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(SAKHAROV, THE KGB AND THE MASS MEDIA Cont'd)

Tape 1 - released August 22, 1984  

 The first film appeared in August 1984, less than two weeks after Bonner's trial. It runs for about twenty-two minutes and most of it is in color. It purports to show an untroubled Sakharov and Bonner going about their normal business in Gorky. The tone is set by its opening sequence, a series of attractive views of Gorky, the former Nizhny Novgorod,such as might be used to promote a tour of the Soviet Union by western visitors. For close to three minutes we are treated to views of old onion-domed churches, pre-revolutionary architecture, pleasure parks with flowers and fountains, the river, boats and bridges, and ordinary citizens enjoying themselves on the streets and in the gardens.  

 The purpose of this opening sequence is to establish that Gorky is a beautiful old Russian city and not a new concrete dump in Siberia. But the sequence also plays a more complex role of visual manipulation. If the film is viewed in its entirety, these opening scenes condition us psychologically for the scenes that follow of Sakharov and Bonner. The touristy scenes provide the visual context for what we see of the couple, even though the shots of Sakharov and Bonner may be obscure, disjointed, sometimes takes in black and white and sometimes made up of still photographs. To reinforce this visual context, the film periodically cuts back to similar touristy scenes of Gorky, thus prompting recall of what our eyes have taken in during the film's opening three minutes. It's as though the Sakharovs have retired to a resort of the river Volga.  

 Against the visual background, then, the film shows us the life Sakharov and Bonner are leading. The first time we see them is when the film cuts from the Gorky resort scenes to a black and white still photograph of the couple followed by an exterior shot of their apartment building. The interior, too, is shown, though without the couple in it. We then see Sakharov at the window of his apartment and in the immediately following shot we see Bonner in her housecoat on their balcony. Viewers might think the couple were together on the balcony, but actually the camera rarely shows them together. In one obscure scene Bonner meets Sakharov on a street corner; in another, a family outing is glimpsed when Sakharov's daughter, Tatiana, and his granddaughter, Marina, visit Gorky. The occasional black and white film includes shots of Sakharov's son, Dimitri, who is also identified on a visit to Gorky. The narration over this early portion is homey, almost sentimental:  

"On the whole the couple spend most of their time together -just the two of them. They go out for walks in the town and for drives. And although they keep to themselves, they're glad to welcome visitors at their home, both relatives or simply friends."   

The film then deals with Bonner's contacts with American embassy officials, a segment which begins with a black and white still photograph of Bonner at the window of a train saying goodbye to Sakharov on the platform, followed by color shots of Moscow and the American embassy building. The narration here deserves attention. It throws the emphasis on Bonner herself, as if she were acting on her own initiative and for motives of her own.  

"Sakharov himself never leaves Gorky, but until recently Bonner had this right and made regular visits to Moscow. According to reports in the Soviet press, Bonner established contacts with the United States embassy and planned to take refuge there so as to blackmail the authorities into granting her request by putting pressure on them."  

What request? The film never mentions her heart condition nor her appeal for an exit visa.  

"She would have been in much the same position as were recently the group of pentecostals who had lived in the embassy for over five years. To prevent Bonner from taking such actions in the future, she has now been temporarily banned by the authorities from leaving Gorky and at present she goes to local prosecutor's office to give explanations."  

Western experts familiar with the case found in these phrases confirmation that Bonner had been tried and exiled to Gorky, facts the Soviets had not made public.  

 After this digression, the film follows Bonner about Gorky. We see her driving her car, filling up at a gas station, buying tomatoes in a market, visiting a cemetery, and walking about Gorky with another woman and chatting with her on a bench overlooking the river.  

"In her everyday life," says the film, "Elena Bonner looks little more dynamic than her husband. It's usually she who fills up the car and she who drives a lot about the town meeting acquaintances and friends. Like all wives, Bonner has taken the burden of housekeeping upon herself. Her husband, though not a vegetarian, prefers a vegetable diet. To be able to provide this diet, Bonner has no choice but to buy fresh supplies for him at the city market."   

