Neil Calloway argues that Russian censors have made a mistake…
While you were getting upset that your favourite film hadn’t been nominated for an Oscar – some of us are still annoyed that Under Siege was never recognised by the Academy – you may have missed the news that The Death of Stalin has been banned in Russia. When a Moscow cinema defied the ban this week, it was raided by the police.
It’s hard to see what the authorities were trying to do, because a ban like this will always be counterproductive. You can bet when the Home Entertainment release comes next month the DVD and Blu-ray boxes will include the reason for the ban alongside quotes from good reviews. The director Armando Iannucci has spent the week retweeting people who disagree with the ban. You can’t buy new stories that only serve to promote your film like that.
Along with the cinema that defied the ban, you can bet black market DVDs will be circulating in Russia soon enough, if they aren’t already. A few years ago Ken Loach called for a boycott of the London Israeli Film Festival. Until his intervention I’d never heard of it, but took myself along to a screening purely because I thought the boycott was ridiculous, and wanted to make a small point. Countless people will do the same with The Death of Stalin. Several bookshops have used Donald Trump’s tweets about Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury book in their displays. It’s a cliché that all publicity is good publicity, but it’s a cliché because it’s partly true.
You can sort of see the thinking behind the Russian ban. If a film was made in Britain that poked fun at the aftermath of Winston Churchill’s death, you might not get a ban, but certain newspapers and rent-a-quote MPs would kick up a fuss without having seen the film.
Outright bans rarely happen in the West now; you’re more like to see a studio or director voluntarily withdraw a film, as happened for decades with A Clockwork Orange, though in that case Brits in need of an ultra violence fix could nip over to Paris where it was regularly shown in cinemas. Nowadays, you wouldn’t need to do that; you’d just watch it illegally online. I imagine there are those in Russia that have already done that with this film.
The Russian ban will only work against the censors; there’s a whole raft of people in Moscow, St Petersburg and Vladivostok who had never heard of the film before this week but now want to see it. You’d be the same.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.