Monday, 12 May 2008

Russia: A Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby

Last night the BBC aired part one of a new series following Jonathan Dimbleby’s 10 month odyssey over 10,000 miles of modern Russia. I found it difficult to assess on the evidence of 60 minutes whether the programme will present a useful portrait of the Federation. Dimbleby’s stated objectives certainly display a degree of ambition, but it remains to be seen whether he will succeed in reflecting the outlooks, lifestyles and preoccupations of real Russians or whether in seeking to impose a narrative on the material he has collected, the show flounders under the weight of metaphor and interpretation and collapses into easy cliché.

Both outcomes suggested themselves during the programme last night. There were plentiful interviews in which Russians were allowed to voice their opinions with only occasional interjections from the presenter. On other occasions however the grand, national metaphor made an appearance. The north’s White Nights we were told, coupled with accompanying long, dark winters suggested the history of Russia. Dimbleby at one point received a prolonged battering from a masseur in a banya, ‘I feel like the Russian people’, was his portentous comment.

The programme is available on I Player.


Hernandez said...

I was thinking of buying the book.

CW said...

I found the historical background on where the Russian people came from and how the Vikings moved down through the rivers and lakes particularly interesting. The graphics here were effective.
Also the insight into the communal living of the Soviet regime was enlightening, but came across basically as similar to living in student halls!

Foer someone who hasn't been to St Petersburg (or any where in Russia for that matter), it certainly looked impressive on screen and has whetted my appetite.
He comes across as a more uptight, repressed version of Michael Palin. The massage scene towards the end was straight out of Palin, although Dimbleby doesn't have quite the same tongue in cheek style.

What remains to be seen is whether he does a Daniel Kalder and visits the lesser known interior republics of the Federation, rather than do the usual tourist trail

Chekov said...

Karelia is one of the the ethnic republics CW. That wasn't really properly pointed out on the programme unless I missed it. Karelians are what would be described as a Finno-Uggric people, closely related to the actual Finns. Russians make up a majority of the republic's population, but my guess is that the white witch was drawing on Karelian animism rather than Russian superstition.

Dinamo said...

The second programme was a missed opportunity. Although it featured an excellent report on a camping trip with some Cossacks (including a fascinating interview with a fisherman / cook called Nicolai) the editor indulged himself in gross revisionism and insulting comments on the achievements of the Soviet industrialisation of agriculture (even lauding the thiefs and saboteurs). Also the reporter appeared to stop just short of converting to Islam in the company of some indolent Dagestani with long-held grudges.

Chekov said...

'It is important to keep your cock hard'.

Denis said...

Will definitelly read the book and watch the series. As a Russian I think it is good to have more information about Russia available to the world. It has been in isolation for too long.

I am not quite sure how unbiased it will be but from what I've read so far the guy is attempting to be objective.

One personal point that I suddenly felt like sharing - Russia is a very exciting place to live! With all the curruption that he is talking about, with all the problems the world there feels so much 'deeper' (for no better word) than in US/Canada/NZ/Australia... They really feel like shallow clone countries all suffering from the same desease that Gaiman has described in his "American Gods".

I've moved out from Russia to work abroad for a while but I am definitelly coming back to get more of that 'fatalism' that Dimbley is talking about :)!

Chekov said...


The programme on Sunday night was a good one. Dimbleby travelled up the Volga and then branched off toward the Urals. He is getting better at allowing people to speak for themselves, although I still think his failure to pick up a word or two of Russian (even just to say please, excuse me and thank you!) is a bit pathetic.

Denis said...

Watched two episodes so far. I have to say I also feel that Dimbley has an annoying habbit of answering his own questions even when the person he is talking speaks decent English. It is mildly annoying at times.

Apart from that, I find that the shortness of the episodes doesn't do justice to places that he visits. Saint Petersburg was short and Novgorod and even Moscow was shorter still...

I understand that trying to fit the country of the size of Russia into a short series like this is impossible, but still... it is something that I deeply regret.

Also, I would say chirch didn't play enough role in his overview of the country so far. It is quite european to ignore this aspect of the society. I is arguably an good development, but religion plays a significant role in the latest uprising of Russian national identity.

Having said that, I would still recommend these series to others. At the very least the guy tries to be impartial and a lot of stuff in the program should be eye opening to people around the world.

I think one message that comes across is that Russia is very diverse, it is not all snow bears and vodka :).

I will definitelly watch the rest.

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