berlin-wall-falling-2I’m sure you’ve all been reading Titus’s dispatches from Romania with the same fascination I have; if not, I commend them to your attention. But you may have overlooked an especially interesting comment from Percival on Titus’s final dispatch:

Even in a year full of surprises, the events in Romania in 1989 still stick out. It all seemed to happen so fast, even to those of us over here who were paying attention.

The DDR was less a surprise, at least to me, because I had a friend in Berlin at the time. She was living close to the Wall and told me that the protesters had stopped chanting “Wir wollen aus” (dissident emigrants) and switched to “Wir bleiben hier” (revolutionaries). The penny had dropped, the worm had turned, and nothing could ever be as it had been again. But one minute Romania seemed like it was going to hang on, and the next Ceaușescu was giving that disaster of a speech on the balcony when he realized that it was only a matter of time before it all came down.

It has always amazed me that there has never been a motion picture covering the events of that most amazing year.

I think he’s right, isn’t he? That there’s never been a major motion picture treating the events of 1989?

And if so, isn’t that extraordinary? That year shook the world more than any in our lifetimes, and certainly formed the way I view the world now — too much, perhaps; I know the imprint it left on me has led to my making analytic mistakes about the way politics and the world are apt to work. I was (without being aware of it) deeply taken in by the Whiggish notion that we really had, in some sense, reached the end of history. (Even though this is not, by the way, what Fukuyama wrote. His essay was much more subtle and indeed predicted some of what we’re now seeing. For example:

The post-historical consciousness represented by “new thinking” is only one possible future for the Soviet Union, however. There has always been a very strong current of great Russian chauvinism in the Soviet Union, which has found freer expression since the advent of glasnost. It may be possible to return to traditional Marxism-Leninism for a while as a simple rallying point for those who want to restore the authority that Gorbachev has dissipated. But as in Poland, Marxism-Leninism is dead as a mobilizing ideology: under its banner people cannot be made to work harder, and its adherents have lost confidence in themselves. Unlike the propagators of traditional Marxism-Leninism, however, ultranationalists in the USSR believe in their Slavophile cause passionately, and one gets the sense that the fascist alternative is not one that has played itself out entirely there.

The Soviet Union, then, is at a fork in the road: it can start down the path that was staked out by Western Europe forty-five years ago, a path that most of Asia has followed, or it can realize its own uniqueness and remain stuck in history. The choice it makes will be highly important for us, given the Soviet Union’s size and military strength, for that power will continue to preoccupy us and slow our realization that we have already emerged on the other side of history.)

Fukuyama’s reaction to 1989 was wiser and more complex than people generally recognize, and certainly wiser and more complex than mine. But that’s not my point; my point is that whether I or anyone else properly understood what had happened that year — and I’m still not sure that any of us fully understand it — obviously something massive did happen. One would expect it to be not merely the focus of academic study in the West, but the impetus to an enormous creative explosion. But it seems there hasn’t even been a major motion picture about the events of that year. Or none aimed at an American audience, anyway. Or at least, none that either Percival or I can remember.

Why? I can think of at least a dozen movies about the end of the Second World War right off the top of my head. 1989 was, in addition to everything else, extraordinarily cinematic — the characters write themselves, the scenes write themselves — and it’s critical to our history and to the way we see ourselves.

Why has it received so little attention, compared to its earth-shaking significance, in our popular culture?

Published in Culture, Entertainment, Foreign Policy, General
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  1. Stephen Dawson Inactive
    Stephen Dawson

    Because it would need subtitles?

    • #1
  2. Xennady Member

    Because the people who make the movies believe the wrong side won the Cold War, and they don’t like to recall their defeat.

    • #2
  3. Stephen Dawson Inactive
    Stephen Dawson

    A little more seriously, the events of Romania have excellent villains. But is there a Dr Zhivago by which one can personalise the multitudinous heroes?

    • #3
  4. Hank Rhody Contributor
    Hank Rhody

    No room for CGI?

