Spinning Boris

| February 2, 2018

There’s a presidential election four months away. A deeply unpopular candidate hires foreigners to help him win. It works. History’s course is forever changed.

Is this America in 2016? Or Russia 1996?

Spinning Boris chronicles the real life story of three American political operatives – George Gorton, Dick Dresner, and Joe Shumate – hired to help Boris Yeltsin win the Russian presidential election in 1996.

Over four months, the three American fixers experience a Russia adjusting to democracy after the bleak Soviet era. However, much seems the same, if not worse. Features includes a Moscow landscape of newly-imported Western goods like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola billboards. Meetings with shady business men – or are they part of the government? –who roam the streets with machine guns. And confusion over whether nobody speaks English, or no one wants to talk to them.

What the American fixers bring to Russia in 1996 is a belief that the disconnected, shady, drunken Boris Yeltsin could appeal to ordinary people. This means kissing babies, dancing in public, and visiting grocery stores. While this feels uncomfortable and foreign toYeltsin’s team, metaphorically and literally,  they agree to the demands. Opinion polls do start to increase in favorability, but it isn’t until a final “push” – the fear of any other candidate besides Yeltsin – secures a win.  This comedy would be funnier if not so true. Nor if the past presented in Spinning Boris didn’t feel so relevant, albeit in reverse, to the US’s current political landscape.

Being a Showtime production, almost everything is muted. From the acting down to the colors.  What film school would teach as a subtle mise-en-scene. While this never allows too much excitement, or investment in the characters themselves, there appears to be a purpose. Namely, presenting the reality of the event. Realism for historical, or political, sake.

Thus, while undoubtedly a made-for-cable movie, Spinning Boris touches on an understated area of the cultural divide between the US and Russia. That is how, different the two countries are – despite being constantly seen as similar terms of power. The Russians in Spinning Boris are enduring a rocky transition to democracy. As put appropriately by one of the shady businessmen, “In America, murders over drugs in common place. In Russia, the victims are usually politicians and businessmen.”

Appropriately, and in point of contemporary relevance, Putin’s prime minister admitted the apparent open secret that massive voter fraud plagued Russia’s 1996 election, and “Boris Yeltsin was obviously not the winner.” Even if Russia did not “hack” the 2016 election in the US, which there has yet to be any substantive evidence, the perception of influence has made the American public see politics like a Russian in 1996.

About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
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