Not quite as it seems? A 1994 BBC documentary's depiction of the removal of Lenin's statue in Russia

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Two cranes lifting statue, around six people in foreground
1. statue
Two cranes lifting statue outside at night, six people in foreground, three with arms up.
2. statue
one man, face near camera, waving one arm in the air, looking happy with a small crowd of men behind him paying no attention
3. jubilation
Screen mostly filled with four people's faces smiling, arms waving in air
4. people
Same four people smiling, waving arms and looking towards the camera
5. people
Four people looking jubilant, two about to embrace, some arms still in air
6. people
Closer shot of statue only, now tilted in the air on two cables and pulleys visible above it.
7. statue
Credits with BBC logo underneath
8. credits

A 1994 BBC documentary shows the removal of a statue of Lenin in Russia apparently in front of a jubilant crowd but, as with the removal of the statue of Saddam Hussein on 9 April 2003, there is some evidence that not everything is quite as it seems.

In this case, the evidence is within the pictures themselves. Slowing down the footage in the documentary and freezing frames reveals that in the one scene there are only a handful of people visible and in another scene, although there are more people, only four of them seem to be taking part in any kind of celebration or looking jubilant. In addition, it seems as though the four may be performing for the camera.

The photographs above are frames from a BBC television documentary, broadcast on BBC2 at 10pm on 12 March 1995, the final part of a series called ‘Messengers from Moscow’.

The frames captured above come from the same few seconds of the documentary, in a section about the demise of the Soviet Union.

The first part, shot at night, shows two large cranes removing a large statue - perhaps twenty feet high - from its column. Some people are standing in the foreground, facing the statue, with their backs to the camera. There are constant flashes like those from cameras. Some of these are very powerful, lighting up the whole statue. People to the left of the scene are jumping up and down very energetically and waving their hands in the air.

Now if you watch this footage uncritically, you get the impression of a large crowd, with some people dancing in jubilation. But freezing a frame during a flash (for example photo 1 and photo 2), reveals clearly how many people are present in the picture: just seven.

After a few seconds of this, the documentary fades into a group of people outside a large building. Again, observed uncritically the next few seconds of film might appear to be a scene of mass jubilation. People are smiling and shouting and waving their arms in the air. Viewing more carefully however, you can count how many people are waving and shouting and smiling: just four.

There are two middle-aged men and a similarly aged woman, and a young man. And they keep waving their arms in the air and smiling and dancing about and looking towards the camera. The camera confines itself to them only. For most of the time they completely obscure everything else and at one point these four contrive to get almost into a line, one behind the other, in front of the camera. (photo 4). They mostly keep themselves facing the camera, sometimes looking straight into it, and you get the impression that perhaps they are performing for the camera.

In the background there are more people and they are not jubilant, nor are they even smiling. Some of them in fact look unhappy, and it rather seems as though they have nothing to do with the four in front of the camera. This is particularly evident in the first few frames, where you can see people to the right of the picture (photo 3). These people are walking about - some of them are walking away to the right of the picture and they are looking to the right of the picture; they are not paying attention to whatever hypothetical thing our jubilant four appear to be so excited about. In the moving picture this is even more apparent than in the still frames captured here. Could it be that these four are jumping up and down apparently for joy while in front of them is nothing of significance except a television camera?

The scene with these four seems to have been shot in daylight, so there is no reason to suppose they have anything to do with the removal of the statue at night. But the question arises of whether it was the intention of the film makers to induce the viewer to assume that this scene had something to do with the statue. Because after a few seconds of the happy four, the film fades back to more footage of the statue being hoisted off its pedestal at night (photo 7).

There is only music on the soundtrack while these images appear; there is no indication of what they represent.

Selected credits from ‘Messengers from Moscow’

special advisersVladimir Bukovsky
Oleg Gordievsky
archive researchMasha Oleneva
associate producerMasha Slonim
ProducerEugene B. Shirley, Jr.
Chief ConsultantHerbert J. Ellison
Executive producer Thirteen/WNETArnold Labaton

Series produced and directed by Daniel Wolf

A Barraclough Carey Production in association with Thirteen/WNET and Pacem Productions Inc for BBC Bristol

© 1994 Barraclough Carey Productions Ltd/Pacem Productions Inc

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