that coverless manhole).  As for the remaining set of paraphernalia of characterization that one expects as a matter of course chez a recurring character—viz., biographical particulars such as place of birth, course of education, history of love interests, and current occupation—they seem to be absent from the Shurik films.  In one of the three of these films of which I am aware, Shurik is a schoolteacher, in another an inventor, and in the third some sort of anthropologist.  (Of course, the hyperoccidental cinematic-cum-broadcasterly canon is chock-full of farce-series, most notably the entire Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields corpora, in which recurring actors repeatedly perform their familiar characteristic high-jinks under varying names and in varying uniforms.  But such series in which the name remains the same and the uniform is always changing are surely much rarer. Indeed, at the moment, I can think of only one—the BBC radio series Hancock’s Half-Hour, wherein the eponym-cum-hero would figure as a surgeon one week, an author the next, a deserter from the British Army in the next, a far-eastern potentate the next, etc.)  It would seem that the most specific thing that can be said about Shurik qua functional or dysfunctional presence in the Soviet world is that he is definitely an intelligent and not a proletarian—a fact that taken in concert with his schlemiel autc.-dom axiomatically affiliates all the Shurik movies with the not-necessarily grand hyperoccidental tradition of farces centering on incompetent eggheads, from The Absent-Minded Professor to the unspeakably god-awful Big Bang Theory, a tradition dedicated to convincing pig-stupid cum ignorant wastes of flesh that they are doing everything right in remaining pig-stupid cum ignorant wastes of flesh (and no, the tradition is not the fruits of some ignobly cunning attempt by the Havana-puffing fat cat-captains of industry and finance to keep these pig-stupid cum ignorant wastes of flesh in their supposedly productive place, but rather the fruits of an ignobly desperate [and doubtless ultimately doomed] attempt by the concerted forces of each and every person with more than half a brain in every walk of life to appease these pig-stupid cum ignorant fleshwastes’ unregenerate and potentially [and doubtless ineluctably] disastrously destructive unregenerate wickedness).  And yet again, it could be argued that at least at a grandly strategic (rather than locally strategic or grandly tactical) resolution, the resolution of the overall dramaturgical frame of the Shurik series, such as it is, Shurik is meant to stand as a poster boy for—i.e., positive representation of—a certain kind of egghead whom one thinks of as a marginal figure even in the hyperoccident, and is reflexively inclined to regard as a positively treasonous one behind the old Icey—namely, the crank, a brilliant eccentric who works on his own projects at his own pace and on his own time and sets aside an old project to work on a new one, or sets aside a new one to work again on an old one, as his inclination and sense of the respective intrinsic possibilities dictate—or, rather, genially and unperemptorily suggest.  At any rate, regardless of one’s political or meta-intellectual perspective, one cannot but somehow admire the resourcefulness or just plain good luck of a bloke who can get away with just setting aside or perhaps even throwing over completely his career as a schoolteacher to set off on a solo anthropological fact-finding expedition into the Caucasian hinterland or tinker away at his own prototype of a time machine in his Moscow apartment.  It is this second activity that one sees Shurik engaged in at the beginning of Ivan the Terrible (better, or, rather worse, known in the hyperoccident as Ivan Vasilyevich: Back to the Future, a title chosen by its official Soviet or perhaps post-Soviet publicists presumably on the bizarre quartet or double-duo of assumptions that hyperoccidentals are familiar with the Russian patronymic naming system, aware that Ivan the Terrible’s dad was fornamed Vasily (as if any of them even knew the name of George Washington’s dad [the present writer certainly doesn’t]), utterly enamored with or of the Back to the Future franchise, and yet so unattached to that franchise’s star and central character that they will snap up any presumptive installment of BttF even if it manifestly centers not on Marty McFly as played by Michael J. Fox but rather on some unfamiliar Russky played by some unknown Russky actor.  Anyway, as the juxtaposition of Ivan the Terrible and a cranky would-be inventor of a time machine doubtless has already intimated to the non-DGR, the central and pivotal plot-event of this Shurik movie is the transportation of that ruthless sixteenth-century tsar Eye the Tee into twentieth-century Moscow à la a medieval knight and his squire to twentieth-century Paris in Les Visiteurs, Genghis Khan to twentieth-century southern-Californian suburbia in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure or a thousand other uncouth historical figures to twentieth or twenty-first century London in one out of every three Doctor Who serials.  Naturally this transportation leads to all sorts of hilarious if potentially fatal misunderstandings of a sort whose virtual interchangeability with some episode in one of the hyperoccidental counterparts I have mentioned goes to show something that hyperoccidentals both then (i.e., the mid-to-late 1960s date of Ivan the Terrible’s release) and now points up a fact that now seemed and seem to be constantly forgetting despite its eye-bursting obviousness, viz. that at least in the texture of its day-to-day life, the Soviet Union was far more like twentieth-century France, Britain, and the United States than like fifteenth-century Russia (as indeed Russia today, together with at least most of the other former Soviet republics, is more like twentieth first-century France et al. than like fifteenth-century Russia).  But the most interesting facets of the film in the present context have nothing to do with these sorts of misunderstandings, or indeed with the Tsar-transportation plot at all except very tangentially, and they are interesting because they point up aspects of the texture of day-to-day Soviet life with which hyperoccidentals both then and now may very well have been and still be unaware.  For instance, in a subplot involving a pair of small-time crooks—and the mere fact that this Soviet-made movie countenances the existence of small-time crooks already bespeaks a certain liberal, socially self-critical outlook (for after all, in a perfect socialist society there would be no small-time crooks, inasmuch as everyone would be too satisfied with his or her lot to turn to a life of crime)–we see a shady character hanging about on a street corner fling open his long coat.  For the second or two before the camera cuts from a side to a frontal view, the viewer cannot help wondering: Is he exposing himself? It turns out that he isn’t—but again, the suggestion that he might be doing so was unmistakably there, which in itself suggests a certain liberal, socially self-critical outlook (for after all, in a perfect Soviet society, such a suggestion would not have been worth including, inasmuch as nobody would even have found that suggestion intelligible, inasmuch as nobody would have seen an exhibitionist in action, inasmuch as all sexual perverts would have been utterly reformed or, failing efforts at reforming them, securely institutionalized).  Anyway, it turns out that the man has opened up in order to display a generous selection of wristwatches pinned to the inside of both coat flaps.  So the reality that we are being presented with synecdochically here is a black market in luxury goods, presumably goods illegally imported from the execrable capitalist hyperoccident.  The existence of this black market is in itself no revelation: that there was such a black market in Soviet Russia, that indeed this market thrived there, was well known to us pre-1991 hyperoccidentals.  But we were also led to believe that this market was a black market in the fullest sense of the metaphor implied by the term–something that operated very much in the shadows, that was liable to severe prosecution, that simply did not exist as far as the Soviet media pretended to be concerned, and that we in the hyperoccident were aware of only because it was after all the business of our anti-Soviet media to dig up as much well-concealed dirt as they could on life behind the old Icey.  The presentation of this watch-vendor in Ivan the Terrible makes it patently clear that even Soviet officialdom must have regarded the domestic consumer-orientated black market as a conscionable illegality—regarded it, in other words, in much the same light as that in which even we hyperoccidentals’ most family friendly-minded movie producers regard and present such activities as marijuana-smoking and bootleg videogame-selling: while they by no means wish such activities to be thought of as utterly harmless, let alone downright wholesome or respectable, they would also never dream of representing them, á la heroin use or gun-running, as ineluctable depositors of their practitioners on to the high-speed conveyor belt ineluctably conveying them to an early death or lifetime incarceration.  The black-market watch-seller in Ivan the Terrible behaves with the same kind of measured furtiveness as is evinced by a hyperoccidental cinematic prospective high-school dropout smoking a joint under the bleachers of the football stadium during his lunch period: he would not dare to do what he is doing in broad daylight, but he also feels no compulsion to do it in a windowless basement in the dead of night, because he knows that nothing direly serious will happen to him even if he is caught; and the viewer, for his or her part, does not wish anything direly serious to happen to him, because although this dude is undoubtedly a rogue or knave he is most certainly not a full-fledged scoundrel or villain.  But Ivan the Terrible’s most—or, rather, I suppose, pending the coming to mind of other examples, more—muffled un-endorsement of the Soviet-period black market is issued surprisingly if not quite ironically during the part of the film set in the extremely pre-Soviet sixteenth century, wherein the two abovementioned small-time crooks find themselves at Tsar Ivan’s court and naturally end up coping with the folkways of olden times as bunglingly (Yes, yes, yes—à la Bill and Ted’s “‘Put them in the iron maiden.’ ‘Iron Maiden?  Excellent!’ ‘Execute them.’ ‘Bogus.’”) as their imperial counterpart copes with those of modern ones.  Anyway, at some point during this episode the duo perform some sort of song-and-dance routine (convention or official fiat seems to have required the inclusion of at least one song in every Soviet comedy of this period [for both of the other two comedies I shall consider include at least one]; while this requirement was indisputably naff and seldom even slightly ingratiatingly fulfilled, it must be remembered that it did not originate in the Soviet Union, for the first decade of Hollywood talkies is rife with otherwise un-musical-esque comedies [e.g., The Cocoanuts, The Big Broadcast, and International House] padded out with largely or utterly dramaturgically gratuitous interludes showcasing the vocal talents of famous crooners, blues-belters, or opera singers), at the beginning of which the trouser-wearing member of the pair is standing front and center and initially seemingly unaccountably giving a very small object pride of mise-en-scènic place by holding it just above the bottom edge of the frame and keeping it there for more than several seconds (the effect is uncannily close to that of SCTV’s Dr. Tongue presenting a stack of pancakes to the camera, minus the forward-and-backward motion and Bernard Hermann-esque instrumental accompaniment).  The hyperoccidental viewer initially has no idea of what this object could possibly be—or, rather, has every idea of what it necessarily must be but quashes this idea with the supposition that it must be something else, because of course the idea that in this setting it actually could be what he supposes it to be is just too absurd; but upon scrutinizing the object with the steadiness and thoroughness amply afforded by the camera, he concludes that it cannot but be a so-called hard pack of Marlboro Red cigarettes (and indeed not some Soviet knock-off thereof, for the familiar spindly serif Roman characters can be discerned against the background of its non-red portion).  The doubtless empirically nonexistent reader who happens to see Ivan the Terrible after reading my discussion of Cranes but before reading this portion of my essay will doubtless be reminded here of the appearance of the Steinway and Sons insignia in the earlier (and less comedic, &c.) film, and perhaps (depending on whether he or she is swifter or slower than the present writer) he or she will immediately thereupon be scratching his or her pate trying to suss out in exactly what or which most salient respects the Marlboro-manifestation differs in both essence and purport from the Steinway-manifestation.  Obviously (I aver, in so doing merging my speculations with those of the doubtless empirically nonexistent reader), in the later (and less serious &c.) film the showcasing of the hyperoccidental brand name is more flagrant, more unabashed: if, as I more or less said earlier, the appearance of the Steinway and Sons insignia in Cranes may be regarded as product placement avant la lettre, the appearance of the Marlboro insignia in Ivan may be regarded as (to employ a metaphor that regrettably plays supinely into my Russophobic adversaries’ hands [and yet, alas!, an apter one cannot be found]) product placement-avant la lettre on the-most-powerful-and-therefore-most reviled-athletic-performance-enhancing drug-of-the-present-moment, inasmuch as it showcases the brand name with an insistence far beyond not only the exigencies but even the bounds of verisimilitude.  Even in the earliest days of product placement in Hollywood, when PP was at its most brazen (presumably because it had not been consumer-tested, and the producers had accordingly not yet learned that movie-viewers do not generally appreciate having their cinematic fare generously larded with de facto commercials), the appearance of the product always had to be plausibly integrated into the diagesis, however implausibly it might have been integrated into the mise en scène; thus when in the first Superman movie the teenaged Clark Kent is seen breakfasting on Cheerios, although the brand-named yellow box receives a ludicrously disproportionate portion of lighting and screen acreage (much larger than that received by the CK-playing actor, whose name escapes me [probably because this induced upstaging by a box of cereal doomed him never to become a household name]), it is never used in any other way than it would have been used at the breakfast table of any empirical American family without a controlling interest in the General Mills corporation: young Clark takes up the box, pours some of its contents into a bowl, and places it back onto the table, and there’s a diagetic end on’t.  In contrast, Ivan’s showcasing of the Marlboro brand name has no diagetic rationale whatsoever—indeed-stroke-for the love of bubliki, at no point during the showcasing scene does the showcasing character even light up a cigarette from the proffered pack.  So effectively Ivan is out-capitalist swining the hyperoccidental capitalist swine, giving more cinematic publicity to one of their products than they will ever demand for any of their products themselves.  (Consider, by way of almost comprehending the mind-boggling over-the-topness of Ivan’s Marlboro-plugging, the above-parenthetically mentioned Dr. Tongue’s House of Pancakes: it is a satire on product placement, such that it perforce exaggerates the product-placing techniques used in the cinema of its time, and yet, in contrast to Ivan, it still feels compelled to construct a contextual diagesis for its pancake restaurant-plugging, to present the house of pancakes as a place wherein something more sinister or ominous than the preparation and consumption of pancakes may be afoot, and in vis-à-vis which this preparation-cum-consumption may serve a merely instrumental function.)  And there is another consideration to be taken into consideration here—not vis-à-vis future hyperoccidental product placement but vis-à-vis Cranes’ presentation of the Steinway brand name; namely, the nature of the plugged product vis-à-vis the Soviet system of life.  Pianos are commodities that can come into their own only in the context of a virtuoso activity—namely, pianism; an activity that requires both a great deal of skill and a gargantuan outlay of time, an activity in which for one reason or other very few people in any system of life will ever be blessed or cursed to become engaged.  Cigarettes, on the other hand, are commodities whose use can be mastered by almost everyone in any system of life in a matter of minutes: the notion of a rookie smoker or amateur smoker can apply only, and with considerable license, to a teenager taking his first few cough-inducing drags on a fag, and complementarily the notion of an accomplished smoker or virtuoso smoker can apply only, and with no less considerable license, to a person—a Humphrey Bogart, say, or a Jean-Paul Belmondo—who is regarded as handling his cigarette qua gestural prop with a certain kind of panache (for qua smoker of that cigarette he is presumably equaled if not outclassed by many a Coke-bottle-spectacled engineer and babushka’d babushka). Such being the case, there is no rational Soviet-friendly argument for presenting a non-Soviet brand of cigarette on screen; in defense of this presentation a Soviet director could not in good faith have said, as he could have done mutatis mutandis regarding the presentation of a non-Soviet brand of piano, “We are helping to secure the U.S.S.R. a Number 1 position in the field of global competitive smoking”; indeed, such being the case, the only reason a Soviet director could conceivably have placed a non-Soviet brand of cigarette on screen would have been that he regarded that brand of cigarette as indisputably intrinsically superior even to its most upmarket Soviet counterpart.  Enfin, deductively speaking, the appearance of the Marlboro pack in Ivan must be regarded as a decidedly cheeky two-finger salute (albeit one in which both fingers are concealed, owing to the exigencies of pack-holding) to the entire Soviet system of commodity production.  Naturally, the autofellationary hyperoccidental received opinion-saturated excuse for a mind will interpret this salute as an admission of defeat, the throwing in of the hammer and sickle-emblazoned towel on the part of the Soviet system of life, but it or he can do so only at the cost of ignoring the eye-burstingly obvious fact(s) that the salute is tendered in the context of a movie that prevailingly showcases the benefits of the Soviet system of life qua standard-bearer of at least most mod cons and that this movie was made a virtual or perhaps even actual quarter-century before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  A fairly-to-fully fair mind must rather interpret the salute in its proper context as a good-natured acknowledgment of certain minor shortcomings of the Soviet system of life.  “Sure,” this acknowledgment as pronounced by the impersonation of the Soviet system of life itself, the presumably counterfactual specifically Soviet counterpart to or of Uncle Sam [and no, Vanya or Masha Stolichnaya won’t do because each of them is the personification of the Soviet-cum-post Soviet Russian (and only Russian) consumer], may be worded, “we over here on this side of the old Icey may not be able to make to make a smokable cigarette within our own borders, but qua covetable amenities of twentieth-century life, what are smokable cigarettes next to cars, electric lighting, televisions, radios, and indoor plumbing, all of which we have in abundance?  Indeed [this personification continues, seamlessly transitioning from an acknowledgment into a sales pitch], if we are paying our workers well enough that their wages can sustain a black market in hyperoccidentally branded cigarettes (for even black marketeers ultimately owe their sustenance to surplus capital generated by the legitimate economy), we must be doing something right.”  Not that the present writer even takes it for granted that hyperoccidentlly branded cigarettes were vended exclusively illegally in the U.S.S.R. of the mid-to-late 1960s.  He conceives it to be at least remotely conceivable that such cigarettes were legally vended then and there under the auspices of some sort of semi-ad hoc trade agreement with the producing corporations’ host countries.  (Reliable information on the extent and nature of such cooperation is conceivably available on the interweb; but perhaps even more conceivably it is one of those questions that it has simply never occurred to anyone to research and whose answer is accordingly beyond the reach of even the most assiduous and wide-ranging search-engine. [Put that endless dot-matrix’d paper printout of DOES NOT COMPUTE in your pipes and smoke it, accursed techno-Whigs!]) He derives this sense of conceivability from a slightly later Soviet comedy film to which he plans to devote a separate subsection, 1975’s The Irony of Fate, wherein an eminently respectable and indeed hopelessly square petty Party functionary, a sort of Python proper-epoch John Cleesean bureaucrat physically suggesting the John Cleese of the-mid-1980s on contemporaneous performance-enhancing drugs, presents his girlfriend with a bottle of what she, after testing its bouquet, describes as real French perfume.  Admittedly, the functionary may not have purchased the perfume at his local GUM outlet, perhaps because (but only perhaps because [for so far the present writer has seen only sub-anecdotal evidence in support of the assertion that GUM stores supplied only non-luxury goods in n*****dly quantities]) it was not available there; admittedly, he may have purchased it in Paris while, for example, working as a sub-chargé-d’affaires at the Russian embassy—heck, he may even have received it as a so-called kickback from the French government in return for serving the DST as a so-called double agent; whatever the source of the perfume may have been, its possession by a hopelessly square party functionary in such a movie (and I must emphasize that all the movies in this first portion of my survey were absolutely mainstream in conception, execution, and reception; that in every movie considered in this portion we are by all means dealing with something much closer in spirit to Jaws or Meatballs than to some edgy, subversive, Communism-excoriating, exile or-incarceration provoking production à la Knife in the Water or The Fireman’s Ball) is indisputable proof that possession of at least certain foreign-made goods was no big deal in either a positive or a negative sense—i.e., that it was neither to be ardently coveted nor severely castigated—for a fairly large proportion of the U.S.S.R.’s existence.  Now that I am on something of a KV-1-like roll with The Irony of Fate, I am sorely tempted to press on to the Irony of Fate-centered subsection proper with all the remorseless implacability of the Soviet soldiers in the wartime propaganda poster reproduced on the original jacket of Bernhard Haitink’s recording of Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony

(for the linguistically uninitiated, the slogan at the bottom-left translates as Forward! Victory [is] near!), but as there is a chronologically intervening movie on my list and that movie happens to be another Shurik flick, I really ought to deal with that film first, but prefatorily to dealing with it, I must make (and indeed am now making) it clear that in moving on to this later Shurik flick we shall also be moving from the Soviet system of life’s presentation and management of foreign consumer goods on to another (albeit unsurprisingly related) aspect of that life-system, namely its presentation and management of leisure time.  This later Shurik flick is entitled Kidnapping Caucasian Style, and in the interest of not only shameless self-promotion and candid self-disclosure, respectively, I must mention, first, that I have treated of this film in a previous essay; and second, that in the present essay I will not be referring to any scenes or diagesis-strands that I did not refer to in the previous essay.  But this mention by no means constitutes an analogue, however vague or remote, to the Portions of  Chapter X [the letter not the numeral] appeared in Publication Y-type disclaimers one finds lily-liveredly lurking on the versos of the title pages of many or perhaps even most officially brand-spanking-new autobiographies, literary-critical monographs, &c.  It constitutes no such analogue, and the immediately forthcoming commentary on KCS will accordingly by no means constitute a mere cut-and-paste-fest, because I am about to consider these selfsame scenes and diagesis-strands in a completely different light and under the auspices of a completely different concept than in the earlier essay.  In the earlier essay I was principally concerned with the film’s exclusive setting, the Caucasus, qua hyper-provincial antipode to metropolitan Russia; i.e., qua hotbed of various barbaric non-Russian ethnicities-cum-quasi-polities as-yet only partially civilized by the beneficently paternal culture of a broadly Soviet administration or a more narrowly Russian etiquette-coachery (apologies for this decidedly inelegant neologism, but I have seen no plausible alternative to it other than the hyperelegant [and therefore more objectionable] Gallicism répétiteurerie de l’etiquette), depending on how heavily and effectively one thought the relatively new Soviet dispensation had de-Russified and mollified the old Tsarist high horse heaved hussar-outhanded high-handedness.  (While in the earlier essay I emphasized the continuities between the Tsarist and post-Soviet dispensations because I was then considering Kidnapping Caucasian Style with an eye to post-Soviet Russia’s then-current broils with Georgia, had I then been considering the film with an eye to the by no means indisputably ineluctably abortive transnational ambitions of Soviet administration, I would have been compelled to emphasize the discontinuities [If this parenthesis seems but a feebly weasely attempt to spackle over a complete intellectual volte-face, so be it—My conscience is clear, to quote Trau Morgus in the space-opera serial].)  In the present essay, I am solely concerned with the Caucuses qua sun-bed for any northern metropolitan Soviet citizen looking to hang loose, let it (whatever or how large or small it may be) hang out or rip, etc.  For as such a sun-bed is how it or they, the Caucuses, first and foremost present(s) itself or themselves, in Kidnapping.  The film opens with a shot of Shurik riding along on a donkey against a magnificent backdrop of Caucasian skies and mountains, to the audio accompaniment of a voiceover delivering the barest skeleton of exposition to the effect that Shurik has traveled to the Caucuses to research the local folkways, and very soon afterwards our hero finds himself in a hotel that in point of modernist sleekness and exploitation of the surrounding natural landscape can have had few rivals in the contemporaneous real-worldial or even cinematic hyperoccident.  Perhaps in strictly architectural terms something vaguely comparable is featured in that relatively early James Bond flick set in Las Vegas (the one with Plenty O’Toole and the Howard Hughes-type millionaire recluse), but if so, the viewer’s appreciation of its intrinsic capabilities is forestalled by its verisimilitude-mandated supersaturation by hoards of blackjack and roulette addicts and fruit-machinists.  Here we have a bar-lounge that doubles as an observation deck with wraparound glass walls affording a spectacular panoramic view of the just-aforementioned sky-cum-mountainscape, occupied to only half capacity by genteelly sedentary cocktail-sippers, and serviced by a redoubtably competent barman clad in the far-abovementioned bellhop’s monkey suit.  And no sooner does Shurik mention that the folkways he is interested in include the locals’ traditional toasts (as in the word-sequences people utter just before downing alcoholic drinks in synchrony; the vocable itself, being an English loan-word, is the same in Russian) than this bellhop serves him a reddish-purple concoction in a highball glass the size of an iced tea tumbler (or perhaps an iced tea tumbler doing duty for a highball glass).  Within a presumptive matter of hours (for the sun is still in the sky at the end of the transition [and remember that the Caucusus are in the south, and hence subject to chronometrically seasonable sunsets throughout the year]), Shurik is absolutely blotto, and yet no mention has yet been made of any sort of bill or tab, let alone a tip or pourboire.  The viewer cannot but conclude that his or her hero has enjoyed quite a hefty bender, and consumed a succession of evidently quite potent potations, utterly gratis, without being obliged to hand over a single kopek.  To be sure, this bender does cause some social friction with the locals (owing to the universally typical epistemological friction between the drunkard’s and the sober person’s respective views of the essences and functions of certain contingently selected objects of their shared lifeworld [so Shurik, having been drinking out of a vessel fashioned out of a mountain-goat’s horn, seeks a fresh draught from a mountain-goat horn that is unfortunately attached to a live mountain goat attended by its owner]) and consequently occasion him an overnight stay in the neighborhood hoosegow, but the morning-warden on duty cheerfully sends him on his way upon concluding from Shurik’s hungover contrition that he is by disposition and habit a nice, well-behaved sort of fellow and that the booze alone was responsible for his ultimately trivial transgressions.  