For the advancement and inspiration of its members
PRODOS FILM STUDY GROUP
With the kind permission of Ben Lewis (Writer, Director, Producer)
Another outstanding documentary:
HAMMER & TICKLE
The Communist Jokebook
Date: Monday February 13 2012
Venue: Home of Prodos & Barboo, 153 Lennox Street, Richmond. Phone: 9428 1234.
6.30 PM: Doors Open.
Meals (all at cost price) served between 6.30 PM and 7.15 PM
- Lemon Pepper Atlantic Salmon: $12
- Crumbed Lamb Cutlets: $12
7.30 PM (sharp): Commencement of Film + Chaired discussion.
Who: Only registered PRODOS Film Study Group members and guests of members allowed. You can apply to join on the night. To join you need to agree with our purpose and pay the $2 annual fee.
Policy: Leaving straight after a film and therefore skipping the discussion goes against one of the conditions upon which our permission to screen these films is based.
9.45 PM: End of meeting.
Cost: No charge. But if you’d like to make a personal donation to Prodos that’s greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Description by Kellen Quinn
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 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 & 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.
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.
Excerpts from article by filmmaker, Ben Lewis ….
…. It was in Romania, while making a film about Ceausescu, that I first stumbled across the historical legacy of the communist joke. There I learned that a clerk from the Bucharest transport system, Calin Bogdan Stefanescu, had spent the last ten years of Ceausescu’s regime collecting political jokes. He noted down which joke he heard and when, and analysed his total of over 900 jokes statistically. He measured the time gap between a political event and a joke about that event, and then drew up a graph measuring the varying velocity of Romanian communist jokes. He was also able to assert—somewhat tenuously—that there was a link between jokes and the fall of Ceausescu, since jokes about the leader doubled in the last three years of the regime. The story of Stefanescu, the statistician of jokes, was, ironically, much funnier than the jokes themselves. It seemed to capture the prosaic reality of the little man struggling against the communist universe.
I was charmed. Soon my volume of Stefanescu’s Ten Years of Romanian Black Humour was joined by 30 or so other collections of communist jokes—such as Reinhard Wagner’s Jokes of East Germany Volume 1-2 (1994/96), and Hammer and Tickle (1980) by Petr Beckmann. The earliest volume I found, Humour Behind the Iron Curtain, was published in 1962 by the Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, under the pseudonym Mischka Kukin. I wondered if Wiesenthal found communist jokes a diversion from the business of tracking down Nazis, or if they represented to him another struggle against injustice. I also came across a wonderfully overwritten PhD thesis by the Stanford anthropologist Seth Benedict Graham: A Cultural Analysis of the Russo-Soviet Anekdot (anekdot is the Russian word for a political joke). Graham’s earnest academic language suggests the standard theory of the joke as a tool of subversion: “An important reason for the anekdot’s pre-eminence was its capacity to outflank, mimic, debunk, deconstruct, and otherwise critically engage with other genres and texts of all stripes and at all presumed points on the spectrum from resistance to complicity.”
…. There have been political and anti-authority jokes in every era, but nowhere else did political jokes cohere into an anonymous body of folk literature as they did under communism. With the creation of the Soviet bloc after the war, communism exposed itself to Czech and Jewish traditions of humour—mutating viruses to which the system never developed the right antibodies. Some jokes that were traceable back to the Austro-Hungarian empire found their apotheosis under communism—like this one about the Hungarian communist leader Matyas Rakosi: Two friends are walking down the street. One asks the other “What do you think of Rakosi?” “I can’t tell you here,” he replies. “Follow me.” They disappear down a side street. “Now tell me what you think of Rakosi,” says the friend. “No, not here,” says the other, leading him into the hallway of an apartment block. “OK here then.” “No, not here. It’s not safe.” They walk down the stairs into the deserted basement of the building. “OK, now you can tell me what you think of our president.” “Well,” says the other, looking around nervously,”actually I quite like him.”