Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 25, 2016 - Wishing You a Merry Val Lewton Christmas

It's hard, slaving over a hot keyboard during the holidays--Christmas isn't a time for brandishing Activist causes, it's the season for peaceful classic-movie-watching on earth, and goodwill to studios, even to crazy, neurotic, spin-doctoring, Blu-ray-genocidal studios that banish every old classic movie to their MOD Archive like Mad King Ludwig.
I just wanted to find a nice sentimental Christmas-movie cause to stick up for.  I was feeling too good to bring up my old nails-on-chalkboard grudge about people who have never seen Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby in 1942's "Holiday Inn" because they think Crosby sang "White Christmas" only in the corny fading-studio 50's-G.I. Danny Kaye/Rosemary Clooney movie where, like, it's in the title, and it's Technicolor...Next year, definitely.  (Although with the stage show on Broadway for the season, maybe a few movie-illiterate folk will have heard of it now.)
It was too much work to do a post sticking up in defense of 1985's "Santa Claus: the Movie", in praise of the Alexander Salkind days when big-budget movies spent their money making big REAL soundstage-and-matte sets of Santa's workshop...
And I didn't see any point in digging up the already Internet-beaten fan debate about whether the first 1988 "Die Hard" (back when Bruce Willis played hip "regular guys", and still had hair and an actual working sense of humor) is a, quote, "Christmas movie", since to my mind, there is no debate:  It is.

But, with the smells of a fresh ham roasting in the slow-cooker, I decided to take it easy on the column this week, and save my holiday time for putting my feet up with the old Blu-rays and vintage DVD's.
And one that I always reserve for Christmas--or at least always tell people I do, just to see the look on their faces--is the heartwarming family holiday warmth of Robert Wise's The Curse of the Cat People (1944), from the director of "The Sound of Music".
Okay, cue the people saying "The What of the Who?"  And thereby hangs a tale to send you to the library's video section.  (Or to Mad King Ludwig's dungeon of the Warner Archive.)

To explain why, to the uninitiated, goes back to Jacques Tourneur's original Cat People from 1942:  In the story (later remade into overbearingly pretentious and point-missing kinkiness by Paul Schrader and Natassja Kinski in 1982), our hero Kent Smith meets mysterious foreign Irena, played by Simone Simon...But she tries to avoid marriage, claiming her ancestors were under an ancient were-panther curse.  Smith humors her "delusions" but when he turns to attractive co-worker Alice Moore to get Irena some help, Moore discovers--in one of the most film-school studied scenes in horror movie history--that jealousy has claws.

The creepy, atmospheric B/W thriller became a huge hit for RKO, and, like many a studio today, the studio now thought they had a franchise.  Every Hollywood studio hoped for a new "horror" line, now that Universal had broken the supernatural envelope with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and RKO thought they had a new horrormeister in producer Val Lewton.  The chief moguls at RKO pitched one cool Horror-Sounding Title after another at Lewton, hoping lightning could strike as many times as they wanted, starting with a sequel to their big studio hit.
But here's where kicks in what could be called "Val Lewton pranks RKO":  Lewton was a producer of eerie atmosphere, B/W shadows and lurking fears left to the imagination, and he didn't want to do lurid studio Universal-envy monsters...So, he found a way of sabotaging them by making stories in own style, and justifying the titles so the boss didn't complain.  When RKO threw "The Leopard Man" at him, he delivered the story of a circus performer who owns a leopard (which escapes into a sleepy border town), and when they pitched "I Walked With a Zombie", Lewton put George Romero aside to deliver a romantic potboiler set against Jamaican voodoo--"Jane Eyre in the Caribbean", unquote.
Lewton had been hoping to move on to "Amy & Her Friend", a heartwarming family picture about a little girl and her imagination.  But, when RKO's moguls pitched the "next hit followup, 'Curse of the Cat People'", Smith, Moore, Simon, and Lewton-regular Calypso singer Sir Lancelot had all been contracted.  So, Lewton simply changed the names, inserted his usual strategic justification-line in the script ("Ever since his first wife, it feels like there's been a curse on this house...") and the hit Cat People sequel was now the heartwarming story of Amy and her Friend for parents and children alike.

