Cross-Cultural Bonds: Seeing “Red”

“James Bond lives in a nightmarish world where laws are written at the point of a gun, where coercion and rape is considered valour and murder is a funny trick. All this is designed to teach people to accept the antics of American marines somewhere in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam or Her Majesty`s Intelligence agents in Hong Kong and Aden. Bond`s job is to guard the interests of the property class, and he is no better than the youths Hitler boasted he would bring up like wild beasts to be able to kill without thinking.

His creator is Ian Fleming, who poses as The Times correspondent in Russia in 1939 but was in truth a spy for the capitalist nations. Although he is now dead, James Bond cannot be allowed to die because he teaches those sent to kill in Vietnam, the Congo, the Dominican Republica and many other places.

It is no accident that sham agents of the Soviet counter-intelligence, represented in caricature form, invariably figure in the role of Bond`s opponents, because Bond kills right and left the men Fleming wanted to kill – Russians, Reds and Yellows. Bond is portrayed as a sort of white archangel destroying the impure races.

The Bond cult started in 1963 when the American leader, President Kennedy, unsuspecting that some American hero with the right to kill would shoot him, too, declared that Fleming`s books were his bedside reading.

As if by magic wand, everything changed. The mighty forces of reaction immediately gave the green light to Fleming. And in James Bond he has created a symbol of the civilisation which has used bombs to drown the voice of conscience.

The men and women who allow their talents to be used in the making of films about the exploits of this man are also guilty of furthering the shameful aims of the Western capitalists.”

… Above by Yuri Zhukov, from the Russiannewspaper Pravda, September 30, 1965

A real top-secret agent from a Western Power could penetrate the Iron Curtain, but not a fictitious character. The Soviet propaganda machine had an eagle eye, andthe notorious James Bond was banned in Russia. Things didn`t change when James Bond appeared on the world`s screens, even though the movie Bond was more politically correct (after all, in the film FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, Bond`s opponents are not Russians, and Rosa Klebb, a traitor, betrays her own country). It didn`t change either when Sean Connery became involved in the American-Russian movie THE RED TENT (1969) or even when James Bond worked together with the Russian female spy Anya Amasova in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). The ice hadn`t broken yet.

Occasional articles – similar to Zhukov`s – appeared in the Soviet media attacking Bond. In 1979 Soviet film critic Anna Marynova wrote in the Soviet weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta after seeing MOONRAKER that, “Although the Bond plots had changed in complexion since such openly anti-Soviet movies as FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE in the early 1960s, they still answer the dictates of bourgeois ideologists. […] “Moonraker” continues the tradition of all 11 Bondmania films, it has not only the cosmic but also the earthy values of mass culture – namely sex, violence and super-individualism.” She added that the Bond films have made approximately $500 million in “pure profit”, and that “It is the unlimited stupidity of James Bond films that explains their vitality.” Bulgarian critics and authors wrote essays about Western thrillers. But if you`d read AVAKOUM ZAKHOV VS. 07, which I have, you`d understand that even there, in the satellite Socialist countries, Soviet propaganda didn`t sleep then either.

It`s not entirely correct to say that the Bond films were completely banned in Russia. In fact, they could be shown in the Kremlin. You can`t deny that some high-ranking members of the Communist Party could love the Bond movies. It`s now commonly known that Yuri Andropov (ex-Chairman of the KGB & ex-Leader of the USSR) actually enjoyed the Bond films and preferred watching them in his personal Kremlin cinema-theatre. High-ranking members of the Communist Party could order any desired movie. Moreover, the Soviet Union, eager for a cash infusion of Hollywood money in Russia, officially invited Broccoli in April 1975 hoping that he and other American producers would film in Russia. Broccoli had always wanted to make a Bond film in the Soviet Union, especially given the title of his next film: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. According to Broccoli`s biography, When The Snow Melts, Broccoli brought a copy of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN for a special American Embassy screening – the American ambassador`s wife hosted the evening – which high-ranking Russian officials, including KGB members, attended. Broccoli claims that the Soviet officials “looked with some envy at the high artistic and technological quality of the production.” The Russians wanted Broccoli to make a film there… but not a Bond film. Dr Edward A. Aikazian, Council of Ministers for Science and Technology, explained that the USSR wasn`t ready for Bond`s decadent brand-name capitalist lifestyle. The President of Sovinfilm, Otar V. Teneishvili, and Broccoli discussed potential film projects including *The Cowboy and the Cossack*, however Warners had held a previous interest in the project, so Broccoli turned it down. They also wanted Broccoli to make a film about John Reed, the American communist who was buried in the Kremlin, however Broccoli wasn`t interested and declined. Warren Beatty eventually made the film: REDS. However, Broccoli was pleased to learn that Soviet filmmakers were so impressed with GOLDFINGER that Soviet film schools used that film to train future film directors.

