In "Meeting Gorbachev," co-directors Werner Herzog and André Singer created a gripping documentary that articulates how "from such a god-forsaken place in the middle of nowhere would emerge one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century."
Perhaps the major key to what made Mikhail Gorbachev such a generational success in his political life was his being a man of the people. He never forgot his humble beginnings and that ideal drove him to the two pillars of his reign at the top of the Soviet Union: perestroika ("restructuring") or glasnost "openness/transparency in government."
Meeting Gorbachev opens at the Music Box Theatre tomorrow with Herzog (who also narrates the film) in attendance for a Q&A after 7pm show, and back to introduce the 9:40.
The German made the movie based on three long interviews, with access to, arguably, the world’s most accomplished living politician. Now 88 and battling severe health issues, the over-achieving former General Secretary of the U.S.S.R. (the eighth and final leader of the Soviet Union) gets very candid during this doc on a multitude of topics.
With his legacy already long cemented, he has to nothing to lose as he opines on:
Boris Yeltsin and the coup that replaced him, Chernobyl and the initial outside misperceptions, his relationship with Margaret Thatcher, how Helmut Kohl originally compared him to Joseph Goebbels and how they became close friends despite that awful and strong beginning, the Reykavik, Iceland summit with Ronald Reagan at Hofdi House and much much more.
Herzog does not hold back from fawning over Gorbachev in this film, but then again that seems the rule to film making these days, if you want access.
It's kind of like how every dead musician biopic that features the actual music is obsequious. If you want access to the songs, you have to go through the estate that controls it, and that lay with the next of kin.
That said, Mikhail Gorbachev has given Herzog plenty to work with. History will definitely judge him by the three remarkable accomplishments he achieved in just six years.
First, he helped bring a peaceful end to the Cold War though his negotiations with the U.S. to reduce nuclear weapons. His greatest legacy lies with how the led the greatest scale down in weapons of mass destruction that the world has ever seen.
Yes, the nuclear threat is still all too real today, but Gorbachev did as much as any one individual to prevent global annihilation.
Secondly, he was instrumental in the cessation of Soviet control of Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany. You might have to be German and/or from Eastern Europe to fully appreciate that, but what he did here was really larger than life.
Thirdly and finally, he ushered in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, which progressed the lives of hundreds of millions. While yes, it's true that the current leader of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is a ruthless Machiavellian monster, you can't blame Gorbachev for that.
Putin only appears once, and doesn't speak during the very brief appearance he has on screen. Overall, Meeting Gorbachev has a lot of strengths as a documentary, but the number of commentators with massive name recognition and clout (Lech Walesa, Horst Teltschick, George Schultz) that appear in the film probably tops the list.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry," regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the "Let's Get Weird, Sports" podcast on SB Nation.
Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, also contributes to Chicago Now. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat's Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.
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