Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) was on TV the night-before-last, and I was surprised by how funny it still was after all these years… especially considering the fact that I pretty much played all three films to death, back in the day. To be honest, I didn’t watch the whole thing though, because I had other stuff to be getting on with, but thankfully I managed to catch the photoshoot scene featuring former-model-turned-actress Rebecca Romijn as ‘Herself’ (in one of her first big screen roles), and Kristen Johnston as ‘Ivana Humpalot’, the towering Russian temptress with a surprising line in foreplay. Obviously I would have dug Johnston whatever she was doing, but the furry hat and wacky accent were a welcome bonus for me. I can only assume that real Russians hate hearing their voices mocked as much as I hate it when Jon Stewart tries to do “British” on The Daily Show… but as an ignorant foreigner myself, I can’t help finding the cod-Soviet schtick kinda sexy.
While Humpalot may be considered a relatively harmless caricature, it hasn’t been a very flattering month for Slavic women on TV so far: Despite being set in Italy, the disappointing detective drama Zen (which premiered Sunday night), featured a Russian housekeeper who casually lies to the police during a murder investigation, and brazenly cheats on her husband with any attractive man who crosses her path! The day before that, the BBC also screened Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), which stars Australian actress Cate Blanchett as the wily Soviet agent ‘Irina Spalko’. According to Wikipedia, The Communist Party of the Russian Federation called for the film to be banned, accusing the production team of demonizing the Soviet Union and attempting to “provoke a new Cold War.” The movie’s director, Steven Spielberg, explained: “When we decided the fourth instalment would take place in 1957, we had no choice but to make the Russians the enemies. World War II had just ended and the Cold War had begun. The U.S. didn’t have any other enemies at the time.” Which kinda makes sense, but for me there was something rather jarring about how xenophobic the movie was, in general. I’m not the brightest spark when it comes to Economics and Politics, but I tend to lean more towards Socialism (or at least Social Democracy), rather than rampant Capitalism, so I can’t really go along with all of this retro “Red Menace” enmity. Not that I’m saying the USSR was a magical wonderland of milk and honey, of course… but Alabama wasn’t exactly a happy hayride at the time either! They do briefly touch on the subject of McCarthyism, and the crazed witch-hunt for Communist-sympathisers, but the FBI agents aren’t really presented as villains… they’re just speed bumps along the hero’s journey. Why couldn’t they have had Walt Disney as the main antagonist, scheming to steal the Crystal Skull so that he could use it to power his army of animatronic, anti-Semitic strike-busters?
Ah well, before I go, I have to give a shout-out to my favourite Slavic “femme fatale” of all time… ‘Katinka Ingabogovinanana’, from Zoolander (2001). Not only does Milla Jovovich look mighty fine in a PVC nurse’s uniform, but she also had the foresight to actually be born Ukrainian, just to give herself a headstart on learning the accent! Now that’s some serious Method acting! It’s a damn shame Jovovich doesn’t do more comedy these days, because I think she can be very funny when she wants to be (see her hilarious work in Dummy (2003) for indisputable proof of this!). Maybe they could bring her back for the mooted sequel as a reluctant ally of Zoolander’s? Or even give her a spin-off franchise? Da!
Now, everybody sing-along:
“Oh, show me round the snow-peaked mountains way down south,
Take me to your Daddy’s farm,
Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out,
Come and keep your comrade warm!”