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Dispatch / Russia / October 8, 2008

Sasha, the sickle villain of S.S.D.

But it did not turn out this way. The film was about nothing. Instead of making history by putting out the first uniquely Russian horror film, the makers of S.S.D. took the plot arc from Friday the 13th (including the mask), put some Russian kids in it and tried to make it look cool with Hostel-style set design and cinematography. The bozos just didn’t get that a horror film needs plenty of relevant social commentary to be good. You can watch people get snuffed for free on

Even Friday the 13th, the crappy B movie that it was, did more than just kill people off in interesting ways. It was venting against the cool kids, the popular and beautiful that got away with everything, including murder. The camp counselors let the ugly (and probably retarded) kid drown because they were too busy getting making out in the bushes, but they never paid for it. Well, Jason would right that wrong. He was the embodiment of vigilante justice, served over and over again, even on the innocent, sorta poetic justice for the uncool.

The makers of S.S.D. missed the deeper meaning, but they aren’t the only ones. It happens almost every time Russians try to adapt Western films or genres: they totally miss the point of the original.

Take the show Schastlivye Vsmesti, based on America’s controversial and extremely successful Married… with Children. The show, which introduced the world to Christina Applegate as the prototypical American white trash slut was about the average life of an average American family: the dad, a former high school football star who now sold cheap women’s shoes at a low-class mall; the mom, a former high school beauty that now sat around watching soap operas all day, ate sweets and couldn’t cook; the slutty and dumb daughter and the loser son that could never get laid and was even more pathetic than his father. The show was funny because it was brutally honest, so honest that some wanted it off the air.  Muhammed Ali once said, “There are no jokes. Truth is the funniest joke of all.” Truth—that’s exactly what made the show so hilarious.

The same can’t be said about the Russian adaptation. Not only is there no hint of truth to it, but I’m not even sure what the show is about. The Bukins (Russian version of the Bundy’s) are too decent, too rich, too nicely dressed and too happy to be the average Russian family. Gena (Al) never beats his wife, doesn’t seem to drink and their daughter is not even a tenth of the slut that Kelly was (in fact, she’s not even half as fine). They didn’t even bother changing the two-storey set layout of the original Bundy home. A family living in a two-storey apartment in Russia? It makes no sense. That is, unless the point is to give a glimpse into Putin’s Plan Dreamland. If that’s the case, it succeeds.

I don’t have nearly enough space in the column to detail all the adaptation fuckups that are produced in this country, but I can’t not mention the biggest failure of the decade: Fyodor Bondarchuk’s Devyataya Rota. This was supposed to be Russia’s answer to Full Metal Jacket. Right. See, whereas Kubrik’s masterpiece was a soul-searching look into the totally pointless and devastating war that almost caused a revolution in America, Bondarchuk’s was nothing more than a patriotic glorification of an equally useless war, one which actually brought the Soviet Union to a humiliating end. Instead of playing a mournful bugle melody for the soldiers who died fighting a cruel and useless war, Bondarchuk played a patriotic suck-up tune on Putin’s rusty trombone. The funny thing is, the Russian people loved it.

I just learned that the Russian version of The Office, one of the best shows to come out on TV in the past half decade, is going to be launched soon. The U.K. original depicted the depressing and pathetic reality of everyday office life so accurately that it went beyond comedy and onto a level of the sublime. You couldn’t help but laugh and wince at the sleazy, servile and just plain ol’ idiotic lives of our civilization’s office workforce. But as far as Russia goes, I’m willing to bet good money that their remake will actually make this office culture something cute and interesting, something to aspire to and respect. And that is a sad, sad thing—and an utter middle class lie. And like Ali said, lies aren’t funny.

Contact Yasha Levine at A less graphic version of this article appeared in Bolshoi Gorod.


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1 Comment

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  • 1. Alex  |  April 29th, 2010 at 10:07 am

    The fall into latrine ditch scenario is how the boy in Jerzy Kosinski’s pseudo-autobiographical Painted Bird loses his speech and another book, I think Blind Date (euphemism for rape)takes place in part in such a Komsomol camp for older teens. In mid-90s, last time I was back in Russia, the hole-in-the-floor set up was still the Irkutsk airport’s “privy.” Thanks for the flashback.

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