What people in Russia do for fun. Besides drinking vodka.
The Soviet Union had its own film industry, doing quite a few science fiction films (the original Solaris for example), a lot of films on the Great Patriotic War and other glorious historic moments for Russia, a whole genre which is essentially the Russian version of The Western (other states in the Warsaw Pact would do it as well) plus quite a lot of stuff that could really be called propaganda (mainly melodramas and love stories that initially were painfully "industrial romance", but later took on a surprisingly earnest and touching tone). However, the genre that seems most popular in Russia itself is the Soviet comedy as exemplified by the works of Leonid Gaidai, Eldar Ryazanov and Georgi Danelia. Most of these comedies have elements of drama, tragedy and stealth satire, while much of their humour is extremely culture-specific, being based to a large extent on the daily experiences of ordinary Soviet citizens. Because of this they are largely unheard of outside the former USSR. Additionally, the Soviet film industry was not driven by box-office, but rather by cultural and educational value of films (and their implicit total accordance to ideological dogmas). Yeah, it was official, and surprisingly, it somewhat worked. Between the Scylla and Charybdis of dissent and ass-licking (the latter was discouraged too, by natural means of ass-licking pieces being shitty and unpopular), a lot could be done. That is not to say the Soviet censorship didn't drive many creators to despair, cut short careers of many a genius or force them to emigrate, make the plot choices awfully small and much of the work bland and uniform. But still.
Some of the more notable Soviet films are:
- Battleship Potemkin. The source of the "Odessa Steps" sequence.
- October: Ten Days That Shook the World. A reasonably accurate re-creation of Red October.
- Alexander Nevsky. Teutonic Knights, Putting on the Reich, invade Russia and are beaten by the eponymous hero.
- This film is notable for "Battle of the Ice", which directly inspired quite a few later battle scenes.
- Ivan the Terrible
- Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris and Stalker (very little relationship to the video game Stalker), both of which take Sci-Fi stories about man's reaction to the unknown and turn them into explorations of man's relationship with the unknown and his fellows.
- White Sun of the Desert: one of the best, if not the best of the USSR Ostern tradition - taking traditional Western themes and adapting them to post civil war Russia.
- At Home Among the Strangers: Another Ostern, the one that launched Nikita Mikhalkov's career and may be the best thing he's ever done.
- Kin-Dza-Dza!, a cult sci-fi comedy movie
- War and Peace, Sergei Bondarchuk's epic four-part adaptation that is considered the most expensive film in history. It was the first Soviet film to win an Academy Award, to be followed by...
- Dersu Uzala. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, this film is an adaptation of the memoirs of the Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev, chronicling his exploration of the Russian Far East and his friendship with his native guide Dersu, a real life Noble Savage.
- The Irony of Fate (full Russian title: Ironiya Sudby, ili S Lyogkim Parom!; see the "Taking Steam" section below), a 1975 comedy-drama by Eldar Ryazanov. Starting out as a satire of the unimaginative uniformity of Brezhnev era architecture and a screwball comedy about a man getting stranded on New Year's Eve (and having to explain himself to his fiancée, as well as to the fiancé of the woman whose apartment he unwittingly broke into), the film evolves into a melodramatic love story with a somewhat Bittersweet Ending. Similar to It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story in the US, The Irony of Fate is a Russian winter holidays' staple with at least one of the federal channels airing it on New Year's Eve every year.
- A sequel, The Irony of Fate 2, was filmed in 2007 by Timur Bekmambetov, more famous as the director of Night Watch and Wanted and the co-producer of Shane Acker's 9. The sequel puts the children of the lead characters of the first film in the exact same situation in the modern day. Since Soviet nostalgia is Serious Business in Russia, public opinion of the film is highly divided (the egregious amounts of Product Placement do not help).
- Office Romance (full Russian title: Sluzhebnyy roman), another lyrical comedy by Eldar Ryazanov about a developing office romance between rather clumsy single father in his middle 30s and his strict female boss. Hilarity Ensues.
- Gentlemen of Fortune, a dramedy about a kindergarten teacher who uses the fact he looks extremely similar to a hardened criminal to infiltrate his counterpart's gang in order to find the helmet of Alexander the Great they stole earlier, all the while trying to fix what went wrong with his subordinates' lives and push them into law-abiding normalcy.
- Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession, a goofy comedy about an eccentric engineer who invented a time-machine and got Ivan the Terrible into the modern world while two other 20th century guys (an apartmant house attendant who looked much like Ivan the Terrible, and a Lovable Rogue) stuck in medieval Russia.