The impression given by this entire opening episode of the film is that vis-à-vis the management of the citizenry’s sensual cravings the Soviet system of administration is both discerning and humane, that it lets the average Soviet citizen indulge these cravings fairly freely—and perhaps even more significantly, affordably—and that while it is careful not to let this indulgence get out of hand, to allow it to result in damage to public or indeed private property (for the abovementioned mountain goat-owner emphatically insists that the goat Shurik is in danger of de-horning is his [i.e., in his own words {to the extent that the translation from the doubtless dialectally spiced original Russian is accurate}, mine]), it also has absolutely no interest in curbing, let alone quashing, these impulses as an end in itself, or even as a stimulus to productive labor—for Shurik receives from the morning-warden no lecture on how he really should resume his anthropological researches in a more properly detached scientific manner, autc.  But of course, bibulousness, the craving for strong drink, is but one of at least several cravings for sensual indulgence, and even at its most ardent it is doubtless rivaled for pride of place by gluttony and randiness, by the cravings for food and intercorporeal commerce, respectively.  KCS gives nary a hint at the Soviet system of administration’s attitude to gluttony, perhaps because to do so in a properly verisimilitudinous fashion would require it to specify in which Caucasian sub-republic the film is set (as KCS is committed to not doing for political reasons specified in my earlier essay), or perhaps simply because it had not yet occurred to anyone on either side of the Icey that watching other people eat could inspire anything but disgust in any viewer (for an analysis of-cum-jeremiad against the naissance-cum-efflorescence of exhibitionist gourmandizing in the hyperoccident over the past few decades, vide my essay “Gluttony and Panpsychism”), and while the film does give some none-too-ambiguous hints at the Party’s line on randiness, these are on the whole rather depressing.  The film’s sole overt subject-cum-object (or, to be more precise, subject-qua-object) of erotic interest is a perkily attractive fair-skinned, dark-haired young woman (I described her as “a Juliette Binoche avant la lettre,” and I stand by this description, which in the context of the present essay is another way of saying, “She ain’t no Tatiana Samoilova,” the female star of Letter Never Sent and The Cranes Are Flying), a member of the local chapter of the Komsomol, the Party-organelle into which Young Pioneers (q.v.) with the requisite gumption eventually graduated.  We know from very early on that she is supposed to be incredibly hot because when in the course of her Komsomol-mandated diurnal jogging routine she runs past a jeep-like transport whose driver has so far failed to get running (much to the chagrin of Shurik, who is hoping for a ride to the aforementioned ultramodern hotel from him), the vehicle’s engine immediately kicks into action.  Unfortunately for inter multissima alia her implicitly northward-bound career aspirations, a grandee of one of the local ethnic tribes who also happens to be a local Soviet governmental official covets her as a bride and has her kidnapped.  Shurik then comes to her rescue and has the kidnapper-cum-would-be husband brought to justice in a Soviet courtroom, leaving her free to resume her wholesome Komsomol jogging routine and him to return to Moscow.  On the whole, to judge by this film, the meta-erotic scenario in the Soviet Union is quite bleak: the masculine landscape, composed not only of men themselves but also their inanimate—ahem-tools, is fairly seething with heterosexual randiness, the feminine landscape consists of but a single erotically disengaged woman apparently oblivious of this randiness and therefore at the mercy of men even to protect her from it, and the only means by which intercorporeal commerce can ever be brought to occur is ravishment.  Shurik, the nice guy, the nebbish transformed into an unlikely but perfectly serviceable knight in shining armor, rescues the girl but gets nothing from her in return apart from her thanks, and yet again is so apparently quiescent in the face of this outcome that were KCS even a very slightly less guileless or more adult-orientated movie one would be inclined to suppose that he is of the opposite persuasion.  But in all hyperoccidental-bigoted miserliness, can one truthfully say that hyperoccidental films of this time, or indeed of any later date, deal with worldly eros in a manner that is both more verisimilitudinous and more morally instructive?  Is not the filmography of hyperoccidental cinematic farces fairly saturated with utterly fantastic and overblown depictions of heterosexual masculine libidinousness à la the above-described self-starting of a car in the presence of an attractive woman?  Is not the none-too-subtly conveyed message of every such movie, from the earliest Mack Sennett silent caper flick to the latest multisensory teen sex comedy, that every man is an abject slave of his libido, that at the first sight of an even marginally prepossessing dame he is willing to drop everything he is doing or planning to do and set off in pursuit of the will o’ the wisp of a one-and-ten-thousand chance of achieving sexual congress with her?  As for Shurik’s failure to get the girl at the end, the alternative ending would not have been able to avoid implying that he deserved to end up in her arms as a matter of course—in other words, that his damsel in distress-rescuing was merely a second act of kidnapping, that he was no better, no more enlightened or morally developed, than the crooked and savage local tribal chieftain.  I feel obliged to put up what I concede is a rather feeble defense of KCS not because I regard KCS as a masterpiece, but merely because I do not believe its defects deserve to be censured (as they doubtless have been) on political or peri-political grounds supplied by the myopia-inducing Coke-bottle specs of present-day hyperoccidentia.  On these grounds KCS would have to be (and doubtless has been) censured for its evincing of an organically mutually complementary combination of prudishness and craven Party-worship.  On these grounds the film’s female lead decides to remain single because she is a Komsomol member and therefore presumably a mere instrument of the Soviet Communist Party, and the Soviet Communist Party, like its counterpart in Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four, presumably abhors sex, presumably because even the faintest and most occasional indulgence of the libido interferes with the sort of remorselessly time-monopolizing work regime exacted of all Party members towards the attainment of the goals set in the most recent Five-Year Plan.  But a less hyperoccidental-chauvinist interpretation must see the Komsomol merely as the contingently straightest and fastest avenue to power and prestige of its day and time and the young woman’s decision to remain single merely as a typical manifestation of the global late-twentieth century phenomenon of women opting to pursue professional careers before or to the exclusion of marriage.  In other words, by every impartial measure, KCS turns out to be at least in part a feminist artifact—certainly every bit as much of one as A My Name is Alice, Kramer vs. Kramer, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and it is merely the unhappy consignment of the Komsomol, along with so many other Soviet-spawned organizations, to the so-(specifically Trotsky)called dustbin of history, that prevents early twenty-first-century hyperoccidentals from seeing the film as such.  According to our early twenty-first-century hyperoccidental lights, The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a towering pioneering entry in the cultural canon of feminism in virtue of persuasively showing how a single woman could make it after all in the male-dominated world of local commercial American television in the 1970s.  But in the historical context of some none-too-improbable (and probably none-too-distant) future post-hyperoccidental dispensation, the typical viewer in every part of the world may regard Mary Richards’s dedication to her career as a so-called producer or so-called show-runner of a local American commercial television news program in a far less favorable light; in the context of a specifically Sinocentric dispensation (q.v. [specifically in my peroration {the repetitions immediately below not counting}], Lord willing), for example, Ms. Richards may be universally reviled and despised for having squandered her considerable talents on furthering a medium for the dissemination of deleterious skepticism about the aims and actions of the various branches and registers of government in the United States (a dissemination whose thoroughness was and is notably attested to by the Federal Executive Branch-convulsing outcome of the investigative shenanigans of Ms. Richards’s real-worldial colleagues and contemporaries, Messrs. Woodward and Bernstein), and for the siphoning away, via advertising, of milliards if not trillions of dollars from the American homeland and into the bank accounts of foreign-headquartered corporations (an away-siphoning whose thoroughness was and is notably attested to by the Stateside marginalization of American-made cars by Japanese-made ones over the course of The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s seven-year run).  Moreover, in the context of a Sinocentric dispensation—admittedly one wherein the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party hierarchy are far less blokey than at present—KCS may be incorporated into an alternative feminist canon according to whose tenets a woman can no more eloquently demonstrate her independence than via dedicated service within the confines of a Communist Party-organized organ.  And yet again, even in the context of a Sinocentric dispensation, outside of Russia and a few other former Soviet republics KCS may continue to languish in obscurity–not because its pro-Communist facets will have failed to be appreciated but because Russia will have declined even further in geopolitical prestige and its entire cultural output will consequently draw an even smaller share of the global readership, spectatorship, listenership, etc. than it does at present.  The hermeneutic destiny of no cultural artifact is ever set (let alone etched) in stone.  At the same time, every cultural artifact contains elements and registers that are probably impervious to historical contingency because they are themselves the product of purely logically mandated contingencies (of course even in presupposing any such thing as a[n] historically transcendent logic I am probably breaking company with the Hegelian Weltansicht implied in the preceding sentence, but this can’t be helped); an example, or pair of examples, of such an apparently historically transcendent element of KCS being Shurik’s and Nina’s apparently terminal-cum-mutual singledoms eis ipsis.  The narrative nucleus-cum-nuclear power station of KCS is the quasi-eponymous kidnapping of Nina by a Caucasian warlord qua illustration of the barbarity-cum-outmodedness of the traditional tribal-cum-patriarchal dispensation at least still residually in force in the Caucasus; hence, all other elements and registers of the film must somehow be made at minimum not to conflict with the exemplarity of this kidnapping; hence in turn a pair of perfectly nice kids who together would have made a thoroughly ingratiating couple must be kept asunder from each other even in their own respective hearts-cum-loins of hearts-cum-loins.  Thankably, even behind the old Icey, it was feasible to produce cultural artifacts, and specifically movies, powered by nuclei-cum-nuclear power stations that verisimilitudinously allowed a pair of mutually compatible perfectly nice kids to meet and join in connubial union as hitchlessly as Papageno and Papagena.  Such a movie is the New Year’s-seasonal classic awkwardly (even in the original Russian) entitled The Irony of Fate: or, Enjoy Your Bath!  From what I hear tell about this flick from presumably reliable informants (although I admit a pair or trio of these gentlemen have offered me a broad selection of expensive Swiss watches at laughably affordable prices), to this very day it occupies a place in the hearts of Russians (and possibly even of the citizens of certain other former Soviet republics) to which there is no remotely correspondingly intimate coronary counterpart in any sector of the hyperoccident--take It’s a Wonderful Life, multiply it by The Sound of Music and raise the resulting product to the power of The Wizard of Oz (or perhaps even Jaws or Meatballs), and you will still have not come within shrimping distance of the magnitude-cum-character of the affection Russians et. fort. al. harbor for IF/EYB!  Thus do my informants inform-cum-assure me.  And although being an axiomatically Grinch-hearted (Grincheskiserdechnyy) hyperoccidental, I am axiomatically incapable of judging whether IF/EYB! indeed deserves to occupy such a deep and exalted place, I can in all frankness and candor aver that I would more cheerfully watch IF/EYB! than any of the films in the above-tendered equation with the exception of It’s a Wonderful Life.  And why should I not do, given that more nearly genuinely than almost all other cultural artefacts to which this quasi-intrinsically perfidious predicate has been conjoined, IF/EYB! has got something for everyone--meaning not, in the established acceptation of this phrase, that it is composed of dozens of chock-a-block-packed goodie-bags each of which has been earmarked for enjoyment by some specific demographic niche--dads, mums, teenaged boys,  sub-teenaged girls, grandmums, coprophiles, et al.—which or who will take absolutely no interest in the fifteen or so other goodie bags not allotted to it or them; such that once the car chase, shoe-shopping scene, fart-gag, Barbie doll-grooming session, or second-species loo visitation, autc. is over, Dad, Mum, Junior, Junioress, Bob or Suzy Coprophile, autc. respectively, will doze off into a quasi-post-coital stupor and remain therein unless prodded back into vigilance by a co-viewer resentful or oblivious of his or her (Dad’s, Mum’s, autc.) indifference to his or her (the co-viewer’s) demographically appropriate segment; meaning not, I say, that it is thus composed, but rather, that it has just enough of every sort of cinematic-cum-dramaturgical element that each of these elements is capable of appealing at least slightly to every demographic niche and aesthetic habitus and incapable of alienating anyone of any demographic niche or aesthetic habitus.  So each member of the central couple is physically attractive and has an alimentary occupation that commands respect--he is a doctor (specifically a surgeon, I believe), she a schoolteacher; each of them is shown apart from the other in his or her homosocial milieu (he at the bathhouse, she around the coffee table), conversing with his or her fellow dudes or gals in a manner that is verisimilitudinous and yet devoid of misogynistic or misandristic aspersions; there is a musical interlude, when the female lead whips out a guitar and accompanies her own (or, rather, a dubbed-in singer’s) dulcets, and yet the musical-loather need not fear, for the interlude is entirely diagetically motivated—within the narrative frame of the film she is unequivocally performing for the entertainment of a visitor, not expressing sentiments that she would have spoken in rightly called real life; there is if not quite a car chase, then at least a solo-car spinout that for several nail biting-inducing seconds bids fair to be a fatal solo-car accident (as the viewer, for all his or her anxiety, cannot help half hoping it will be, inasmuch as the potential victim is none other than the hero’s romantic rival, the aforementioned Cleese clone [although yet again the viewer ends up sympathizing quite heartily with the dude qua poor sod of a fresh demotee to third wheel {an affective about-face that testifies not only to IF: EYB!’s dramaturgical richesses but also more generally to the Russian (and perhaps even Pan-Former-Soviet-Republican) soul’s capacious capacity for compassion with poor sods, and for transmitting this capacity to members of other nations and polities}]).  But undoubtedly the most generally and virtually unfailingly appealing element of IF: EYB! is its framing-cum-governing conceit, which is both formally ingenious and relatable-to by anyone in any corner or cranny of the developed world from the film’s production-year of 1975 onwards (although admittedly there may come a time when it is no longer relatable to by anyone in any corner of the developed world [what with no cultural artifact’s hermeneutic destiny being set, let alone etched, in stone, as noted above]), this conceit being that the world that has been built for us to inhabit is so homogeneous, so prevailingly composed of interchangeable parts, that a perfectly rational person might find himself hundreds of miles from his place of regular, day-to-day residence and activity and fail to take cognizance of his displacement therefrom.  The viewer is apprised of this conceit from the very beginning, in one of those winsome but by no means twee animated opening credit (or sometimes, as in this case pre-opening credit) sequences that seem to have been a quasi-norm in otherwise live-action sitcoms and comedy films of any geographical provenance from about 1960 until, well, I suppose, 1975, inamsuch as I cannot think of any later example of such a sequence than the one at the beginning of IF: EYB!’s exact contemporary, the Disney pre-teen comedy Freaky Friday; anyway, EYB!’s instantiation of this form starts with a suit-and-tied (albeit also not-undisturbingly white-coated) pipe-smoking architect contemplating his blueprint for a building in an elaborate rococo revival style--multiple wings, lots of balconies, classical columns, and pediments, and various frilly protuberances--to the accompaniment of a few measures of art historically-appropriate harpsichord music, which are interrupted by a stern and much more modern-sounding motif played on massed strings, as the pediments fall away and the blueprint receives its preliminary go-ahead in cursive Cyrillic, but it is subject to further inspections, at the end of each of which more parts of the design are lopped off until when it receives its final stamp of approval nothing is left but its innermost core, which is instantly recognizable as a mid-rise minimalist modernist apartment building of the sort that each and every one of us is familiar with at least by sight (and within a horizontally hypertrophic instantiation of which, indeed, the present writer now dwells).  Now the architect is replaced as the central human figure by a repulsive big-nosed dude in a neck-to-ankles tunic and a pointed hat made of newspaper; this dude is presumably a bureaucrat in charge of city planning, as he instantly sets about not barking but honking (yes, just like a car horn) for the construction of mid-rise modernist apartment buildings through a piece of rolled up paper that is self-evidently the final version of the architect’s blueprint (for after all, now that the design of the building is simple enough to be instantly replicated, the blueprint might as well be converted into an ad-hoc megaphone, as it will never need to be consulted again); soon the bureaucrat is commanding, nay conducting, in the stiffly mechanical manner of a drum-major, a veritable booted parading army of mid-rise minimalist modernist apartment buildings, which are then seen occupying some of the theretofore least urbanized areas of the earth— the seashore, the Sahara Desert—and finally, from an astronaut eye’s point of view, spilling out from the earth on either side like vertically juxtaposed dominoes and dilating and contracting like the ribs of an accordion.  Now the mise en scène cuts to a succession of live-action low-flying bird’s eye views of clusters of actual mid-rise minimalist modernist apartment buildings (over which the opening credits are superimposed), while a voiceover calmly (and hence ostensibly approvingly) remarks that whereas in the old days people tended to feel ill at ease when they visited a city for the first time, on account of the unfamiliar buildings there, nowadays nobody need feel out of place again, inasmuch as every Soviet city is filled with buildings that are exactly identical to the buildings that fill every other Soviet city.  Then there is a cut to a domestic interior that mere temporal propinquity compels the viewer to assume is that of an apartment sited within one of the just-described geographically fungible buildings.  Our undeniably handsome hero and his merely debatably pretty girlfriend are decorating their New Year’s tree.  All the while, the girl is dropping hints at matrimony that our hero seems to find decidedly off-putting.  So he repairs to the bathhouse to let off some steam—in exactly two ways—with the lads.  (The emphasis on exactly is necessary by way of exigently forestalling any generic association of this bathhouse with the contemporaneous bathhouses of the Castro District; for while the male-bonding session in IF: EYB! is undoubtedly as amenable to homophile interpretations as any other on either side of the old Icey at any point in cinematic history, this session’s setting is an instantiation of an institution that was fully heteronormative [albeit quasi-moribund, as hinted within the film’s diegesis] in the Soviet Union in 1975.)  In the bathhouse stall, the blokes exchange a number of toasts and drink a number of shots apiece.  Our hero, being rather slight of figure and short of stature, becomes inebriated beyond the point of basic motor self-command.  He ends up on a plane to Leningrad (the apartment and bathhouse were in Moscow, by the way), and finally recovers his motor self-command (though not his fully attentive awareness of his surroundings) in a cab to whose driver he half-barks, half-mumbles his Moscow address, whereupon he is dropped off in the forecourt of an apartment building that unsurprisingly looks exactly like his own.  And so he takes the elevator upstairs to the correctly numbered floor and then proceeds onto and into the correctly numbered apartment with the help of an unhesitatingly compliant key (here at least the present writer’s hyperoccidental belief requires a pair of heavy-duty suspenders [whether in the American or the British sense is probably immaterial at this point in the history of the hyperoccidental attitude to so-called gender], although his informants have assured him that keys in the Soviet Union were often pairable with multiple locks [and he has to admit that such an appalling state of security is probably not unprecedented, or perhaps rather unseconded, in the hyperoccident, for hyperlocal folklore at the place of work of a friend of his maintains that once you have found the key to one storage cabinet on the premises you have found the key to all half-dozen or so of them]), climbs into the bed housed therein, and either falls asleep or passes back out depending on how drunk one supposes him still to be.  By and by the apartment’s permanent and official resident, a gorgeous blank billboard-foreheaded platinum blonde (photographically if not quite dramaturgically a sort of cross between Carole Lombard and Gena Rowlands) shows up, and the rest, as they say, is boilerplate rom-com script-doctory (heartfelt breast-beating about the alimentary shortcomings and spiritual rewards of their respective lines of work, discarding of the undesired third and fourth wheels, propitiation of future mothers-in-law both ruefully and reproachfully tsk-tsking over the sudden change of matrimonial itinerary, et paucissima cetera).  In the light of its capitulation to an utterly heartwarming right boy-meets-right girl denouement in the teeth of its utterly dispiriting framing conceit, the so-called message of IF: IYB! is transparently and unequivocally reducible to a resounding affirmation of the indomitable infungibility of the human individual.  The film ultimately administers a sort of good-natured yet decidedly admonitory chuck under the chin to Philip Larkin’s contemporaneous sigh of utterly dejected wonderment, “How few people are/separated by acres of housing...!” and effectively rejoins to it,“However many acres of housing may separate them from one another, pairs of people (i.e., real, proper unique people as opposed to the mutually indistinguishable drones you seem to believe inhabit those selfsame acres) will find each other out and build a shared world for each other not so much in defiance of as in indifference to the drab homogeneity of their prefabricated environment.  In the contemporaneous words of Sonny Curtis, lightly redacted to extend their scope beyond the aforementioned Mary Tyler Moore, Love is all around, and there is no need to waste it.  Of course, there are at minimum a butcher’s-umpteen rational, Queensberry rules-sanctioned counterblows that may be dealt to this submentine chuck.  The most unsubtle but by no means least telling such counterblow is the observation-cum-inference that, as the movie’s title hints, our perfectly mutually suited boy and girl met each other only thanks to a well-nigh miraculous stroke of luck, or in more metaphysically portentous terms, fate, and that had it not been for that stroke, they would indeed have remained separated from each other by all those acres of housing—such that, in short, IF:EYB ultimately reaffirms rather than undercuts Larkin’s plangent plaint.  But inasmuch as this counterblow is instantly parryable by the counter-counterblow that every felicitous first encounter is in some measure fortuitous, that even in the absence of all those acres of housing—e.g., during the idyllic days of mutually infungible pre-Soviet cities and villages referred to in the opening voiceover—our lovebirds might not have found each other, the more searching critic will prefer to remark, for instance, that the lovebirds themselves are scarcely more original, distinctive, quirky, or individualized than their respective dwelling-places, that they are desirable to each other and to the viewer merely in virtue of embodying a pair of desirable types—viz., the handsome young doctor and the beautiful young schoolteacher, human analogues to soulless modern luxury apartments distinguishable from their more downmarket counterparts merely in having fresher paint jobs and a few extra mod cons.  Corollarily, the more searching critic can point out that the only quality that makes the excluded third and fourth wheels, the John Cleese poly-clone and the New Year’s tree fellow-decorator, less marriageable than their counterparts in the starring couple is their comparative physical unattractiveness and comparatively less glamorous walks of life (i.e., prospective housewifedom and sinister-cum-petty Party functionaridom, respectively).  To be sure, the film would like us to believe that they are besmirched by other, no less detracting, demerits, but it fails to supply them in the faintest semblance of depth or detail.  I have no particularly keen axe to grind with any of these beeves with IF: EYB; indeed, I couldn’t grind an axe with any of them even if I wanted to, for they are all beeves of a breed represented in my own ranch of discontent (a ranch yclepp’d the K.O. Corrall, natch). I would have much preferred a version of IF: EYB in which either the two central characters never met and grew old and died alone or did meet but were somehow compelled to stick with their original engagement partners or to regret having not stuck with these original engagement partners after marrying each other.  What I refuse to have even the most econo-sized truck or lorry with is any attempt either to chalk up the aesthetic shortcomings griped about in the above beeves to any specifically Soviet state of affairs or to hold up any contemporaneous, or indeed, subsequent hyperoccidental cinematic or televisual so-called romantic comedy as a norm, let alone ideal, in which the themes treated of in IF:EYB are supposedly dealt with in a more truthful manner.  The lamented phenomenon satirized in and ostensibly transcended by IF:EYB is one by which every polity and society in every part of the globe with the possible (and if not only possible but actual, telling) exceptions of east Asia and the Indian subcontinent was afflicted in the twentieth century—namely, massification, the rapid multiplication of the local-to-regional human population from a manageably-cum-intelligibly medium-sized collectivity to an unmanageably-cum-unintelligibly massive mob.  The homogenization of architecture bewailed in IF:EYB is really just an epiphenomenon of massification, inasmuch as the more people there are in a given planning period (and planning periods are by no means peculiar to polities-cum-demoses with so-called planned economies; indeed, even the most laissez-faire system of political-cum-economic organization requires planning periods of tediously substantial duration and pitifully finite flexibility for every project exacting large amounts of capital and labor) than there were in the previous planning period, the less time and money is available to devote to such niceties as architectural individuation—this not only or perhaps even mainly because there are not enough technically qualified people willing to devote time to such niceties, but also and perhaps even mainly because when one knows nothing about the prospective inhabitants and users of a commercial-cum-residential zone but that there are a heck of a lot of them and that they are going to be moving in very soon, it is impossible to introduce into the zone any conspicuously non-functional architectural features that will please all or even most of them.  To be sure, in the hyperoccident the non-white-coated, pinstripe-suited planners of building projects were probably able to draw on a broader, more heterogeneous, and more studiedly idiosyncratic pool of architects than their newspaper-capped counterparts behind the old Icey--such that even a rinky-dink provincial municipal council could afford to commission the town ice-skating rink from Frank Lloyd Wright, or a cockamamey provincial liberal arts college its student dormitories from I.M. Pei.  