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Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Bone Records and Hindi Cinema in the Soviet Union

I've always loved x-rays. They are so spooky and great, the Mr Bones of photography. And they are also so simple. Nobody questions the veracity of their basic indexical nature. Maybe one day somebody will make a film where Guy Debord or somebody breaks a leg and rejects the x-ray on the grounds of the indexical film-subject relationship being a myth grounded in the capitalist image-fetish-spectacle construct. Which it is of course.

The film's been made already, an experimental 1970s Czech animation. It was quite good. If you remember the title, do let me know. There aren't many avant-garde movies based on the philosophy of the image and its production/consumption.

Anyway, I saw this on Facebook yesterday (thank you whoever reposted it from Ripple Music's page). It's an x-ray record from the Soviet Union.

The basic story is this (from Ripple Music's Facebook page)

'Probably the most unusual record in my collection! In post WWII Russia, Stalin banned the possession of any western music. All records allowed in the country had to be of Russian composers. But there was an underground hungry for Western popular music—everything from jazz and blues to rock & roll. But smuggling vinyl was dangerous, and acquiring the scarce material to make copies of those records that did make it into the country was expensive and very risky.

An ingenuous solution to this problem began to emerge in the form of “bone music," or sometimes called "bones 'n' ribs" music, or simply Ribs.

A young 19 year-old sound engineer Ruslan Bogoslowski in Leningrad changed the game when he created a device to bootleg western albums so he could distribute them across Russia. Problem was he couldn't find material to bootleg his pressings onto, vinyl was scare as were all petroleum products after the war. Then, one day he stumbled upon a pile of discarded X-rays. It worked. At the time, Russian law mandated that all X-rays had to be destroyed after 1 year of storage because they were flammable so he dug through trash bins and paid off orderlies for x-rays and for 20 years he handmade about 1,000,000 bootlegs onto X-ray film of everything from classical to the Beach Boys, eventually spending five years imprisoned in Siberia for this rebellion.

For over 20 years, Bone Music was the only way Russian music lovers could get western music, which they played at "music and coffee parties" in their kitchens, away from the KGB ears and eyes.

So I had to find one. This is a 78 rpm recording of the Indian Song "Awaara" by Raj Kapoor on an exposed Chest X-ray. Probably around 1951. Each Rib, was handmade, and one of a kind.

Bone Music. A testament to the underground courage to subvert authority, rebellion, and the love of music. The spirit of rock n roll'

You can see more images of bone music at  x-ray audio who have a book out.

Even better, you can see the albums, and hear the music.

So this one is Heartbreak Hotel

And this one is Awaarahoon (recorded onto engineering film)

That's from the Hindi film, Awaara, starring Raj Kapoor. That's him top left in the picture below. Hindi Cinema was huge  in the Soviet Union, its  themes of romance, victory for the underdog and flights from reality finding a ready audience. In 1954, after the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union hosted its first Indian film festival where films like the neo-realist Do Bigha Zamin sold out to audiences hungry for entertainment.

Awaara had an audience of over 63 million in the Soviet Union, Shri 420 (Gospodin 420!) and Love in Simla reached similar audiences as 'Indian melodramas' (indiiskie melodramy) satisfied the post-Stalin thirst for mass audience cinema thanks in part to film exchange arrangements between the Soviet Union and India - with India always driving a hard bargain in the exchanges, but the Soviets always getting the best of the deal and by far the biggest audience - nobody watched Soviet movies in India.

Indian films were dubbed into Russian and edited to a maximum of 2 1/2 hours (Sholay was edited down to 2 hours), but still brought in the highest revenues in Soviet cinema.

Indian films would also be used to doctor statistics for Soviet films. One cinema with two films to show, Sita for Gita and Lenin in Poland, showed Lenin in Poland in the morning and Sita for Gita in the evening, then swapped the audience figures for the benefit of the state film distributors.


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