In 1957, filmmaker Sid Feder traveled to the Soviet Union to present a vision of life behind the Iron Curtain to the West. The result was This Is Russia!, an hour-long documentary showing life around the country. Included in that tour: the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, where there are women.
The narrator of the film, Carey Wilson, spends its duration pretending that he is Feder, and that the footage you see is what he himself shot. The segment on Sochi, excerpted above, comes about 40 minutes into the full presentation, right after a visit to Georgia, where, he says, people love freedom, though it is still in the Soviet Union. Which is why the segment starts, "And so is Sochi" — then sweeping across a view of the small town from the adjacent Black Sea.
What to watch for
Timestamp 0:23: Feder/Wilson have two tour guides, dubbed Ms. and Mr. Sochi. (Their voices are clearly American-overdubs, complete with fake accents.) The narrator asks Ms. Sochi why women are doing the work. "Because," she responds, "it's glorious to work." But what are the men doing, he follows up. "Some work is more glorious."
0:40: As Ms. Sochi describes how Russians flock to Sochi, the camera pans across the Sochi Marine Terminal, directly on the Black Sea.
0:55: The narrator is shown to the Lenin Opera House, which, unsurprisingly, has been renamed to the Winter Theater. Offered the chance to see a performance he apparently invites Ms. Sochi on a date — at which point we are introduced to Mr. Sochi, who comes in her stead.
The movie is weird, in case that hadn't been mentioned.
2:20: The gender-obsessed narrator is taken to a Black Sea beach, where, he reads, "they sometimes go bathing in the healthy altogether," which means "naked." Or, at least, he heard that "the girls wear bikinis." Sadly, when he gets there, he finds a canvas wall separating the men from the women.
Eventually, he notices fishermen staring at something. It's a girl in a bikini! Feder's vacation is saved.
3:39: Mr. Sochi takes him to a flower market somewhere in town. (It's not clear where this is, but it may be this marketplace.) There they sell "Sochi's famous flowers," that the many Soviet visitors haven't seen before. And given that everything else on their state-sponsored vacations are free, all that people can spend money on are those flowers.
Except! Then a potato truck pulls up, and villagers start grabbing potatoes. Mr. Sochi "isn't happy" that the guest is filming the potatoes. "But Mr. Feder, the flowers make better pictures," the American pretending to be a Russian tells the man who is narrating but who isn't actually Mr. Feder. This is some subtle propaganda.
4:35: Feder and Mr. Sochi head to the dock to see a pleasure cruise off on its tour of the Black Sea and Mediterranean. The segment ends with Feder/Wilson pointing out that among the "normal Russians" on the cruise was Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's wife.
And then the segment ends. The site of the Olympics isn't shown, probably because it was mostly empty prior to construction. If you'd like to see the whole film — complete with Sputnik teasers — it's at the Internet Archive.
One final bit of trivia: The movie was published by the Universal International movie studio. Universal is now part of Comcast, under the NBCUniversal division — the same division that's presenting the Sochi Winter Games.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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