Film: 5800

Personalities | 1980 | Sound | Colour + B/W


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Solzhenitsyn's 1970 Nobel Prize acceptance speech which he was unable to give due to his absence from the ceremony.

The film opens with a winter scene. Snow lies thickly on the ground and in the distance a large forest is visible, in the foreground stands a lone pine tree which is not covered with snow. Slowly the camera pans left and the title of the film appears in Russian. This soon fades out and is replaced by the title in English, it reads: One Word of Truth. In the middle distance a line of people begin to walk into view from the left-hand side of the screen. Meanwhile, the screen displays the message: Words by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The voiceover begins, it is in English. We see the feet of those who were traversing the snow covered plane in close up. They wear thick boots and brown trousers and tops a patch, possibly bearing a number, is visible on the left leg of two of these people who, it seems, are prisoners or convicts. A black and white photograph of Solzhenitsyn slowly fades in, both hat and tunic bear prison numbers. The next image could not be more different. It shows rows of men wearing tuxedos and standing at the back of platform while other equally smartly dressed men and women take their places in front of a semi-circle of chairs placed nearer the front of the stage. An audience surrounds them on all sides. We learn from the voiceover that this is a Nobel Prize ceremony, furthermore, we learn that the film's subject will be the speech that Solzhenitsyn planned to give when accepting his 1970 Prize for literature but which he could not deliver because of his absence. As the camera slowly pulls back over the audience (we now see someone receiving their Prize) a new narrators voice is heard, words appearing on the screen inform us that it is the voice of Tom Courtenay, he is quoting Solzhenitsyn`s speech. His first words are, "It is not by three or four well carpeted steps that I have climbed up on to this stage but by hundreds, even thousands…". These words correspond to the images that we see. Once again the visual image is of the prisoners' legs in close up trudging up endless snow covered wooden steps. We then see again the line of prisoners' feet filing slowly past. The camera slowly moves left showing the bleak snow covered plane before the forest. The camera comes to rest on a watch-tower of simple wooden construction. The outline of this tower is replaced by a simply drawn representation which, it appears, symbolises a labour camp or gulag. Slowly the camera pulls back to show a map of Russia, it is covered with these symbols. The map is shown in full as the camera continues to move right. One notices the increasing lack of major towns and cities (which are also shown on the map) as we move further east; but the gulags remain ever present.
Two prisoners walk slowly toward a guard who holds a gun. They reach the fence in front of which the guard is standing and turn to the right along its inside edge. They continue trudging slowly along and once again their feet are brought into close up as they make their way across virgin snow. The shots that follow are bleak and desolate always showing the same image of tree-stumps, twigs and other lifeless pieces of wood and debris sticking out from beneath the untouched snow like gravestones. At one point we also see two shovels planted upright in the snow. Meanwhile the commentary continues in a sombre vein as Solzhenitsyn recalls those men better than himself who are dead and buried after having shared experiences similar to his own. In further pictures we see areas that have been felled of all but one or two trees which continue to stand alone. We then return to the group of prisoners trudging through the snow, they walk past the camera and all we see are their backs which bare patches with numbers on. A guard with a gun follows the prisoners. Gradually they are led to the edge of the forest, lights are visible in the background between the trunks of the trees. It seems that these are the prisoners' huts. A man's face is seen in close up through the mesh of a wire fence. A quick shot shows the back of a guard who is holding a gun, it appears that he is on the other side of the fence. We return to the face of the prisoner and then see a close up of a roaring log fire. As the camera pulls back we see several prisoners huddled around this fire. A river gently flows, its banks still covered with snow, in some parts it still appears partially frozen. Next we see an old wooden wireless, it is being tuned in by a hand that enters from the right of the screen. In the meantime the voiceover speaks of "having to broaden our field of vision" and discovering and getting to know "the world outside". A series of still black and white photographs follows. The first is of a New York City street where people line the sidewalk and an illuminated billboard above a cinema bears the words: First New York Showing, "Caressed", a must see picture. The next photo shows a man staring at a tramp lying on the street; the third shows a freeway packed bumper to bumper with cars; the fourth, a marshy, boggy swamp containing a great many tree trunks that have been striped of all bark, leaves and branches; the fifth shows a close up of a woman's neck, she wears a necklace consisting of three strings of pearls. The final photos are contrasted, the first shows people dancing and enjoying themselves while the second shows a woman whose face is a picture of anguish and suffering. We then return to the river flowing between its snow covered banks. The following shots also show images of rivers flowing, the snow is ever present. A black and white photograph of Solzhenitsyn fades in and then back out again - he has a beard but no moustache. We are left with a shot of more water gently flowing past the camera. The next image is almost exclusively white. It shows a hut which, except for its windows, is completely hidden by the snow.
