Tag Archives: Propaganda

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: WHITE TIGER (2012)

Belyy tigr

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DIRECTED BY: Karen Shakhnazarov

FEATURING: Aleksey Vertkov, Vitaliy Kishchenko, Valeriy Grishko

PLOT: In the closing months of World War II, the Soviet army is confronted by a fearsome opponent in the form of a single, unnaturally deadly tank; the best hope for victory lies with the only man to survive an attack by the armored vehicle, a soldier with retrograde amnesia who survived extensive burns and now possesses an uncanny ability to out-think the machine.

Still from White Tiger (2012)

COMMENTS: They call him “Ivan Ivanovich Naydenov.” The last word literally means “found,” and the name is the Russian equivalent of “John Doe.” He is discovered in the charred remains of a wrecked tank, covered with burns over nearly his entire body. He is nearly given up for dead, but he recovers with astonishing speed. How he could be alive is a terrific mystery, but there’s a war on, with no time for such diversions. He remembers nothing before being found except for the ability to drive a tank, so they call him “Ivan Ivanovich Naydenov” and do the only thing they can do: put him in uniform and throw him back into the battle against the Nazis. 

But World War II is really beside the point, because the real battle is a timeless struggle between two archetypal foes: the soulless killing machine and the pure knight sent to vanquish it. Naydenov and the White Tiger are purposely stripped of identity; the soldier has no past while the tank has no crew. We see the tank wipe out an entire squadron of Soviet vehicles, and it becomes clear why the Russians and Germans alike are terrified of the mechanized death-dealer. Only Naydenov is undeterred; he is able to outwit the tank as no one else can, but they are too perfectly matched for either to triumph.

Presenting the White Tiger as a legitimate threat is a significant task. Other films have tried to depict the malign power of inanimate vehicles, some more successfully than others. The filmmakers use a crafty blend of camera framing, sound design (including a wonderfully unnatural thwoomping sound for the beast’s cannon), and practical effects to give the White Tiger its power. Meanwhile, the character of Naydenov (an evangelically determined Vertkov) has been stripped down to the most basic elements needed to defeat a tank. He has an innate sense of tactics, a prognosticator’s insight into the tank’s next moves, and a zealot’s indefatigable passion for the chase. When Naydenov tells his superior officer that he will pursue his adversary forever, it seems like that’s exactly how long it will take. 

For much of the film’s running time, the movie is taken up with two questions: How will our heroes vanquish this opponent, and what is the mystery behind the two combatants’ hidden identities? Neither of these questions will be addressed in the slightest. Instead, White Tiger takes a truly strange turn in its final act, when it leaves the battlefield to depict Germany’s surrender to the Soviet Union (and the other Allied powers, although they barely figure here). This sets up what appears to be the film’s true thesis statement: that the battle between good and evil cannot be confined to nationalities, and that evil only rises up when the will of the masses summons it. A reasonable sentiment, except that it is delivered by, of all people, Adolf Hitler, who suddenly comes to us from beyond the grave to explain to a faceless companion that the Nazis only waged their campaign of death against the Jews because the rest of Europe secretly wanted it but lacked his fortitude, and that the impulse will surely rise again. Not my fault, he insists. The rest of Europe made me do it.

What does this unsettling scene mean? Unfortunately, this question has a ready and alarming answer, and it lies in the fact that this Hitler’s threat and the implicit defense for warfare sounds strikingly similar to the language Russia used to justify its invasion of Ukraine a decade after the film’s release. This can no doubt be laid at the feet of Shakhnazarov, the movie’s director and an extremely vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin. As noted in a recent discussion of the earlier Shakhnazarov film Zerograd, the filmmaker has publicly warned that is Russia were to lose in its current incursion, “it is the West that will have concentration camps ready, and will send all Russians there without mercy.” It’s an almost-exact recapitulation of the take on history that White Tiger’s Hitler provides, and reveals this otherwise intriguing ghost story to be odious propaganda. The weirdest thing about the movie turns out to be its interpretation of good and evil, and just who sits on which side. 

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a weird, wondrous tale of an eerie white fascist tank that appears, attacks and vanishes, leaving smoldering Russian tanks and cremated corpses in its wake… luckily, Shakhnazarov’s powerful image-making largely subsumes the film’s many peculiarities.”–Ronnie Scheib, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Mike B. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

White Tiger
  • DVD
  • Multiple Formats, NTSC, Widescreen
  • English (Subtitled), English (Dubbed), Russian (Original Language)
  • 1
  • 90

STOCKING COAL: KIRK CAMERON’S SAVING CHRISTMAS (2014) & THE BURNING HELL (1974)

A few months back, a co-worker sent me a meme of Homer Simpson mimicking Donald Trump mimicking a handicapped reporter under the heading: “Look Marge… I’m a Christian.” If one associates Christianity with brain dead right-wing WASPs, then the only better symbol than a Homer parody would be walking caricature Kirk Cameron. In addition to his roll-on-the-floor Left Behind rapture series, Cameron, in 2014, prefiguring Trump and his Trumptards, took it upon himself to “Save Christmas” and ‘Murica from all those War-on-Christmas “Happy Holiday” and “Season’s Greetings” coffee cups (with no snowflakes, dammit).

