The Red Stuff

With the Cold War and the Soviet threat to the balance of global power now part of the rapidly receding past, the other side of the story of the race for space — the story of Russia's cosmonauts — can be heard. In 1957, the Soviet Union scared the pants off the Western world by launching Sputnik 1, Earth's first artificial satellite, and Sputnik...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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With the Cold War and the Soviet threat to the balance of global power now part of the rapidly receding past, the other side of the story of the race for space &#151 the story of Russia's cosmonauts — can be heard. In 1957, the Soviet Union scared the pants off the

Western world by launching Sputnik 1, Earth's first artificial satellite, and Sputnik 2, which carried the first living creature, a dog named Laika, into orbit. Two years later, the U.S.S.R. took the next inevitable step. After sifting through thousands of candidates, the Soviet space

program, spearheaded by the "Great Constructor" Sergei Korolev, selected 20 brave souls to train as cosmonauts, with the full expectation that one would soon board the Vostok spacecraft and be shot into orbit. Using interviews with surviving cosmonauts and the widows of those who weren't so lucky,

as well as archival footage of the 20 "Eaglets" in training and artfully presented artifacts from the era, Dutch documentarian Leo de Boer has created a fascinating, often tragic history of a program the Soviet Union held up to the rest of the world as communism's ultimate technological

achievement. Much of this history is already known: In 1961, Yuri Gargarin became the first man in space; in 1965, Aleksei Leonov made the first space walk. But de Boer also takes a close look at the missions that didn't make it and how, in their rush to glory, the Soviets often proceeded with

reckless speed and a stunning disregard for the safety of their men. Also on the bill: Aki Kaurismaki's THE TOTAL BALALAIKA SHOW, a concert film from the Leningrad Cowboys, a perilously pompadoured Finnish band that performs covers of Roxy Music, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Turtles while backed by the

booming voices of the Red Army Ensemble. The concert dates from 1993, and the joke has long since worn thin. (THE RED STUFF is in Russian with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 1999
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: With the Cold War and the Soviet threat to the balance of global power now part of the rapidly receding past, the other side of the story of the race for space — the story of Russia's cosmonauts — can be heard. In 1957, the Soviet Union scared the… (more)
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