But the difference was one of degree, and a by no means a staggeringly huge degree at that, as will be attested by any American who has resided in a midmarket suburban bungalow-centered development (or, as in the present writer’s case, gone to school almost exclusively with residents of such developments [not that the two breeze-block and respectively urban and rural bungalows in which he grew up were ocularly distinguishable from each other except in point of color and size]), for in every such development there are only a quasi-literal handful of so-called models (i.e., realized blueprints), and the effect of monotonous, well-nigh IF: EYB-worthy cookie-cutter repetition is forestalled solely by the disposition of the houses along streets of such involuted serpentinity that it is impossible for the passer-through (or even more exigently, the full-time resident) to behold more than a literally literal handful of houses at a glance or gaze.  To be sure, the presence of so-called free enterprise in the hyperoccident and the attendant proliferation of proprietary signage silently clamoring for the consumer’s enamorment with thousands of mutually unmistakable products has undoubtedly made for a less homogeneous urban-cum-suburban landscape here than in the Soviet Union, but as I hinted many years ago in my essay “Proprietary Names: the Name/Proprietary Names: the Place,” heterogeneity of this sort is on the whole a lamentable phenomenon that impedes rather than fosters the individuation of people as autonomous or even quasi-autonomous subjects.  Whence my earlier effective assertion that no hyperoccidental so-called romantic comedy has ever succeeded in squaring the circle of homogenization more truthfully than EF: IYB.  A quasi-or-pseudo-society brimming over with proprietary heterogeneity is perforce a quasi-or-pseudo-society in which the libido of every person is oligopolized by some cluster of proprietarily named products—whether the person in question is a flogger or a gourmandizer thereof makes no difference, because in either case the products are being overrated in point of singularity and thereby making a mockery of the very notion of the singularity of the human individual, and further consequently, of the very sub-notion of finding Mr., Miss, or Ms. Right.  Hyperoccidental romantic comedies invariably reprehensibly gloss over the mockery by depicting next to nothing of the work life of either member of the central couple (in the old days—i.e., through about the early 1970s—it was quite common for the male to be employed in advertising, but viewers—or more likely bienpensant producers—evidently eventually found that this topos smelled too pungently of the Sunday newspaper circular-packet, and so for the past forty-something years our male rom-com leads have consisted almost exclusively of doctors, lawyers, and, indeed, architects {supposedly envelope-pushing pseudo-critiques of the older, more brazenly meta-commercial friendly strand of the cinematic pseudo-tradition, notably the god-awful Mad Men, only glorify the whoredom by falsely depicting the commodity-floggers as wilfully macho thugs, i.e. so-called real men of the old school who have supposedly been granted virtually unlimited subjective license and indulge that license in full through gratuitous and utterly unproductive shouting and bullying}) and representing their mutual enamorment as catalyzed by shared interests—a phrase that empirically, in the so(and for the most part rightly)-called real world, never designates anything but contingently convergent habits in the consumption of proprietarily named entities but that in the cinema can be made to approximate a simulacrum of its ideal-world referent through judiciously intermittent soft-pedaling of product-placement (q.v.).  If it be objected to my characterization of the poetics of the hyperoccidental romantic comedy that it is Ptolemaically perverse to the point of utter implausibility, that if the fetishism of proprietarily named commodities were really so wholeheartedly-cum-wholegenitally embraced in the hyperoccident as I have asserted and described, it would be much simpler and more rational to produce movies in which the protagonists are understood to have foregone interpersonal entanglements entirely and are depicted incessantly disporting themselves in the company of their favorite proprietarily named commodities, I must point out to the objector (yet again--no DGR he or she, natch), that no citizen of the hyperoccidental superpolity fetishizes commodity fetishism in the abstract, that his or her libido is always engaged with a set of specific, quasi-to-fully concrete, quasi-to-fully individualized proprietarily named entities, and that as in any other system of libidinous engagement, any entity in the pertinent entity-class that has formerly struck or yet to strike the lover’s fancy is highly apt to inspire revulsion or anxiety, respectively.  Even the most flawlessly chiseled-chinned or curvaceous doctor, lawyer, or architect who bastes himself or herself in a hopelessly downmarket brand of aftershave or perfume, or who smugly shows off a home-entertainment system or scented-candle line that was state-of-the-art twenty years ago, is an instant turnoff, arouses immeasurable disgust; complementarily, an otherwise no less desirable or identify-with-able professional type who has a collection of handbags bearing the expensive-sounding name of a designer one has never heard of or an electronic gadget of inscrutable provenance or function, will send the viewer into an aesthetically unrecoupable envious panic.  Whence the utility of soft-pedaling the commodities, so that the rom-com viewer—á la the reader of Tristram Shandy whom Laurence Sterne deliberately denied a description of Uncle Toby’s inamorata—can fit out the central couple with a constellation of commodities exactly commensurate with the present exigencies of his or her proprietary commodity-gourmandizing jones.  While I have already made it plain that the IF: EYB glosses over the work lives of its protagonists no less ruthlessly than a(n) hyperoccidental rom-com, and while I cannot pretend that its production-team’s motives for such over-glossing are any more redeemable than those of a(n) hyperoccidental rom-com’s PT (inasmuch as 24/7 submission to-cum-inculcation of a system of administrative drudgery with no discernable worthy telos or purpose is probably no more redeemable—albeit undoubtedly less risible—than the 24/7 flogging-aut-gourmandizing of proprietary commodities doomed to imminent decay), I do discern a sliver of greater truthfulness, vis-à-vis the hyperoccidental rom-com, in that aforementioned brief scene in which the heroine gushes over her lumpish Cleeseian soon-to-dumped boyfriend’s presentation to her of a bottle of “real French perfume.”  Here, in contrast to in a hyperoccidental rom-com, the irresistibly seductive power of the quasi-individuated consumer commodity is frankly if fleetingly acknowledged.  To this extent, I say, IF/IYB is more truthful than a hyperoccidental rom-com.  But inasmuch as the heroine ultimately dumps the reliable perfume-purveyor so that she can shack up with the doctor with presumably much poorer access to imported luxury goods, the “real French perfume” episode ultimately proves to be of no semantic force, like the minor-key episode in the exposition of the first movement of a major- key symphony--and such being the case, well, although as a vehement abhorrer of commodity fetishism and guarded admirer of the Soviet system of life, I would love to embrace this turn of IF: EB!’s plot, as a wholehearted lover of truth, I must reject it.  The lure of the consumer commodity, although undeniably evil, is not to be brushed off so easily once one has been sucked into its tractor beam, and while the homogenization-cum-massification of life may not be (and indeed is not) a specifically Soviet phenomenon, it is an inescapably demoralizing one, and any cinematic representation implying that such demoralization can be obviated by finding the right marriage-partner is an untruthful one.
So far in my admittedly patchy survey of Soviet cinema I have admittedly yet to instance a single movie that indisputably outstrips all hyperoccidental counterparts both qua autonomous cinematic achievement and qua heteronomous index of the greater livability of everyday life on its side of the old Icey.  In each instance the boosted film has been all too readily bashable by some smug hyperoccidental’s “Yes, but…” clause.  To The Cranes Are Flying and Letter Never Sent’s technical brilliance and meta-ethical exemplarity such an insufferable w***ker may all too trenchantly demur, “Yes, but these are representations of life in extreme conditions, which famously both bring out the best in even the worst people and suspend the operations of even the most inhumane institutions of even the most barbaric socioeconopolitical dispensation, such that they (i.e., Cranes and Letter) cannot be regarded as plausible indices of the superiority of the Soviet way of life.  To the two Shurik films’--Kidnapping Caucasian Style’s and Ivan the Terribles—light-hearted attitude to the Soviet black market and idyllic depiction of Soviet vacationing, our IW may quasi-legitimately retort, “Yes, but these two flicks are farces, instantiations of a genre in which nothing ever even purports to be even approximately as it is in the so--and very much rightly--called real world.”  And finally, as just illustrated-cum-mentioned (some, perhaps even most--nay, all--would say, rather, belabored), The Irony of Fate, or, Enjoy Your Bath!, while not suggesting that everyday life in the Soviet Union was positively (or perhaps, rather, negatively) worse than its hyperoccidental counterpart, does intimate that that life was on the whole just as bad in being dominated by demoralizing-cum-brutalizing forces and eliciting dreams of escape into a connubial extremely seldom-extremely seldomland.  In all candor, frankness, and rhetorically obligatory feigned self-abasement, I cannot say that the portion of the survey I have so far traversed or undertaken has been traversed or undertaken quite in vain, for the reader who had already been favorably--or at any rate charitably--disposed to the Soviet way of life but gone out of his aut al.’s way to avoid learning too much about it for fear of being thereby converted into the most sanguinarily whiggish advocate of global free marketeerism may have been perversely reaffirmed in his mild Sovietophilia by discovering from this hitherto traversed or undertaken portion that things really weren’t quite as bad over there and back then as he had been told, much as the bienpensant suburb-slicker finds his so-called progressive views on the apportionment of tax revenues perversely reaffirmed after having been merely repeatedly aggressively panhandled and verbally abused rather than mugged or mauled during his first visit to the so-called inner city.  But the present writer refuses to rest satisfied with such a lenten pantry-filler; he is out to persuade his reader, or rather, readers (for he will have no truck or lorry with the rhetorically obligatory self-abasing forbearance from the use of what grammarians call the ethical plural) not merely that everyday life in the Soviet Union wasn’t all that bad but that it was incomparably better than everyday life anywhere in the present-day hyperoccident, to persuade him et al. to ejaculate to me, “Ya tam, tovarsisch! [I’m there, dude!]  How soon can I sign the U-Haul-cum-Rent-a-TARDIS contract?”  Fortunately for the sake of my pantry-filling jones, I do have up one of my shirty sleeves (the left one, natch) a t***p-card of a film that I fancy--nay, presume--will do just that; a film whose setting, both in diagetical and actual terms, post-dates the Great Patriotic War by more than two decades, a film that far from glossing over the shortcomings and hardships of life under the Soviet system goes out of its way to emphasize them, and yet somehow miraculously makes such a life seem like a veritable idyll compared with any modus vivendi presently on offer even to the most affluent inhabitants of the purportedly most livable and most upmarket crannies of the present-day hyperoccident.  This film is entitled Wings and is not to be confused with the winner of the very first best picture Oscar or even with the 1990s situation comedy—and yet like both of these it does deal with aeroplanes, although on the whole much more obliquely and tangentially than either of them.  Rather than summarize the whole dad-blamed thing up front, I shall begin my discussion of Wings by describing its opening scene—this not because, as the ineluctably intellectually petit-bourgeois Bible of film journalism holds, in summarizing a film one is merely dishing out to the reader a serving of slop that he can get from hundreds of other textual greasy spoons (for the summarist of a film stands in no more intrinsically fungible, rubber stamp-like relation to that film than that film’s maker stood in relation to his subject before the shoot, inasmuch as he aut al. must choose which underwhelming minority of the film’s elements to mention in his aut al.’s summary), but rather because of all of Wings’(s) episodes this opening scene is the one that sticks with me the most tenaciously—for indeed, apart from the absence of any Jacob Marleyesque high-jinx chez lui, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it haunts me—and consequently seems to say the most, as they say, about the reality the film is at least purportedly, and very probably sincerely, attempting to depict.  This opening scene shows a white-haired, grave old gentleman—a(n) WHGOG whose features, clothing, and bearing are all more than slightly reminiscent of Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred in the exactly contemporaneous Batman television series—tape-measuring the pinstriped blazer-encased torso of a woman whose back is turned to us.  As I was taking in this scene for the first time, I was sorely tempted to eject the disc from my DVD player to make sure that Wings had not been swapped with some other movie—for such cock-ups are not unheard of at the library from which I had checked out the film—and specifically with some hyperoccidental period costume drama set at the very latest in the late-Edwardian microepoch, for as everyone of my microgeneration had been given to understand as youngsters, business attire for both (sic) sexes in the Soviet Union had always consisted and continued to consist solely of shapeless, jet-black, one-size-fits-all two-piece suits that one was forced to wear straight off the rack from GUM without any option to have alterations made.  And even supposing, I reflected as I smarted under the abovementioned temptation, this session is taking place somewhere closer to home than the Soviet Union, the date of it must lie well to the fore of 1966, for that is only six years before my own birth-year, and for all I know I have yet even to meet a person who has had a suit custom-tailored, and I have certainly never had a suit custom-tailored myself.  But then this first scene cut to a second scene in which the woman mentioned to somebody or other in a language that I recognized as Russian (without knowing it well enough to understand more than one out every ten of its therein-uttered words) that she had just been fitted for a suit in connection with a television appearance, and so I concluded that this film must after all be set in Soviet Russia in the second half of the twentieth century, but at the same moment I was utterly at a loss to specify the custom tailored suit-vouchsafed woman’s position in the Soviet society of her time; for surely, I reflected, only a Politburo member would have been vouchsafed a custom-tailored suit, and as far as I know there were never any female Politburo members, and even if there had been, the custom-tailored provenance of her suit surely would have been solicitously hidden from the off-the-rack sack suit-saddled Soviet cinema-going public’s view for fear of inciting GUM store-incinerating riots from Kaliningrad to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.  But then in the third scene one saw some rather disagreeable youths and girls in dark union suits (a.k.a. jumpsuits) rather apathetically disposed around a television set on whose screen the woman from the first two scenes was seen giving some sort of speech (I write some sort because inadequate subtitling prevented my becoming privy to the subject of that speech [although to be fair to the subtitler, inadequate source-sound may have prevented him aut al. from becoming privy to that selfsame subject]), whereupon I finally accurately inferred the custom tailored suited-woman’s exact occupation-cum-social function—namely nothing less ignominious than a sort of principal or warden of a kind of high school that made the one in Blackboard Jungle look like Andover or Eton.  And yet, I reflected, I’ll bet the principal or headmaster of Andover or Eton who last wore a custom-tailored suit has been lying buried in that selfsame suit for nearly three-quarters of a century.  And the onscreen woman’s suit turned out to be just the first item in a veritable suite of bespoke old-world amenities by which this humble Soviet woman was (or perhaps—but only perhaps—rather had been) surrounded.  The town in which she lived and principal’d was a goodly sized one, not Moscow, to be sure (as the viewer could be sure because more than once a character mentioned the Soviet capital as a version of elsewhere), but still bustling with pedestrian traffic composed overwhelmingly of decent-looking men and women in fetchingly heterogeneous (and conceivably even custom-tailored) business attire.  The town’s streets were paved not with asphalt but with bricks that could be washed completely clean by the briefest of showers, and when the sun returned after the downpour, these bricks would sparkle with a dazzling refulgence that MGM would have been proud to incorporate into The Wizard of Oz had they been obliged to film even its non-Kansan parts in black-and-white.  Within this town our (or at any rate my) heroine resided in a sort of boarding house, more specifically in a furnished room where she could sit and drink tea from a cup and saucer in a comfortable antimacassared armchair of pre-twentieth century design, and if she ever craved company she could step into the kitchen and chat with the landlady while lending her a perfunctory hand at the potato-peeling.  For recreation she could take in a movie at a cinema or sunbathe on a beach in a bikini-style swimsuit that seemed as custom-tailored as her business suit, and for refreshment she could visit a restaurant.  This restaurant was clean and well-lighted and offered its patrons generously proportioned sausages and mugs of beer.  To be sure, these patrons consisted entirely of men, and these men almost entirely of open-collared, non-business suited laborers, but they welcomed the principal’s appearance in their midst—not with the chorus of wolf-whistles and obscenities by which a woman is invariably greeted in any hyperoccidental site of plebian masculinity (whether fictional or actual), but rather with expressions of enthusiastic admiration of her as a so (and yet seemingly quite justly) called member of the community.  To be sure although living like a queen within a virtual utopia, this woman was by no means entirely happy with her existence.  She seemed to be saddened and disappointed by the course of life newly embarked on by her adopted barely post-teenaged daughter (whose lack of biological consanguinity to or with her seemed to sadden her in its own right), specifically her marriage to an improvident school teacher (though not a teacher at her [i.e., the principal’s] school) almost old enough to be her (i.e., the principal’s) husband.  She seemed to find the pupils at her school poor surrogates for natural filial connections, probably because they seemed to regard her with a well-nigh terrified fear little mollified by respect, let alone affection.  Her only close friend, the curator of the local history museum, was a rather dour, close-mouthed and otherwise unprepossessing (though still ever-impeccably business-suited) middle-aged man.  And most discontentingly of all, she could not stop thinking about a much earlier period in her life when she had had a much more exciting and glamorous job, namely piloting fighting airplanes against the Nazi-German Luftwaffe, a job in which she had spent time around much more exciting and glamorous people, including a certain fellow-pilot, a very handsome young man whom one was given to understand had been the great love of her life and had tragically been killed during a mission in which they had both been involved (in a flashback scene she plaintively called out to him from her cockpit radio as his plane took a nosedive).  Eventually she became so violently nostalgic for this earlier period that she went down to the local airfield, climbed into the cockpit of one of the propeller planes there, and tricked some of the maintenance crew into giving her a push along the runway, where she started the engine and soared up into the sky, where she remained as the film unambiguously signaled its end with the word konyets.  To this day I do not know whether she ever touched back down and resumed her land job--and most likely nobody else knows either.  Predictably in the light of the fact that both its director and leading actor were women, all the inline reviews of Wings represent it as a searing critique-cum-blistering indictment of the limited career opportunities available to women in the male-dominated Soviet society.  And the film is undoubtedly no stranger to such a critique, as can be seen at the end of the restaurant scene, when the establishment’s female manager complains of her husband’s treatment of her.  But this traditional feminist plaint is the most inner of the film's inner voices; it lasts for a very few minutes, and it is by no means expressive of the plight of the protagonist. Her misery is occasioned not by having to be a school principal now but by no longer being able to be a fighter pilot, which is in turn occasioned by the socially extrinsic facts that she is no longer young and that the Soviet Union is no longer at war.  If the film were really all about the heroine’s comparative misery qua woman qua social contributor, we would see her surrounded by heroically successful men in enviable social positions, whereas each and every man she encounters is indisputably inferior to her in terms of both his present and prospective social stations.  Such being the case, Wings must be viewed as a critique-cum-indictment—searing-cum-blistering or otherwise—of the entire post-World War II Soviet system of life.  Why then does the present writer believe himself justified in interpreting Wings against the grain as a jubilant affirmation of that selfsame system?  First, because as already made clear in my overtly subjective past-sense quasi-summary, the film makes the post-World War II U.S.S.R., and moreover a specifically provincial locale therein,  seem on the whole a pleasant place in which to live.  To be sure, Wings’ diagesis may not be brimming over with state-of-the art luxury knick-knacks of the hyperoccident of its own time (Tupperware containers, pocket flash-bulb cameras, and the like), let alone of ours, but on the other (and to my mind far weightier) hand, it retains a much goodlier proportion of the amenities from which bourgeois life around the globe derived the best part of the superior level of comfort and dignity it enjoyed and exuded through the early twentieth century.  Secondly, and perhaps more than slightly corollarily, this diagesis allows its protagonist’s nostalgia for her personal good old days free play, and indeed unreservedly endorses this nostalgia.  In any—and I mean absolutely any, including the most allegedly uncompromising-cum-artistic—recent hyperoccidental cinematic treatment of this theme of an older person discontentedly adjusting to the ways of a world whose pace and tone is set by younger people, we would discover an exactly antithetical state of paired affairs.  In such a treatment the discontented oldster would be exclusively surrounded by vaguely anthropomorphic chunks of lard only vaguely clad in shapeless envelopes of synthetic fabric differentiated only into Large, Extra Large, and Extra-Extra Large pseudo-sizes; these lard-chunks would be smugly shuffling around while wantonly and incessantly oozing objectionable words and solecisms from their north-anuses and various objectionable fluids and gases from that and every other orifice.  And yet somehow the viewer would be given to understand that these nauseating lard-chunks represented the ne plus ultra of the good and the beautiful in both an aesthetic and a moral sense.  For in diagetic present-day life the oldster would be incessantly laughed and jeered at by all the lard-chunks for not owning a so-called smart phone of less than six months’ antiquity, or for not knowing the name of the present week’s reigning world-champion professional autoerotic asphyxiationist, or being ignorant of some unimaginably uninventive slang term for, say, farting into the face of a sleeping Uber driver (e.g., sleepubdrivefacefarting); and in his aut al.’s diagetic nostalgic memories his aut al.’s irredeemable and incorrigible reactionariness on the technological front would be seen as organically and inextricably linked to his aut al.’s equally (albeit merely equally) irredeemable political reactionariness.  Thus a shot of his aut al.’s younger self, say, making a call on a rotary-dial telephone would be intercut with shots of various atrocities hailing from the pre-touch tone telephonic era, so that once his aut al.’s finger had spun the perforated circle far enough to dial the first digit of the destination number, one would see a child worker expiring at the loom in a sweatshop; once he aut al. had dialed the second digit, one would see a parasol-wielding suffragette being bayoneted by a hussar; and so on, until the atrocity subtending the dialing of the ineluctably terminal seventh digit (for in the rotary-dial days no local call required more than seven digits, and to represent the arch-villain’s younger self as a person of sufficient consequence or financial means to rotary-dial a long-distance call without the intervention of an operator would awkwardly imply that he aut al. had subsequently owned all the latest telephonic devices as a matter of course).  And when the irredeemably wicked oldster all too belatedly died, his or her only vaguely anthropomorphic survivors would be seen first gleefully snapping pictures of his aut al.’s corpse artfully arranged to look as though it were effortlessly and enthusiastically conversing over the latest (and indeed not even yet officially released) I-p***e spot-welded into its lifeless right hand and against its lifeless right ear; and then tumbling the accursed carcass into a pit full (or pitful) of priapistically randy necrophilic dingos.  Any present-day hyperoccidental cinematic depiction of a nostalgic oldster’s life could not avoid pursuing the just-delineated cursus because the present-day hyperoccident from the Oder Frankfurt (if not Warsaw) to Nome or Barrow (q.q.v.) is a de facto Whigocracy to its very core: Whatever is, is immeasurably better than what was is the cardinal article of faith of every single hyperoccidental man, woman, child, aut al./cet., regardless of his aut al.’s official religious or political persuasion.  To be sure, or at least sure-ish, the present-day hyperoccident teems with people who in their hearts of hearts emphatically do not believe that whatever is, is immeasurably better than what was, but they are obliged, nay, compelled, to express their discontent obliquely, furtively, guiltily, and above all extremely intermittently—very much after the manner in which the members of certain organizations that cannot safely be named used to comport themselves—I say used to because of course nowadays even the most harshly proscribed of them proudly flaunt their T****r feeds, F******k profile, and portfolio of Y**-T**e videos.  To be sure, the Soviet Union of the micro-epoch of Wings, the Soviet Union of the early Brezhnev period, was officially and in principle as thoroughgoingly whiggish as any hyperoccidental polity then or now.  But unofficially—nay, even in some subaltern sense officially (for Wings was after all a 35-mm [albeit square screen- aspected] product of the Soviet film industry, not some Super-8 samizdat effort—and in practice it seems to have had a high tolerance for enamorment with the past qua bearer of a superior form of civilization.  And there are good grounds for inferring that Wings was not a mere anti-Whiggish flash in the pan of the mid-to-late Soviet Gemeinschaftsgeist; grounds that are especially good in virtue of having a hefty hectare or two of their share sited well to the west of the Old Icey.  I am thinking here, for example, of an episode in that cinematic Cold Warhorse Moscow on the Hudson (1984) in which Robin Williams’s character, a recent Soviet defector residing in New York City, descants with passionate nostalgia on his limitless liberty to cherish his misery back in the U.S.S.R.  Of course, in this movie, as in every other hyperoccidental movie representing Soviet subjecthood and released either before 1942 or after, say, 1947, the nostalgia for misery-cherishing is understood to be a transient growing pain that ineluctably must be undergone by yet another gormless-cum-snowflakish Ivan Stolichnaya (or, perhaps, rather, Ivan Non Levi-Jeans-Wearer) struggling to acclimatize himself to the initially harsh but ultimately infinitely gratifying-cum-redeeming realities of so-called free-market capitalism—realities that then were indeed at least finitely gratifying-cum-redeeming in at least still being oriented towards the reliably steady production and consumption of material goods of fairly durable construction.  How immeasurably more miserable is this Robin Williams character’s present-day hyperoccidental cousin (or perhaps, rather, nephew), incessantly adjured as he aut al. is by each and every one of his aut al.’s compatriots and contemporaries to rejoice at and revel in the unprecedented material abundance he aut al. is supposedly enjoying despite having to make do, at every minute of every day—and not only to the great detriment of his aut al.’s personal comfort, but also at great risk to his aut al.’s personal life and limb(s)—with a congeries of material goods whose shoddiness and undependability positively put to pride the most bunglingly cobbled-together products of Soviet heavy industry!

