George Orwell wrote that in a repressive political system every joke is a "tiny revolution." Jokes were an essential part of the communist experience because the monopoly of state power ... See full summary »
George Orwell wrote that in a repressive political system every joke is a "tiny revolution." Jokes were an essential part of the communist experience because the monopoly of state power meant that any act of non-conformity, down to a simple turn of phrase, could be construed as a form of dissent. By the same token, a joke about any facet of life became a joke about communism. Hammer & Tickle recounts a humorous history of the Soviet Union and its satellite states through the jokes that flourished under the oppressive regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe. Jokes, the film contends, were a language of truth under Communism; a language that allowed people to navigate the disconnect between propaganda and reality and provided a means of resisting the system despite the absence of free speech. Using animated sequences, manipulated archival footage, and sketches to resurrect the jokes, the film offers an ironic take on the history of Communism while simultaneously investigating the social ... Written by
Interesting and accessible film that gets the structure, content and tone just right
Having been to Russia for a few weeks for work recently I was interested in the night of programming that the ever reliable BBC4 screened recently. With this film the focus is less on the specific history of Russia but more the status of satire and joking down the ages of Communism. With the film mainly focusing on Russia we also learn of the experiences of those in Hungary, Germany and other countries where Communism was the ruling political ideal.
At first I wondered if the material would be able to fill out 30 minutes, far less 90 because it does seem to be a very superficial subject and have a very light approach. However the film lays the subject out very well and the delivery is accessible without being superficial. The structure allows for the film to deal with Russia and Communism in easy historical chunks and for each one the delivery allows the casual viewer to sufficiently understand the context when the film looks at the nature of the joking. Saying the film is about "jokes" is doing it a bit of a disservice though because really it is about dissension, satire, gallows humour and how they were grown from and treated by the political leaders and social conditions of the various times.
As such i was surprised by how interesting I found it and I think director Ben Lewis does himself down when he sets the film up while being filmed reading joke books really it is about much more than that. The use of talking heads is selective and well placed across the whole film but what I found more effective was the use of animation and "sketches" to tell typical jokes from the periods. I had seen this same device used recently in a film about humour in the time of Nazi Germany and I must say that here I saw how well it could be done. The animation is cool and the sketches come over natural and well timed.
Overall an interesting and accessible film. The subject matter suggests that there will not be much to cover but the reality is quite the opposite as the film is well structured to deliver a comprehensive look at satire over a long period while avoiding feeling either too detailed or too superficial.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful.
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