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Hammer & Tickle (2006) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • 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 and 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 parts of Central 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 and political impact of jokes under Soviet rule. Interviews with Solidarity leader and former Polish president Lech Walesa, hard-line Polish leader General Jaroszelski, German actor Peter Sodann, German satirist and author Ernst Roehl, East German newspaper editor and Politburo member Guenter Schabowski, and academics Christie Davies and Roy Medvedev address the role that jokes played in challenging and weakening the Communist system from the inside even as joke-tellers faced censure or time in the Gulag for voicing their humor. Light and irreverent in its tone, Hammer and Tickle is really about the ultimate seriousness of joking and the use of the power of laughter to overcome hardship. This history of humor under the Soviet regime offers a direct, incontrovertible way to understand what it was like living in a Communist society, and is also proof that the human spirit can never be broken.


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Synopsis

  • What would happen if they introduced Communism to Saudi Arabia? Nothing at first but soon there would be a shortage of sand.

    Why, despite all the shortages, was the toilet paper in East Germany always 2-ply? Because they had to send a copy of everything they did to Moscow.

    This is the first ever film about Communist jokes, the most extraordinary cultural legacies of eighty years of socio-political experimentation in Russia and Eastern Europe.

    Under the oppressive Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and its satellites, ordinary people told thousands of jokes about the society they lived in and the political system they suffered under. Denied free speech, and confronted daily with the gap between political propaganda and everyday reality, jokes became the language of truth in the world of Communism. They were a way for ordinary people to resist the regime but the Communist regimes also used to jokes, to diffuse opposition. Jokes were thus the real battleground between state and people under Communism.

    Using this unique folkloric archive, this funny and insightful feature-length documentary tells the real history of Communism through the jokes. On the way it tells the stories of what happened to the joke-tellers, some of whom ended up in the Gulags, while others became stars of the stage and screen. This Monty-Python-esque history of Communism recreates the jokes using sketches, tricked archive and special animations. There are interviews with the legends of Communism and legendary Communist joke-tellers including Solidarity Leader and former Polish president Lech Walesa, the hardline Polish leader General Jaruselski, German actor Peter Sodann, , German satirist and author Ernst Roehl, East German newspaper editor and Politburo member Guenter Schabowski, and Britains own Professor of jokes, Christie Davies.

    The film unearthes never-seen-before archive of the jokes that President Reagan told at Press Conferences, of the only anti-Communist comedy show ever broadcast on a Communist state television channel, and of the jokes and cartoons that the Czechs graffiti-ed on their town square when the Russians invaded in 1968. Uncovering extraordinary stories never before told on television, director Ben Lewis met the man who collected jokes for Ronald Reagan, the Polish prankster who gave away toilet paper to deprived fellow citizens, and the Romanian amateur statistician who collected and analysed Communist jokes scientifically to reveal the part they played in the downfall of the system.

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