But I am getting far ahead of myself via getting perhaps no less far back to myself.   For at this precise moment, as against at a much earlier moment and at a much later moment, a moment within a stone’s throw of my peroration (for those who are particularly good at throwing stones [Flanders and Swann reference, natch]), I am not supposed to be talking about the shortcomings of the present-day hyperoccidental consumer industry, egregiously grievous to the point of exacting an essay much longer than the present one (if an essay of such longueur could be imagined) though they undoubtedly are.  I am supposed, rather, to be rounding the horseshoe bend-like curve of a turning point in which I say something to the effect of But the later Soviet system of life’s tolerance of older modi vivendi had a dark side to it, something that I am perfectly content to be taken to have just said not only in effect but verbatim, provided that for dark there is substituted something less ineluctably evocative of a vampire ensconced in smoke machine-produced smoke and yet no less redolent of unregenerate evil than dark, and provided that it is understood from the so-called get-go that this dark-esque side to the Soviet system of life’s tolerance of older lifestyles is by no means anything at which the hyperoccident is entitled to look down its lorgnette, inasmuch as the hyperoccident has sedulously both nurtured this side not unlike a pelican and exploited it not unlike a tapeworm ([sic, or rather, sic] on the present-perfect has, which denotes the soon-to-be-addressed persistence of this darkesque side and its nurturing-cum-exploitation into the present and hence well past the demise-date of the Soviet Union).  What is more, I am quite keen from the so-called get-go to forestall the impression that in decrying this dark-esque side I am participating ever so slightly or in any respect in the boilerplate intellectually petit-bourgeois hyperoccidental polemic against a certain phenomenon-cum-entity-cum-practice; to the contrary, I am convinced that the promulgators and relayers of this polemic have far more in common with the inhabitants of the Soviet-cum-post Soviet darkesque side than with the present writer--this in virtue of their own appropriation of the phenomenon-cum-entity-cum practice to ends that are but (at best) superficially divergent from those of the darkesque side-denizens themselves.  But to the divulgence of the identity of this phenomenon-cum-entity-cum practice already!: it is simply-cum-complicatedly the quasi-tradition appropriately albeit only occasionally termed Judeo-Christianity.  And the darkesque side of the SSL’s tolerance of old-school MVi consists in this selfsame system’s facile, wanton, and sanctimoniously disingenuous appropriation of the topoi and precepts of this quasi-tradition—not, as in Wings’s utterly ingenuous registration of a tailor’s shop, an old-fashioned tea-service, and the like, towards the noble end of affording sanctuary to residual elements of a more civilized system of life, but rather towards the sub-perlatively ignoble end of affirming the Soviet status quo from Kaliningrad to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky qua supposed realization of the New Jerusalem.  Of course, at first, cherubic, dunderheaded Sovietologist’s blush (to the extent that any still-extant Sovietologist skulls retain enough skin and muscle on them to sustain a blush), the very notion of a Soviet affirmation of the Judeo-Christian quasi-tradition seems downright oxymoronic.  After all, the Sovietologist continues his demurral, to the extent that the condition of his chaps (in a mandibular sense) permits him, the Soviet State was avowedly, nay, proudly atheistic both in theory and in practice, and a Soviet citizen had no more flagrant or perilous means of defying that State than openly espousing an adherence to one of the Abrahamic faiths, which are after all (and pace that nobly lonesome Indian-subcontinental outcropping of monotheism known as Sikhism) the most emphatically theistic of all the world’s great faiths.  And if in counterdemurral one adduces the most illustrious example of a Soviet exponent of Abrahamic theism, namely, Andrei Tarkovsky, one is told (albeit not, as according to the chap-fallen teller’s fading lights, reminded) in counter-counter-demurral that Tarkovsky’s most unabashed essay in expression of his theism, the film Andrei Rublev, was initially denied release in the U.S.S.R. on account of its Christological content.  To this counter-counter-demurral one is initially inclined to counter-counter-counter-demur that the mere fact that Andrei Rublev, a film with a cast of hundreds, was ever green-lighted at all, let alone allowed to be shot and edited, and let further alone screened everywhere west of the Old Icey, suggests that there were plenty of people in very high Soviet places indeed who ardently wanted Tarkovsky’s Christophilia to thrive.  But then one suddenly and serendipitously remembers a no-less-flagrant, and indeed in some ways even more flagrant, example of Soviet State-endorsed Christophilia than Andrei Rublev, an example that is impervious to the Sovietologist’s objections inasmuch as it was not, as far as the present writer knows, subject to any official Soviet-governmental proscriptions.  This is a 1977 film entitled The Ascent and directed by of all people--and here I am obliged to turn my head aside and dam a flood of tears with a thumb and index finger--Larisa Shepitko, the director of my beloved of beloveds, Wings.  (Whence, on the whole, the sluggishness of my negotiation of the abovementioned horseshoe bend-like curve, a sluggishness with which any reader who is not an absolutely intransigent adherent of Michel Foucault’s theory of authorship [if such a person actually exists] will be heartily sympathetic.)  The Ascent depicts an abortive reconnaissance mission by a pair of soldiers in Belarus at at an undated moment in the Great Patriotic War.  The soldiers, both part of a military detachment escorting an entire displaced village of famished civilians, have volunteered to traverse the bleak and German-occupied Belarussian snowscape in search of whatever relief they can find for their charges.  One of the scouts is clean-shaven and rather ugly after the quasi-Mongolian manner of the notoriously daemonic Tom Waits; the other is angelically handsome and bearded just like Thou Knowest Who(m).  Eventually the pair are captured by the occupying Germans and placed in the hands of one of their Soviet turncoat lackeys, a torturer played by none other than the dude who had played Andrei Rublev just over a decade earlier, Anatoli Solonitsyn.  The torturer initially addresses the bearded soldier and initially tries to bring him round to disclosing the whereabouts of his fellows via a lecture on metaphysics.  The human soul, so the torturer maintains, is a chimera; nothing survives us after death, so why not confess if confession is the only means of saving one’s life?  Our nobly bearded hero rejects this argument with eloquent vituperation along with, if the present writer’s memory serves, an eyeful or two of spittle.  Whereupon the torturer calls in a handsome dentist’s trayful of instruments of pain and sets to work with them.  The scene ends with a shot of a hot iron being pressed into the bare chest of the detainee, who all the while manfully grits his teeth and holds his peace.  Next we see the Tom Waits lookalike being interrogated by Mr. Solonitsyn.  When the latter hints that the dentist’s tray is on its way, he sings, as they say, like a canary as voiced by Tom Waits.  In recompense for this service his life is spared; our beardy, close-mouthed hero in contrast is summarily sentenced to death.  Just before being dragged to the scaffold he proudly and scornfully, and indeed with downright patrician hauteur reminiscent of Suffolk’s last speech in II Henry VI, announces to his captors that he has been a member of the Communist Party since some date in which he could not but have still been in short pants.  And at the moment of his execution, the moment at which the chair is taken from beneath his feet, his face is seen in close-up, smiling beatifically, as they say, and the shot dissolves into a blindingly white blank screen as he is still moving along the initial upward and forward-oriented arc of his pendulum-period, such that it looks as though rather than merely swinging at the end of a rope like any common criminal, he is ascending skyward, just like Thou Knowest Who(m) (whence, presumably, the movie’s title).  The biblical genealogy of the Tom Waits-resembling snitch is even more excoriatingly rubbed in when immediately after the execution some of the local peasant women execrate him with cries of Judas!  And as if the poor s*d hasn’t been made to suffer enough by then, he is shown to be but a very shabby imitator of his ignominious biblical precursor, for although like Judas he tries to hang himself, the belt he has fashioned into a noose proves too weak to bear his weight, and so at the film’s conclusion he is left staring up at the execution scene (a Calvary-esque hill, natch) and stewing in remorse.  So, then: it is quite clear from the foregoing summary that I love The Ascent almost as much as Thomas Pynchon loves cameras.  So then: what is (there) not to love about this movie?  For a start, the entire Christological superstructure is poorly suited to the diagetic facts of the narrative and therefore intrinsically fatuous.  These diagetic facts make it clear that the two central characters start out at a position of exact ethical parity, the position of ordinary soldiers who have somehow found themselves in a situation direly threatening to both their own lives and the lives of those they have been entrusted to protect, and who both desperately and in good faith aim to do their utmost to extricate themselves and their charges from this situation.  This is an aim that may with equal plausibility be alternatively termed termed heroic, reckless, altruistic, or egoistic but that by no plausible means may be termed saintly, let alone holy.  That one of these two central characters subsequently spills the beans with which the pair have been entrusted while the other retains them makes neither the former a latter-day Judas nor the latter a latter-day Christ.  To be sure, the bearded soldier ends up evincing much more fortitude than the aspirantly clean-shaven one, but this fortitude ought not to be taken as proof of the beardy bloke’s immeasurable moral superiority to the non-beardy one, let alone of his spiritual purity or absolute devoid-ness of sin.  From a strictly Christian point of view, since the fall of Adam there has only ever been one perfect, sin-free human being, and the positing of any subsequently born human being, whether actual or fictional, as perfect and sin-free, as a kind of moral carbon-copy of Christ, must be regarded as an act of sacrilege (or blasphemy, if one fundamentally regards the positing as a speech-act).  Moreover, it is singularly Unchristian, inasmuch as charity is one of the cardinal Christian virtues and “the quality of mercy is not strained,” to represent a man who cannot keep a secret under pain of torture as a Judas.  The motives of the actual Judas qua betrayer of his master and teacher as presented in the gospels are disputable, but it is beyond dispute that that actual Judas was not in any way or to any decree coerced into the betrayal by any sort of threat to his material well-being, that he betrayed Jesus entirely voluntarily, and would have been suffered to live no more uncomfortably than his eleven fellow-disciples had he kept his secret to himself.  The relatively unbeardy soldier of The Ascent finds himself in an altogether more life and limb-threatening situation and therefore must be judged much less harshly than Judas by any aspirantly charitable Christian.   As that famously un-self serving Christian Sir Thomas Browne wrote in Religio Medici, way back in the 1630s,

’Tis not in the power of every honest faith to proceed thus farre [i.e., as the great Christian martyrs], or passe to Heaven through the flames; every one hath it not in that full measure, nor in so audacious and resolute a temper, as to endure those terrible tests and trialls, who notwithstanding in a peaceable way doe truely adore their Saviour, and have (no doubt) a faith acceptable in the eyes of God.

Finally, and not least damningly, the film’s unabashed twin-cum mutually opposed equations of Communism with Christian theism and Nazism with materialistic atheism are downright laughably, or, rather, revoltingly, at odds with the historical record.  Nazism was at worst (or best, as far as an atheist should be concerned) tendentiously atheistic in sidelining Christ and church-attendance in favor of the Führer und Vaterland-worship-building rallies.  To be sure-ish, if Hitler &co. had had their druthers, they would have abolished all the Christian churches and formally deified the Führer in imitation of the ancient Romans’ apotheosis of their emperors, but owing to intransigent resistance from the gottesfürchtige(n) Volk (to whom they were quasi-paradoxically quite servilely compliant in certain matters), these druthers were never formally codified, let alone implemented, and even if they had been, they would have had absolute zilch to say on the questions of the existence of a supreme all-governing deity and the immortality of the soul.  By contrast Soviet Communism—a.k.a.
