Yesterday I made poor Kostia watch the film “White Nights” which, as you may know, is not an adaptation of the Dostoyevsky short story, but rather one of the most absurd screenplays in the history of cinema. In a nutshell, a Soviet ballet star who has defected to the US (Mikhail Baryshnikov) is on a plane which crash-lands in the Soviet Union, and the evil Soviets try to keep him there, making an American tap dancer who has defected to the Soviet Union (Gregory Hines) be his guard and companion.

I wanted to watch it because it made a big impression on me 20 years ago. It was one of those movies that got steady rotation on HBO for awhile and then disappeared from our lives, and I think it contributed to my fascination with the Soviet Union, and my decision to study Russian in junior high school.

It’s always funny to watch a film that you thought was cool when you were a kid, knowing it’s going to be really bad. But now that I’ve spent time in both St. Petersburg and Helsinki it was neat to be able to identify which shots were stock footage of Leningrad and which were actually Helsinki, where they shot the film. They did a pretty good job of making things look real and Russian, except that Baryshnikov’s apartment was way too fancy even for a Soviet ballet star of the time. The non-Russian actors had obviously been well-coached on their Russian – although they spoke with accents, their intonation was solid and it was possible to understand what they were saying (unlike, say, Sean Connery in “The Hunt For Red October” who had obviously just interpreted the transliteration in his script for himself. Nobody coaches the Sean Connery, I guess).

Also, the dancing was amazing. I can appreciate that now in a way that I couldn’t when I was 11 years old and tap dancing seemed to be the lamest thing on earth.

But the plot was still ridiculous, and the soundtrack… whose idea was that soundtrack? I managed to amuse Kostia by singing along to “Say You, Say Me”, though. Why does the brain retain lyrics to terrible 80s songs and not, say, the ability to do calculus? Sigh.