Bootlegged Beatles tapes began floating around the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s, but when a group of students gathered on Red Square to celebrate May Day 1967 by dancing the Twist, Khrushchev called the militsiya out to disperse them. Only in the 1970s did the Soviet establishment grudgingly recognise rock and roll as anything more than a ‘cacophony of sounds’. Under Communism, Russian rock bands were forced into two categories: ‘official’ groups, who registered with the Ministry of Culture and were ‘urged to write and perform songs on topics such as space heroes or economic achievement’, and unrecognised ‘amateurs’ who were scorned, scolded and threatened with jail for social parasitism.
My father, Igor Abramovich, once told me that when he was nineteen, in 1956, he went down into Moscow’s Metro with fliers protesting against the invasion of Hungary. Seeing that Muscovites now are doing similar things, I gave him a call.
Elon Musk claims to believe that in ten years speech will be obsolete. Tiny chips planted in the human brain will instead allow humans to communicate entirely with their minds. Never one to shy away from a grandiose proclamation, Musk describes his latest venture, Neuralink, as ‘conceptual telepathy’. ‘There’s a lot of information loss when compressing a complex concept into words,’ he explained recently on TheJoe Rogan Experience. The ‘link’ promises to erase such inefficiencies by removing speech from the equation. But such reasoning is only compelling if you think smooth communication is the sole purpose of language. Musk says that humans will soon speak only ‘for sentimental reasons’.
Sergei Loznitsa’s film The Trial is composed from the original footage of one the first Stalinist show trials. The only additions are intertitles, which reveal at the end, for anyone who didn’t already know, that the ‘Industrial Party’ never existed. Some of the footage was used in a 1931 propaganda film directed by Yakov Poselsky (and, as Loznitsa joked in his introduction at the ICA, by Joseph Stalin). A team of investigators worked on producing the show trial for more than a year, drafting the script and coaching the actors. It isn’t clear if the public filling the hall are aware of their role: some listen to the proceedings intently, others fall asleep, some take notes, others shield their eyes when the lights are on them.
Every generation gets the scam artists it deserves. To a list that includes Elizabeth Holmes, Dan Mallory and Billy McFarland, should we now add the name Ilya Khrzhanovsky, the Russian film director responsible for Dau, which finally opened in Paris at the end of January, and closes this weekend?