I took Soviet studies as my minor in university, graduating just in time to watch the Soviet Union crumble, voiding the better part of four years’ study. If nothing else, this proves God has a sense of humor.
It was long enough, however, to give me a glimpse into the enormous history of this once-huge collective of nations. Although it has fragmented, it remains a place unyielding to inspection, peopled by an insular population resistant to revelation. It’s not an easy place to get to know.
This land of immense tales is now threatened by the loss of its history due to the complete disintegration of its infrastructure. The oligarchy is gone, and the money went with it. And while Lenin once believed that film was the ultimate art form, his will doesn’t carry the weight it once did.
In this issue, we spend some time behind the former Iron Curtain, delving into archives previously hidden from Western view. By all accounts, it’s a scene of complete disarray. Beyond the sweeping absence of modernization, a hundred years of history is literally turning to dust in many libraries. Some archivists are to the point where they will not lend films nor even allow them to be screened because the copies are so unique and so fragile, and there is no money for duplication. It’s a dreadful irony – preserving the past so desperately that it prevents it from being seen in the future. At best, we’re a generation or two away from losing these critical documents. At worst, we’ll have them until the next nitrate fire.
You have to congratulate the efforts of non-Soviet companies and organizations, like Abamedia of Texas, that are working to preserve and provide access to these archives. I find it unbelievable, however, that in this time of frenetic archive consolidation, when every scrap of film with a potential for a sale is being snapped up, so few major players have made a serious move in the region. Surely, there’s a market for this material. Surely, not just Western history is worth preserving.
By the way, in case anyone was wondering what happened to Susan Rayman, she’s still here. She’s now Susan Zeller. She’s quite irreplaceable – apparently someone else thought so, too.