Leninism—included a denial of the existence of a supreme being in its founding charter; hence, the swearing of allegiance to the Soviet Communist Party always and in every case, and intrinsically and perforce, entailed the sworn disavowal of the existence of a supreme being.  The virtual fact that hundreds of thousands if not millions of sworn Soviet Communist Party members were devout Christians (at least by Russian Orthodox standards [this snarkiness will be explicated anon]) is of absolutely no relevance here, for however ardently and intransigently these devout Christians may have been devoted to the other articles in the credo of the Party, they could not but have regarded its article of atheism as sacrilegious (if not blasphemous), as a traducement of what they believed in most ardently and intransigently.  Hence their Party membership could not but have sat uneasily on their consciences; they could not but have regarded it as something to be acknowledged as rarely and furtively as possible, and it certainly never would have occurred to them to boast of this membership immediately before being executed, at a moment when nothing was any longer to be lost by affirming their more fundamental and hence overriding membership of the super-community of Christians.  Moreover anyone who had been a member of the Party throughout the 1930s, as the The Ascent’s Christ stand-in professes to have been, would have been at least tacitly complicit in that Party’s worst acts of repression--the show-trials, the unannounced abductions under cover of darkness, the mass incarcerations and mass executions; atrocities certainly no less sanguinarily brutal than the worst of those visited on the dramatis personae of The Ascent by the Nazi-German Wehrmacht.  It is ultimately in the light of this consideration, the consideration of the Christ stand-in’s proud advertisement of his Party credentials at the threshold of death, that even the least literal-minded, and therefore most hifalutin interpretation of The Ascent --an interpretation that lorgnette-flailingly maintains, “Well of course the dude himself isn’t actually a Christian; rather, he’s embodying the infinitely fungible love-thy-neighborly core of Christianity within the context of an atheistic cosmology”--must in all good faith acknowledge that it hasn’t got a leg to stand on.  For it is of course scarcely possible even to conceive of anything less love-thy-neighborly than the Soviet Communist Party’s treatment of hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens in the 1930s.  (I am obliged to leave out of consideration the even more demographically devastating atrocities of the WWII years on the grounds that the hero of The Ascent [albeit not Ms. Shepitko et al.] would most likely not have been aware of them.)  And yet again of course such anti-love-thy-neighborliness is very much in keeping with the ruthlessness with which the film treats its supposed Judas analogue, the non-beardy soldier.  And when one synthesizes the film’s historical amnesia with this ruthlessness one cannot but conclude that under the flimsy auspices of a Christological semiotics, The Ascent actually and fundamentally promulgates not a Christian but a Stalinian morality.  And indeed even at a semiotic level, its Christological allegory readily lends itself to being read as but a cipher for a higher-order Stalinological one.  So the unbeardy soldier can be read as Trotsky or Kirov, and the close-up on the beatific face of its Jesus figure at the moment of his execution fairly begs to be read as the exact antitype of the moment towards the end of Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky when that film’s Stalin-typal hero both proclaims the solidity and permanence of his reign and vows to crush all who would presume to challenge it.  I realize—or, rather, assume—that this Stalin-orientated interpretation might seem a trifle overreaching in the light of the fact that The Ascent was released in 1977, nearly a quarter-century after Stalin’s death and the nearly immediately ensuing anti-Stalinist backlash, the so-called thaw; and a mere eight years before the advent of glasnost and perestroika.  I further assume—or, rather, dimly recall if not quite realize—that the Sovietologist skulls have ready to temporal-bone some sort of argument about a refrigeration tantamount to a revival of Stalinism in the mid-Brezhnev period, an argument that can quite serviceably, if mechanically, be made to account for the imposition of a Stalinist program on The Ascent from on high.  But the film’s very personnel roster militates victoriously against such a Sovietologist(ic) explanation: Shepitko, its director, was a Tarkovsky protegee, Solonitsyn, one of its principal actors, was Tarkovsky’s favorite male lead, and its musical score was composed by Alfred Schnittke, an admirer of Tarkovsky and the Soviet Union’s most illustrious—and consequently most persecuted—exponent of hyperoccidental-style musical avant garde-ism.  All signs point to The Ascent’s being consciously conceived as a cinematic articulation of dissidence—and hence of a presumptively anti-Stalinist worldview—in the Tarkovskian tradition.  And so naturally, acting on the virtually watertight principle that [insert literal Russian translation of The acorn seldom falls far from the tree here] one leafs through Tarkovsky’s pre-Ascent dossier in search of proof that he was essentially, or at least tendentiously, a Stalinist masquerading as a dissident.  But such proof is really not to be found therein--for in the first place, even in the most overtly Christological of his films, Andrei Rublev, the protagonist is by no means simply a body-double for the Savior qua unimpeachable authority-cum-embodiment of the ultimate good.  For two things, inter alia, at an early point in the film he is shown imagining the moment of Christ’s crucifixion as an event in which he is in no respect involved (for herein it is quite obvious that neither the actor playing Christ nor any of the bystanding actors is Anatoli Solonitsyn), and such being the case, from the outset the diagetic hermeneutic register preempts the allegorical one; from the outset Rublev is posited as a Thomas à Kempis-esque imitator of Christ, and hence disqualified from allegorically standing in for the Savior, let alone for some ostensible Christ-successor such as Stalin; and at a latish point in the film he is shown protecting a Russian woman from rape by slaying her Mongol would-be ravisher and then expressing remorse at having done so—whereby he becomes something of a Cain-like figure and distances himself at equal distances from Christ qua Prince of Peace and Stalin qua Defender of the U.S.S.R. against Attacks from the Western Hordes-cum-Gospodin Implacable.  And then (a.k.a. in the second place), one must note Tarkovsky’s ever-recurring signaling of a conviction that the near-eastern precincts of Christendom do not possess a monopoly on metaphysical truth, and in particular his conviction that the Germanic world has at least historically possessed a controlling share therein.  One thinks eff-und-effmeist in this connection of his first feature-length film, Ivan’s Childhood, which is, like The Ascent, a film dramaturgically centered on Soviet citizens, both military and civilian, defending the western frontier against German invaders during the Great Patriotic War, but in which special cinematographic emphasis is placed on page after page from a folio volume of Dürer engravings that excite the admiration of its eponymous child hero in defiance of his utter ignorance of Germans as anything other than an utterly inimical force.  And then in Solaris there are the numerous lingering, scanning, searching shots of Breughel the Elder’s Hunters in the Snow and the almost total domination of the musical soundtrack by Bach’s chorale prelude Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (circumspectly secularized in the opening credits as “Bach’s Chorale Prelude in F Minor”).  To be sure, in Tarkovsky’s first movie filmed outside the Soviet Union (specifically Italy) and with partial foreign (presumably specifically Italian) financial backing, The Sacrifice, there is a tedious amount of explicit bellyaching (voiced by a Russian poet whose portrayal by a younger and more photogenic—and hence less vatic gravitas-laden—actor than Solonitsyn was necessitated only by the latter’s death) about Russia’s spiritual exceptionality and inscrutability by (or to?) so-called Westerners.  But of course this bellyaching is almost laughably easily dismissed as a contingent manifestation of the filmmaker’s apprehensiveness about his impending exile, about living somewhere in which he would incessantly be required to take a stand on his Russianness, or rather his Russianness qua stand-in for his ex-Sovietness, for his former acquiescence in a political dispensation that ruthlessly curtailed freedom of expression, the circulation of imported blue jeans, etc.  The present writer, while quite strongly inclined to dismiss the bellyaching, is none too strongly inclined to do so along such facile lines; rather, in the light of the fact that The Sacrifice was filmed more than a half-decade after The Ascent, he is inclined to think that by then Tarkovsky himself had been swept into a vulgar Christological-cum-Russophilic-cum crypto-Stalinst kinosgeistige current inaugurated by that 1977 flick, and hence was more or less doomed to espouse its platitudes in his own movies.  But if the spiritual cosmopolitan Tarkovsky could not escape being swept into such a kinosgeistige current, we are confronted by a decidedly ouroboric conundrum, a conundrum that impels us to seek out that current’s headwater in some phenomenon of a more general, and indeed weltgeistige, nature and momentum.  The present writer, being almost entirely unschooled in the theological disparities between the Eastern Orthodox versions of Christianity, including the Russian Orthodox version, and those versions practiced and espoused in the Protestant-cum-Catholic sector of what was formerly known as Christendom, is presumably understandably chary of weighing in on the spiritual ethoses and habituses of persons hailing from the Eastern Orthodox sector.  At the same time, as a person born, raised, and braised in the Protestant-Catholic sector as a de facto atheist; i.e., someone who as a child was simply allowed to run wild on the metaphysical-cum-theological plane (or plain) and never received any sort of formal or informal religious indoctrination—and who, indeed to this day has never even been bap-TIZED (to quote the idiolect of William Powell in Life of Father, my stalwart private alter ego or quasi-saint vis-à-vis this condition that is presumably still highly anomalous if the statisticians’ obdurate representation of the United States as a polity populated almost entirely by churchgoing Bible-thumpers is to be believed) under the auspices of any Christian faith, let alone confirmed therein (even if, for at least ostensibly purely medical reasons, he has been subjected to a procedure that will allow him to pass muster as a Jew in certain settings)—he at least fancies he is in a fair position to think his way into the mindset of a fellow non-native believer on the other side of the other Icey, the spiritual Icey (which of course has never been exactly coextensive with the temporal Icey, as witnessed by the cases of Greece, Poland, and certain sectors of the Balkans) who in later life found or finds himself or herself inclined for whatever reason to enter into some kind of fellowship with the faith of, if not his or father and mother, then at any rate the faith of his or her first and second cousins two or three times removed.  He, the present writer, at least fancies that such a person in his or her precipitous zeal to catch up on all the spiritual nourriture that he or she at least fancies (perhaps not without reason) that he or she has been missing out on for all these decades, will find himself or herself unwittingly embracing certain tenets and practices more or less stridently at odds with his or her established ethos.  He further in consequence fancies that as it entered its collective midlife the dissident and peri-dissident Soviet intelligentsia found itself unwittingly embracing many such tenets and practices from the Russian Orthodox Church, tenets and practices that were tantamount to those of the very Stalinism that in its collective youth had constituted its nemesis-cum-raison d’agir.  When I write of a collective midlife I do not mean merely the sum-total of the individual midlives of the dissident and peri-dissident Soviet intelligentsia’s members; hence I am not describing or perhaps rather about to describe some sort of Soviet analogue to the sociocultural phenomenon notoriously dramatized-cum-cinematized in the notoriously generation-defining 1983 American movie The Big Chill, wherein a demographic cluster of virtual exact contemporaries who were at least nominally committed to an at least nominally revolutionary ethos as youngsters become brazenly politically quiescent as a well-nigh ineluctable epiphenomenon of assuming the usual functions of adulthood in a radically bourgeois society.  After all, by the year that I have singled out as a watershed, 1977, the year of The Ascent’s production, most of the charter members of the Soviet dissident-cum-peridissident intelligentsia who had escaped liquidation (e.g., Akhmatova and Shostakovich) were already dead, and many of its leading lights, including Tarkovsky and Schnittke, were well past early midlife (although, yet again, it is fitting and not accidental that Shepitko, the watershed-marker, had not yet turned forty).  And so by midlife here I mean a collective quasi-psychological state arising out of this intelligentsia’s participation in a society that was aging along with it as a larger and subsumptive collective.  In its collective youth, a period of life corresponding roughly to that of Stalin’s quasi-reign, this intelligentsia had little need of spiritual succor from any officially chartered religion, because it had a de facto faith in its reverence for the pan-European cultural heritage of the preceding three centuries (within which the Russian sector thereof, though highly regarded, by no means held undisputed pride of place)—for the tradition of classical music from Bach to Schoenberg, the tradition of great literature from Shakespeare to Alexander Blok, of great painting from Rembrandt to Kandinsky, etc.  And it believed that its adherence to this faith was in itself an act of political opposition to the hegemonic ideology of Stalinism, for in addition to being a tyrant Stalin was a philistine, at least vis-à-vis all cultural products of post-mid nineteenth century vintage, and the great mass of Soviet citizens who worshiped him were virtually illiterate.  By the mid-1960s, Stalinism was, as they say, but a distant memory (as any phenomenon of more than ten years’ antiquity is to the sub-middle aged), and many, if not quite most, of the luminaries of the various modernist canons had become if not quite personae gratae to the cultural gatekeepers of the Soviet State then at least personae non-non gratae thereunto, as witnessed, for example, by the elderly Shostakovich’s guarded use of Schoenbergian twelve-note rows and Klangfarbenmelodie in his instrumental works and poems by Rilke, Garcia-Lorca, Apollinaire, and Tsvetaeva in his vocal music.  And yet at the same time, the dissident-cum-peri- dissident intelligentsia were by no means being given carte blanche as living Soviet exponents-cum-continuers of the modernist quasi-tradition, as witnessed, for example, by Tarkovsky’s difficulty in securing domestic access to his films and Schnittke’s to his compositions (apart from the film scores).  And yet at another same (sic on another same) time, the Soviet State in its domestic orientation was turning into a sort of laggardly and lower-key but (after its own duller fashion) quasi-reliable imitator of its hyperoccidental quasi-governmental and non-governmental counterparts qua implacable erector of residential infrastructure-cum-outchurner of consumer goods, as we (or at least I) have seen in The Irony of Fate, Wings, and the two Shurik movies, and as was attested to by contemporary observers such as Jean Améry, who in his 1964 survey of the emerging post-Post World War II cultural landscape wrote, “In the East...Marxism literally does not raise enough excitement to make a dog, dozing behind a stove, prick up its ears.  There the imagination of the people is kindled only by the mythology of common production, of quantitative, objectively verifiable achievements accomplished by horizontal work” (Preface to the Future, p. 133).  All this being the case, the Russian Orthodox Church must have seemed reasonably attractive as a pis aller to all dissident and peri-dissident intelligents who were keen to signal and effectuate their opposition to the Soviet system yet slightly reluctant-to-adamantly unwilling to forfeit their Soviet citizenship along with certain other sub-Soviet affiliations (I am trying ever so desperately hard to obviate recourse to the abominable word id**t**y).  After all, like these intelligents it, the ROC, was forced to keep a so-called low profile by the Soviet State, and by habitus if not necessarily ethos it was opposed to all the prefabricated trappings of the bubliki-cutter ethos-cum-habitus of relentless production-cum-consumption that had taken seemingly permanent hold in all parts of the pan-occident.  After all, the ROC’s priests, unlike the university lecturers as which most of these intelligents were compelled to earn their daily khleb (or bubliki), officiated not in off-the-rack GUM sack suits (for I somehow imagine the Alfred-esque tailor of Wings, along with all but the most upmarket of his hyperoccidental colleagues, to have given up the ghost [not to mention the gost] by 1977) and New Brutalist-bubliki-cutter lecture halls, but in GUM-imperviously lavish ceremonial robes and infungible pre-Soviet churches and cathedrals surmounted by all those lovely-to-lavish onion-shaped cupolas.  Note well that three sentences ago I did not write that the ROC actually was a pis aller, let alone the sole pis aller for these intelligents, and I did not do so because while I do up to a point appreciate the expediency, and indeed even the rationality, of this flight into the arms of the ROC, I by no means believe that it was ineluctable or ultimately even excusable.  To be sure, these intelligents could and probably should have plied their Shakespeare, Beethoven, Pushkin, Kandinsky, Tsvetaeva et al.-aut-c. like their predecessors and younger selves, and probably some more than negligible proportion--and indeed possibly even the majority--of them did just that; but so doing meant contenting oneself with an admittedly highly demoralizing combination of obscurity and at least apparent ineffectuality-cum-abject conformism.  Those of them who could not bear to be out of the spotlight qua standard-bearers of the apparent cutting edge of the Östgeist qua apparent cutting edge of the Weltgeist immersed themselves in the ascetically chilling bath-waters of the ROC, with devastating results, as they say.  In the short term the devastation was evident only in the declining quality of their art**t*c output.  I have already mentioned this decline in connection with Tarkovsky, and it is equally starkly, albeit admittedly not as consistently, evident in Schnittke’s work from The Ascent onwards.  To be sure, Schnittke was never a member of the ROC and died a Roman Catholic, but the Christian-liturgical element that figures so prominently in his later works owes much more to the spirit of the ROC than to that (or those) imbuing the ecclesiastical compositions of the great hyperoccidental composers with which his oeuvre otherwise unreservedly affiliates itself; namely, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven—and indeed even Bruckner, the church organist whose chapel of most celebrated residence, that of the monastery of St. Florian, is the eponym of Schnittke’s Second Symphony.  One might expect a symphony so brazenly flying its Brucknerian ecclesiastical colors to avail itself of the full panoply of post-Wagnerian instrumental, vocal, harmonic, and melodic resources exploited by the organist of St. Florian himself in his own masses and motets.  And to be sure, on the instrumental side it employs an enormous orchestra in a manner that Bruckner probably would not have discountenanced, a manner that indeed suggests, à la Chuck Ives on the nature of his relation to Beethoven and Prokofiev on his First Symphony’s Haydnian affinities, the sort of symphony Bruckner himself would have written had he lived into the late twentieth century.  But on the vocal side, which sticks more tenaciously to the listener’s memory in being set off from the tutti sections, there is nothing but a lot of rhythmically indifferent monophonic modal choral chanting (whether it is technically Gregorian is beyond the present writer’s sphere of competence, probably very much to his credit) interspersed with soloistic interjections distinguishable only in virtue of their solitude.  It is all straight out of the soundtrack to some Time Life-BBC pseudo-documentary series whiggishly puffing the wonders of post-Copernican science via a 16-mm film sequence depicting a passel of monks alternately performing their drearily routinized monastic rites by cloistered torchlight and gormlessly pointing makeshift mirrorless telescopes at one another’s a(r/s)*s on the monastery roof by moonlight.  And in the aggregate—i.e., vis-à-vis the symphony qua synthesis of the Bruckner-indebted orchestral sections and the forbearing-from-partying-as-though-it were still 999-esque vocal parts—one gets the impression that this work is principally intended not to celebrate Bruckner qua dynastic inheritor-cum-improver of the legacy of modern Catholic-cum-Protestant sacred vocal music from Bach to Beethoven but rather to lasso him into the ambit of a purportedly primal and therefore purportedly unimprovable sacred-vocal modus operandi of monkish simplicity and thereby at kindest to pardon him condescendingly for having gratuitously fancified and therefore corrupted that primal MO.  Elsewhere in the latter part of his oeuvre, Schnittke seems to abjure his crypto-Catholicism (while in no way compromising his avowed and even flaunted catholicism on the musical plane, a musical catholicism that he famously styled polystylism) by paying tribute to the very letter of the ROC in making extensive use of the melodies of ROC chants as thematic material.  In his 1979 concerto for piano and strings, for example, such a melody appears in its naked form at two climactic points, points that have the effect, if not quite the formal function, of signaling the end of the exposition and recapitulation, respectively, of a sonata-form first movement.  It is of course highly tempting, or at least would be highly tempting to someone writing in quite another context—i.e., that of having been commissioned to showcase this work in the most flatteringly tradition-humping light (e.g., qua author of a summary of the work in a note to a recording or concert program)—to extol these dual appearances as worthy continuations of the great pan-occidental musical tradition of incorporating the essential material of sacred vocal music into instrumental compositions of great power and complexity—as in, e.g., Bach’s chorale preludes and too many Beethoven works to bear mention.  But such an extollation would be fundamentally ill-founded, inasmuch as the Lutheran chorales were conceived in not only melodic but also harmonic terms from the outset, and hence readily lent themselves to plashless insinuation into the multiple currents of voice leading from whose uninterrupted flow the great instrumental works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries derived no small a proportion of their greatness—this in devastating contrast to ROC chant, which, like the early-medieval hyperoccidental monkish music employed in AS’s Second Symphony, is strictly homophonic in conception and therefore amenable only to being plastered like a bumper-sticker or temporary tattoo onto an instrumental work in the hyperoccidental voice leading-driven tradition, and also (in unfavorable contrast to early hyperoccidental monkish music) has the wearisome characteristic of not so much lingering over individual notes as hammering away at them over and over again like Khrushchev with his shoe at the United Nations.  Such being the case, the two moments in which the ROC erupts into the argument of Schnittke’s concerto cannot fail to come across as moments of naked regression, moments when the composer seems to be not so much letting his hair down as sending his brain on a lunch break.  (It is perhaps not completely pointless to mention here that the only truly famous instrumental musical composition in the pan-occidental classical tradition to employ a(n) ROC chant melody is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, in which, as in Schnittke’s concerto, the melody figures at two moments—at the very beginning, when its mezzoforte confinement to the lower strings renders its iterative element fairly unobtrusive, and towards the very end, just before the unleashing of the hyper-famous pull-the-trigger-and-the-airplane flies melody [i.e., the melody of the 1812 as far as Bob or Suzy Independence Day-celebrator is concerned], when its fortissimo tutti-ism renders it unbearable [not only for the listener but also for the players, as Peter Schickele {a.k.a. P.D.Q.} makes hilariously evident in his treatment of this passage in his send-up of the 1812, the 1712 Overture: midway through the passage, there is a general pause while all the members of the brass section take a highly audible deep breath].  This mention may just be not completely pointless because the 1812 is universally ridiculed as bombastic, which suggests that the crudity of ROC chant music is of a sort that lends itself peculiarly well to bombast, to loud but empty assertions of strength.)  And Schnittke was by no means alone among late Soviet composers in embracing Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical regression.  Sofia Gubaidulina, overall the most forward-looking of the major late-Soviet composers, the main thread of whose work is a development of certain tendencies in the music of Anton Webern (such that in compositional terms she may be not inaptly styled a Russian cousin of Pierre Boulez), has squandered a good portion of her compositional energies on Christological works for something called the bayan, an instrument which, at least as written for by SG, sounds like what the accordion might have sounded like if it had been invented by the Scots as a replacement for the bagpipes qua room-clearer of first resort.  Here, again, it is the non-harmonic-cum-iterative character of the basic material that renders the music unlistenable--one pictures the player of the instrument lackadaisically pumping the squeezebox part of the instrument like a bellows with one hand and insistently slamming the back of the other one into the keyboard as if to rouse it (the hand, not the keyboard) out of numbness. 

