Issue 65 (2019)

Andrei Airapetov: The Critic (Kritik, 2018)

reviewed by Andrei Rogatchevski© 2019

Among many kinds of non-fictional motion pictures about popular music—an album / band / genre / performer / producer / studio / venue story, a live concert, a band on tour, a tribute to sound making and recording equipment, as well as record shops and labels—there is one that has apparently never been made before, namely a documentary about a music journalist. In any case, the film and TV director Andrei Airapetov did not have a documentary like this in his vast and comprehensive film collection. So Airapetov decided to make such a film himself.

critic troitskyHis choice of a music critic to focus on could not have been more obvious. Artemy Troitsky (b. 1955), the legendary doyen of Russian popular music journalism, a DJ and TV and radio presenter, has been reviewing and promoting the world rock scene to Russian audiences, and vice versa, since the late Soviet days. The first and, for a while the only authoritative voice on the subject of popular music with regular access to Western LPs and journals on the one hand, and to the Russian underground rock scene on the other, Troitsky assisted the likes of Mashina Vremeni, Aquarium, Bravo, Tsentr, Kino, Maik Naumenko and Aleksandr Bashlachev in becoming famous. He also met Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Elton John, Bono, Sting and Bob Dylan, among others, and interviewed some of them for the general public. Troitsky’s opinionated judgments used to be taken as gospel by music fans from Vladivostok to Yerevan. As the relevance of rock music has diminished with time and alternative sources of information have become widely and readily available, Troitsky’s influence has waned somewhat and he can hardly be called a tastemaker any longer. However, he still tirelessly and enthusiastically shares his views about old and new soundtracks with all and sundry, and is highly respected virtually anywhere he goes.

critic posterAirapetov suggested the idea for the film to Troitsky and requested an interview and access to Troitsky’s private image and sound archive. The idea was welcome and the requests granted, but Troitsky did not have any control over the filmmaking process and only saw the final product when it was ready. There is hardly anything in the film, however, that could displease him. His role in many people’s music education and/or career is repeatedly extolled in the interviews by both the ordinary members of the public and celebrity musicians, such as Andrei Makarevich, Boris Grebenshchikov and Evgenii Khavtan. The interviews are accompanied by the soundtrack and archival footage that would make Penelope Spheeris’s Decline of Western Civilization trilogy pale by comparison (well, almost).

Airapetov had no budget to speak of and worked on The Critic for three years pretty much on his own. The result is a watchable mixture of the fashionable DIY aesthetics, humorous stop-motion animation and the bittiness of the video-clip technique. Even though the film outlasts any video-clip I have personally ever seen by quite a margin, its constant rapid-fire alteration of topics, camera angles and musical counterpoint is neither irritating nor tiresome. Thanks to inventive timeline sequences, affording a larger historical context to Troitsky’s life story from his birth in Yaroslavl through his formative years in Prague and Moscow until his current semi-retirement in Tallinn, the viewer never loses track of the inner logic of fascinating events that become explicable only with hindsight.

criticAlthough the film is full to the brim with all kinds of memorable visual and audio material (Naumenko’s, Zhanna Aguzarova’s and Petr Mamonov’s performances seem to have survived the test of time better than those by other, no less reputable musicians), not a single music journalist apart from Troitsky is interviewed and no alternative view of Troitsky in addition to praise and worship is provided (Makarevich’s measured admission that his own musical tastes are quite different from Troitsky’s does not really count). In other words, a film about a critic is puzzlingly lacking a critical perspective.

However, such a hagiographical approach, unusual in this day and age, can be explained if two factors are taken into consideration. First, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point (2000), three personality types are required to turn something worthwhile yet little known into a truly widespread phenomenon: (1) information experts; (2) people with connections; and (3) salesmen (in the broad sense of the word, i.e. those who can convince others that something unfamiliar is really good for them). Troitsky appears to be fortunate enough to combine all three personality types in himself, hence his undisputedly unique significance for rock music history in Russia.

criticSecondly, rock music in Russia has traditionally been, especially at certain times, a particularly thorny field, fraught with mortal dangers. An experienced guide through rock music, from its emergence to the present, himself a lucky survivor, accomplished connoisseur, participant-observer, talent-spotter and miracle-worker, all rolled into one, probably does warrant a kind of beatification, if not necessarily canonization. Needless to say, lives of saints, as well as chronicles, are some of the oldest genres in Russian culture, and it is not altogether surprising but ultimately quite rewarding to discover them in such an unlikely place as a modern-day music documentary.

The Critic has so far been screened, on a one-off basis, at the 2018 Beat Music Festival in Moscow and Nastoiashchee Vremia TV channel, as well as selected cinemas in Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, UK, Germany, Canada, USA and Norway. In my humble opinion, it deserves as much exposure as it can get. 

Andrei Rogatchevski
UiT The Arctic University of Norway

Comment on this article on Facebook

The Critic, Russia 2018
Color, 122 min (director’s cut), 97 min (shortened version)
Director, DoP, Editor and Animator: Andrei Airapetov
Production design: Marina Bartosh, Sofia Feoktistova
Music: AirGarage Band, Aquarium, Bravo, Mike Naumenko, Zvuki Mu, Tsentr, Aleksandr Bashlachev, Mashina Vremeni
Cast: Artemy Troitsky, Aleksandr Kostenko, Aleksandr Lipnitskii, Aleksei Belov, Evgenii Khavtan, Boris Grebenshchikov, Andrei Makarevich, Il’ia Lagutenko
Production: AirstudiA

Andrei Airapetov: The Critic (Kritik, 2018)

reviewed by Andrei Rogatchevski© 2019

Updated: 2019