    It seems to me that modern movies are designed to provide the maximum spectacle; your audience has to want to see it in the theater with the big screen and the surround sound. If you don’t have superheros destroying Manhattan or alien species evolved on a planet with severe cuteness selection pressure then it just doesn’t pay.

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member

    There have been some films set in that era, perhaps not from Romania. I remember a Czech film Kolya, which was set in the period, and part of the plot depended on the period and the Velvet Revolution. I suspect that this sort of thing is more likely, small films about people’s living their lives as these things happen around them.

    • #5
  6. EJHill Podcaster

    The forces that emerged after the Cuban missile crisis were convinced that we were this close to total annihilation and that going forward the only answer was total accomodation and acceptance of the Soviet Union.

    They staked their lives and their reputations on it. Reagan and Thatcher were blood-thirsty nuts who wouldn’t be satisfied until the world lay in smoldering ruin.

    And then these idiots brought down the wall, the curtain and the USSR.

    How embarrassing. Which is why they’re still making movies about the Hollywood Ten and nothing about the Freedom Three (Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II).

    Just ignore what contradicts your entire being. Move along, nothing to see here…

    • #6
  7. Robert Lux Inactive
    Robert Lux

    Well, there was Goodbye Lenin.  Clever and well done- but I didn’t care for it all that much. Way too sympathetic a portrayal of the Honecker hellhole which I spent time in prior to “die Wende.”

    • #7
  8. Crabby Appleton Inactive
    Crabby Appleton

    I was stationed in Europe at the time and watching ( virtually live on TV) the withering away of the Communist states before our very eyes seemed quite surreal. Chief among the visual memories, along with the masses of people in their public spaces and the long, long lines of Eastern Europeans in their Brabants at border checkpoints, was the ignominious and well deserved end of the Ceausescus.

    • #8
  9. Crabby Appleton Inactive
    Crabby Appleton

    ” Why has it received so little attention, compared to its earth-shaking significance, in our popular culture? “

    I think because the apologists were so very influential in the creation of popular culture, and after their great lie was exposed they couldn’t figure out a way to rationalize their claims. Give them time. They will eventually recast events and their roles in a new history, and a truer one.

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member

    Crabby Appleton:” Why has it received so little attention, compared to its earth-shaking significance, in our popular culture? ”

    I think because the apologists were so very influential in the creation of popular culture, and after their great lie was exposed they couldn’t figure out a way one rationalize their claims.Give them time.They will eventually recast events and their roles in a new history, and a truer one.

    So, Ceaucescu will be the hero in the film?

    • #10
  11. dialm Inactive

    I’m surprised this question even needs to be asked. The answer is because the left lost, and being the owners of the movie-making business, they’re not about to advertise their failings.

    Cynical and simplistic I know, but also sadly true.

    There was a movie adaption in the late 80s of one of Milan Kundera’s books called “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” starring Daniel Day Lewis. It’s decent enough. And though set in the 60s Prague Spring, the movie seemed to be surfing on the wave of the late 80s mood that the Cold War was climaxing. I know some East European and Russian directors have also attempted their own language versions of dissident communist literature (like Mikhael Bulgakov’s weird and fantastic Master And Margarita) but I haven’t seen these and can’t comment.

    Do the Tom Clancy movies count?

    • #11
  12. Crabby Appleton Inactive
    Crabby Appleton

    Arahant: No, not at all. But I won’t be the least bit surprised that the apologists will figure out some way to give themselves primary credit for what happened.

    • #12
  13. Zafar Member

    It can take societies decades to digest something this big and make art from it.  It will be fascinating when Eastern Europe does this (has it started? am I culturally illiterate?) and their view of it will be very interesting.  So many people were complicit in their own oppression that it’s likely to be a confronting thing to express.  But important.

    • #13
  14. Paddy Siochain Member
    Paddy Siochain

    I was born in 1989 Claire so I come at with it a different perspective than most. As a history teacher it has always amazed me that the fall of the most evil totalitarian country in history (it was worse than the nazis) and its allies and the evil marxist system has always been downplayed by so many in our cultural liberal elites.

