[Marxism] Art and politics debate

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 29 20:25:33 MST 2008

My favorable review of "Cargo 200" has sparked an interesting debate 
on my blog.

A Russian kicked things off with this:

"You might want to read a little more about Balabanov before 
embracing him. No wonder the Russian leftists have left Marxmail or 
at least stopped contributing to it. You think a reactionary piece of 
trash makes good films. If you like this guy's films it has to be 
because you find them entertaining, you should reconsider your views 
on Eastwood probably and aim for some consistency."

I replied:

"My problem with Eastwood is not his politics, but his crappy movies. 
John Ford made racist movies about American Indians, but they remain 
classics. I have no idea about Russian Marxmail subscribers. There 
was one guy who had all sorts of Trotskyist pretensions. Another was 
a crypto-Stalinist/nationalist. If Marxmail is any kind of barometer 
of Russian Marxism, then your co-thinkers need to shape up."

(I have to admit that my tone was rather uncivil because I felt provoked.)

The most interesting contribution comes from Thomas Campbell, a 
Marxmail subscriber who not only lives in Russia but wrote the 
subtitles for Balabanov's "Brother", a movie that I really enjoyed. 
Here's what Tom had to say in part:

The problem, dear Reader, is that Balabanov is not simply a 
reactionary, but a quite "productive" reactionary whose films are 
almost always two steps ahead of the Zeitgeist here in Russia-for 
better and for worse. And Louis is right to point to a certain 
resemblance in Balabanov's filmmaking practice to Tarantino's because 
almost all Balabanov's films are riffs on western film genres 
transposed on post-Soviet reality. As practically the first person 
outside the film crew to see "Brother" (I subtitled it) I can say 
that the film does fit with the way a whole lot of people were 
experiencing the nineties here. (And it gave its audience the kind of 
hit soundtrack they'd previously enjoyed in "Pulp Fiction," which I 
would argue was the most popular film in Russia in the nineties. I 
think that says a lot in itself.)

This experience-reactionary, yes, but no less real for that-gave way 
to the Putinism the country is mired in now. And "Cargo 200 is quite 
obviously a reactionary reaction to Putinism, a fable for the decade 
of the "zeros," no matter what Balabanov himself says about the 
film's sources in his own travels around the Soviet Union in the 
eighties. This is not to mention the massive scandal the film has 
generated-from the demarche of the critics, pro and con, when it was 
premiered in Sochi, to the amazing battering Balabanov took when the 
film was shown on Channel One as part of the "Closed Screening" 
program, in which directors and their casts of new Russian films face 
critics and defenders alike. By the end of that brutal discussion, 
Balabanov was literally weeping. And since the bulk of the criticism 
thrown in his face boiled down to his allegedly having slandered 
Soviet society, I understand what nerve he had hit and why he had 
made the film, warts and all. The cultural and political elites that 
now finds themselves back in power are simply unable to understand 
the degree of degradation experienced by ordinary people here, 
especially in the provinces, since at least the seventies on and are 
thus unable to admit their own role in perpetuating and deepening 
that degradation under the new banner of "national patriotic" 
capitalism and "sovereign democracy." This is something that any real 
Russian Marxist understands, although I hardly expect any of them to 
"embrace" Balabanov. There is no need for that. Balabanov's films are 
(disturbing) symptoms.

Read the whole thread here: 

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