Friday, May 8, 2009

On a completely different note...

Last night I watched the first episode of the 7-up USSR series on Foxtel. I found it incredible, amusing and heartbreaking. For those who haven't seen any of the series, the show follows the path of kids as they grow up in seven year intervals - so at age 7, 14, 21 and 28. The first series began in the UK in 1964. I think it was filmed in the mid- to late-80’s as Gorbachev was president. I’ve only seen clips of the UK and US series, so unfortunately can’t compare those children to the children in this one.

It's meant to follow 7 kids, but I counted at least 12, including 3 sets of twins. They were from all over the USSR - Moscow, Leningrad, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Siberia, in all different situations and with different hopes and dreams and opinions on their country and the west.

They all had a good knowledge of their country’s politics and the Revolution, knew who Lenin was and who the president was.

Some things that stood out were the military-style school uniforms some of them wore and their love of fighting. You never saw anyone trying to break up brawls at the schools. The boys were all into Rocky, Bruce Lee, kungfu and karate movies from the West – one of the few influences from the west. Some of the wealthier kids were shown at movie theatres which were little more than a black and white tvs showing old Westerns. The commentator said 'what a strange impression they must have of the west'.

MacDonald’s had recently opened a store in Moscow. It was the only place in Russia with a cue longer than that it Lenin’s mausoleum (great quote by the narrator: ‘Brings a new meaning to fast food!’)

The kids are asked questions about all sorts of things – history, their plans for the future, love, war etc.

They were all aware of the racial divides in their country and the fighting and uprisings that were going on or imminent. For them, it seemed war, fighting, hunger and inequality were just a part of life. Military service was a given – what you were expected to do for the country.

It was surprising how many kids didn’t have dads around. The divorce/separation rate was high. One or two had had their fathers killed while on military service, other fathers were away serving and others were dead.

The kids:

There was a Kyrgy refugee living in a tent in the Red Square. People are entitled to housing, but only in the country of their birth. Being Russian, his family thought it safer to live in this refugee camp than in Kyrgyzstan.

Twin ballerinas in Leningrad who were accepted into a top ballet school.

A comparatively wealthy kid in Moscow who believed that the USSR was going to catch up with the West soon despite the fact there was often no food in the shops. When asked what he wished for he said “nothing. I consider myself well off”.

Jewish twins on their way to Israel from an area in southern Russia where anti-Semitism was growing. One was sad to leave Russia, the other couldn't wait to see the sea. They were travelling across Russia to Lenin's mausoleum to pay their last respects before leaving.

A sad little girl who helps take care of her younger sister and baby brother. If she was given lots of money she would buy a tv because her mother had to sell theirs to buy food. If she could have any wish granted, it would be to be able to play.

A Russian girl in Kyrgyzstan who learns martial arts to protect herself and is all too aware of the fighting between the Kyrgys and Azerbs. She wished that people could be peace loving and that there was no martial law or uprising.

A boy living with his grandmother near the Chinese border who, if given all the money in the world, would buy exercise books.

A Georgian boy who would never fall in love with a Russian, even if she spoke Georgian (but and American might be ok).

One girl, if she was given lots of money, would buy a tv, a dog and a vase.

A little girl desperate to get herself and her mother out of Russia and to a better life and become an English teacher. She was the only one who didn’t love the country and didn’t believe it was going to improve. What she wished for: “to have something, just something”.

An orphan who lost his mother at two living in a children’s home. He had been selected to learn to play music which means he must play in military bands when he grows up.

A tiny girl who knew way too much for her mere 7 years. She even spoke one part in clear English. When asked about God she explained how Buddhists worship Buddha, Muslims worship Allah, Christians Jesus Chris, in the Little Prince, the rich man worships money, the drunkard alcohol...
When asked about the revolution, she explained that it was more of a 'coup' ...
When asked about what she would do with all the money in the world her reply was that moral qualities were more important. Qualities like kindness, charity, conscientiousness and diligence.

Who won the Revolution?’ twin boys: "Lenin!!!"
What happened then?’ one twin: "Peace!" other twin: "no, then there was civil war"

I couldn't imagine the 7 year olds in the other shows talking like this. If you have seen any of them, I'd love to know what you think.


Sueblimely said...

I have watched the UK 7 up series but did not know about the USSR one - looked it up and there are other countries too.

Sounds fascinating and I will make sure I watch it. Thanks

Jayne said...

Wow, that sounds so powerful!
I didn't know about the USSR series, I'll keep an eye out for it.