Maintaining US policy, the Baltic countries minimize the cultural and political dialogue with Russia. How far-sighted this policy is and are the good relations between Russia and the United States still possible we asked Rock BRYNNER - an American writer, Doctor of Historical and Political Science, the son of the Russian-born legendary Hollywood actor Yul Brynner:
DON’T DO WHAT WE DO
- Your first association with Riga was “the city where Mikhail Chekhov was living in his emigration”, and it’s impressing. But what do other Americans know about Latvia and Baltic States?
- Zero! It depends on who of course you’re talking to. In Washington You’ll find 23 people who know all about the Baltic States! But not 24! (laughing) Only 23! But you go to Kansas, you go to Texas – they don’t know even where France is! In America people don’t care about the countries: “Why care about of the countries? We’re Americans, we’re the best, we’ve got everything!”. And as for the Baltic States they know zero. Except people of Latvia and decent come from the Baltic countries, of course there are Brighton Beach and Russian and Baltic communities certainly. I’ve had many friends – not so much from Latvia, but from Lithuania and especially Estonia.
We have terrible education in America. But it also the lack of interest! Now mind you if you ask someone in Kansas where’s Yekaterinburg and they don’t know, but ask people in Yekaterinburg where’s Kansas – they probably don’t know either. If you live in global countries, they have nothing to do with Kansas, you know. But American education – and I am the professor of University – is very, very poor. University educations are pretty good, some are wonderful and a couple of them are the best. But the High School, the schools before college, mostly are very, very poor and that’s a big problem.
- USA is a kind of guide for the Baltic States. Living in USA and being a professor of political science, how do you think what good can the Baltic States can adopt from America?
- Don’t do what we do! Don’t allow elections to be determined by which candidate can get the most money. The question is how often do you see the candidate on TV. In America the candidates buy time on television.
Obama double elected two years ago. He and Romney both spent a billion dollars on the election. Not together – separately, so 2 billion. This last election for 1/3 of the Senate and 1/3 of the House of Representatives they total spent on elections 9 billion dollars without presidential election. So the answer is – we have the best congress the money can buy. So you want my advice – don’t do what we do. Do for example that England does! Each candidate gets precise amount of time on television.
Three years ago we last Supreme Court decided in a terrible, terrible decision! The name of the decision, the name of the case is “the Citizens United”. “Citizens United” is the company that made a film against Hillary Clinton six years ago. And the film was not allowed because it was a company that paid for it. And company was not allowed to contribute all the money they wanted to a candidate. So they went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court said – in America we have freedom of speech and that includes television. And freedom of speech applies to not only to people of the United States but the companies of the United States. And they said: corporations are the same thing that individuals of people and they have right for free speech too. So companies can spend all the money they want on elections. So that is already disaster! And my advice is – don’t do that!
But worse is about 1/3 of the Judges in America are elected! And for those elections too corporations can give a lot of money. 5 years ago British Petroleum spilt the oil in the Gulf of Mexico and poisoned lives of about of 100 thousands or maybe 200 thousand people and water and millions of animals. That goes to a Judge. BP can elect the judge they want! Normally for judges to be elected he will spend maybe 100 thousand dollars. BP could spend 10 million! And get the judge they want! Just sit on their case. So it’s absolutely catastrophic. And that’s only one of the things that’s catastrophic in America. And things are very bad politically. And those of the underlined problems then there are million political problems too.
EVEN DURING THE WORST TIME OF THE COLD WAR ARTISTS WERE WELCOME
- Is it a good idea for the Baltic States to turn away the Russia because of they’ve turned to America?
- You need to be friends with both. You need to be! The best I can say is – ask me that question again next year! I’m not optimistic about the way things are going right now. The Baltic States certainly need a dialog, everyone needs a dialog.
- How can we make or what we can do to make our countries make a dialog?
Today I’m not wearing my Russian-American pin – I am wearing it everywhere - but that’s what I devoted of last 12 years and of present last of trust between a two countries breaks my heart. Everything I’ve been trying to fight and what can we do – keep the dialog going!
- Can be the culture used as a political force?
In a true democracy in can be a very strong force. In an authoritarian government culture doesn’t matter. Does culture change the government or change policy in China? And the answer is “no”. It’s a good and interesting question. And the answer is – in democracy the politics IS a part of the culture, and the culture is a part of the politics. That’s what I would say. And the less it is democratic the less influence culture can possibly have. And if you have a government where the economy is оcommended from on top as in China or the old Soviet Union where the government decides “yes, there will be a factory”, “the factory will be there” and little higher there are so many people and only this kind of people then it’s culture has no real power whatsoever.
- Minimization the Russian influence in culture in Russia and closing the country for Russian artists, scientists - ? Does America use this kind of methods?
No! Well, it can close the doors, sometimes, but rarely.
