Reader Steven Montgomery has noted a report in the Moscow Times on a Russian TV series about mass-murderer Josef Stalin. Guess what the Russian view of Stalin is under neo-Soviet dictator Putin? The program states: “According to the information that we have, Stalin in the last months of his life came to repentance. He rethought his life from the position of a man of faith.” Is that downright terrifying, or what? First Krushchev tears him down, then Putin builds him right back up again. Truly, those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it.
In a new 40-part drama series, Josef Stalin looks back on his personal and political life and eventually repents of his actions. The creator of the show, Grigory Lyubomirov, previously worked on the satirical puppet show “Kukly” (Puppets) and Russia’s first reality show, “Za Steklom” (Behind Glass). His latest series, “Stalin Live,” has stirred up plenty of controversy and critical reaction.
The idea of the series, which premiered Jan. 9 and airs three nights a week on NTV, is to show Stalin during the last month of his life, February 1953. As he mulls on his past, lengthy flashbacks show figures such as his son Yakov and his wife Svetlana Alliluyeva.
The word “Live” in the title, which is written in English letters, harks back to a previous NTV series directed by Lyubomirov, called “Rublyovka Live.” That show, which ran for 76 episodes to June of last year, featured dramatized episodes from the lives of residents of the wealthy Rublyovka district, and included cameos from celebrities such as painter Nikas Safronov. Lyubomirov described its genre as serialiti, which combines the Russian words for “soap opera” and “reality show.”
The Stalin series is based on historical accounts, including interviews with his security guards, the producer said by telephone Wednesday. It aims to prove that “Stalin was not only an executioner, but also a victim of that era,” Lyubomirov said.
“According to the information that we have, Stalin in the last months of his life came to repentance. He rethought his life from the position of a man of faith,” he said. Asked for his sources, the producer stated: “We were told about this by people who worked in Stalin’s security service in the last days of his life.”
The first episodes of the show got an impressive rating of over 19 percent of all television viewers, according to figures printed in Itogi magazine. Ratings subsequently fell, but are still “good,” Lyubomirov said. He added that NTV is considering putting the series forward for an Emmy award. “Cadets,” a World War II drama series that aired on Rossia, was nominated for an International Emmy Award in 2005.
Nevertheless, “Stalin Live” has been criticized in the media, as much for its artistic qualities as for its historical judgments. Izvestia television critic Irina Petrovskaya told Ekho Moskvy radio that the series was “unbearably dreary,” adding: “There is nothing more to say about Stalin.”
When Nezavisimaya Gazeta asked four media pundits for their pick of the worst television show earlier this month, three chose “Stalin Live.”
Ekho Moskvy also hosted a call-in session in which one caller suggested that the series was due to a “concrete order” from “behind the Kremlin wall.” Asked whether this was true on Wednesday, Lyubomirov laughed and said: “Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has nothing to with this series.”
The show’s creator said that criticism was to be expected, since Stalin is a “figure whom it is absolutely impossible to interpret simply.”
Lyubomirov was one of the directors of the now-canceled political satire show “Kukly,” which included a puppet of Stalin. That caricature, however, had little in common with the leader portrayed in “Stalin Live” by Georgian actor David Giorgobiani, Lyubomirov said. “That was a satirical depiction of Stalin. What we are doing now is more like a tragic figure.”
The show will end with Stalin’s death, Lyubomirov said, and most of the 40 episodes have already been shot.
The producer now plans to make a follow-up series covering the period from 1953 to 1964, when Leonid Brezhnev took power, and then another series about the perestroika years. The latter show will be called “Gorby Live,” he said.
“Stalin Live” airs Mon., Tues. and Wed. at 10:40 p.m. on NTV.