"COMRADES," 10 p.m. Tuesday (28)(24)--So much for the Soviet Union as merely a monolithic gray form on a distant horizon.
This stunning 12-part people documentary from the BBC presents a series of diverse profiles that at once confirms and rebuts the Soviet stereotype. It is a robust, bear hug of a series that peers into cracks and crevices rarely illuminated by the media. The sound is dubbed in English.
Aired as part of the PBS "Frontline" series, each hour is capped by a short discussion with experts on Soviet life. ("Comrades" also airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 50 and at 9 p.m. on Channel 15.)
The first episode (followed by an interesting brief film about the making of the series at 11 p.m. on Channel 28) is about a Moscow student teacher who is the Kremlin ideal, loyal and rather strait-laced, preparing to shape her young pupils according to the Soviet model.
Yet 21-year-old Rita Tikhonova is no mindless robot. It is the camera's exploration of her outside the classroom--with her family in their two-room flat, with her boyfriend, dancing at a disco and expressing her opinions about love, sex and marriage--that gives color and texture to this fascinating portrait.
"Comrades" was shot from 1983-85, almost entirely with Soviet cooperation. It is evenhanded, however, neither soft nor shrill, the pictures on the screen balanced by a sometimes pointed narration.
The dozen profiles also include the revealing trial of a 52-year-old thief in Moldavia, a privileged Soviet eye surgeon who was inspired by a Woody Allen movie, a young Army recruit and an Estonian fashion designer whose creative ideals are contrasted with drab reality.
None is better, though, than the third episode, titled "All that Jazz." Filmed surreptitiously, it traces the life of outcast Leningrad jazz-rock musician Sergei Kuryokhin, deemed unacceptable by the Kremlin and thus labeled "unofficial." Rejected by the state-controlled recording industry, he is part of that world of underground Soviet artists forced to operate on the fringes.
It's a truly joyous hour, however, with the likable, charming, rebellious Kuryokhin and the members of his "unofficial" band playing their clamorous music with such intensity and happy fervor that you want to stand and applaud. What a testament to the power of art and the human spirit.
Comrades of another kind.