Like all of Cameron’s movies, Saving Christmas was universally panned, which prompted the Christian entrepreneur (smelling a potential box office loss for his booming franchise) to panic. He called on “the real people” (as opposed to the sub-human critics) to give him a thumbs up: “Help me storm the gates of Rotten Tomatoes,” he wrote, “all of you who love Saving Christmas – go rate it at Rotten Tomatoes right now and send the message to all the critics that WE decide what movies we want our families to see.” Kirk’s endeavor promptly backfired. Even the “real people” ripped it to pieces, which of course Cameron blamed on liberal atheists, no doubt paid off by George Soros. Now, before we dismiss this as yet another easy target: lest we forget ‘Murica elected Cameron’s triple-chinned, mentally-challenged, pedophile-conspiracy kook,  silver-spoon fed billionaire, and CINO (“Christian-in-Name-Only”) prophet to the highest office of the land in 2016. Saving Christmas is is a lump of stocking coal that ‘Murica has reaped.

The irony of Saving Christmas is that it’s the most dumbed-down, offensive, holiday killing, morally bankrupt Christmas movie ever produced, especially if one subscribes to the precepts taught by one Jesus of Nazareth. It actually embraces and endorses avarice and gluttony, and takes to task wimps who dare suggest that giving money to charity or the less fortunate is more Christ-like than spending money on oneself (apparently, the filmmakers never read the Lazarus and the Rich Man parable). Cameron’s movie, directed by co-star and fellow disgusting human being Darren Doane, does a Linus in reverse, proclaiming how good and Christian materialism actually is because, ya know, Jesus doesn’t really want peace on earth to men of good will, he wants us to to gorge on the day we celebrate his birthday. (Cameron’s head-scratching thesis insists that holiday materialism is good because God, taking over Christmas, became material). Having the chutzpah to proclaim that his masterpiece puts Christ back in Christmas, Continue reading STOCKING COAL: KIRK CAMERON’S SAVING CHRISTMAS (2014) & THE BURNING HELL (1974)

SATURDAY SHORT: HEAVEN’S COUNTRYLAND (2014)

, a director previously featured on this segment of our site, has been on the rise due to his involvement in the animated series “Adventure Time” on Cartoon Network. In fact, it was recently announced that he will play some role in future episodes of Comedy Central’s “South Park.” During an interview following the announcement David said in his darkly humorous fashion that he had no future ambitions. “This is it. Downhill from here.”

In honor of this, we’d like to feature him once more with an episode of “Heaven’s Countryland.” Below is one of a series of shorts commissioned by Adult Swim, parodying North Korean propaganda videos.

CAPSULE: MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (1929)

Chelovek s kino-apparatom; AKA Living Russia, or the Man With the Movie Camera

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Dziga Vertov

FEATURING: Mikhail Kaufman (cameraman)

PLOT: A plotless record of twenty four hours of life in the Soviet Union of 1929, exhibited

Still from Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

through series of experimental camera tricks.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Man with the Movie Camera is a visually inventive, historically important and formally deep movie that reveals more secrets with each viewing; but, the only quality in it that might be called “weird” are the surreal camera tricks it occasionally employs. It’s a movie that demands space on the shelf of anyone seriously interested in editing techniques or film theory, but as far as weirdness goes, it’s purely supplemental viewing.

COMMENTS: Reviews of Man with a Movie Camera often spend as much, if not more, time discussing the history and philosophy of the production and its influence on future films than they do describing what’s actually in the movie. That’s because the challenge the movie sets for itself—to create a “truly international absolute language of cinema based on its total separation from the language of theater and literature”—is more fascinating than the film’s subject matter (the daily lives of Soviet citizens in 1929). On a technical level, Movie Camera is a catalog of editing techniques and camera tricks, many of which were pioneered in this film but are commonplace or obsolete now. Be on the lookout for double exposures, tricks of perspective, slowing down or speeding up the camera speed, freeze-frames, reversed footage, split screens, and even crude stop-motion animation. One of the most interesting techniques is the amphetaminic editing of Movie Camera‘s climax, which moves almost too fast for the eye or mind to follow (a technique Guy Maddin would fall in love with and use to ultra-weird effect in the Constructivist/Surrealist hybrid The Heart of the World). Structurally, the film flows along as a series of counterpoints, alternating between two sets of scenes to create ironic contrasts (cross-cutting a funeral procession and the birth of a baby), metaphors (scenes of soot-covered workers Continue reading CAPSULE: MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (1929)