banner part1 banner part 3
banner part2
home about Jeremy Murray-Browndocumentary course other courses BU Documentary Makers Screenings Resources  



 These two "medical" tapes are the most skillfully made of the series. Without the detailed information which only Bonner or Sakharov himself could provide, and which had not yet reached western sources, it is almost impossible for an outsider to detect the falsehoods concealed by the manner in which the material has been edited together. it is hard to gainsay the visual evidence that Sakharov was alive and eating and being well looked after. This impression is reinforced by the casual nature of the recorded snippets of conversation and the presence of Bonner at different points. The viewer has no means of knowing what is the reality that lies behind the tapes. Scenes of Sakharov eating heartily, which would be consistent with his coming off his fist hunger strike, could only have been taken between May 27 and September 8, 1984, when he was released. Shots of him receiving pills must also date from 1984. According to his wife, at no time during his enforced hospitalization in 1985 did he eat or knowingly take medication. But the calendars so prominently displayed are all meant to suggest that everything we are seeing took place in June 1985.  

 There is something strange about this calendars, something suspicious about the emphasis on this particular week in June, as though, with a twist worthy of George Orwell, the year 1984 has been abolished. It would be possible technically to insert an image of a 1985 calendar into the picture long after the picture had been recorded on videotape, but this is a lengthy, intricate and expensive matter, particularly where camera movement is involved. Frame-by-frame examination of the KGB tape shows no sign of the original having been tampered with in this way. A possibility is that scenes were truly recorded in 1984 with a calendar which had Sundays in the first column on the page. June 3, 1984 would then have been a Sunday, June 9 a Saturday. If they already possessed these shots taken in 1984, then it would be a simple matter for the KGB to fabricate a similar-looking 1985 calendar in which the first column on the page would be Mondays, so that the dates - June 3 to June 9 - would read the same across the page. The calendars in the film, it me be noted, are not Russian calendars with cyrillic lettering. In the shots where Sakharov is seen eating, the year cannot be made out with certainty. Only in those shots where Sakharov is not eating can the date with the year be clearly seen (on an exercise bike, receiving mail and periodicals).  

 But it is also possible that these scenes of Sakharov eating were indeed taken in June 1985 and on the dates indicated by the calendar behind his head. In a letter to his family in Massachusetts, written in November 1985, Sakharov describes the violence that was used against him after he started his new hunger strike on April 16, 1985. "I resigned myself to eating," he wrote, "only when the 'feeding team' was present in full strength and only when I was actually in the ward. Twice, they dragged me into the ward with the help of KGB men."[8]  

 Though his words appear to mean he offered no resistance to being fed by others, it may be that he did, on these rare occasions, feed himself. If this were the case, we can imagine the scene at his hospital bed, now turned into a secret television studio. Out of sight, but intimidating by their presence, stand the "feeding team" with their straps, clamps and iron spoons watching while Sakharov unknowingly performs for the hidden cameras.  

 Among the documents flashed on the screen, one which bears Sakharov's signature is used to carry narration to the effect that he receives free medication. It is, in fact, a prescription for Bonner's eyedrops, Timoptic, which was hard for her to obtain since it is produced in the West. Family and friends in the West had always to supplement her supply.  

 Another document is used to carry narration that Sakharov and Bonner were on friendly terms with the hospital. We are shown an inscription in a book with Sakharov's signature. The book, it turns out, is a driving manual for women and is inscribed by him "on the occasion of the day of the health worker." One can imagine a young nurse learning to drive, and perhaps facing a test, appealing to Sakharov's generous nature on this Soviet occasion. The date, we should observe, is June 17, 1984.  

 Once again, in addition to the central lie about Sakharov in hospital, there are the lies of omission. On in particular is worth mentioning, concerning the magazines and scientific journals which Sakharov is shown to be receiving, apparently regularly and freely. In their memoir, Bonner describes how the KGB would play macabre tricks on them with their mail. On one occasion. a package of scientific journals from his Moscow Institute arrived for Sakharov at the apartment. When they opened it, the pages were found to be infested with cockroaches - put there by the KGB as a form of petty harassment. Naturally no cockroaches are to be seen in the KGB film of Sakharov opening his mail. Nor are we shown the man whom the KGB had primed to act as a fellow patient in the bed next to Sakharov who maintained an endless tirade against Bonner - one of the KGB objectives being to attempt to drive a wedge between husband and wife. Sakharov was forced to make up his bed in the corridor of the hospital until the KGB removed their man.  

 Viewers, then, could easily be misled by these tapes into thinking that everything was after all well with Sakharov and his wife in Gorky in 1985. The couple speak cordially to the medical staff. The situation is visually plausible, even though it is highly unethical since we are eavesdropping on private medical examinations. But western viewers are accustomed to receiving medical reports on the lives of their leaders., often including details of the most intimate kind. On television as in life, doctors speak with the voice of white-coated authority. Evdokimova describes the tape as documentary. It sounds as if the patient, Sakharov, has agreed and is cooperating in the film-making.


Index of Papers   1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 
11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  References 

Home    |    About Murray-Brown    |    Documentary Course
Other Courses    |    BU Doc Makers  |    Screenings    |    Resources

  2000 College Of Communication, Boston University