- 9th Company (9 Rota), a 2005 Russian/Finnish film about an intense battle during war in Afghanistan involving the titular paratrooper unit. Directed by Fyodor Bondarchuk, son of Sergei Bondarchuk.
- Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, a 1980 film by Vladimir Menshov about provincial girls who come to Moscow hoping to find happiness. One of only four Russian-language films to win the Foreign Film Oscar, alongside War and Peace, Dersu Uzala, and Burnt by the Sun.
- Guest from the Future, a 1984 Pavel Arsenov Mini Series based on one of the Alice, Girl from the Future books by Kir Bulychev.
- Burnt by the Sun, a 1994 Nikita Mikhalkov drama set in the time of Josef Stalin.
- Zhmurki or Blind Man's Bluff, a 2005 criminal (very) black comedy about early 1990s.
The Soviets had quite an animated film industry; most famously, there was Soyuzmultfilm, a truly world-class animation studio. They produced something like 1500 animated films over their long history.
Russian tradition of public baths (banya) dates back to pre-Christian times. It includes being in an overheated, moist room and getting beaten by tree branches. Once that's gotten old you jump into a freezing cold pool, and/or drop a bucket of aforementioned cold water on your head. Then repeat. Somehow, it is supposed to be relaxing, and remains popular even today. And well, it is relaxing once you get used to it. Additionally, it softens the outer skin layer, allowing it to be removed, letting you wash very clean. Traditionally a person who has just taken a bath is greeted or complimented with the phrase S lyogkim parom! (the "g" is pronounced like an "h"), which literally means "with light steam!" and can be roughly translated as "congratulations on your bath!" or "I hope the steam was good!"
For much of Russia/the USSR's history, taxation of vodka formed a major part of state income. Also, one of the main reasons(according to the legend) that Vladimir I of Kiev converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, so making Russia an Orthodox nation, was the fact that they were pretty tolerant when it came to alcohol consumption; he feared, for example, that if he made his kingdom Muslim, which would prohibit alcohol and the consumption of pork, that his subjects would revolt against him. Also, his envoys were impressed by the great beauty and ceremony they saw in the Greek Orthodox churches(also according to the legend). Much later, one of the major problems the Soviet Union faced was the high incidence of alcoholism. Another funny example: when the Soviets developed and deployed one of their first ballistic missiles, a V-2 knockoff, there were some problems with the fact that the R-1, the knockoff, used alcohol as the fuel. The generals were a little cagey about that, needless to say.
The standard drink for relaxing is, of course, vodka. Vodka isn't something exclusive to Russia, it's a general Eastern European product, with local varieties existing in Poland (wodka, pronounced "voodka") and Ukraine (horilka). However, it's Russia that invented the modern vodka standard, because all those other countries were provinces of the Russian Empire at the time anyway.
The original vodka was, by all modern standards, moonshine made of wheat and rye. And its most basic, cheapest form wasn't even called vodka, it was called "bread wine" (khlebnoye vino); the word "vodka" was reserved for finer, artisanal varieties of the stuff, purified by multiple distillations and often flavored by infusing herbs on it (this tradition is still in use, especially in Ukraine, where the most famous sorts of horilka are flavored with pepper or honey). There was even an aged, whisky-like form of rye vodka, called starka (the old one), invented in Poland and later adopted by Russians. All those early versions of vodka were very strong by modern standards, clocking around 120-140 proof. Production of fine vodkas was legally restricted to nobility, who often created unique family recipes; bread wine, made by commoners for commoners, was a badder, stinkier and cheaper stuff that was sold in buckets, for god's sake.
Modern vodka was created in the late XIX century. Common distillation was replaced by rectification (a complex industrial form of distillation, which produces very pure alcohol). This innovation was a mixed bag: it's true that it helped to drastically reduce the amount of fusel alcohols in vodka, but it also killed any flavors of grain that were present in early vodka and made it the "neutral", mixable spirit we know today, and made any fermentable stuff - potatoes, chemically-treated wood, you name it - usable for making vodka. The proof of vodka was legally set as 80 (40% by volume). During that period, vodka started to be sold in bottles rather in buckets; the old-style vodka bottle was called a chetvert' (quarter of a bucket) and contained three liters of vodka. Modern vodka bottles only contain 500 ml of the stuff.
Russia is famous for not only its music, but the style of music. The Tetris theme tune, "Korobeiniki", actually has lyrics.
There is a lot of folk music. The Mary Hopkin song Those Were the Days is based on an old Russian folk tune.