    Sure the right remembers but the left who dominate the media, colleges, literature seem to regularly ignore it or then dismiss it as somehow inevitable. It was no such thing. It was an event outside of Romania and China which was also largely violence free. Who would have predicted that? Almost noone.

    I think it also is deliberately forgotten by left becuase not only were the Right vindicated and triumphant but it exposed how deluded they were on communism, which is why they forget it rather than show it.

    Also as point of interest in Ireland when communism fell someone allegedly went into the Irish Times offices and destroyed records of some prominent journalists and politicians who had said positive things in the ITs paper archives about the Soviet Union and communism. Unfortunately for them that online archives are still an ever present reality, albeit one unknown to them in 1989 thank God.

    • #14
  15. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    There really are many films on the Communist past. Some were made in the Communist past, although, I guess, it was the Communist present then! I am not sure any are all that good.

    Ricochet’s own Mr. Flagg Taylor has written at length about some. Here’s one about Jan Palach. Here’s a broader list. Here are the links to a few Romanian movies about the events of 1989.

    Now, I think I have answers about a few of these questions, but I do not believe I have anything nice to say. First, the talk that announces the American right–we always complain the other guys are in control, our guys cannot do anything, we’re innocent in all ways, they’re guilty beyond remedy–has not much bearing on Europe.

    Unlike in America, in Europe there are a few prestigious film festivals where movie-makers who fit the modern styles can get an audience & some measure of fame even if they come from countries that modern times have forgot. In these latter years, several Romanian movie-makers, if you can believe it, have been feted & lavished with awards at Cannes, which is number one on the list of artsy things to do, but also, I think, Berlin & Venice, which are numbers two & three–actually, three & two…

    (Asian movie-makers are also publicly admired in these venues, even though their movies are often fit the thinking of the conservatives among us much more than the liberals’…)

    • #15
  16. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    But that is only talking about distribution or reception. I believe the Oscars & what have you have ignored these matters almost entirely.

    The more serious questions concern Europe alone because Americans do not seem to feel any involvement in these matters & they are on the production side. Why did not more people, given their attitude, their demimonde existence, & the feeling that grew out of the liberation of ’89 make serious movies about events?

    Nothing can be said to explain this that would not by implication prove there should have been no samizdat literature.

    If we take seriously the doings & goings on of the years of tyranny, we notice that terror in its worst forms coincides with the highest poetic & philosophic achievements among the tyrannized races. It’s always been easier since; freedom has just not helped things…

    Some answers therefore suggest themselves: There are no more Bulgakovs & Solzhenitsyns because there are rarely any. No such thing was achieved among movies because movie is inherently an inferior art, unfit to deal at the highest level with the things which most concern human beings when those needs are felt most deeply. Finally, it is of the essence of this experience that once certainty about greatness is achieved, a decline ensues.

    Miss Berlinski, I believe these opinions are implied in the moral outlook of the question you raise & they become obvious once we attend to our experience of poetic reflection on the greatest events of which we are aware in our own lives.

    • #16
  17. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    I think there are certain obvious weaknesses with this line of thinking. At any rate, whoever does not wish simply to believe it would have to consider that any alternative depends on the argument that there are very serious flaws with moral consensus concerning politics & the liberation of ’89.

    To speak here in the way of politics, the main reason there are no serious stories is, the liberation was undeserved. I do not believe any electorate, any people, or any significant group of people can accept that belief–except maybe some communist fanatics.

    Let me remind the moral people on Ricochet of that favorite expression of resentment among moralists: History is written by the victors. Well, no, no it is not. That’s what angers us about the history taught to Americans in school & otherwise, right! So also in Europe.

    There is an even uglier implication in the argument against the moral consensus: The people did not deserve their heroes. You have to understand that in Europe, unlike America, writers & what are called artists & what are called men of culture can be heroes. Not like Hemingway, I don’t mean, or silly talk about the blacklists!, but popular worship through the generations sort of heroism. The lack of celebration, of praise & blame for the various heroes & villains must stem from that inadequacy.