- But only for politicians or people connected with political power?
Yes. That’s true – not for artists. And even during the Cold War – the worst time of the Cold War – generally artists were welcome. Kennedy and Khrushchev agreed of cultural exchange. So an even before that we have the worst moment but in 1958 was a very scary time, things looked very bad, and out of nowhere this young tall skinny kid from Texas came and competed in Tchaikovsky competition, Van Cliburn and not only competed, but win the Tchaikovsky competition, the boy from Texas! But the Russians loved him! And the Americans saw, it was all over the news, it and when he went home he was a huge parade for a classical pianist in America. He was being a hero for winning the competition but in fact the bigger thing that he did much bigger was to allow for cultural exchange. I saw Igor Moiseyev ballet and the Moscow circus- there were all kinds of cultural exchange. And America send a plays to be performed in USSR including very nicely a play a musical very typical American that laughed at American capitalism that called “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying”. It was laughing on capitalism and it was perfect to send to Russia! And then another thing happened: Stalin had never allowed American films to be shown in Russia. And only when Kennedy and Khrushchev were in office only then did American films start showing and in 1961 a little film opened called “Velikolepnaya Semyorka” (”The Magnificent 7”). And it was the first western that Russians saw. And in the lead role stars Russian-born actor as a cowboy, Yul Brynner. My father had an idea that this film would incredibly popular here. But he had no idea it would last 50 years.
I WANT TO BE A RENAISSANCE MAN
- You’ve changed so many places of living and professions. Why? Is it a kind of Gypsy Soul?
- Yes. That is certainly a good part of it. But that’s not the only thing. I always wanted to be a writer and if I only get to give one answer to what I am it’s “a writer”. But I realized very young that I did not want to make a profession out of being the son of a movie star. That’s not a good job! So even in 2nd grade, 3rd grade in a school in New York when I was 6-7 years old the teacher would ask everyone what do you want to be when you grow up, one boy would say “a cowboy”, and a next would say “a firemen”, and a next would say “a policemen”, and I would say – “I want to be a Renaissance man”. A man of many interests and many talents and much education. I must tell I did not have many friends in a 2nd and a 3rd grade! (laughing) But it really is true. I’ve got my masters in philosophy, and my PhD in history but right after I finished college I wrote and performed a one man show on Broadway. I was a street clown, I was road manager for Bob Dylan and the band, I was a bodyguard for Mohammed Ali, I am a pilot, I helped created a little chain of restaurants named a “Hard Rock Cafe”, and I’ve written 6 books to novels, I have about a dozen another major interesting things including major environmental work. So I have tried in a purpose was to see the world from as many different perspective as possible not just as a movie star’s son. And I’m glad that I did.
- Have you felt the pressure of your father’s stardom?
Every minute of my life. Well, during his life and after – I am here today because of this power. Fortunately, not everything of my life is decided by being Yul Brynner’s son, but many things. Certainly, is a child. Because of “The King and I” and its success around the world. And “The Ten Commandments” and “Anastasia” – those films especially. But because of “The King and I” which he got the Oscar for. Everywhere Yul went in the world he was King. Even Queen Elizabeth who was his friend called him “King”. Jokingly, but! But not so much for joke. She loved him and admired him. So everywhere in the world I was “Prince”. I grew up as Prince of the world. When my parents divorced in LA my father went to Europe, my mother to NY and I was attending school in California without a mother or a father or other family relatives. But I had a limo! I was ten years old with my limo. And I pick up Liza Minelli after school and we would go to a couple cocktail parties and we would go to a movie or in the nicest restaurants of Los Angeles and enjoying Frank Sinatra or other family friends for a late night party, and that would be my weekend. Not much of the childhood at the age of 10, but that’s what we had. That was our situation.
- You have met a lot of popular and extraordinary people. Who was the most impressive, most respectful?
- My godfather, Jean Cocto. Because he saw magic everywhere! He was all about the magic around him. Interpreting, finding and depicting the magic in a world. For him and all around him he saw miracles. So that is one the answers. But there have been many. The writer who love the most and I’ve got to know not because of Yul was Samuel Becket. And Becket was in many ways the greatest influence on me. Charley Chaplin who was our next door neighbor in Switzerland… Many, many people! Richard Burton. And many more.
- What is your life philosophy?
- Take a big bite of life and let a juices run down your chin!
The International Film Festival "Russia Abroad" is the first and unique film festival devoted to the theme of the Russian emigration. Film Festival „Russia Abroad” is held annually in Moscow, from 7 to 14 November, in the Alexander Solzhenitsyn House of Russian Emigration, offering the viewer the best feature and documentary film works, describing about the Russian world abroad.
During the VIII International Film Festival "Russian abroad" Yul Brynner was posthumously awarded the Medal of Mikhail Chekhov for his achievments in the field of theater and cinema.