(SAKHAROV, THE KGB AND THE MASS MEDIA Cont'd)
1 - released August 22, 1984
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.
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.
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:
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."
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.
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
request? The film never mentions her heart condition nor her appeal
for an exit visa.
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
again a breath of fresh air. What could be more pleasant than
a nice chat?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!