Tag: The Death of Stalin

ACF Middlebrow #12: Comedy & Communism


The new Middlebrow podcast deals with comedy and communism, spurred by the recent movie The Death of Stalin, which Flagg Taylor (@FlaggTaylor) and I both wanted to succeed. Unfortunately, it is a failure. More on this on the podcast, as well as some talk about Milan Kundera, Ilf and Petrov, Solzhenitsyn and Leo Strauss, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Benda, an English-translation book of whose essays Flagg has just edited, The Long Night of The Watchman. Flagg is also the co-editor, with our friend Carl Scott, of Totalitarianism on Screen, about the great movie The Lives of Others (won the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture in 2006), which dealt with the secret police in Communist East Germany, and which we discussed on the podcast last year. So now we match our conversation on tragedy and communism with one on comedy. Listen, share, and give us a rating/review!

The Death of Stalin


Vladimir Putin doesn’t want you to see this movie. And he’s right. I mean this completely sincerely. If you want to believe there is anything admirable about the Soviet Union of the 1950s or the men who led it, this movie will crush your dreams.

The story begins with a real-life incident of a Mozart concerto performance that Stalin wanted to be recorded, but didn’t bother to tell the radio producer of his desire for a copy until the concert was over. Not wanting a bullet for disappointing the man with the mustache, the producer locks the doors to prevent the audience from leaving, bribes the soloist into a second performance, and gets a second conductor (still wearing his pajamas and bathrobe) after the first one knocks himself out. (In the real incident, the first replacement conductor was too drunk to conduct.) The pounding on the conductor’s door to request his services for the replacement concert is juxtaposed with footage of the NKVD knocking down doors and arresting the people on the list handed down from on high.

We’re then treated to what life looks like on high and what a pathetic sight it is. A group of men in their fifties are drunk and horsing around like a bunch of frat boys, if frat boys were pudgy men in their fifties wearing three-piece suits. Khrushchev recounts how they amused themselves during the siege of Stalingrad by tossing grenades at German POWs; Beria slides a tomato into Khrushchev’s front pockets and smashes it to make it look like he’s wet his pants. Stalin insists that the group watch a “pony” movie, leading a cheer “To Communism and Lenin; to John Ford and John Wayne!”