In Schnittke’s and Gubaidulina’s later music, the ROC-fetishizing strain becomes highly pronounced, but fortunately it remains but a strain in a compositional ethos-cum-techne that is most closely engaged with the great hyperoccidental tradition, such that there is much of value even in the churchiest of their late compositions.  But this residuality of ROC-fetishism chez eux can afford but meager consolation to the admirers of the pre-ROC fetishizing Soviet intelligentsia-cum-peri-intellgentsia as long as AS and SG’s reputations are if not quite dwarfed then at least Tom Cruise-heighted by a contemporary-cum-former compatriot of theirs who embraced-cum-swallowed ROC-fetishism Aitch-Ell-and-Ess almost from the very outset of his career and has remained cravenly devoted to it ever since.  I am of course referring to that wily, crafty, and, most reprehensibly of all, beardy Estonian Arvo Pärt. At bottom and in essence, Pärt’s entire corpus consists of avowedly liturgical or meta-liturgical compositions that wily-ly, craftily, and beardily mingle the monotony of ROC chant with the complementary monotony of that vile barcode scanner-humping pseudo-school of hyperoccidental sub-composition known as minimalism.  At bottom and in essence, Pärt is a sort of Eastern Orthodox John Rutter.  But unlike Rutter’s, Pärt’s music is not relegated to serving as so much mid-market middle-Anglo-American Christmas stocking-stuffing.  To the contrary, across the hyperoccident it is fêted and fellated by if not quite the cognoscenti then at any rate the indisputably hip (i.e., in this pseudo-age of instant access to everything thought, said, or otherwise excreted, those who pride themselves on keeping abreast not only of current fashions and subcultures but of the entire archive of fashions and subcultures [at least up to a certain historical moment {i.e., ca. 1930}]) and his output of roughly the past quarter-century occupies a substantial chunk of the catalogue of the upmarket German prog-jazz-rock-cum-pseudo-classical record label DGM.  With the completion of the preceding sentence I have quite evidently moved from a description of the short-term and artisitcally intrinsic devastation wreaked by the late Soviet intelligentsia-cum-peri-intelligentsia’s embracement of the ROC  to the longer-term and extrinsic devastation wreaked thereby, inasmuch as I have begun referring to the reception of the products of that embracement in the hyperoccident in a period extending far beyond the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and indeed all the way to the present.  The mere survival of this embracement, or rather, the mutual body lock-like embrace into which it seems to have calcified, into the present deserves comment in the light of both my admittedly purely conjectural earlier remarks on its genesis and the subsequent fortunes of the ROC and the other EOCs in Russia and the other former S.F.S.R.s.  The intelligentsia-cum-peri intelligentsia of the 1970s—so I have conjectured and now re-conjecture in more figuratively florid terms—embraced the ROC not as some sort of spiritual long-lost lover but rather as an unfamiliar and rather forbidding pis aller, as the bride or bridegroom of a sort of self-arranged politically expedient arranged marriage, in consequence of the misappropriation of a substantial proportion of their geistige canon by the Soviet political establishment.  Such conjecturally having been the case, one might have expected them to drop the ROC like an oven-fresh bublik (or indeed perhaps even like an arranged marriage-imposed spouse) with the dissolution of the Soviet State qua misappropriator of geistige products.  And yet they would seem to have done no such thing, and I infer this not only from the comportment of solidly post-Soviet composers in the former Soviet republics but also from the comportment of the Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev, who would seem to be regarded in the hyperoccident as the most significant of all the Russian cinematic auteurs to have come to international prominence since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., and indeed to be the undisputed and indisputably worthy heir of Tarkovsky. (Having been born in 1964, Zvyagintsev spent all his formative years in the Brezhnev epoch, came of age just before the advent of glasnost and perestroika, and was just beginning his professional career in 1991.) I have seen three of Zvyagintsev’s movies, and all three of them peddle the same theologically-cum-morally regressive crypto-Stalinist Russian Orthodox Christology as is peddled in The Ascent, and perhaps, indeed, an even cruder, more brutally regressive version of that Christology.  In The Return, a to-all-appearances completely functional and love-saturated household consisting of a youngish woman, her two teenaged sons, and her mother is thrown into chaos, as they say, by the unannounced appearance of the husband (or perhaps ex-husband) of the younger woman-cum-father of the boys, a former Soviet fighter (or bomber?) pilot who has been inexplicably absent for a dozen years.  Immediately after his arrival he inexplicably and therefore inexcusably falls into a quasi-coma that requires him to be put to bed.  His shirtless recumbancy affords Zvyagintsev an entirely inexplicable and therefore entirely inexcusable excuse to film him from the foot of the bed in a mise-en-scène that flagrantly recalls Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ.  In inexplicable etc. defiance of his wife’s wishes, the dude takes the boys on a road trip in the course of which he relentlessly vituperates them as unregenerate sluggards and sissies.  Eventually (and not before parking their car and getting into a boat) the trio arrive at a quasi-desert island which only then transpires to have been the ultimate goal of the trip on account of its containing some object that the father buried and now wishes to disinter (yes: just like a pirate treasure [Avast!, Shiver me timbers!, and/or Aaar!]).  They dig up the object, a small box of unmistakably military provenance; then one of the sons (specifically the younger and more sissy-ish [i.e., halfway sane and decent] of the two) climbs up some sort of makeshift observation tower and threatens to throw himself off it (and who with a monster like our piratic treasure hunter as a permanent fixture in his life can be blamed for doing otherwise?), prompting his father, who has been trailing him, to cry out “My son!” and catch hold of him and save him from falling at the cost of plunging to the ground and his own death.  The boys carry his body, along with the martial treasure-box, to the boat and head back to the mainland.  About midway through their passage the box starts behaving mightily peculiarly, bouncing ponderously up and down as though chock-full of an imperial or metric ton(ne) of Mexican (or, rather Nicaraguan [because both mainland Central-American and at least intermittently Communist, natch]) jumping beans.  The bouncing becomes ever more ponderous and insistent, until eventually, just after the two lads have stepped ashore from the newly alighted boat, the box smashes a hole into the dinghy, which promptly sinks, dragging both the box and the dead dad down to the then not-yet-late Davy Jones’s locker (not that a seabed a foot or two below the surface is a very secure locker, but in this flick it’s always the thought [or lack thereof] that counts).  The boys then drive off in the car; and that, naturally enough in so blokey a film, is all he wrote: there is no reunion scene with the mother and grandmother.  At bottommost, The Return is reprehensible for its eye-burstingly self-evident advocacy of an intrinsically misogynistic notion that bizarrely enough seems to enjoy considerable prestige even in the least macho, the most gynophile, corners of the present-day hyperoccident--the notion that a boy is destined to an altogether deficient existence if he grows up in the absence of a father or father-surrogate qua masculine so-called role model.  As I recall, the movie opens with a scene in which the younger (and altogether better) of the two boys is too scared to take a dive off a diving board (yes,yes,yes: proleptic [albeit ultimately misconceived] anti-shades of his all-too-eager rush to throw himself off the observation tower) and is soothed rather than chastised for his timorousness by his mother.  In the light of all that follows the return of the father, the implication of this scene is that the boy would most certainly not have been scared to take the plunge if his father had never taken off--if, in other words, the boy had had a father in his life from birth onwards.  Now, as a man who has had a father in his life from birth onwards and yet has never managed to screw up the courage (or, rather, as he has always seen it, foolhardiness) to swim in water deeper than his own height, let alone take a dive off a diving board, the present writer cannot but reflexively regard the above implication as absolute bollocks.  Obviously the chief requisite to overcoming a child’s fear of diving is a swimming coach of either sex dedicated and pushy enough not to take I don’t wanna or I’m scared for an answer.  The present writer, who received all his tutelage in natation over the course of a handful of nursery-school trips to a YMCA, hence as one of a dozen or so children taught as a group, evidently did not have such a swimming teacher and consequently cannot now be brought to swim in water deeper than his own height, etc., but this consequence is of little moment to him because, as hinted in the most recent parenthesis, he regards swimming in most of its contexts as a dangerous activity best avoided by anyone less keen on being in the water than on not drowning; and he regards it in this disfavoring light not, as the DGR (who has forborne from thumping on the side of his cage for so long that I am half--albeit only half--of a mind to let him out for a spell) would demur, because he is caught up in a vicious circle of fear that was set turning by his inadequate tuition in natation, but, rather, because swimming actually is a dangerous activity, as is attested by, for example, the recent (2016) simultaneous drowning deaths of five able-bodied swimmers at the almost notoriously placid beach called Camber Sands, in Sussex, England.  And what is true of swimming is doubtless true of all other so-called life skills supposedly inculcatable solely by a father--a human male ordinarily can live a longer and less miserable life by remaining incompetent at them, and supposing he cannot, there are usually plenty of extra-paternal sources of tuition in them ready to hand.  For instance, I indeed very well might have starved to death by now (i.e., for lack of presentability at job interviews in my twenties, altho‘ were I on the so-called market as a younker now, I presume the counterfactual skill-deficiency in question would be a positive asset, provided I had a properly shaggy beard) had I not learnt the essential masculine skill of tying a four-in-hand necktie knot as a lad, but I was not taught this skill by my father or any other man via personal tuition; rather, I learnt it from a diagram in a book, possibly one of those books wherein the skills a Cub Scout had to prove himself proficient in before graduating to Boy Scoutdom were enumerated and described, although if so, my learning of that-there four-in-hand knot was almost certainly a case of voluntary self-tuition, for (al)tho‘ I have not been impelled to go through life saddled with the peerless opprobrium of having been kicked out of the Webelos, by the time I quitted the Cub Scouts I had attained at most the second of the three or four pre-graduation merit levels.  But if not quite enough altogether about the present writer (for in all modesty he regards his own stint in the Cub Scouts as an intrinsically richer discursive mine than Zvyagintsev’s Return), then admittedly slightly more than enough thereabout for the currently exigent Volga Boatmen-exhaustingly tedious task of plotting the genealogy of this abominable ROC cum Stalin-humping ethos-cum-habitus: this flick’s father-fixation would be at least anecdotally redeemable, however empirically and categorically ill-founded in general terms, if the father’s unexpected supervention in his sons’ lives were attended by any sort of disinterestedly paternal attention to their education--if he were seen teaching them how to fish or skeet-shoot or, indeed, cow-tip, or indeed do anything provided it had no immediately conceivable bearing on his monomaniacal pursuit of his--Aaaaaar!--quasi-piratic booty.  But inasmuch as this pursuit is utterly monomaniacal, such that the father’s orientation to his sons is nothing but an epiphenomenon of this monomania, or rather, much more often than not, an epi-epiphenomenon of this phenomenon (i.e., a consequence of the father’s frustration at not being able to find the booty quickly enough), it has no lessons to impart to the boys apart from the highly dubious one that grown men are monomaniacal assholes and that as one grows into manhood one must either submit to being treated as an utterly passive tool-cum-punching bag of other men or treat other men (and boys and presumably also women [although as I recall, to his sole credit the booty-hunter is not presented as a wife-beater]) as utterly passive tools-cum-punching bags.  This unabashed advocacy of the ruthless exertion of personalized masculine power as the ultimate good qua end in itself constitutes an endorsement of Stalinism whose unqualified full-throatedness is as far as I know unprecedented in the history of cinema (inasmuch as Eisenstein’s two surrogate hagiographies of Josef Vissarionovich at least advance the admittedly dubious eggs-and-omelet-esque argument that such brutality is being exerted in the service of a worthy goal).  But even as I closed out that last parenthesis I could hear the DGR howling from his cage (and consequently unifying my mind in the resolution not to let him out even for the briefest of flush toilet-centered pee breaks), “But don’t you see, you s****ng imbecile?: Zvyagintsev isn’t celebrating Stalinism in this film; rather, he’s vilifying it in the proverbial no-uncertains, and, moreover, in the most brilliantly conceivable way--viz., by the very means that you in your abject imbecility regard as the helpmeets of celebration: he is showing the father behaving so relentlessly horribly to his sons not because he approves of this behavior ever so slightly, but rather because he vehemently disapproves of it.  Talk about your no-brainer of all no-brainers!”  But here the DGR is forgetting, or rather not forgetting but willfully obtusely failing to take into account, the film’s none-too-subtle Christological allegorical supertext--the sudden unexpected appearance of this man who has just fallen to earth; this same man’s commitment to a mysterious mission the particulars of whose telos he refuses to disclose even to his closest disciples, such that they must accept its worthiness on faith; his double presentation in an unambiguously sanctifying post-crucifixual Christ-like posture--once in the aforementioned bed scene, and again in the boat after his death, etc.  If Zvyagintsev had wished to convey a sense of the wrongness of the sort of brutality that is exerted by the father in The Return, he ought to have imposed a Satanological allegorical supertext on the movie: he ought to have, for example, shown the father leaning against a towering rock and distractedly clutching at side of his head as in Doré’s famous (and indeed iconic, if a hyperoccidental engraved representation of the Antichrist can be non-blasphemously described as such) depiction of the anti-hero of Paradise Lost, or less subtly and therefore more sure-firedly, sleeping upside-down on a wall or parking in a bus stop or refraining from apologizing after noisily breaking wind in an elevator--in other words, basically to have pulled out every stop at his disposal by way of demonstrating that this father was the exact antithesis of a nice guy qua surrogate for HRH JH von Christ.  Like virtually every other generator (not by any means to be confused with a progenitor, let alone a creator) of supposedly highbrow cultural goods in our time, regardless of his or her national-political provenance, Zvyagintsev fails to understand (for I refuse to credit him with enough Besonnenheit to bamboozle or hoodwink his viewers vis-à-vis this hermeneutic register) that a dramaturgical composition (and I subsume not only films and plays but also novels under this heading) is not simply a semiotic salmagundi  into which the generator can just hapharzardly cram every symbol and topos in the book (or indeed even Book); that it is, rather, a semiotic force-field in which deference must be given to the associations historically evoked by every name, phrase, image, etc. one might wish to include, and from which must be excluded every name, phrase, image, autc.  evocative of some entity or quality that contradicts the givens that one has already established vis-à-vis some other name, phrase, image autc. (The locus classicus here is the character of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello as analyzed by Samuel Johnson in a footnote to the play in his edition of Shakespeare.  Iago, says Johnson therein, is undoubtedly a very witty and ingenious person, and so Shakespeare sagely forestalls our falling in love with his wit and ingenuity by also presenting him as pettily vindictive from beginning to end, as he is obliged to do because Iago’s fundamental dramaturgical function is to serve as an agent-cum-embodiment of vice.)  If one wishes to present a character as Stalinesquely tyrannical, one cannot also present him as a Christ surrogate because historically Christ has been seen as the antithesis of a tyrant.  The acknowledgement of this historical fact by no means entails asserting that the empirical, historical Christ was indeed the or even a such antithesis or even denying that the Gospels themselves afford abundant hermeneutic grounds for conceiving of him (note the pre-Evangelical, High-Church lower-case haitch) as a Stalinesque tyrant, but it most certainly does entail the supposedly high cultural goods generator’s unambiguous adoption of the Christ narrative as his diagesis and the iconography of Stalin (ditto, mutatis mutandis, the above parenthesis on Doré) as the source of his supertextual signposts--this by way of emphatically overriding the historical received view of Christ as the Prince of Peace.  The resulting play, film, or novel might, for example portray or describe a figure passing through all the familiar episodes of the Gospels--the Sermon on the Mount, the procession into Jerusalem, etc., right on up to the crucifixion and ascension--while clad in a military tunic with a turned-down collar and sporting a peaked military cap and a Levantine moustache.  Such a Vorstellung or Schauspiel would effectively-cum-unmistakably convey the message that Christ was basically -cum-essentially a Josef Stalin avant la lettre.  In The Return Zvyagintsev generated no such Vorstellung or Schauspiel because of course he wanted in vain both to have and eat both his eucharist and two side-bubliki in perpetual rotation--he wanted to imply that paternal bullying is virtuous and Christ-like in some utterly unspecified ways and vicious and Stalin-like in likewise utterly unspecified ways, and he ended up implying merely and viciously that Stalin was the super-apotheosis of Christ and the modern post-Soviet dad the super-apotheosis of both Christ and Stalin.  In Elena (2011), the eponymousness of the film’s female lead clumsily belies the fact that here Zvyagintsev is merely and entirely reinforcing the macho Stalin-humping morality inculcated in The Return.  Elena is a ca. fifty-year-old former nurse who retired early upon marrying one of her patients, a slightly older rich dude.  At the beginning of the film and over dinner in their swanky Moscow flat, she and her husband are at loggerheads over whether or not they (meaning effectively he, as she makes no financial contribution to the household) should continue to support her unregenerate total wastrel of a son and his equally useless kuchka of dependents.  In the course of their spat, the husband uses the word гедонистический or gedonisticheski--i.e., hedonistic--and Elena remarks that she does not know what that word means.  Via this linguistic malentendu Zvyagintsev means to signal that Elena is of proletarian origin and therefore entitled to an unlimited line of credit on the viewer’s lachrymal ducts.  What he actually thereby signals is that on the intellectual plane Elena is no less of a wastrel than her son, inasmuch as gedonisticheskii, like its English analogue, is a by-no-means esoteric Greek loan word that any adult Russophone with half a brain and half an inclination to use it should be conversant with even if he or she has never graduated from secondary school (as one assumes a nurse must have done).  When her husband tells her he not only plans to stop supporting her son’s family but also to disinherit them, she kills him with an overdose of Viagra, whereupon the son and co. join her in the now half-less crowded connubial apartment that along with a mightily hefty sum of cash she enjoys as the fruits of her widowhood.  Predictably, hyperoccidental critics have fallen all over themselves and one another praising Elena as an indomitably strong feminist hero and Elena as a searing critique-cum-blistering indictment of the patriarchal-cum-oligarchical essence of early twenty first-century Russian society.  And no less predictably, the present writer must fall all over himself (though mercifully in his solitude he is spared the pain and embarrassment of falling all over anyone else) denouncing these praisers’ appraisal of the film as absolute poppybollocks.  The attentive reader, DG or otherwise, will have noticed that these praisers’appraisal echoes verbatim the received hyperoccidental appraisal of my beloved Wings, and the fatuity of that appraisal is an exact hermeneutic mirror of this one--in that appraisal, the received hyperoccidental appraisal of Wings, an implacable patriarchal bogeyman is conjured up ex nihilo to the perverse derogation of the film’s eloquent depiction of the inner life and external achievements of a woman of great abilities and extraordinary courage; in this appraisal, the received hyperoccidental appraisal of Elena, a patriarchal homunculus is puffed up into a Holifernes by way of perversely magnifying the horrendously despicable crime of a woman of limited abilities, negligible initiative, and nonexistent scruples--in short, an extremely poor stupid woman’s Lady Macbeth (i.e., a virtual carbon copy of the heroine of Shostakovich’s opera [on whom she was doubtless deliberately patterned])—into an act of Judith-esque heroism.  Admittedly and understandably, Elena is sentimentally attached to her son despite his unregenerate and seemingly incurable wastrelism.  Admittedly, her husband is rather frostily standoffish at his best moments—but is not his frosty standoffishness at least mildly preferable to her son’s brazen assholishness at his best moments?  Admittedly, the couple’s sexual life seems not to be organized along very ethical lines, inasmuch as despite seemingly having lost all erotic interest in her now that she is decidedly no longer young, he seems to expect her to coit with him at the dee of an aitch; admittedly their marriage rather appallingly seems to be loveless without being sexless.  But there is no indication that she is being even ever so gently physically coerced to stay in this marriage; she seems to have complete liberty of movement--notably, complete liberty to visit her son’s family during the considerable stretches of time when her husband is away, and there is indeed nothing to stop her from simply refusing to return from one of these visits.  Of course, such a refusal would at least initially entail her putting up with her bairn’s assholishness in much closer and otherwise more disagreeable quarters--the family’s cramped, spartan, high-rise apartment, an Irony of Fate-reminiscent relic of the Soviet era--than her connubial digs, and in the light of her son’s apparently incorrigible ingratitude and fecklessness, it would also probably entail her returning to work as a nurse or in some other capacity--and most likely some other capacity, and most likely some less remunerative capacity, for having been out of nursing for several-to-many years, she would most likely no longer be qualified for a position in that sub-profession, but she really should have thought of that before chucking it all in sub-professionally upon becoming engaged to that awful rich dude, shouldn’t she have done?   Granted, at the film’s opening, Elena is in a tight spot, but it is a tight spot largely of her own making-cum-tightening, and one whose prevailingly matrimonial character she is at liberty to swap for a prevailingly maternal or alimental one at any time.  Such being the case, it is absolutely unpardonable in her to extricate herself from this spot (or, rather, and more damnably, merely make it slightly looser, as she in fact does) by killing her husband; and indeed only a caveman-humping worldview that regards patriarchal masculine power as an implacable buck-stopper, as the holder of each and every card (including the queens) in the deck, as a force that can be challenged or opposed only via the outright death of its individualized embodiers—i.e., exactly in the manner in which Stalinism supposedly came to a definitive end thanks exclusively to the death of Stalin—can conceivably regard this homicide in any attitude more flattering than that of utter contempt.  But of course it is just such a worldview that Mr. Zvyagintsev wholeheartedly espouses, or at least brazenly affects wholeheartedly to espouse, as can be gathered from a moment in an interview on the DVD of Elena in which he asserts for the supposed enlightenment of his presumptively utterly Russo-benighted hyperoccidental viewers (not, of course, without first sighing and then miming the inhalation of a hefty toke from the mouthpiece of a hookah tube connected to his own anus) in contrast to the enlightened societies of the hyperoccident, since ancient if not precambrian times and right on up through to the present, Russian society always has been a thoroughly patriarchal society, a society completely and ineluctably dominated by men (or words very close to that effect).  But of course the present writer knows better than this; or, at any rate, as the reader is or at least should be aware, the present writer is well enough acquainted with the history of Russian-cum-Soviet cinema to know that certain films of postcambrian  yet pre-Zvyagintsevian vintage do not evince such a meta-patriarchal conception of Russian or Soviet society, and that indeed a fair number of such films posit a conception thereof that is virtually meta-egalitarian on the plane of so-called gender relations--films such as The Cranes Are Flying, in which a woman is effectively (in both senses) depicted in non gender-specific terms, as the average Soviet citizen during the Great Patriotic War (which is not to say that her sufferings are confined to those sufferable by men and women interchangeably, that they are not sometimes of a kind possibly unintelligible by men, but merely that from the moment of the death of her fiancé onwards she unequivocally becomes both the protagonist of the film and a consequently the privileged witness of and participant in a catastrophe involving not only her but also her fellow-Soviets, who are likewise unjustly suffering); such as Letter Never Sent, in which a young woman is an integral and indispensable part of an exploratory scientific expedition and in which not a single (or married) man presumes to relegate her to a position of subordinate teleological importance (although of course, the same lazy, irresponsible hyperoccidental hermeneutic habitus that reveres Elena as a feminist masterpiece presumably asserts that the mere fact that two men evince a simultaneous and competitive erotic interest in this young woman relegates her to a position of abject victimhood; but of course this selfsame habitus self-servingly forgets that a pair of sharp words from her suffices to nip the pair’s rivalry in its cods); such as The Irony of Fate, in which a youngish woman summarily discards a lover who in terms of his socioeconomic status and power is the perfect late-Soviet analogue of the husband in Elena--viz., a high-ranking Communist-Party functionary with permission to travel outside the Union--for the sake of marrying a man of considerably inferior socio-econo-political wherewithal; and finally, and most magnificently, Wings, in which an older woman voids the field occupied by her milquetoast contemporaries of both sexes with a combination of administrative and aviational prowess.  But of course Zvyagintsev could—and doubtless would, and perhaps someday even will (i.e., if he happens to be both less famous and a more ardent self-Googler than a certain Tim Page, and if the transliterative software is up to par)—respond to this parade of cinematic unblokiness by blasély and ever-so-condescendingly remarking that these films cannot be regarded as faithful representations of the Russian or peri-Russian society of their respective times, inasmuch as quite apart from the fact that (here he would or will doubtless take another toke from the anal hookah and cast a sidelong glance expressive of Get load of this-here glup at his hyperoccidental adulators) cinema never shows or tells the complete and transparent truth, they were produced under the auspices of a totalitarian political regime and therefore are reflective first and foremost and indeed exclusively of that regime’s inherently repressive point of view.  But to this rejoinder I may and shall legitimately counter-rejoin that by this selfsame toke-in, Zvyagintsev’s films, being cinematic productions themselves, cannot be clear-eyedly regarded as completely and transparently truthful representations of the at least-officially peri Russian-bereft Russian society of their own time, and moreover that having been and continuing to be produced under the auspices of a regime that, if not exactly totalitarian in practice is at any rate not anti-totalitarian even in principle, they cannot be declared free of ideological doping by that regime by any conscientious cinephilic medical examiner.  