The Post that YouTube Took Over

28 Mar

I have had it with this m---f---- Hipsters in this m---f---- Soviet Russia.

I love musicals. And I love hipsters. Ironically, of course.

Earlier this month, I dropped into John’s office to pester him, and I saw posted on his cubicle wall, an announcement for the film “Stilyagi,” Hipsters. It was the last film in a series of screenings that my school hosts at the Russian Embassy, through an organization called the Initiative for Russian Culture (IRC). The tagline read What do you get when you cross Grease with Soviet Russia? With that, and the poster (check out all those retina-searing colors!), I knew I was going to love it.

And love it, I did.

Stilyagi was released in Russia in 2008.  It won a ton of awards, including several Nika Awards (the Russian Oscars), and mass audience appeal in international film festivals. The synopsis is pretty simple. Mels is a member of the Komsomol (the Youth Communist Party) and during a raid, breaking up a stilyagi party, he meets hipster Polly. After his transformation for her, the movie pretty much turns into a variety of vignettes that happen to him, now that Mels is on the fringes of society. IMDB writes that, despite being shunned by his former friends, Mels finds a place with the stilyagi and remains “refreshingly optimistic.” But who are the stilyagi?

"Bones." Cut records on X-Ray films because real vinyl was extremely rare. Or, they were just too ironic to use it. I don't know.

Well, according to the Wikipedia, “stilyagi” (plural: “stilyaga”) was a slang term for a youth subculture from he 1940s to the 1960s in the Soviet Union. It was a derogatory term.

There’s a great scene in the film when Mels, post-transformation, walks out in public and gets ridiculed by the children of his communal apartment. My friend Madison leaned over and said, “All hipsters should be subjected to this kind of treatment.” If you knew how annoying NW DC hipsters can be, you’d be laughing too.

ugh...hipsters, right?

The stilyaga wore “snappy” clothes (I mean, look at this guy. When was the last time you saw a history text from the 50s with someone wearing a bright red tweed blazer?) and were considered politically incorrect in accordance to communist-socialist norms of the time. In order to get their music, for which many of them were arrested, they would cut records on developed X-ray films, called “bones.” The original title for Stilyagi was Boogie on Bones. Interestingly enough, the unofficial anthem of the stilyagi was “The Chatanooga Choo-Choo.”

Comparing Stilyagi to Grease is kind of pointless, because that would imply Grease had a plot. The only similar thing these stories have is the theme of changing your personality to win the affections of your love interest. But that’s rather flimsy too, because we don’t see pre-transformation Mels. To be completely honest, he’s rather dull, but there’s a reason for that. He’s a blank slate for the audience, the conduit from which we learn everything about this subculture.

If we’re going to judge the story by a character’s arc, then this is just as much as Fred’s story as Mels’. Fred is the Danny Zuko, if you will, the head stilyagi. Except, about halfway through, he has to walk away from that lifestyle to take advantage of an internship in America. Once he becomes “civilized” and goes to America, he learns that there are no stilyagi in America and becomes disillusioned. Which should have been its own song, something along the lines of:

Now, before I let YouTube totally take over this post, I have to say this. While I respect the translators for their choice of calling the stilyagi “hipsters,” I would have to politely disagree. I’d call them otaku. (I take full responsibility for this comparison, as my friends who saw the movie don’t know what otaku are, and my anime friends don’t do the whole Russia thing).

Otaku are the scourge of the anime world. In the hierarchy of “cool” (yes, there is one for anime geeks), they’re at the very bottom. They’re the worst kind of fanboy/girl. They’re the people overly obsessed with Japan, but only know it through the screen of anime. They are usually the loudest, most obnoxious fans who know very little about the source material. At cons, they’re the ones who make casual anime fans (like myself) and hardcore fans facepalm and say, this is why we can’t have nice things. I have a feeling this was said many times by the Ameriphiles of the Soviet Union.

I wonder, if the subculture was at least ignored, like otakus are, if there would have been conventions for America. Ameri-cons, if you will. Let that idea stew in your mind for a bit. I’m trying hard not to laugh out loud in class.

And now, YouTube takes over.

Comparing this movie to other musicals, it, for the most part, follows normal conventions, which I was happily surprised to see. The only real complaint I had, was for a musical, it was so quiet! West Side Story, one of my favorite productions and movie adaptations, has 18 songs in 152 minutes. Stilyagi is only 10 minutes longer and has…eight. What the what!

[Oh, and there aren’t any subtitles for the songs. :/ Yikes. Sorry.]

There’s a fun as hell prologue song.

The “I Want” song is a little different, as it combines the “I Want” with the transformation scene. Other than the villain song, this was my favorite. Sorry for the crappy quality. I’m just happy that these clips are here.

The Villain Song. I always judge a movie by how good its villain song is, and Stilyagi does not disappoint.

The Villain Song was just about as close to perfect as you can get. I don’t know what it is. Maybe Russian just works really well in marches. Maybe it just naturally sounds darker than English. But even the direction was awesomely perfect. I’ve never seen The Wall, but I’m pretty sure Valery Todorovsky, the director to this film, did.

Speaking of villains, tension and other things Grease was severely lacking. Because there was a pretty clear line between who the Bad Guys were (the Man, of course, pshh) and who our victors were, I was literally on the edge of my seat waiting for a dance-off scene. Like this:

or:

I can’t decide which would be more entertaining.

Like I said, I thought Mels was pretty forgetful, except he was pretty cute, but I was rather endeared to Boris, who went by his stilyagi name, Bob. I thought he was adorable. But, no amount of endearment was going to spare the extreme awkward that was their dancing. Observe.

From this scene on, all I could think of was:

Stilyagi desperately needed a Will Smith character. No. Stilyagi desperately needed Will Smith.

Look at this guy. If anyone can teach Russian otaku how to dance, it's the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

When you get the chance, check out “Stilyagi.” It’s available on YouTube with subtitles and without. You have no excuse to not see this heartwarming, extraordinary film about a rather obscure part of Russian history.

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