A statue is seen which depicts a large hand (seen in close up) holding a figure on its thumb and forefinger. This is followed by a scene that shows a crowd of protestors or demonstrators flanked on either side by policemen (this scene is from Britain which is indicated by the police uniforms). We then return to the shot of the Russian prisoners walking across the frozen wasteland before the forest. Images then follow which depict 'modern' life in many different countries. We see traffic in Britain, children walking down a street in Africa somewhere, people in suits and ties walking past a disabled man in a city and a scene from Japan. We then see more police, this time in riot outfits, as they run past a burning car. The flames are then seen in close up. A picture of an African farmer with a shovel held across his shoulders is followed by a shot of someone pushing their full shopping trolleys through a car park. We then see a quick shot which again shows demonstrators surrounded by British police. Next we see the outside of a large prison (probably in Britain though this is speculation) followed by a shot of one of the 'cells'. The walls and desks are covered with a variety of things such as posters, pictures, a radio and television, pencils, paper and a miniature statue of the Venus de Milo. Black and white photos follow showing various groups of men (presumably prisoners) as well as a building which the voiceover identifies as a lunatic asylum. The last picture in this series of photos shows a soldier holding a gun, he is seen through a tangle of barbed wire. A colour photograph follows which shows an African mother with her three children, then one which shows an African man helping a woman place a large bowl on her head. Thirdly we see a close up of a man's face, the camera pulls back to reveal that he is a soldier or guerrilla, he holds a gun and has a string of bullets draped around his neck. A painting is seen next. It shows several men to the right of the screen pointing rifles at three black men who stand to the left. At this point the voiceover announces the ability and importance of Art in finding and promoting an "united system of values for evil deeds and for good deeds". A large volume of Shakespeare's plays lies open upon a table, it shows a page which bares the bard's portrait. Another painting shows an elderly gentleman wearing a night-cap. This is followed by photographs showing scenes from a play and one which shows the audience.
A beach, the sea is calm and the waves gently lap at the shore. A shadow is seen on the sand and slowly begins to disappear from view. A small piece of glass or crystal is lying in the sand, it is picked up and examined in close up for a fairly lengthy period of time. Close ups of two paintings follow, the first shows a pair of hands reaching towards some flowers in a vase and the second shows a more abstract scene (quite possibly a work by Salvador Dali). Whilst Solzhenitsyn's words speak of man's false notion that Art is his to command and control we see a shot from an auction room followed by pictures of various singers holding microphones, a painting by Picasso, a man painting on a wall (or canvas) that is already covered with writing, several close ups of pieces of stained glass, another painting, this time by Edvard Munch, and finally several close ups of The Scream, also by Munch. A close op follows of a pair of hands writing on a sheet of paper, then another pair of hands are seen applying paint to a canvas in a variety of ways. Next we see someone holding a hammer and chisel working on a carved face. We return to the pair of hands writing and then move to a painting showing clouds and stars forming a face. The camera moves down the painting, its abstract nature and style again lead me to believe that this is a Dali. Another series of shots all show paintings that appear to be by Dali. Some black and white footage then follows. Initially two old women can be seen, one standing and the other sitting, they are outside and people are moving about in the background. Another shot shows more of this place, tents have been erected, trestle tables and odds and ends are scattered about, it appears to be a camp or refuge of some kind. We then return to shots of British protestors and police, we have seen these images before. Next we see the outside of a strip club and then move on to footage of several soldiers in an urban area, children are then seen throwing rocks and stones. We move to a desert where three passenger jets are visible in the distance, one of them explodes twice and thick black smoke starts to issue from the plane. More protestors are seen running through the streets. We then see footage of Nazi soldiers on parade, there are many banners baring