In the final section of the film, Sakharov is the focus of attention. We see him sitting on a park bench with an unidentified man, apparently discussing some magazines which the man is handing him. So that we, the viewers, can identify the dates of the magazines, the man first holds them backwards toward the camera, out of Sakharov's eyeline. Having performed this obvious maneuver for the camera, the man hands them to Sakharov.  

"As for Sakharov himself, he is at present resting. He meets with friends and keeps up with events by watching television and reading the papers, including foreign publications."  

 We then cut to an interior shot of Sakharov eating alone in a cafeteria of some kind where a woman whom we don't see brings him a magazine and engages him in conversation.  

"Sakharov usually eats dinner alone; his appetite is good, he sleeps very soundly and because of this he's now two and a half kilos over his usual wight. This worries him a little, and he watches his health closely, like a scientist."  

Next, we cut to a shot of a pleasure boat on a river, the same hydrofoil with which the film opened, and from the boat we cut back to Sakharov on the same park bench, this time wearing some kind of pajamas, talking to the same unidentified man.  

"And again a breath of fresh air. What could be more pleasant than a nice chat?"  

As Sakharov and the unidentified man get up to leave, they are at once joined by a woman who appears from just out of the camera's frame. The man and the woman escort Sakharov out of the picture. The film ends with a view from the back of the hydrofoil coursing down the river.  

 The film presents itself as straightforward, factual reporting. Although no reference is made to the rumors circulating in the West about Sakharov's health and no mention is made of Bonner's appeal for an exit visa for the sake of her own health, the film is obviously the KGB's answer to those rumors,the KGB's attempt to fill the vacuum of information created by their arrest of Bonner at Gorky airport on May 2, 1984.  

 Needless to say, nearly every element in the film is a lie of some sort, but the central lie concerns Sakharov. The film describes Sakharov as resting and eating when he was being held against his will in Gorky hospital, having been subjected to the brutalities of force-feeding. We are not told that the unidentified man chatting with Sakharov on the park is Obukhov, the chief doctor of the hospital, the man who had supervised the forced-feeding, who had taunted Sakharov with his symptoms of Parkinson's disease and threatened him with his brigade of women with clamps. We are not told that Sakharov and this doctor are not sitting on a park bench with a view of the river, but in the grounds of a hospital. The doctor has been co-opted by the KGB to play a leading role in their film, steering Sakharov toward the hidden camera and turning magazines in its direction. All medical personnel seen in the film have likewise been turned into KGB actors. For the parts they have to play, they have been told to wear their street clothes instead of their normal white medical uniforms.  

 Each shot in this film can be shown to be lie of omission, if not one of deliberate distortion as those described above. Thus we are not told that the Sakharovs' apartment is not situated in the pretty part of town, as the film implies, but in an unmaintained section where a puddle of mud surrounds the building and dust and debris blow in the wind.. Nor can we tell that the pleasure boats on the river are out of bounds to the Sakharovs. The film does not say that the woman seen with Bonner, described as a friend as if she were one of many Bonner could have been strolling with, was her lawyer, Reznikova, on a special visit from Moscow to discuss Bonner's forthcoming trial. The Sakharov were not allowed to visit in Gorky; they had no friends, none at least since the death in 1981 of a distant relative, Yuri Hainovsky, whose grave Bonner used to visit.  

 We cannot know that the film includes material shot years earlier, that the scenes of Sakharov's two children visiting Gorky were most likely taken in 1980 and 1981, while the two black and white still photographs of the couple date from the 1970s. The existence of this film material, taken years earlier and stored in KGB files gives us an idea of the vast amount of visual material that must be accumulating in KGB archives. They would be recording, as a matter of routine and on a regular daily basis, an untold number of individuals considered to be in need of surveillance. The resources of manpower and video equipment committed to this purpose must be enormous. One can thus easily imagine someone saying: Why don't we make a film out of some of it? We can sell it to the West!  

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


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