In the now-altered "sequel", Kent Smith is married to Alice Moore, after Simon met her end (or did she?) in the first film.  He's too busy with his job designing boats than to look after his shy young daughter Amy (played by a realistically sullen Ann Carter), who's misunderstood by the other kids at school and retreats into her overactive imagination.  In fact, whereas most dads might play along with their little girl's fantasy lives, Smith frustratedly seems to rage at Amy's pretend view of the world--"She's just like Irena was, believing things that aren't true!"...There, see how we got more of the "sequel" into the script?
Amy's only friends seem to be a reclusive grandmotherly ex-actress in the mysterious house nearby (and whose colorful senility about the past seems charming at first, but soon develops a dark Lewtonian edge, like seeing Norma Desmond played by Angela Lansbury), and Amy's claims of a beautiful princess in white who's become her "imaginary friend".  From child-perspective, we don't see Amy's friend onscreen at first, until she sees an old photo of Simone, and says "'But that's her!  You know my friend, too!"'
How could she have known, Smith wonders?  Hehehh...But since the story is mostly from Amy's fantasy POV, we're never allowed to know just quite how imaginary her "imaginary" friend might actually be.  
(As I described the story to one newbie, "Imagine if Val Lewton had remade 'My Neighbor Totoro', and turned it into a spooky B/W 40's RKO film."  Complete with a Totoro-style climax where Amy's parents search for her in a Christmas blizzard, and things still take an eerie, even if family-friendly, Lewton turn...)

Which brings us to our scene, for Season's Movie-Activist Greetings:  
As the parents welcome their upper-middle-class upstate-NY friends in on Christmas Eve for a caroling party, Amy lives the bane of all our neglected childhoods...The Grownups' Party.  
Until Irena (or is it Amy's imagination?) comes to the rescue:

Yeah.  Like the spooky hot French imaginary might-be-ghost babe says:  Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2016

December 19, 2016 - Theater Roots, Star Wars Edition: Notes From the O.G.

With Rogue One opening in theaters this week, it's an excuse for my favorite symbolic Star Wars-fan story:
In 2005, as the days led up to the big May 18 opening for "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith", the news covered the traditionally symbolic straw-man images of devoted core-cosplay Star Wars fans, with Jedi robes, Stormtrooper armor and plastic lightsabers, camped out six weeks ahead in front of Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theater (to even dare properly call it the current "TCL Chinese" is an insult to movies and theaters) to be first in line for tickets.

There was just one problem:  Episode III WASN'T opening at the Grauman's Chinese.  In a break with tradition, it was opening at the newer Hollywood Arclight theater, some distance across town.
"At a movie theater not so far, far away", LA Times, 4/8/05
"Yes, we know it's not opening yet, and yes, we know it's across town," one representative fan wearily explained.  The issue, they claimed, was not so much that the Arclight had more modern cineplex ticketing and different sound from the Grauman's, but that, well, opening at the Grauman's should be traditional!  They hoped that their camping out in front of the theater would be a statement that would inspire distributors to change theaters at the last minute.
When it, um, didn't, the fans in costume tried to portray their doomed vigil as a Fans For Charity stunt, getting sponsors to fund their marathon campout to raise funds for Starlight Children's Foundation...It wasn't about tickets, they explained, it was about celebrating the unity of a worldwide fandom!  Finally, on the big day of the premiere, the event concluded with legions of fan Stormtroopers rounding up the "Rebel scum" and leading them on a big charity parade across town to the Arclight opening.  Which was meant to be a big display of fan unity, but to the non-fans, came off as "Well, after all that, maybe you might like to go see it where it's actually playing, doyyy..."
The mainstream public's reaction in 2005 wasn't quite what it was in the glory days of 1977 and '78--Most '05 teen moviegoers looked at the diehard fans putting their spare time aside for the Glorious Cause and stared, "Dude...who stands in line anymore?  Why didn't you just buy your tickets online six weeks ahead at Fandango, like everyone else?"
It was thirty years too late to try and win back their hearts and minds for the days of Stunt Fandom to get the word out.