Of course, certain Soviet people thought differently about Western culture – and of Bond – and they were the ones with some connection to the West, who had the right to travel abroad, and who were publishers and who seriously studied English. Someone would dare smuggle English paperbacks through customs, and others had the luck to get and read them; of course Fleming`s novels were among those paperbacks. Some of these people were surprised to discover that James Bond was a different fellow from the one Soviet propaganda constantly derided. A Russian critic, in his introduction to a Russian edition of a Fleming novel, described his first impression of James Bond. A friend of his once gave him a battered paperback. The book was in terrible condition and didn`t have a cover with the title. When he read it he decided his friend was mistaken. At first, he couldn`t believe that such a funny and non-serious novel was a plot of the notorious Ian Fleming – “an ex-spy and infamous anti-Soviet thriller-writer”. His friend assured him that it was an authentic Fleming novel: FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE.

One must clearly understand the Soviet censorship situation. A foreign-language novel deemed “Anti-Soviet” was a real hot thing on your hands. If you had enemies, they could skillfully use your having such literature to get you a one-way ticket to Siberia, or even an asylum.

What were “anti-Soviet” novels? Novels containing passages that propagandise an anti-Soviet way of life. A foreign modern novel could have been published if it criticised the “American way of life” or didn`t have any anti-Soviet ideas. You could get neutral novels by Agatha Christie, James Hadley Chase, Arthur Clark and Alistair MacLean. THE GUNS OF NAVARONE was a real hit, though Russian editors made slight plot changes.

The same thing happened with foreign movies and music groups. People very often compared “Bond bums” to “Beatles bums”.

Up to the mid 70s, rock-bands such as THE BEATLESDEEP PURPLELED ZEPPELINet al, weren`t banned. You just couldn`t buy or sell their albums at music-shops. Nevertheless, the albums were constantly smuggled into Russia, and you could get them illegally at flea-markets (tolkouchka). People who sold such things risked more than you.

FYI: once upon a time, in order to circumvent the law, a Russian record-company did release The Beatles` single GIRL, but had to write the following comment on the vinyl cover: an English folklore song.

Then in the mid 70s the censorship committee composed the black-list of banned groups that were supposed to “propagandise an anti-Soviet way of life”. Oddly, this list included mainly rock-bands such as AC/DC (Just imagine, Angus Young – an anti-Soviet saboteur! LOL!), METALLICAMANOWARKISS and PINK FLOYD. The reasons were sometimes ridiculous. PINK FLOYD wasn`t banned until they mentioned the name Brezhnev (then leader of the USSR) in a song.

I`ve intentionally mentioned the foreign-music problem. Radio-waves could penetrate the Iron Curtain, no matter how hard Soviet special radio-stations tried countering them. The BBC had the Russian language program SEVAOBOROT. Some Russians, whose radios could receive the BBC, heard that democratic program plus good world music. Seva Novgorodtsev narrated the program. He`s very notable. I`m sure every Bond-fan knows his face: he was the helicopter pilot in A VIEW TO A KILL`s pre-title sequence. (Seva still works for the Russian BBC channel and even has his own web-site: www.seva.ru – it`s a Russian-language site, but you can see his picture on the front page.)

Legal foreign music generally meant composers from satellite Socialist country, Italian and French bands and singers. Ditto foreign movies. Everybody knew French and Italian comedies with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Pierre Richard and Andriano Celentano. But censorship was tough: erotic and over-cruel action scenes had to be cut. Sometimes translators could even change the dialogue`s meaning. Some of the movies, such as THE MAGNIFICENT ONE (1973, starring Belmondo), which I strongly recommend, and RETURN OF THE TALL BLOND MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE (1974, Pierre Richard), were partly James Bond pastiches, but Russian audiences didn`t get the jokes about Bond because they hadn`t seen the Bond films.

After all, James Bond was supposed to be a communist enemy. He <i>is</i> a communist enemy. Who would permit such a hero to exist in a communist country?

