An intriguing and funny read about showbiz, Kremlin style:
by Michael Idov
On the monitor, a turquoise 1958 Cadillac Sedan DeVille rolls past a Lenin statue and comes to a stop next to a rat-gray 1960 Series 2 Volga. We are at Gorki Leninskie, a modest manor south of Moscow where the leader of the revolution spent his last days, now a museum complex frequented, judging by the Mandarin signage, mostly by Chinese tour groups. The two cars would look serendipitously symbolic if I hadn’t put them there myself. I am an American writer who writes Russian films.
On an October day last year, a large crew had commandeered the manor to shoot an episode of ‘‘The Optimists,’’ a series I developed for Russia’s Channel 2 about young Soviet diplomats in 1960. In this scene, set at a government dacha, they are joined by their American counterparts at the State Department for a daylong picnic that grows increasingly informal, involving drinks, flirtation, a guitar jam and (spoiler) contact between two spies. At times in my new job, I feel like a spy myself, and one with a shaky cover. I don’t have a good answer for how I got here. Not only have I blindly managed to write Russia’s most popular feature film and one of its most-talked-about TV series of the year, but I managed to do it in 2015, when relations between the United States and Russia were at their coldest point since the events depicted in ‘‘The Optimists’’ (which deals with the aftermath of the Francis Gary Powers spy flight in 1960 and the Berlin Crisis).
In the Russian news media, Americans are demonized daily as imperialists bent on weakening President Vladimir V. Putin. The fighting in Syria is presented as an old-fashioned proxy war. On the very same channel that will air ‘‘The Optimists’’ next year, the political commentator Dmitry Kiselev brags about Russia’s ability to turn the United States into ‘‘radioactive ash.’’ In fact, relations between the two countries may be worse than they were during the Soviet era. Back then, Kremlin propaganda drew a line between good Western workers and the evil capitalists oppressing them; this time, with no clear ideological split between the two systems of government, the very humanity of the other side is being impeached.
And yet here I am, hanging out by Lenin’s deathbed, having somehow navigated a media landscape that should, by all accounts, have no use for me or my characters. I don’t know if I am the exception that proves the rule, a designated useful idiot or simply lucky. The only thing I’m sure of: It all begins with ‘‘Rushkin.’’…