Granted, the gynophilic tenor of the films I have cited may ultimately have been imposed from on high, i.e., by Politburo-humping apparatchiks, but this by no means axiomatically implies that that tenor was conjured forth entirely ex nihilo, that it had as little reference to then-present Soviet realities as would have had, say, the counterfactual setting of the films in question in some unmistakably extra-Soviet setting such as Ruritania, Erewhon, or Flatland.  It is possible and indeed not unlikely that Soviet society between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s was more misogynistic and androphilic than it is portrayed in these movies, but that does not mean that the macho bravado was universally prevalent and quiescently yielded to, let alone endorsed; and indeed it seems reasonable to suppose from the majority of these films’ warm reception by their target(ed) audiences (audiences who always did have other, more brazenly blokier choices, both onscreen and off--notably in both live and televised sports) that most Russians and peri-Russians of the mid-twentieth century were on the whole quite well-disposed towards sexual egalitarianism, even if this principle was not fully realized in the organization of their actual lifeworlds.  Perhaps in terms of their relationship to social reality, these films may be most appositely compared to certain American television situation comedies of the 1970s—to, for example, All in the Family (of course), The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Jeffersons, and Barney Miller, sitcoms that went out of their way to present characters of both sexes and two or more races occupying social positions exacting more than a modicum of respect.  These sitcoms, like all their predecessors on American television, were undoubtedly conceived and developed by fairly-to-filthy rich people (I balk at styling them rich white men on the grounds that there were women and so-called persons of color in positions of power and influence even in the Hollywood of those days [even if I dare not mention the most powerful and influential of these selfsame persons by name in the light of their subsequent political fortunes and the danger of metonymic contamination thereby]) with a certain (albeit by no means static) political-cum-social agenda and so should by no means be regarded as presenting a mimetically accurate picture of American society in the micro-epoch of their production.  And indeed, most likely the then-present American social fabric was less sexually and racially integrated than the casts and diageses of these sitcoms, but BTST these sitcoms undoubtedly scored very high Nielsen ratings and hence must have presented a Gesellschaftsbild that was inoffensive and even congenial to a plurality if not outright majority of the American public—even in the heart or, rather, buckle of the so-called Bible belt and bottommost white-meat-only barbecue pit in the so-called Deep South.  Since the 1970s, the American sitcomscape, and indeed the entire American movie-cum-TVscape, has undoubtedly become both more tribalized and less inculcative of a message of pan-social comity.  The producers of the most critically and box-officially acclaimed American Gesellschaftsbilder of this succeeding mini-epoch would have us believe that this change has been owing entirely to a greater degree of conscientious verisimilitude chez eux—a verisimilitude owing in turn, and in ever-fluctuating proportions (i.e., depending on the auto-prostitutional exigencies of the self-publicizing opportunity immediately to hand), to their superior prowess as so-called creative artists and their superior demographic bona fides; they would have us believe, in other words, that the United States has always been as appallingly racist, misogynistic, homo-trans-gender-queer-phobic, etc., as they are representing it, that in representing it as such they are merely stripping away the, erm, non-meta-religiously inflammatory word for a visually im****tr***e covering that previously concealed its racist autc. non-sexually-politically inflammatory word for something shameful that lies beneath a visually im****tr***e covering; and that they are able to do this because unlike their predecessors of three or four decades ago they are proper artists solely beholden to their own utterly infungible creative vision rather than utterly passive mere pieceworkers abjectly dedicated to sucking off the racist autc. status quo; and second, in themselves hailing from the respective demographic niches they are representing, in being themselves black, gay, autc., they enjoy an intimate and indeed downright hypercoitional understanding of the utterly infungible and unsurpassable sufferings of the hominids peopling their diageses.  And for aught I know they may be right.  After all, people laughed at Christopher Columbus, Bill Marconi, Bob Hope, et al.  But I would venture to hazard firstly and more charitably that it is also not utterly impossible that while the Gesellschaftsbilder proffered by these latter-day self (and by all means legitimately)-styled artists are indeed every micropixel as verisimilitudinous as their generators represent them to be, in rendering their doubtlessly utterly infungible services as Gesellschaftsbildsteller they are not unv**ling a state of affairs that has remained unchanged since the 1970s but rather taking a snapshot, so to speak, of a state of affairs that has by no means inevitably or ineluctably regressed, degenerated, deteriorated, or what have you since then; that once upon a specific time, namely the 1970s, there was anchored in the harbor of the American Volksgeist a cargo ship--let us summarily retroactively christen her the U.S.S. Concordia--laden almost (but not quite) to bottom-on-bottom frottage with possibilities of reconciliation across, within, amidst, and athwart, each and every demographic segment and spectrum, and that if that ship has subsequently sailed and sunk owing to the contingent blasts of a weltgeistig(e) hurricane, this is no skin off the noses of the shipbuilder, the stockers, or the crew--in other words [but by no means respectively, for scarcely anyone involved did not serve in one of these three groups at one moment or another], the men, women, and children [among the last of which the present author then figured] of that decade who strove or even merely affected to expedite the emergence of an American society wherein, for example (viz., one taken from Barney Miller), saucy (not by any means to be confused with sassy) Afro-sporting African-American dandies could undiscriminatingly rub elbows with sardonic WASP-American nerds, stroppy Stonewall-American drag queens, lugubrious Chinese-American bachelors, and fearless Italo-Judaic-American coppesses; inasmuch as they (the shipbuilder et al.) were if not necessarily entirely sincerely then at any rate quite vigorously having a go at achieving their aim (i.e., I suppose, anchoring in a foreign port whose name happened to coincide with that of the ship [I confess that the conceit, in contrast to the state of affairs it denotes, is not built for long journeys]), such that if they had been left to pursue it, they might very well have attained it--and, indeed, perhaps they did attain it; and this conjecture brings me to my second, and less charitable, hazard-venture vis-à-vis the present litter of American Gesellschaftsbildsteller--viz., that the American Gesellschaftsbild, or more precisely the recent-to-present American Gesellschaftswesen (i.e., not merely the image but the essence of present American society) has by no means been as dire as they would have us believe--at least on the plane of relations between and among the so-called races, classes, etc. (for on certain other planes it may be, and as I have and shall further argue, actually is much direr than they can even imagine), and that it merely seems to be and have been as dire as it is in this litter’s Gesellschaftsbilder because each member of this litter has a vested (or two piece-suited [all credit or discredit for this parenthesis must go to Peter Schickele]) interest in making it look much more dire than it is or has been by way of augmenting the admiration or pathos accruable to the heroism or suffering of the demographic segment to which he, she, autc. is materially and spiritually beholden as its self or otherwise-appointed standard bearer--thus, for exactly one example (for to adduce any further examples would be to unpack so much further identical pack-thread) a member of this litter would finagle us into supposing that because the NASA moon missions relied at a sub-conceptual level on certain calculations supplied by black women, NASA never would have succeeded in putting a person of either or any gender on the moon if it had had to have recourse to white men for these calculations, and, indeed that NASA would have brought a person (and undoubtedly specifically a black  woman) onto the moon much more swiftly had each and every white man on its senior staff been replaced by one of these black female calculators.  A just representation of the SOA to hand in this case would by contrast celebrate a governmental-industrial dispensation that allowed certain persons of substantial but by no means phenomenal mathematical prowess to support themselves, and that more handsomely, via their moderate-wattaged brainpower instead of by scrubbing floors like their immediate forebears (who in turn may have been obliged to scrub floors less principally on account of the color of their skin than on account of the lack of a so-called market for their modest intellectual talents [the present writer at least affects to fancy that he knows whereof he speaks, altho’ he declines to be more specific for fear of being given the loftiest of high-hats by his better-heeled, albeit unimpeachably bienpensant, readers]).  But such a representation would not allow black American women to feel much cleverer than the NASA scientists and astronauts simply in virtue of existing, or, collaterally, bienpensant white people across the hyperoccident to feel much more virtuous than those scientists and astronauts simply in virtue of being outraged at the calculators’ supposed maltreatment. BTST, I conjecture that the Soviet Union of the mid-1950s onwards was undeviatingly and unretreatingly on a trans-Siberian track to becoming as egalitarian-cum-meritocratic a polity-cum-society as the world has yet achieved, which is to say at least no less egalitarian-cum-meritocratic a polity-cum-society than any polity-cum-society in the contemporaneous or succeeding hyperoccident, which is further to say a polity-cum-society wherein, yes, people in positions of official or quasi-official authority do enjoy a disproportionately large proportion of the pan-political-cum-societal wealth, but wherein at least one’s sex (or, if the reader, DG or otherwise, insists, gender), ethnicity, autc. does not in itself present an insuperable barrier of any kind—be it legal or c******l--to becoming a person of official or quasi-official authority (N.B. the preceding in itself, for as for a truly egalitarian-cum-meritocratic polity-cum-society--i.e., one wherein every citizen or subject enjoys a proportion of the share of the pan-political-cum-societal wealth even approximately commensurate with his or her abilities and their diligently virtuous exertion without having recourse to the favors of “those little creatures which we are pleased to call the Great” [Johnson, Life of Savage, quoting an unnamed source]; i.e., those who have been placed in powerful positions by accident of birth, kinship, pimpage, concubinage, or catamitage, or by dint of sheer ruthlessness or shamelessness—the world has not yet seen its like and doubtless will not yet unless or until we have all been converted into hyper-cyberpeople “and the world’s work is done by proxy atoms” [Jacques Barzun, God’s Country and Mine, published in 1954]); and Mr. Zvyagintsev’s representation of post-Soviet Russia as an oligarchical patriarchy must either be a mimetic registration of a regression that has taken place since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., or—and much more likely--a misrepresentation of a society-cum-polity that is basically as quasi-or-proto-egalitarian-cum-meritocratic as it was thirty years ago.  (To term it such is by no means to deny that a disproportionately large proportion of Russia’s wealth is in the hands of a small number of people who may with only a soupçon of license be termed oligarchs [although I shall balk at terming them patriarchal oligarchs until I have seen proof that all of them are men, and the example of the so-called gas princess Yulia Temoshenko in neighboring Ukraine {which was itself after all a part of the Soviet Union} leads me to guess that there are at least a pair or troika of women in their ranks] but merely to affirm that few Russian women are content or expected to be housewives and that the present-day Russian, like his or her Soviet and recent-to-present hyperoccidental counterparts, regards the presence of women in the professions and quasi-professions—the presence of female doctors, lawyers, judges, journalists, and so on—as a matter of course. [And no, the mere fact—if it indeed is a fact—that Russian men are on average slightly more vocal than their hyperoccidental counterparts about pretending not to take this as a matter of course emphatically does not make Russia a northern annex of Taliban-governed Afghanistan.])  The completion of my analogy with recent American cinema as exemplified by the movie about the black female calculators requires the identification of Zvyagintsev’s constituents, the identification of the persons who as a demographic aggregation are meant to be gratified by his Gesellschaftsbild.  If one knew nothing of Zvyagintsev’s output but Elena, a film in which the Russian patriarchy is presented as all-powerful and vicious, one would perhaps be inclined to identify these constituents as bienpensant Russian women, Pussy Riotichkas, if you will; but one struggles to identify a plausible Russophone constituency for a film like The Return, in which that patriarchy is presented in a prevailingly favorable light, and yet again not at all in the manner in which one would expect of a film seeking to curry immediate favor with the Russian blokility—i.e., a Russophone Chuck Norris or Steven Segal-style action movie.  The present writer is inclined to resolve the paradox by simply airbrushing the domestic audience out of the demographic picture—in other words, by conjecturing that it is prevailingly if not exclusively a certain hyperoccidental demographic niche to whom or which Zvyagintsev is pitching his Gesellschaftsbild, a hyperoccidental demographic niche very probably consubstantial in ethical essence, and even geographical provenance, with the albinity who at least affect to venerate the NASA black-female calculator flick.  But the present writer cannot reasonably expect to take even his most sympathetic reader with him in this conjecture without giving at least a modicum of more-than-toking consideration to Zvyagintsev’s all-but-most recent, and most hyperoccidentally critically acclaimed, film, Leviathan (2014).  This film concerns the efforts of a crusty, hard-bitten middle-aged dude living in the exurbs of some provincial sub-hole (the entire municipality proper seems to consist of an administrative building or two and a quasi-troika of residential mid-rises) to save his house from being demolished by the local authorities to make way for a new church.  Initially, the dude assumes he has got the law on his side, and so he calls in a smooth-faced Muscovian or Petersburgian lawyer, an old mate of his from the Afghan wars, to take up his cause in the district court.  But the court (a court incidentally presided over by a female judge) rules against him, and when the lawyer tries to appeal the decision, the mayor has a pair of his henchmen scare him, the lawyer, into thinking they are going to kill him, whereupon he clears out of this unnamed Dodge City-analogue, leaving his client, the dude, without further judicial recourse; whereupon the dude’s house is demolished and the mayor clinks glasses with the local bishop in celebration of the forthcoming ecclesiastical groundbreaking.  Described in these terms, terms which take in all the most visibly salient points of the diagesis—the film looks like a straightforward, old-fashioned hyperoccidental-style Christianity-bashing cinematic screed: inasmuch as the Church qua exponent-cum-embodiment of Christianity--and indeed Judeo-Christianity—is shown to be in up to its incense-incensed eyeballs in venal materially self-interested collusion with the vilest elements of the secular world, Judeo-Christianity in toto from Acts to Zephaniah may safely be concluded to be utter bunk and utterly evil from the filmmaker’s povey, as far as the broad strokes of his diagesis are concerned.  But in a shot towards the end of the film, a shot occupying at most a half a minute, Zvyagintsev casts a saving throw that without palliating his vituperation of the Church in the slightest allows him to take his at least orthographically correct place as the last and most authoritative prophet in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  This shot commences by showing the dude trudging along in visible dejection by (or at?) the forthcoming or recent demolition of his house.  After a few half-seconds of such trudgage he is bumped into by some sort of lowly clerical figure--a monk or whatever the Russian orthodox equivalent or quasi-equivalent of a parson or curate (or perhaps merely a canon or deacon) is--who, upon noting his dejection and apparently ascribing it to its correct efficient cause, viz., the aforementioned house-demolition, repeatedly strokes bottom-right index finger against upper-left IF towards him and reprovingly ejaculates: “Tut, tut-cum-tsk-tsk!  Remember Job!  Remember Job?  Know who I mean?  Job?  As in the Book of?  Eh, eh?  Know what I mean, know what I mean—candid photography?,” etc.  The presumptive ostensible hermeneutic primary upshot of this episode is simply that the dude has no right to complain because a certain other dude, Job, was once much worse off than he, the dude, inasmuch as he, Job, lost not only his house but also his children, cattle, chattels, kine, etc.  So far so innocuous and, indeed, even salubrious, for who among us—be he, she, they, youse, yinz, winz, autc. Christian, Jew, Musselman, Hindoo, Chaldee, Parsi, autc.--has not benefited in times of trouble by reflecting on the plight of Job?  But one must also consider the ethos (in the classical-rhetorical sense—viz., one’s social position, lowercase job, autc. qua something that one at least affects not to be ashamed to acknowledge and even to identify oneself with wholeheartedly) of this meta-consoler, this adverter to Job.  One must consider that he is not merely a generic Judeo-Christian layman clad in unobtrusive early-twenty-first-century mufti (e.g., the ensemble of nylon anorak, blue jeans, and hiking boots that I seem to remember the protagonist, our chastised dude, wearing), but rather an unabashed initiate of the Russian Orthodox Church obtrusively clad in that church’s signature black cassock and signature ridiculously curlicu’d black hat.  And such being the case, he is unabashedly identifying himself as a member of the very organization that has been or is about to be responsible for the demolition of the dude’s house; identifying himself as a member of the awful secular power-humping bishop’s party.  And such2 being the case, he has absolutely no right to go flinging the book of Job into the face of our hapless house-loser; indeed, such2 being the case, he is in an ethical (in both the classical-rhetorical and latter-day senses) position more or less exactly consubstantial (albeit merely in kind and by no means in degree) with that of a junior S.S. officer adjuring a death camp-bound Jew to chin up--or, for an example slightly closer to home (i.e., Russia, not America), a junior Soviet Communist Party apparatchik of the Stalin mini-epoch screaming “I told thee [for one would never vouvoyer a person in such a manifestly abject position] so!” (“Я так говорил тебе!”) at his next-door neighbor being dragged into the Gulagial equivalent of an airport shuttle by certain lowers-down of the Cheka or KGB.  I by no means adduce these parallels lightly, for it must be remembered that, however well-founded the doubtless utterly ill-founded hyperoccidentogenetic accounts of an early twenty-first-century Russian Great Awakening may be, the present Russian Orthodox Church, like the Soviet Communist and German Nazi parties (and utterly unlike its former self under the Tsarist dispensation, and indeed in marked contrast even to the established church of so anciently liberal a polity as the United Kingdom as recently as the early nineteenth century), is an organization with which official affiliation is by no means compulsory according to either the spirit or the letter of the law of the polity in which it participates (hyperoccidentals--and in particular Americans, who can affiliate themselves with a political party merely by registering to vote, and are not even required to pay membership dues to maintain this affiliation--have a deucedly hard time understanding this; have a deucedly hard time understanding, in other words, that at least in history’s big three totalitarian polities [for I frankly admit to ignorance on this score vis-à-vis, e.g., Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge] refraining from joining the ruling party has never entailed any positive danger, but merely the foregoing of certain perquisites, such that in electing to join it one is indeed effectively both endorsing its creed and policies and selling one’s soul to it [which may, to be sure, be an entirely creditable transaction if on balance the party effectuates more good than evil {which is why one should not make too much in either direction of, for example, Shostakovich’s acquisition of Soviet Communist Party membership in ca. 1960, when Khrushchevian liberalism was at its apex}]) and that, indeed, as vis-à-vis the two other organizations, one must jump through a fair number of fairly lofty and fairly narrow hoops to secure such affiliation therewith (although, to be sure-ish, one supposes that to be a mere member of a ROC congregation is easy enough, but we are not dealing with a mere lay churchgoer at the moment); and such being the case, here there can be no legitimate recourse to the hallowed argumentum ad sapientiam abjectorum; i.e., the wisdom of the little people, in defending the cleric’s officious scripture-flogging: this officiousness bears absolutely no legitimate comparison with, for example, the condign chastisement of an unjustly disinherited poor white American scion of a cattle empire by his poor black American undisinherited fellow-cowhand in the far above-cited Home from the Hill.  Our lowly ROC cleric was not shanghaied or press-ganged into his ceremonial robes whenever he joined up, and he is not being straightjacketed or duct-taped into staying in them now.  SBtC, if he had really wished to place himself in the position of someone entitled to cite the book of Job in this instance--i.e., somebody who regarded the loss of the house as a genuinely undeserved misfortune—he would have sloughed off those robes before tsk-tsking the prospectively or recently unhoused dude.  In having left them on before attending to this tsk-tsking he is effectively endorsing the demolition of the house as a piece of condign good fortune and thereby affiliating himself with Job’s enemies, with his supposed friends, and indeed with the archfiend himself and sole instigator of the Biblical Jobian diagesis, Satan.  Of course, as the film’s title indicates, Leviathan is parasitic on this Biblical diagesis, inasmuch as the word leviathan, meaning some water animal--perhaps a whale, but also perhaps a crocodile or hippopotamus--too large to be caught by a solitary fisherman, originates in the book of Job, such that the minor cleric’s allusion to that book fairly demands some kind of extra-diagetic or even specifically allegorical interpretation, but Lord knows what any such interpretation even half-assedly resistant to semi-serious scrutiny might look or read like.  Every now and then, Zvyagintsev’s camera affords a glimpse of something that might be a killer whale briefly surfacing from the presumably saline waters on which the podunk setting of the film abuts, but inasmuch as not one of the human characters in the film evinces the remotest awareness the creature, let alone an Ahab-esque desire to master it, its leviathanism is perforce as irrelevant to the cleric’s Job-jobation as the semi-proverbial beached whale carcass as which the beast finishes up—or at least so I recall, for in my memory’s eye (and nose) I may be conflating this beast with the malodorous stuffed whale carcass of Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s Melancholy of Resistance (a.k.a. Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies).  Then of course there is the secondary echo of the title of Thomas Hobbes’s famous treatise on statecraft, but even after loathly suspending one’s suspicion--a suspicion all too well founded on the evidence of the pygmy shrew-fordable intellectual shallowness of Zvyagintsev’s oeuvre overall--that AZ knows more about Hobbes the toy tiger than Hobbes the philosopher, as well as one’s certainty that any ultra-provincial locale makes for a piss-poor synecdoche for any polity larger, more whale-like or even crocodile or hippopotamus-like than, say, Cyprus or Malta, one is very hard-pressed indeed to wring any sort of hermeneutic cogency out of an application of the echo to the cinematic diagesis.  For Leviathan the book is essentially the Ur-primer of Toryism, and Leviathan the movie is thoroughly, primally Whiggish (i.e., in being utterly dedicated to the cause of liberty [as distinct from being more diffusely dedicated to a combination of liberty and progress after the manner of what I have repeatedly vituperated--and hope to vituperate further--as Whiggism in these pages]) in its hermeneutic upshot.  Hobbes’s Leviathan discursively argues that the supervention of a disinterested monarch is the only force that is capable of neutralizing the de facto hegemonic impulse-cum-principle of homo homini lupus, of neutralizing the intrinsically mutually antagonistic private interests whose unchecked indulgence would lead to the annihilation of the human species in an orgy of universal mutual consumption.  Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan dramaturgically argues that private interests, as exemplified by the crusty Job-synecdoche, are by default benign, and that the supervention of a monarch--or in this case quasi-monarchical force; i.e., the local-governmental authorities in collusion with the ROC—merely wilfully maliciously impedes the actualization of this benign impulse.  Thus if anything Z’s L is an anti-Hobbesian screed, a piece of perversion conceivably aesthetically recuperable only supposing the film to be somehow construable as a satire, as it patently is not, as is indicted by its uniformly utterly po-faced-cum-pissless tone of equal parts lugubriousness and portentousness.  But even supposing such recuperation to be possible, the inescapable exegesis of Leviathan qua critique of Hobbes sorts ill with any sort of interpretation of the film that would redeem it a both faithful portrait-cum-excoriating critique of early-twenty first century Russian society, for as everybody round the occident both hyper and hypo knows, or at least has affected to believe, political life in post-Soviet Russia has been signalized by the hegemony of old-school hyperoccidental-style private interests, interests of freewheeling individuals doing whatever the fudge coated-bublik they can get away with doing regardless of its congeniality to other individuals and aggregations of individuals, interests that differ more in magnitude than in spirit from the impetus actuating Leviathan’s crusty protagonist’s insistence on being allowed to continue to live on his own land and in his own house.  In point of fact, Leviathan’s main dramaturgical pivot of Craggy Homesteader vs. City Hall is much better suited to a depiction of a polity-cum-society in which the division between governmental and private interests is at least well nigh-universally supposed to be much more starkly defined—for example, the United States, and indeed, as Zvyagintsev himself admits, the dramaturgical kernel of the film was supplied to him by an incident that took place not in B*****k, Russia, but rather in B*****k, Colorado; by the rebellion of a cantankerous auto-mechanic against local authorities for imposing and enforcing zoning laws that blocked convenient access to his garage.  The only conceivably ethical cinematic realization of this Amerogenetic dramaturgical kernel would have been a reconstruction of the auto-mechanic’s rebellion set and filmed in the United States (and indeed, ideally in B*****k, Colorado), and so upon determining that this dramaturgical kernel would make a good film, Zvyaginstev should have either sought out the means of realizing such a realization—which conceivably could have finished up being mentionable in the same breath but two or three as such masterly Eurogenetic depictions of American life as Stroszeck (q.v. the previous section of this essay) and Paris, Texas—or set it aside entirely.  But had Z. both taken this more ethical course and successfully pursued the former sub-course, he infallibly would have alienated his fellationary core of nanny goat State-humping hyperoccidental bienpensants by implying that self-interested resistance to the implicitly beneficent measures of a hyperoccidental (and therefore implicitly intrinsically beneficent) State was a very, very good thing indeed rather than the most reprehensible thing imaginable (for chez les bienpensants hyperoccidentaux any citizen who kicks against the pricks of State out of personal motives [for those who kick against those selfsame pricks on behalf of certain groups are often regarded as saints chez eux] is regarded by default as a deranged ultra-right-wing pig-f**ker).  