The situation changed slightly in the early 80s, when the first VCRs appeared in the USSR. Those with enough money to buy VCRs finally had the opportunity to watch Hollywood movies at home. The first wave of videocassettes changed hands. It was illegal of course, and there were no movie-shops. The legal video market hadn`t yet begun. (Oddly enough, Russian movies began appearing on video only in the 90s, after the USSR fell.) But you can`t say it was the beginning of the video-piracy era. It would begin later, after Gorbachev`s perestroyka. In the early 80s videocassettes of movies labelled “Anti-Soviet” were the proverbial forbidden fruit. Several men would translate movies, (using various means to distort their voices), copy and disperse them among friends, who in turn would share them with their friends. But one had to be careful, since in those days, the word friend was similar to the term friend in John Gardner`s Bond novels. Your trusted “friend” could easily frame you. Being a KGB informer was a very popular career and way of making money. Informers were usually people who had been caught by the KGB and were now forced to work for them.

There were rumours that city streets were occasionally hit by KGB vans equipped with special scanners that could intercept a video-signal from a working VCR.

However, lucky people finally met fictional characters like Emmanuele, John Rambo, Indiana Jones, Dirty Harry, Darth Vader, Freddie Kruger, various ninjas, the real-life Bruce Lee and… James Bond. But after his eh… “confrontations” with Soviet soldiers in OCTOPUSSY, he continued to be banned.

I`ve mentioned Emmanuele on purpose. Bearing in mind tough censorship, you can imagine that such movies as Emmanuele were real bombs. Since there was no law concerning erotic and pornographic films, Emmanuele and 9 1/2 Weeks and some XXX-rated movies meant jail.

Then Gorbachev came on the scene, and the era of perestroyka and glasnost began. People tasted the air of freedom. In the late 80s, small private firms, the first video-saloons and video-kiosks began appearing.

Generally, video-saloons were rooms for approximately 50 people, with several rows of chairs, one VCR and several TVs plugged in parallel. A ticket cost 1 rouble. As a rule, video-saloons were in cinemas, big railroad stations and airports.

I sawmy first BOND movie at a video-saloon. It was DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. I was thirteen then. I had already known about James Bond from an Atari 130 computer game, but Ian Fleming`s name meant nothing to me. Nevertheless, the movie fascinated me, though I didn`t quite get the complicated story. Frankly, the plot of Diamonds Are Forever still puzzles me and I can`t say that it`s my favourite Bond film. It seems to me, that during production, the movie-crew indeed didn`t smoke tobacco, but something else. But it`s still my FIRST Bond movie, which makes it special.

In the early 90s, when Russian cinematography was almost dead, VHS-projectors were installed in some cinemas. The picture was projected onto the movie-screen. Audiences got bigger. As for video-kiosks, you could buy or order any desired movie. 1 cassette – 2 X 90min movies, or 1 X 120min movie + some clips or cartoons, mainly, TOM & JERRY. And erotica, of course. Prices varied because of constant inflation.

Video-piracy? Hard to say. One must remember that the <i>legal</i> video-market still hadn`t yet begun.

Around 1990, Fleming`snovels and short stories were published, generally in omnibus editions (2 in 1). Short stories were published discretely. In the beginning, I couldn`t tell which story was in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY or OCTOPUSSY. In some editions in those days, passages mentioning Russians villains were omitted. Some editions contained wrong information about Fleming. Some translations were very bad.

My first introduction into the world of the literary James Bond was the short story FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. The title was translated as An Eye For An EyeDR. NO was the first Bond novel I read.

Interestingly enough, COLONEL SUN was also published, but as far as I know, Pearson, Wood`s and all but one of Gardner`s novels haven`t, nor have THRILLING CITIES THE DIAMOND SMUGGLERS or CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG.

Nevertheless, people finally met the most famous British secret agent – James Bond, and the pleasure was all theirs, I presume: the word “copyright” was a very abstract thing then, and I`m not sure that GLIDROSE knows about these editions. Mind you, in Russia, the word “copyright” is still an abstract thing…

Time was running. 1991. USSR ceased to exist. Democracy began. Censorship virtually ceased to exist. Music fans finally saw their idols METALLICA and AC/DC live at Tushino in Moscow. Video-saloons and video-kiosks didn`t disappear. It`s possible that video-saloons existed until about 1993-94. (In 1991, my father bought a VCR and I stopped visiting video-saloons.) At the same time, a big Russian company started selling legal video-cassettes, but the movies recorded on those cassettes weren`t the best Hollywood blockbusters. Personally I didn`t buy them. However, various video-kiosks (pirates) continued to sell such movies as THE TERMINATORFIRST BLOODCOBRACOMMANDO and various BOND movies, mainly, the latest ones (with Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton). And of course, I bought them.

