Monday, October 17, 2011

A couple of interesting documentaries

Unknown War -- A fascinating Brezhnev-era piece from 1978 showed up at my favorite video shop.  This is pretty broad brush stuff, as probably befits a Soviet official history aimed at an American audience.  There is a current western historian there to provide some perspective; which if you do not actually know the history yourself is more than needed.

What does it offer the wargamer?  A lot of documentary footage that I for one had never seen before.  If you want to see some great combat film footage, and are old enough that "detente" is a nostalgic period in your life (I visited some of the cities shown rebuilt in the film in 1974) I'd recommend renting it (or finding it elsewhere -- I am sure much of it is kicking around youtube).

If you consider yourself at risk from too much Communist propaganda, you might counter-dose with Russia's War -- which basically portrays Stalin's entire time as General Secretary as his war against his own people.  Likewise kicking around you-tube and available on DVD.

This, by the way, is my preferred film version of 1984.

I also recommend the recent Polish film Katyn - very powerful stuff.  It paints a county coming to terms with the enormity of Nazi occupation, while dealing with the Stalinist occupation that took its place, and how individual Poles tried to come to terms with that reality.

My final offering in what seems to have been a festival of grimness in the last couple of weeks is the book Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder.  It covered the area of Poland and the former Soviet Union controlled by the Nazi and Stalinist states from final collectivization of Ukrainian agriculture to the death of Stalin.  The detailed portrayal of the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 that opens the book is certainly as compete as any I have seen.  The book also makes a real effort to affirm the dignity and uniqueness of each of those murdered; it is well worth reading.  In looking for a link for the book I found (I should not have been surprised) that there is a lot of controversy around it; both because the Holocaust is a loaded subject for a lot of people and because (as also should not be surprising) no group comes away with completely clean hands.

I really must find a light comedy or a superhero movie to watch come Saturday.


  1. I agree with Les that the 1984 remake is the superior version of the film. Surprisingly I think it it captures the grittiness of Orwell's novel much better than the 1956 UK film release.

  2. I expect in 1956 the reality of the USSR - especially under Stalin - had not really sunk in.