Photo Museum to Show Russian Film at Benefit

Well, the Russians are sending us “Commissar” and we’re sending them “E.T.” Welcome to perestroika, cinema-style.

“Commissar,” which screens Sunday at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art as a fund-raiser for the Museum of Photographic Arts, was banned in Russia for 20 years. Directed by Alexander Askoldov, it tells the story of a ruthless woman commissar during the Bolshevik Revolution. Pregnant, she is forced by circumstances to have her baby in the household of a rural Jewish family. Its frank look at the revolution and anti-Semitism prevented the film from being screened for 20 years, but it is considered such a fine example of Soviet film making that it is now representing the country in the United States, along with “Cold Summer in 1953,” while Russians get to soak in “E.T.” and “Coming Home.”

It is interesting that “Commissar” has found its way to San Diego, although the story is not nearly as interesting as Askoldov’s wife stealing cans of film to prevent the Soviets from destroying them.

Heck, Museum of Photographic Arts executive director Arthur Ollman simply called the film’s distributor, International Film Exchange. It was that easy. There wasn’t exactly a bidding war for the rights to show the well-publicized film in San Diego.


Even though Landmark keeps four San Diego theaters well-stocked with art films, there is still little demand in San Diego for rare, non-commercial films like “Commissar.” The high price, a guarantee against half the house, probably kept some people away.

“It is not a cheap movie, but it is an extraordinary movie and this is the only way to see it,” Ollman said. A group of “12 to 15" investors donated $500 to $1,000 each to underwrite the “Commissar” project.

The screening represents MOPA’s annual token (albeit high-quality) venture into cinema, an effort to keep that aspect of the museum alive while it solidifies its base. Ollman said the museum will make a serious move into cinema within two years. Plans include hiring a cinema curator and finding (or building) a permanent theater.

“Our building is basically paid for and our programs are in the black,” Ollman said. “So now we can start to look to expand.”


Ollman saw “Commissar” at the San Francisco Film Festival two months ago. With so much talk of Russian arts in San Diego, and the film universally acclaimed as one of the most moving epics ever produced in Russia, he thought it a natural for San Diego.

Tickets for the 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. screenings are $15, $10 for seniors and students.

Bill Ritter’s segment on people who change their identities for KNSD-TV (formerly KCST-TV, speaking of identity crises) caused little commotion, until he closed by teasing the next day’s segment on how people disappear. The next day the station received about 50 phone calls, in what some at the station felt was a campaign organized by police officers, who didn’t want Ritter telling people how to construct false identities. In the report, Ritter emphasized that he was only using commonly known information, and was hardly advocating illegal activities . . .

Channel 39’s highly-touted plans to buy a mobile satellite truck (SNG truck) have been put on hold . . .


The folks at KSDO-AM have been yucking it up over a section of a new book, “Hard Lessons,” by Michael Leahy. On page 139, a cynical, disgruntled character is watching television news when two news items catch his eye: Sylvester Stallone marrying a “6-foot, 22-year-old Danish model,” and a report that former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock, free pending appeal of a year’s sentence for his conviction on charges of violating campaign disclosure laws and 12 counts of perjury, would become a talk-show host (with KSDO). “Steven laughs,” the passage reads. “He can sympathize with a scam gone wrong: Ethics count, but not as much as the press always tries to make you believe” . . There is a lot of irony in a billboard near the junction of Interstates 5 and 805. It displays the logos of the Chargers and “XTRA Gold,” with the slogan, “Building a Winning Tradition.” Well, the Chargers aren’t much in the winning area, and “XTRA Gold” has been replaced by XTRA-AM’s new news-talk format--so much for tradition. To add a little extra irony to it, the billboard is owned by Gannett, the media giant that also owns XTRA-AM’s chief competitor, KSDO.

Sometimes television news can be incredibly dramatic. On Thursday, Channel 10 played audio tape of a dispatcher talking a woman through cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a 2-year-old boy found floating in a pool. The dispatcher’s cool, professional manner almost certainly saved the boy’s life . . . Channel 39’s Paul Bloom, dressed in his three-piece suit, looks a little jittery out there in the cold, cruel world of crime. Last week, he did a live, mid-afternoon stand-up in front of a house he reported to be a haven for drug dealers. Without three San Diego police officers for protection, a nervous-looking Bloom said, the drug dealers “would attack us, no doubt about it” . . . Channel 39 would be wise to remember that Larry Himmel did taped segments with Channel 8, not monologues. He seems most comfortable out in the field, talking with people. His commentaries are stiff and bratty, although they sure send anchor Denise Yamada into hysterics . . .

From an article in the San Diego Union, attributed to wires, comes this lead to a story about Reds pitcher Tom Browning’s perfect game last week against the Dodgers: “A pitcher can’t be much better than Tom Browning was last night.” That’s why they call it a “perfect” game?