1995. Tanks have hit St. Petersburg`s streets. Another revolution? In a way, yes: James Bond, driving a tank, in St. Petersburg, at last. Unfortunately, the advertising campaign wasn`t great, and I missed that moment and didn`t see the movie-crew shoot the new Bond film. This will make me sad forever, because I know that such a moment will never happen again.

I saw GOLDENEYE in late December of 1995. It was a kamernaja version – a pirate copy made by video-camera in some English or American cinema-theater. You can buy such pirate copies of any movie, even today. It`s supposed to be illegal, but authorities turn a blind eye. In Russia, where the most daring thieves can actually make a train “disappear” (unlike the magician David Copperfield who can only do it on a set), the government doesn`t have enough time to deal with intellectual property theft. I don`t believe that video-piracy will soon disappear. The Russian Mafia stands behind it because it`s very profitable. People don`t care about copyright. They`d just say: “screw copyright” (nasrat nam na eti avtorskie prava) and buy a cheap illegal cassette at a video-kiosk.

In the same year, I began studying English hard and read Gardner`s THE MAN FROM BARBAROSSA. In the West, this novel is considered to be one of his worst, yet I think it`s one of his funniest and most daring. Yes, it`s complicated and somewhat weak, but in this novel, James Bond works in Russia for the KGB! Together with Mossad! And uncovers a conspiracy against Gorbachev. It`s great! I still can`t believe it was published in April 1991, long before the real unsuccessful conspiracy against Gorbachev… which happened in August that year!

In 1995, Russian commercial cinematography began to rise and make movies that could beat Hollywood`s. Of course they weren`t action movies, they were cheap – but good – comedies and dramas.

1996. Two Russian book-companies republished Fleming`s novels. Translations (some bad ones) were the same as in 1990. One of those editions some had blatantly ridiculous facts in Fleming`s brief bio: I`m deeply suspicious that whoever was responsible mixed Ian Fleming and Joan Fleming`s bios! I`m not kidding.

Still, there was no THE DIAMOND SMUGGLERS (which I read in the original edition), THRILLING CITIES or CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, and I`m not sure that they`ll be published in the near future.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES had a greater advertising campaign than GOLDENEYE. In 1997, old-fashioned illegal omnibus video-cassettes (2 movies in 1) almost stopped existing. Why buy them when you could buy a good legal copy in fancy cover? But you could (and still can) buy a cheap illegal video-cassette in fancy-cover. I saw Tomorrow Never Dies long before the official St. Petersburg premiere. It was a kamernaja version.

During `97-98, the first cinema-theaters got Dolby Surround sound systems. Until then, movies had mono sound.

In the same year, a Russian book company published GOLDENEYE. It`s still the only non-Fleming, non-Amis Bond novel published in Russia, however, so far as I know, Benson`s The World Is Not Enough will soon be published here.

In early December of 1999, I saw The World Is Not Enough. It was a kamernaja version again; the official premiere wasn`t until January 6th, 2000. The advertising campaign is even greater. Russian MTV (it began in 1998) constantly shows the GARBAGE single, though not as often by month`s end. The official Russian web-site of The World Is Not Enough started some time ago.

The advertising campaign is great, but not as great as it is in the West. The Russian market doesn`t thoroughly use the BOND cult yet: there are no such things as BOND toys or BOND comics for children, Bondish watches, Bondish cars or other merchandise. Maybe it`s for the better. I think the Bond market has spoiled movie Bond, because, frankly, I think The World Is Not Enough is a disaster and wasn`t worth its mad advertising campaign: BOND shirts, BOND shoes, BOND pens, BOND chips, BOND toilet paper, etc.

So here`s the picture. There are many Bond fans in Russia. Indeed, certain people idolize James Bond. There are several Russian web-sites dedicated to 007. Every keen Bond-fan has probably already seen The World Is Not Enough on the big screen and will buy the legal video-cassette with good translation (Tomorrow Never Dies had excellent translation) as soon as it`s released. However, the Soviet propaganda machine`s damage is done: several generations have been deprived of James Bond. To my parents, the James Bond movies are the lost piece of their childhood and youth they`ve finally found. In Russia, there aren`t any people Raymond Benson or Pierce Brosnan`s age who saw GOLDFINGER as children. A Bond fan in the street can only buy two of the non-Fleming Bond novels in Russian. Though I can read in English, even obtaining the British editions is difficult.

Having said that, I don`t believe it`s the end of the road for James Bond yet. Like it says in the films: JAMES BOND WILL RETURN.

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