By instead siting Leviathan within Russia, Zvyaginstev not only spared himself many a jaw-hour jawing with Hollywood medium-sized wigs, but even more resourcefully drew into his regisseurial lasso each and every nanny goat-State humping hyperoccidental bienpensant, each and every one of which (sic) could wantonly indulge their (sic) autc. mandatory-cum-boilerplate commiseration with the so-called little guy or so-called underdog (a commiseration mandated-cum-boilerplated partly by their reflexive embracing of their respective polities’ creation myths, all of which in one way or another recount the rebellion of a so-called little guy or so-called underdog against a supposed tyrant; and partly by their not entirely unjustified fear of being literally and bodily devoured by the supposedly oppressed demographemes of their own and other polities) now that the little guy or so-called underdog was pitting himself against a so-called big guy or overdog, or, rather overbearing overbear, that was implicitly understood to be unfailingly whisker-twirlingly maleficent, namely the Russian State of the 20-teens qua supposed mere passive and dedicated engine of the supposedly invariably sociopathic whims of Vladimir Putin (whose portrait on a wall of the mayor’s office is undoubtedly intended as a signal that Vlad is the ultimate and hence ultimately only begetter of all the misery suffered by the protagonist, and it has doubtless been interpreted as such a signal throughout the hyperoccident, even though portraits of the current head of State are equally routine fixtures of hyperoccidental governmental offices from Anchorage to Vienna [?]).  In point of hyperoccidental bienpensant-fellation, Zvyaginstev’s transposition of the dramaturgical kernel of the film from the U.S. to Russia complements with diabolical ingenuity his inclusion of the lowly Scripture-citing priest qua ethical norm: in each case by rhetorical sleight of hand the little guy is given his sentimental due in the tearful eyes of the hyperoccidental bienpensant despite his intrinsic and indissoluble connection to forces that the hyperoccidental bienpensant cannot but regard as absolute anathema, namely, pig-f**king personal libertarianism and doctrinaire religious authoritarianism.  And yet, for all the force of my conviction that in all his films Zvyaginstev has been deliberately pandering to the hyperoccidental bienpensant intellectual petit-bourgeoisie, I cannot in good faith assert that this pandering has been utterly cynical and detached in conception or deployment; in other words, I am strongly inclined to doubt that AZ is some sort of completely deterritorialized Harry Lime-esque opportunist looking to retire to his own private micronesian desert island once he has squeezed every last dollar, pound, or euro squeezable out of his hyperoccidental patsies, and strongly inclined, indeed, to suspect that he is to the contrary a highly patriotic Russian after a certain deeply (sic) shallow fashion, a proud Muscovite or Petersburger who has absolutely no plans to go anywhere (except for Cannes, London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, autc. every third week or so), and that he regards himself as nobly and selflessly continuing and indeed fulfilling a Russian cinematic tradition dating all the way back to Eisenstein, if not to whichever Russian Edison-analogue shot those first few precious frames of a hoary-bearded nonagenarian muzhik sneezing (or pissing, farting, autc.).  In point in fact he is fundamentally but an epigone of a much ignobler sub-tradition of the Russian cinema, a sub-tradition extending only as far back as forty years, to Larisa Shepitko’s The Ascent, a sub-tradition in which pandering to hyperoccidental taste is simply a matter of course because the inauguration of this tradition was precipitated by the broader Soviet intelligentsia’s disengagement from the shaping of a more broadly Soviet Gesellschaftsbild owing paradoxically to the absorption of its more adversarial and outward-looking elements and aspects into the Soviet cultural mainstream.  Once bereft of its sense that the Soviet State was at bottom an enemy of pan-occidental humanistic culture, and therefore bereft of a sense that it, the Soviet intelligentsia, had a significant mission as a counteractor of this anti-humanistic Staatsgeist—a mission that had required it to represent Soviet culture as participating in hyperoccidental culture en bloc, and therefore to draw heavily on hyperoccidental topoi in its own Gesellschaftsbilder (as cinematically evidenced by, for example, the presence of hyperoccidental brand names in Cranes and Ivan the Terrible [the above-discussed time-travel farce, not Eisenstein’s biopic], the appeal to the progress of humanity in Cranes, Letter Never Sent, and the plenipresence of the bare-crucifix’d imagery of non-denominational Christianity in Kozintsev’s Shakespeare adaptations)—it, the Sov-intsya, could not but feel sorely tempted, for the sake of maintaining a raison d’être, to look within the Soviet borders for its gesellschaftsbildige topoi, which inevitably resulted in its hard-pedalling of topoi drawn specifically from the various Eastern Orthodox Churches.  This pedal-free fortissimo pianizing of Eastern Orthodoxy, whether in Zvyaginstev’s films or in the music of Schnittke, Gubaidulina, and Pärt, is by its very nature hyperoccidental-fellatory in gratifying a longing that has long been ardently strong in the hearts of intellectually petit-bourgeois hyperoccidentals, a longing for something that the latish pianist-cum-musicologist Charles Rosen termed religious kitsch, which consists in and of the artistic appropriation of a congeries of the aesthetic trappings of a certain faith (or congeries of faiths) that allows one to console oneself for no longer being a sincere, wholehearted adherent of a particular faith, or indeed for never having been even a phony, half-hearted adherent of any faith at all.  For Rosen, as I have pointed out before in these pages, the founding father and greatest—and therefore decidedly sub-great as a composer tout court—exponent of religious kitsch was Felix Mendelssohn, who in the early nineteenth century packed English concert halls to the bursting point with his Old Testament-based oratorio Elijah.  As kitschy as Elijah undoubtedly was (though not necessarily still is), it possessed the saving virtue of respectively hailing from and appealing to sites of comparable, and comparably rich, spiritual alienation: Mendelssohn, a born Lutheran but also the scion of a great Jewish intellectual family whose scholarly achievements were indissociable from their immersion in Talmudic Scripture, longed to reconcile the opportunistic conversion of his parents with the quasi-proverbial Hebraic intellectual-cum-spiritual fecundity of his grandparents, while his Anglican English audience longed to reconcile their ever-broadening ecumenicalism (as instanced, inter alia, by their embracement of a Lutheran composer of Jewish extraction) with their Puritan etc. forebears’ Old Testament-style sense of electness-cum-beleagueredness—in short, chez Elijah (albeit presumably admittedly not chez performances of Elijah), audience and composer were singing from the same OT-affecting Protestant hymn sheet—and of course undergirding the whole quasi or pseudo-spiritual fellowship was the shared sense that all these railroads and unearthings of skeletons of outlandish-looking animals and whatnot that were so much in the news thenabouts were making a mince-meated mockery of the whole Judeo-Christian Weltbegriff by transforming the world into something that no longer bore much resemblance to the world described in Scripture.  The variety of religious kitsch served up by the Soviet-cum-post-Soviet intelligentsia since The Ascent and consumed by their hyperoccidental contemporaries-cum-peers is much inferior to the Mendelssohnian variety in three respects: 1) It is signalized not by a gradual transition from an organic to an inorganic relationship to the ecclesiastical-cum-scriptural source material, but rather a violent caesura between the two modes of relation.  Neither the dispensers nor the consumers of Eastern Orthodox religious kitsch are merely the latest collective link in a chain of believers of who have gradually grown (or degenerated) out of a sense of the self-evidence of the respective faiths of their respective fathers.  To the contrary, the dispensers of EORK are the latest collective link in a chain of religious skeptics who have only lately even affected to give a tinker’s toss about the faiths of their quasi-or-pseudo fathers; and their hyperoccidental counterparts at the receiving end are religious je m’en foutistes who would on the whole most likely be stumped to remember whether their respective grandparents were Presbyterians, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Roman Catholics, autc.  2) The cravings catered to at the dispensing and receiving ends, respectively, are by no means commensurate or complementary.  The dispensing end, namely, initially, the solidly unified Soviet-cum-post-Soviet intelligentsia, initially wished to take refuge in its own version of religious kitsch, its perforce Eastern-Orthodox version, qua pis-aller of a chez-moi (or chez-eux, if we are considering it as a pluralized entity); i.e., in virtue of viewing the proscription of the various Eastern Orthodox churches as an analogue or totem of its own marginalization; but has subsequently, since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and the attendant rescindment of the subtendant republics as officially atheist States and its splintering into a mini-congeries of nominally baby intelligentsias, been all too fain-to-all too reluctant to fashion, or, rather, dispersively smash, this version into a mini-congeries of pis-allers of chez-moi(s).  In the case of Pärt and his fellow composers, this chez moi is probably a version of Christianity that is imagined to be immeasurably purer, immeasurably closer to that envisaged by Christ and the apostles, than the versions practiced in the hyperoccident, a chez moi that is all too easy to maintain given that it is only since 1991 that the various Eastern Orthodox churches have been granted official recognition by the governments of their affiliated polities, and hence rendered (again) amenable to corruption, and that the maintainers all identify themselves partly or wholly as non-Russians (even if Pärt alone is entitled to claim citizenship in a non-Russian polity).  Zviagentsev, on the other hand, seems on the religious plane to be prevailingly engaged in a vigorously (if utterly ineptly) sustained game of Christological catch-up, a game in which his principal objects of emulation are by no means any overtly Christian hyperoccidental filmmakers (e.g. [bordering on i.e., {for Lord knows there are none too many of them}] Dryer, Bresson, and Stillman), but rather that congeries of great and not-so-great hyperoccidental, and for the most part specifically American, literary modernists who in one fashion or other used Judeo-Christian Scripture as source material for their novels, poems, plays, and short stories—Faulkner, O’Neill, MacLeish, O’Connor, et al.  He seems embarrassingly eager to prove to us hyperoccidentals that he qua Russian qua would-be hypoccidental can spin out a Judeo-Christian religious allegory just as deftly as we, and for the most part specifically we Americans, can; and at the same time he seems to want to cast the Russian Orthodox Church, the local institutional embodier of the faith that he affects to find so semiotically, metaphysically, and morally rich, in the most unfavorable light, to represent it as an utterly self-interested, despotic, and pernicious force.  Here, too, there are plausible grounds for supposing that he is trying to bring his Weltbild into line with hyperoccidental bienpensant best practices.  In his latest film, Loveless, a quasi-eponymously loveless wedded couple--consisting, needless to say, of a man and a woman (this is after all quasi-Paleolithic Russia we’re dealing with here)—’s plans for a divorce are at least temporarily stymied by the male half’s boss’s policy of requiring all his employees (or perhaps only the managerial stratum thereof [like all first-rate hacks from Dickens onwards, Z. can’t be arsed to supply a scintilla of substantial detail on what people actually do in their working lives {as far as this particular working life goes, we are shown in total about thirty seconds of the dude typing and mousing alongside a few-dozen other business-attired people in a so-called open-office setting; this suffices to signify that he is a middle-managerial schlub (much as the description of Scrooge’s place of business as a counting-house suffices to expunge him from the reader’s good books as an intrinsically and unregenerately parasitic usurer) and therefore deserving of our unmitigated contempt-cum-absence of curiosity}]) to be married.  The wife explicitly attributes this policy to the Christian faith of this boss, whom she dubs Beardy (at least according to the subtitles, which may very well have been over-literally translating the surname Borodin {my ear wasn’t quick enough to tell one way or the other, and I can’t yet double-check without sitting through the first half-hour again, as I am not about to do, as I have dozens if not hundreds of preferable movies ready-to-view}, but even if they were, the beardy etymology of the name suffices for my PPs), and she further describes his variety of Christianity as fundamentalist.  Here Z. low-cunningly tars this boss with two bienpensant hyperoccidental-baiting brushes by saddling him at once with a beard, the preeminent corporeally organic sine qua non of an Eastern-Orthodox ecclesiastic, and with the designation fundamentalist, which of course in the bienpensant hyperoccidental mind instantly triggers panicked-cum-ravenous associations with snake-handling, Darwin-bashing, LGBT-thrashing, holy-rolling Bible-thumpers, and thereby adds a sort of dash of rhetorical MSG, bienpensant hyperocciental-targeting wise, to Z.’s implication that Christianity is ultimately responsible for the film’s central atrocity, the disappearance and presumptive death of the couple’s pubescent son.  If only the boss had not been a Christian, Z. all-too-pointedly implies, the couple might have secured a divorce much earlier, and thereby saved the life of their son, because, of course, as every bienpensant hyperoccidental knows (or, rather, presupposes), there is absolutely nothing more detrimental to a child’s immediate well-being and long-term development than growing up under the umbrella of a loveless marriage.  In reality, of course, no child in any part of the world at any point in history has ever given a toddler’s toss whether his or her parents are in love or not, and children have only ever suffered from their parents’ lovelessness insofar as it has eventuated in overt manifestations of aggression (Because, after all, if Daddy goes on a stabbing or shooting rampage what is to prevent him from taking me out along with Mummy?) or a displacement of favorable attention to themselves.  To be sure, the child in Loveless is treated horribly by both his mother and his father, and horribly enough indeed that he can hardly be blamed for running away from home, but it is the undiscriminating egoism of each of the two parents--their respective lovelessnesses tout court—and not the lovelessness of their marriage that is responsible for his maltreatment.  But in dwelling so long on the dumbed-down Biedermeierism of the present-day hyperoccidental cult of the family, I have strayed from the hyperoccidental quarry immediately to club, namely the appeal of recent-to-current Eastern-Orthodox kitsch on this side of the former Icey.  In the main, hyperoccidental (bienpensant or otherwise) interest in Eastern-Orthodox kitsch differs from its dispensing counterpart in viewing the Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity not as a purer form of the parent religion but as a different sort of religion altogether, as a more mystical, more spiritual religion than its nominal hyperoccidental counterparts, as a religion less cluttered, or utterly uncluttered, with the supposed impedimenta of industrial society; a prevailingly extra-urban religion practiced in isolated churches surrounded for dozens of versts in all directions by semi-fallow potato fields, if not craggy rockscapes utterly devoid of vegetation--in short, a sort of flaky hippie’s religion for those who are reluctant to take the plunge into a fully hyperoriental belief-system like Tibetan Buddhism, or who may be even all too happy to take that plunge but have been put off by the Cookie Monster-on-estrogen-like howlings that count as that belief-system’s greatest musical achievements, and would like the soundtrack of their gym-routine to consist of something that at least sounds as though it is being produced by human beings, as Eastern Orthodox chant and its derivatives in the music of Pärt et al., for all its shortcomings, undoubtedly does.  (Here, parenthetically, in the light of the affinities of Pärt’s music with hyperoccidental minimalism that I remarked earlier and my subsequent treatment of Zviaginstev’s Umgangsart with Christianity, I must mention that the musical soundtrack of Z.’s Leviathan is dominated, if not exhausted, by a single instrumental composition by the unholy hyperoccidental metropolitan of minimalism, Philip Glass, a substantial proportion of whose corpus [I use the term not only in its musicological but also its forensic sense, for no music could be more corpse-like than the oeuvre of Philip Glass] has unabashedly contributed to the canon of flaky, hippiesh Buddha-humping hyperoccidental religious kitsch by cunningly applying a schmear of the abovementioned hormone-treated Cookie-Monster Buddhist-monk vocals to a foundation taken LS&B from the voice-leading-less diatonic soundscape of hyperoccidental pop music.  The inclusion of Glass in the soundtrack is another example of Zviaginstev’s both-having-and-eating-ism on the religious and national political fronts or planes, for had he used Pärt instead of Glass, he would have been undesirably--from a hyperoccidental-fellatory point view—outing himself as a full-blown Christian, and equally undesirably—from a Russo-fellatory national-political point of view--declaring himself an adherent of a version of Christianity that despite its orientality was not specifically Russian.)  In addition, owing to cultural lag—i.e., a lingering memory of the Soviet State’s proscription of religion combined with a lack of up-to-dateness on the hand-in-glovishness of the present Russian Orthodox Church’s relationship to the Russian Federal Republican State—there may be some residual hyperoccidental sympathy with these churches as embodiments of resistance to totalitarianism.  But prevailingly hyperoccidentals are more or less well aware of and indeed inclined to exaggerate the ROC’s complicity with the RFRS and on this account would prefer to see it represented unfavorably--and of course not only or even principally on this account, for the bienpensant hyperoccidental mainstream is of course overwhelmingly anti-Christian.  Of course, in its quasi-official platform--or, better yet, its official quasi-official counter-Scripture—it presents itself as merely anti-ecclesiastical, as an abject adherent of the original teachings of Christ and an abhorrer solely of the supposedly utterly self-interested corruptions of those teachings introduced by each and every church, every organized administrative body, that has subsequently appropriated them.  In conformity with the post-literate tenor of our Zeit-cum-Weltgeist, the founding texts of this hyperoccidental counter-Scripture are not proper texts at all but rather a musical and a film, respectively, namely, Rice and Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar and Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which probably not merely coincidentally—at least on the Providential plane (for I am by no means so Pollyannaish a paranoiac as to attribute the coincidence to an exclusively human-complotted conspiracy transcending polities and continents)—were released a few years before and after, respectively, The Ascent.   The creedal upshot of this counter-Scripture is that HRH J.H. Christ was basically just an affable chap, guy, or bloke who ended up being (in the words of Douglas Adams, who perhaps not untellingly contributed as a writer to the final season of the Pythons’ television program, which aired a full five years before the release of Life of Brian) “nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change,” and that the whole sub-kit-and-caboodle of Christianity declaring or implying anything beyond this platitude, very much including any promises of life extending a jot beyond the breathing of one’s last corporeal breath, is just a load of adventitiously adscititious tosh having nothing whatsoever to do with HRHJHC’s only-begotten essential message.  Hypersuperficially, this upshot is indistinguishable from that of the Protestant Reformation’s revolt against the adscititious excrescences of Catholic priestcraft (indulgences, Purgatory, the hypostatization of the Eucharist, etc.).  But even the most sub-hypersuperficial glance at the historical dossier will reveal that the two upshots are at bottom mutually irreconcilable.  The Protestant Reformation founded its revolt on a direct appeal-cum-abject deferral to the New Testament, a text composed entirely of writings by people other than Jesus Christ, and prevailingly of writings by a person, namely the apostle Paul, who never knew HRHJHC in the pre-crucificxional flesh; a text wherein, moreover, HRHJHC is reported to have said many a much less lovey-dovey thing than “how great it would be to be nice to people for a change”—e.g., “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword,” and many a thing of personal-eschatological import—e.g., “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”  In short, the hyperoccidental bienpensants have not got a naturally incurable leprous leg to stand on when it comes to defending their notion of an HRHJHC qua champion of a lovey-dovey, ici bas-orientated lifestyle.  Since the very literal pre-dawn of Christianity there has been a church of some kind either tasked with or arrogating the function of spreading HRHJHC’s teachings, and not all those teachings are assimilable to an ethos of irenism.  Admittedly, HRHJHC might have actually and exclusively preached the very unalloyedly lovey-dovey creed formulated by Mr. Adams, but then again, he might just as plausibly actually and exclusively have preached a creed of regarding each and every one of one’s neighbors as so much long pig-sushi fodder, a creed that, if its underlying scenario be true, has been mercifully palliated to the odd mention of a sword only thanks to the kind if unveracious offices of HRHJHC’s oral and scribal intermediaries.  How such an unalloyedly lovey-dovey creed came to be extracted from the New Testament at all is more than something of a poser, inasmuch as all of the extractors—very probably including the only American Python member, Terry Gilliam, inasmuch as he hails from Minnesota, the North American capital of Lutheranism (as everyone knows thanks to the radiophonic monologues of that notorious Lutheran Minnesotan back-groper G******n K*****r)--were christened and reared as mid-twentieth-century Anglophone Protestants and therefore presumably had each and every chapter and verse of the NT quasi-literally drilled into their respective heads several times in the respective courses of their respective first decade-and-a-halfs ([sic] on the heterodox plural, quasi-natch).  Perhaps like the schoolboys during the lecture on sex during Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life they were too distracted by ocarinas and suchlike gimcracks to absorb the substance of the drilling in full.  Or perhaps they did then absorb it then and have since selectively (albeit not deliberately) forgotten the bits that were and are inconsonant with their respective lovey-dovey modi vivendi.  Or perhaps yet again they both absorbed it then and have since retained it and yet have somehow been confusing the substance of the non-lovey doveyish bits of the NT with that of those bits of the Old Testament in which, for example, the earth is said to have been created in six days, or the sun is said to have been made to stand still, bits vis-à-vis which the manifest natural impossibility of the phenomenon described can be explained away via some sort of philological or poetical explanation (this, of course, by way of reconciling the OT with some metaphysically garbled [and therefore vile] or neutral [and therefore irrelevant] natural-scientistic sub-creed of the hyperoccidental bienpensant creed as Darwinism or Copernicanism, respectively).  Of course the above-cited NT-ial sword can in its own right be, and, indeed—inasmuch as HRHJHC presumably did not go traipsing about Judea, Samaria, and Galilee with a rapier or saber strapped to his side after the manner of a European gentleman of the seventeenth century--fairly demands to be interpreted in poetic, and specifically metaphorical terms, as a metaphor for the chastisement of moral-cum-spiritual inadequacy, but here the metaphoricity does not alter the purport of the message in the slightest: a sword may be metaphorically transformed into a whip or even a stern interjection of “Hey, man, that’s not cool!” but there is no linguistic way of making a sword into a ploughshare (as in Isaiah 2:4), let alone an electric massaging instrument, except by explicitly stating that you are doing so, or otherwise juxtaposing a sword with the irenic article in a way that somehow suggests that is in the wrong or in decline; in connotative terms, a naked sword is a sword is a sword is a sword, and there’s an end on it.  But this is an end that the hyperoccidental bienpensant purported champions of Christianity are either incapable of or unwilling to accept, because at b****m they cannot countenance the exertion of authority or judgment outside any metaphysical context but that of the defense of the rights ostensibly in arrears to ostensibly underprivileged groups or the distension of the ostensibly irrefragable epistemological umbrella of so-called science.  And with this mention of religious authority I am at long last come to my third stricture on the new Russo-hyperoccidental religious kitsch vis-à-vis the old-school Mendelssohnian intrahyperoccidental religious kitsch: 3) The Russian side of this kitsch-diptych is marked by an indissoluble association of the Christian religion with power, and specifically secular governmental-cum-administrative power, that is utterly irreconcilable with the radically latitudinarian and irenic character of its complement, the contemporaneous hyperoccidental bienpensant conception of Christianity.  Mendelssohn’s Elijah was composed and premiered in the 1840s, a period of intense political strife both in Britain (over the Corn Laws) and on the Continent (over the various post-Napoleonic monarchical political dispensations), but the work, despite its Old Testamental source text with its above-alluded-to tradition of being received as a manual for political revolutionists, made no effort whatsoever to appeal to contemporary political sentiments, and its success complementarily owed nothing to any sort of political-interpretative habitus on the part of its audiences; indeed, if anything, these audience sought in Elijah an interval of escape from current political anxieties.  The new Russian religious kitsch, as dispensed from The Ascent onwards, is by contrast inalienably linked to a political worldview, and specifically a ruthlessly authoritarian political worldview, that by all strictly theological rights should have precluded its being favorably received in the hyperoccident at all.  That it has been to the contrary hyper-favorably received in the hyperoccident is owing in no small part to sheer gormlessness—e.g., in the case of The Ascent, the film’s sheer abundance of quasi-early-Tarkovskian trees has prevented hyperoccidentals from descrying its fundamentally Stalinian wood (the trees being the impossible obduracy of the consumptive Jesus stand-in and his band of impossibly loyal disciples in the detention cell, the wood being the all-too-possibly ruthless scorn meted out to the all too possibly-cum-forgivably yielding Judas stand-in [admittedly this isn’t a particularly apt metaphor for a movie shot largely in a tree-bereft snowscape]), to the extent of prompting its DVD releaser, Eclipse, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Criterion Collection (which, it must needs be said [inasmuch as Criterion has undeniably become the hyperoccidental cinephile’s equivalent of or to the Michelin Guide] has also released editions of not only Life of Brian but also Chasing Amy by the latter-day professional Papist Kevin Smith, auteur of the excerable Dogma, a vehicle of the new hyperoccidental religious kitsch whose theological ham-headedness-cum-factitiousness makes Jesus Christ Superstar look and sound like the St. Matthew Passion) to meta-hail it as having “been hailed around the world [the present writer’s apartment evidently aside] as the finest Soviet film of its decade”but also in even less small part to bienpensant hyperoccidentals’ apparently insatiable craving for a genre of cinema that as far as I know has yet to be identified by cinematic taxonimists, and that I am consequently obliged to name, and for which I can think of no apter name at the moment than bad-cop porn (which one is inclined to reject if only for its evocation of the conceptually extraneous bad cop-porn, not to mention the even more conceptually extraneous bad popcorn); a genre signalized by its accentuation of the abusive aspects of authority within the social agglomeration represented in the diagesis and its attendant elicitation of a more-than-well-nigh-orgasmic sense of political-cum-moral superiority from the implied viewer (just as one speaks of the male gaze in describing the mise en scène of mainstream lad-gratifying pornography, one should speak of the moral-cum-political autoerotic asphyxiationsist of any gender’s gaze in describing that of bad-cop porn) as he or she rhythmically congratulates himself or herself on the reflection that this has never happened and never could happen here in good old Blighty, Eastcoastia, Twentyteenia autc. 


1 comment:

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