---
I have to admit, I love that story.  I may spend a lot of time saying what damage the Rise of the Multi and Mega-plex may have done to moviegoing in the 21st century, but I side with the "That's so 90's!" kids. Whatever else the plexes have corrupted the audience mentality with--now that every movie opens in every town, and your local shopping-mall 15-screen can serve all your one-stop needs, all day--worrying about getting tickets for a movie is one thing I do not miss anymore.

But y'see, I have a reason for that.  I'm a grizzled survivor of that sometimes revered, sometimes mocked, remaining audience of what the Star Wars fans call the "O.G."--Original Generation.
I DIDN'T grow up watching the Original Trilogy on VHS in my jammies, or first see Jar-Jar Binks on a Phantom Menace DVD.  I was thirteen when Star Wars opened at the big-city theater in the summer of '77 (in those days, it wouldn't hit the suburbs until a few weeks later), and I was IN those lines that the New Kids like to decade-mythologize about.  Ohh, was I ever.
And if I don't sound happy about it--proud, yes, wistful, maybe, but not happy--it's because it wasn't the myth that everyone thinks it is.   But it was something you don't see anymore.

Actually, I didn't line up in May, and I didn't go to the Hollywood Grauman's or NYC Ziegfeld, like all the iconic photos show. 
See that, over there?  That's the Boston Sack Charles, just down near the Charles River and Longfellow Bridge, just across big Cambridge St. from the old red-brick townhouses that led to the Public Gardens.  It was Boston's most cavernously elegant Cinerama theater back before the day, but now a strip-mall/office complex, still with the big wide-widescreen main theater, but split into cineplex mini-screens on the lower floor.  All the downtown commercial-chain theaters were owned by the Sack company, later bought out by Loew's, and with 1-3 screens each, which movie would be playing where was a matter of neighborhood real-estate reputation:  The movies that got the big audience would probably playing the Charles, or the Cheri next to the convention hotels, the snooty Oscar-bait would always play the Paris, across from the Prudential building, and the not-so-fortunate might be playing underground at the Beacon Hill across from New City Hall, or in a parking garage at the Pi Alley on Washington St.  
Suffice to say, the entire Original Trilogy played one by one at the Charles.  The location became such a local tradition (especially once the '77 movie played there for a year), it somehow didn't seem right to stand in line there for anything else.

Our family didn't move to the Boston area till June, after school let out, but Dad had already moved there in May for work, and wanted to take us in on the MBTA train to show us all the Boston-insider sights.  That meant a big movie night, and by that point, three or four weeks later, the little movie that Fox wanted to "bury" had become a hot ticket for the feel-good sleeper discovery of the summer, at least until the next 007 movie would come along in August.  (According to legend, theater-distributor demand had originally been so low, Fox resorted to illegally "block-booking", ie. blackmailing, theaters into booking Star Wars in late May, if they wanted to book the surefire best-seller adaptation of "The Other Side of Midnight" two weeks later.)  The press articles, quick to jump on stories about Francis Ford Coppola's discovery, the new young breakout American Graffiti director, homaging a sci-fi movie, played up all the "Tribute to old 30's cinema" angles, to make the movie look as if it was some Hollywood-genre labor of love to Flash Gordon...So even regular city-folk who hadn't bought the "secret" posters at sci-fi conventions were standing in line.  I'd never seen a three-screen cineplex before, and hoped that we wouldn't hear anything from "Exorcist II: the Heretic" playing downstairs.
And we stood in line for a very important reason--We were trying to get tickets.  It was playing on ONE SCREEN out of three, and if you weren't in line early enough, the movie would be Sold Out.  In fact, you weren't even realistically trying to get tickets for the next show, you knew that you were standing in line at 3pm trying to get tickets for the 9:45 show.  People about ten yards ahead of you would be the last to get 7pm.  Nobody was in costume, for one rather logical reason:  We didn't know who was in it, or what the heck it was about, apart from the fact that it was "old-fashioned" sci-fi.  I had some familiarity with the characters after a readup in a Scholastic children's magazine trying to target some underground hype, while every other upscale movie fan was looking for cineaste comparisons to John Ford westerns or The Wizard of Oz.  (Because Luke Skywalker came from a farm just like Dorothy, y'see, so that made C-3PO the Tin Man and Chewie the Cowardly Lion...)