    Everywhere in the background of this sort of thinking is the old trouble in Europe–European nations were re-founded in the Romantic era, apolitically politically, on culture…

    • #17
  18. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    I think all this critical thinking can be reinterpreted without the moralism to suggest the way in which movie-makers have tried to deal with the situation after 1989 as it appeared to them. Some obvious facts add up to a picture if we try to think this way:

    1.Poets had next to no authority, because the peoples were divided & distracted.

    2.The happily bloodless international events proved everyone helpless while fulfilling their hopes. That’s not the stuff of poetry–it’s luck.

    3.The specifically European Romantic opinions about poetry twisted souls away from a thoughtful portrait of politics, however unflattering it would have been.

    4.The specifically liberal-democrat opinions that prevailed among the educated–except some Christian movements–behind the Iron Curtain concerning the relationship between private & public space made it impossible to talk meaningfully about destiny or any type of story broad enough to make sense of such great events.

    5.The confusion of the post-89 period strongly suggested that there was more chaos than cosmos to these countries, so how could any story persuasively speak to any people about what was going on with them?

    6.The sudden end of terror & the rise of anger at corruption or incompetent administration completely deluded people about the essence of politics. The switch from heroic sacrifice to the spirit of ingratitude typical of haggling was too great to allow story-telling to bridge the gap, which also caused forgetfulness concerning older poetry…

    • #18
  19. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera

    I’ll stop here–I figure I’ve taxed your attention enough. I hope some of this makes sense to you or, if you do not know much about Europe around the end of the Cold War, you might find it useful to think in the way I indicated about the situation & its intrinsic predicament.

    Also, Miss Berlinski, thank you for the kind attention to those notes I scribbled-

    • #19
  20. dialm Inactive

    If we’re extending this discussion beyond 1989 and to the whole communist era, then I have to mention Enemy At The Gates. It’s a strange film. We’re positioned on the side of Stalins Red Army as they’re fighting the Nazis, and, apart from one or two grumblings from characters about police brutality and censorship, everyone is bursting with Soviet Patriotism. You find yourself cheering on Stalins side! Trust Hollywood to make a film like that when they otherwise completely neglect life under communism. But damn I like that movie.

    The early James Bond movies were all pretty morally clear about Communism, and yet are still popular with younger audiences. Speaking of which, I have a couple of lefty acquaintances who I was shocked to learn actually watched American Sniper!

    I think this all goes to show that the audience is there and just wants to be entertained regardless of Hollywood politics.

    • #20
  21. Melissa O'Sullivan Member
    Melissa O'Sullivan

    In positing a theory, I offer up another story.  Vladimir Bukovsky, great Soviet dissident,  friend of hubby and by extension my friend, wrote a book, based on the Soviet archives  he had spirited out with the help of a handheld scanner while there to appear as a witness for Yeltsin.  He has never been able to get it published in English.  It documents the tremendous collaboration between the Western Democracies and the USSR.   There are people who would rather not be reminded of the evil system with which they collaborated or how wrong their collective  judgements were on the USSR.    In hubby’s own book (thanks to these documents), there is an account of Senator Edward Kennedy asking  the Soviets for a meeting.   He wanted to  tell them how to negotiate more effectively with President Reagan.   KGB chief Victor Chebrikov summarized Kennedy’s reasoning for the personal request for a meeting with the general secretary of the CPSU Yuri Andropov this way,

    “in the interest of world peace it would be useful and timely to take a few extra steps to counteract the militaristic policies of Ronald Reagan.”  From the book, The President, The Pope and The Prime Minister.

    “According to Chebrikov, Kennedy thought that a meeting with Andropov “would equip him with the Soviet positions on arms control and add conviction to his own appearances on the subject in the U. S.”  The senator also proposed to organize U. S. television interviews for Andropov and other high Soviet officials who “would have the chance to address directly the American people with their own explanation of peaceful Soviet initiatives.”  He [Kennedy] claimed his aim..was world peace…”

    Yeah, ain’t it always?  There are a lot of people who would rather not remind the general population of how wrong and misguided their judgements were.  For example:

    -1982 article in Foreign Affairs by Columbia University Sovietologist Seweryn Bialer,

    “The Soviet Union is not now, nor will it be during the next decade, in the throes of a true systemic crisis, for it boasts enormous unused reserves of political and social stability.”

