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TV can be life-changing. This program is a great example.
I watched this program only once, in 1991. Sadly, a program of this greatness has not become a staple on PBS. At the time when I watched it, as a relative newcomer to the US, I did not know much about Mike Wallace and "60 Minutes". From a 1991 review on the NY Times website by John O'Connor, I hear the opinion that Mr. Wallace has tried to insert his famous self into far too much of this documentary. I don't remember enough of the program to pass judgment on that. However, it is fair to say that both Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife Ms. Vishnevskaya willingly make the documentary focus more on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn than may have been the original intent of the producers.
Then again, part of the greatness that emanates from these people is not that they are top-notch musicians, but that they are human beings who have made the respectable decision to place their political commitment above their musical careers (glamorous as they may have been). Of course, in the process, they put their lives at the mercy of Soviet bureaucrats who did not spare the lives of many others before them --whose defiance may have been far less conspicuous. The image of Ms. Vishnevskaya talking about their decision (16 years ago, I guess) is one of the most impressive and touching things that I have seen on TV. They stood up for Solzhenitsyn, harbored him in their home, and she does not regret her decision after so many years of paying the price... I still remember the strong nod of her head, and her straight look into the eyes of the interviewer, as she said something to the effect that she would do the same thing, because this is what the righteous people do.
Along with "Weapons of the Spirit", where there are several old men and women who 'did the right thing' during World War II, this program deserves to be shown to young people as an example of real-life strength and courage. (The image of the mother in "My Left Foot" is another one. But that is not a documentary where one sees the 'real thing'.) There is also some good information in this documentary about Solzhenitsyn as a writer --how frugal and hard-working he was.
I hope I will be able to find and re-watch this program soon. After that, I should be in a better position to sing its praises all over again.
Some of the people who produced this documentary (Peter Gelb among them) were also involved with other respectable titles like "Horowitz in Moscow". I raise my hat to them.
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