the swastika in the background. A photograph follows which shows Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain and Benito Mussolini. This is followed by a sequence in black and white showing a variety of military aircraft making their way across the skies, we also see paratroopers jumping from the planes. Neville Chamberlain is then seen waving his famous piece of paper which was meant to signify 'peace in our time'. A shot of a military procession follows. A great many tanks and troops as well as other large military machines make their way through a wide thoroughfare flanked on either side by enormous crowds. We move to a beach where several people are enjoying the sun, the camera focuses on a woman who is sunbathing and then cuts to a man in a suit, he is finishing a pint of beer. More shots follow of people relaxing, drinking, reading and playing golf. Meanwhile, Solzhenitsyn's words tell of a "desire for well being at any price", of mankind's wish to stave off hardships until another day in the belief that tomorrow all will be as it is today. "But it won't", says Solzhenitsyn, and as the golfer in the picture strikes his ball a nuclear explosion erupts on our screen.
We see a man sitting in a glade where the sun is shining brightly, his back faces the camera and a quick shot of his hands shows us that he is writing. He stands and begins to walk through the glade. Several shots follow of the man's progress as he arrives at the edge of a clear, calm lake. We once again see tanks riding through streets and then a picture shows a damaged tank surrounded by debris. We return to the glade where we see a close up of a tree trunk, the shadow of the man's face can be seen on the trunk, we then see a close up of his hand resting against the tree. A series of shots follow depicting busy city life: a shop is focused upon, the sign reads: Swedish Fly Girls; next we see a close up of someone's arm, they are injecting drugs; a man wearing a blindfold surrounded by people - the voiceover mentions hostages at this point so that is probably what this man is. We then return to the man by the lakeshore, the camera closes in on the water. Another black and white photograph of Solzhenitsyn follows, it fades to show a shelf full of leather bound books. We then see a scene from China or some other South - East Asian country, it shows a busy street crowded with pedestrians, cyclists and cars all around. A sign is seen through a window, it reads: Relief Goods, Japanese Red Cross; another sign says: Indian Red Cross. A group of Indians pass by the camera, their destination is a 'Check Post' which appears to be a clinic of some kind as there is a queue of people waiting to receive injections. We return to the writer who was beside the lake, he now sits indoors behind a large desk that faces the window, he continues to write. A close up of some wheat follows and, as the camera moves, the view of open countryside with woodlands in the background is revealed to us.
Three hanged men are the subject of the next photo, they appear to have sheets of paper around their necks too. As the camera pulls back we see a man in military uniform staring at the three bodies. A painting follows, it shows three men and two slaughtered pigs, which hang from the ceiling. It would appear to be a painting of an abattoir. A shot of Adolf Hitler follows, he is surrounded by fellow Nazis and all are giving the Nazi salute. A close up of a painting, the camera focuses on the head of a figure but there are no facial features to be seen. In the photo that follows the man, who holds a large gun, is also 'faceless' because he wears a balaclava. We return to a close up of the abattoir picture, then to a shot of a military procession in Russia and then back to the painting again. A close up of Stalin, he is pointing to something, presumably in the procession. Back to the picture of the abattoir - it appears that all the figures in this picture have no facial features. Bodies being loaded onto a truck form the focus of the next image. The bodies are emaciated and look like the victims of either a concentration or labour camp. A shot of cheering crowds and more tanks moving through Red Square. Back again to the faceless figures of the abattoir painting. A close up follows of a Russian prisoners feet climbing up stairs, it is an image that we saw at the beginning of the film. A close up of stained glass follows and is succeeded by several more similar shots. The camera lingers on an area where a skull is shown, it then closes in on a yellow piece of glass and fades to a shot of several tall pines standing against a backdrop of a cloud littered sky. The camera focuses on a single tree and then fades out.

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