    -1982, Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.,

    “…those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse [are] wishful thinkers…only kidding themselves.”

    -1981, Strobe Talbott, then of Time magazine and later of the Clinton Administration:

    “Though some second-echelon [!] hardliners in the Reagan administration…espouse the early 1950’s goal of rolling back Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, the U. S. simply does not have the military or political power to do that.”

    I think this is the reason.  The people who [generally] create and distribute content are [generally] leftists.  They do not wish to trumpet how wrong they were.  And for an excellent book on the particular brand of evil perfected under Ceausescu’s Romania, please see Comrade Baron by Jaap Scholten.  I don’t think it’s been published in the U. S., but it is in English in the European market.

    • #21
  22. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D

    If you do a Google search for 1989, the first result is a Taylor Swift album. This reflects what people are searching for and linking to. I’m not sure how much space the important events of that year occupy in the public conciousness anymore.

    • #22
  23. JVC1207 Member

    Memento Park in Budapest was very interesting. Instead of destroying all of the Communist statues at the end of the Cold War, they’ve placed them in a park outside the city. It has a slightly humorous twist in places but does a great job of portraying what it was really like to live behind the Iron Curtain. I’ve visited other similar museums  of Communist/Soviet aggression in Prague and Riga. In Prague, I asked a waiter where to find the museum – he said he was from the Ukraine, asked why would I want to go to a museum about Communism, and walked away!

    On the other side of the spectrum, there is a somewhat creepy museum/shrine to Stalin in his hometown of Gori, Georgia. Georgia apparently did a bit better under the USSR than other states, and thus I noticed a tendency by some to whitewash the more unpleasant points of Soviet history.

    • #23
  24. Songwriter Inactive

    Hollywood hasn’t yet made a big-budget picture about the events of 1989 because, after all these years, they still can’t figure out how to spin the story so that Reagan is the bad guy.

    • #24
  25. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    You might know — how is Vladimir’s health? I’ve been concerned about him.

    • #25
  26. Spin Inactive

    I don’t have a ton to add here, except this:

    I was in Germany, in the Army, from 1988 to 1991.  I watched Russian and East German soldiers across the border, helped with GSR traces of troop movement, even sat on the border in a tank watching the Russians collect up their crashed helicopter.  I saw with my own eyes the villages that were cut right straight in half by the fences and walls.  I walked along the border with a rifle in my hands.  But…I didn’t understand any of it.  I never went to Berlin while I was there, before or after “the wall came down.”

    If I had it to do over again…I’d do it different.  Less time at the Hofbrauhaus and more time learning a thing or two.

    • #26
  27. captainpower Inactive

    Paddy Siochain: Also as point of interest in Ireland when communisn fell someone went into the Irish Times offices and destroyed records of who prominent journalists and politicians who had said positive things in archives about the Soviet Union and communism. Unfortunately for them that online archives are still an ever present reality, albwit one unknown to them in 1989 thank God.

    That’s incredible.

    Is that just an undocumented little nugget of history, or is there more to be read on the affair?

    • #27
  28. billy Inactive

    The only movie I can think of about 1989 is The Lives of Others, and it is an excellent one.

    Set in East Berlin, it isn’t about the fall of the Wall per se, but it depicts life in the years immediately prior to the fall and immediately afterward.

    • #28
  29. Percival Thatcher

    Songwriter:Hollywood hasn’t yet made a big-budget picture about the events of 1989 because, after all these years, they still can’t figure out how to spin the story so that Reagan is the bad guy.

    Blame it all on Bush père.

    • #29
  30. Percival Thatcher

    Back on the Member Feed thread, Gary McVey has been doing the hard work and has been doing it for a while.

    Fellas, I’ve got you covered! From 1998 through 2005, that’s exactly what we did. Afterwards, we did some individual events and presentations overseas at other people’s film festivals. I linked one particular year, 2001, because we had some real gems on the subject. The other years are okay, sometimes much more than okay. Check it out if you have the time.

    • #30
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