25 April 2005


Tonight I introduced myself to the BBC while doing my laundry. I watched a truly amazing documentary produced in 1992 on the history of the Soviet "plan". The best parts were in the second half, when interviews filmed in the late 80's were interspersed with footage from the 60's and 70's. They would show this guy explaining how his department was in charge of setting the prices of 25 million consumer items in the USSR and he would show these piles and piles of manuals they distributed all over the country fixing the prices. Then he'd pick up a big pack of 5.25" disks and excitedly explain how all this information could now be fit in one his workers' desks on these floppies. Then they'd cut to a Moscovite cab driver bitching about how he had to jack up his cab at the end of the month and rewind the odometer if he went beyond his allocated mileage.

This piece was edited in a really amazing combination of sarcastic British humor mixed with sadness over the ridiculousness of it all. They began a segment with these three Soviet computer scientists sitting in a hideously faux-wood panelled room with just three chairs talking about how they tried to predict pantyhose consumption based on consumer surveys and reports from "observers" scattered around the country. At one point, one of them teetered off camera to fetch a ream of computer printout paper to show all the data they had. Then, while he explained their "rational" system, the film cut over to shots of women putting on their make-up and buying dresses in shops. The segment ended with one of the scientists saying, "Soviet women learned that if a shop was fully stocked in an item, it was a sure sign it was out of fashion."

The entire thing was, of course, narrated by a proper Englishman, which was one of the reasons it managed to strike such a touching balance between humor and sadness. A very nicely done piece, which closed with an old Putzen favorite: the Soviet national anthem cutting back and forth between the line of be-medalled old men who were singing and shots of Gorbachev and the democracy protesters.

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