In the good old days of the Soviet Union, the tendency amongst the intellectuals was that true art should stick it to the man - The Man being the party establishment and bureaucracy. Given that the only way to do that without an exciting free trip to The Gulag (or just being stripped of all benefits due to a performing artist in less strict times) was to smuggle crap past the radar, intellectuals grew adept at figuring out just how everyone is Stalin in the Mausoleum. Interestingly enough, intelligensia actually called the smuggled crap an «Aesop language», making them Trope Namers. A band could also gather acclaim by using the Power of Rock to kick against tame mainstream music establishment. All this gave rise to a unique genre, called "authors' song", better known as bard music.
Bard music appeared in 1960s Soviet Union and became immensely popular. It is very simple in terms of musical techniques, but lyrics-heavy, played on a common acoustic guitar and little or nothing else. The most well-known Soviet bard was Vladimir Vysotsky; other performers of note were Bulat Okudzhava and the noted musical dissident Alexander Galich.
The late 1970s and early 1980s were the time when native Russian rock appeared, growing from bardic tradition but adding more complex rock music techniques to the genre. The most famous founding fathers of Russian rock are Boris Grebenschikov and Viktor Tsoi.
Another, little-known offshoot of bard music is the so-called "minstrel music", which is fantasy-themed bard music, like Heavy Mithril except not heavy at all. It appeared in the Russian LARP community and Tolkien fandom during the 1990s.
In Soviet Russia, television watches you!
Thank you, Yakov Smirnoff. Television in Russia can be roughly divided into two eras- the Soviet era and the post-Soviet era.
Notable TV shows from the USSR:
- Seventeen Moments of Spring, loosely based on a true story, about a Soviet agent who penetrates Nazi Germany for 20 years. Its main character, Maksim Maksimovich Isaev, is sometimes (somewhat inaccurately) called the Russian James Bond. This twelve-part Mini Series remains very popular in Russia and is the source of a lot of jokes. It has its own entry on The Other Wiki- in 7 languages, including English.
- Guest from the Future, a sci-fi series about a girl from the future who comes to the 80s Soviet Union, befriends robots and fights Space Pirates.
- A Russian adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, that got its Soviet star, an OBE- a British title.
- Pole Chudes ("The Field of Wonders"), a still-running Russian version of Wheel of Fortune, it started in 1990.
- Vremya ("Time") - a Soviet news programme, still broadcast today in Russia.
- D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers: Exactly What It Says on the Tin. A fairly extreme case of Dawson Casting for D'Artagnan, and some very catchy song lyrics.
Russian TV series:
- Yeralash: a Sketch Comedy running for nearly forty years already.
- Bednaya Nastya ("Poor Nastya"), a Russian telenovela, broadcast in the US.
Russia is famous for its chess playing — in Irregular Webcomic!, you can no longer actually play Chess in a Chess with Death scenario because no Russians died for about a decade. Of the top 10 current chess players in the world (FIDE rankings), 2, including the world No. 4 Vladmir Kramnik, are Russian and 4 (5 if you count the Latvian-born Alexei Shirov, who has since defected to Spain) are from the other former Soviet states. Of the World Champions between 1927 and 2007, only Max Euwe (1935-1937, Netherlands) and Bobby Fischer (1972-75, USA) were from any other countries.
Russians like to play card games, just like everybody else. Games unique to Russia are Preferans, Durak (a mostly children's game) and Ochko (a local variety of blackjack played with 36 cards). The usual Russian deck of playing cards consists of 36 cards, 6 to Ace, no jokers.
The Soviet Union invented Tetris.The Eastern Bloc has also produced S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Turgor, Pathologic, Cargo! The Quest for Gravity, Metro 2033, Silent Storm (nearly ruined by Western Executive Meddling), Space Rangers, IL-2 Sturmovik, King's Bounty: The Legend and King's Bounty: Armored Princess, Death To Spies, Rage of Mages, Allods Online, Heroes of Might and Magic V, Disciples III, World of Tanks, and Star Wolves. Russians only started playing video games after the Iron Curtain fall so they've missed consoles like Atari and mostly play on PC to this day. Hardcore RTS, TBS and simulation game genres quickly became especially popular there so Russian developers often continue series that are still popular in Russia: Heroes of Might and Magic, Disciples and King's Bounty. See also Russian Video Games.
The Russian tabletop game industry is still in the development phase, producing mostly boardgames. But in recent years some notable trading card games and tabletop RPGs appeared.
- Age of Aquarius: the only (to date) commercial Tabletop RPG made in Russia.
- World of the Great Dragon: a freeware medieval fantasy RPG.
- War: a trading card game about WWII.
- Ring of Power: a miniatures wargame.