Right up there, in that second-floor glass hallway over the CVS Pharmacy, was the line (which extended all the way down to the bottom of the escalator, or down the chair-ramp to the street out back).  With twenty minutes before the next seating, and trying to keep the midnight-show ticket lines from getting too long, the theater let the next-show audience into the lobby to keep down the crowds.  All we could see of the earlier show, still going on behind little glass panels in reasonably soundproofed wood and aluminum doors, was the climactic Death Star trench battle--Or rather, just isolated peephole bits and pieces of explosion sparks and cockpit closeups, at least, that's what they looked like.  A jam-packed crowded lobby of puzzled, impatient, stand-weary folk heard one Dolby-booming explosion after another coming from the inside theater with the sparks, and with some of the explosions...audiences cheering.  Okay, that was just strange.  We hadn't heard audiences mass-cheer anything for a long time, especially not during the gritty 70's Golden Age (okay, maybe Rocky Balboa after the fight), but whatever those lucky folks ahead of us had gotten to see, something had gotten them pumped.  

And in the Carter malaise of 1977, anything that could pump you to feel optimistic and happy enough to say that good things had happened to movie characters that deserved them was something that had come in from some magical Elsewhere.  This was NEW.

Oh, and as one of the ultimate Elite O.G.'s himself, James Earl Jones, points out, when we O.G. folk first saw Darth Vader give Luke the big news about Anakin Skywalker in 1980's "The Empire Strikes Back"...we knew exactly what we thought, and so did Jones when he first got the script.  And oh, how we LOVE to frustrate N.G.'s that the "Big moment" wasn't quite what their fantasized nostalgia likes to dream it was:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ1mmkKb_BQ
(As you can see, like most New Generations, the fanboy YouTube argument has since devolved into a nitpicking argument over whether the line was "No..." or "Luke..."--Even though we're clearly justified in remembering "No, Luke,..." muffled by '97 re-edits.)
And yes, Han Solo DID Shoot First.  That was because Han always shot first, it was his answer to everything.  No one appreciates that better than an O.G. who first discovered Harrison Ford in the seventies, when the future granite-face of "The Fugitive" and "Air Force One" still had a working sense of humor.

You may notice, in the YouTube clip, that most in the 2005 Sith-fan Parade are, it is safe to hazard a guess, under the age of 28, and most with a ticket for Rogue One are under the age of 39.  Star Wars had always been around as a Thing since literally before they were born, like the rocks and trees, and jumping onto the phenomenon was just something everybody geeky-cool did, sooner or later, like your first sip of Coca-Cola.  
The current generation's fan-love is an attempt to wish for something they were born too late to do.  It's a wish to see their favorite childhood DVD on the bigscreen, and try to capture Something Their Parents Did, just like 50's Grease-themed parties, or Civil War re-enactment societies.  If you dress up well enough, maybe, through some wishful miracle of time-travel, you'll have been Born Back Then too, even if you weren't.  
Even the attempt to bring "Star Wars: the Force Awakens" back to the "spiritual feel of the original", and bury the goofy George Lucas atrocities of the Prequel Trilogy, is essentially a story of a teen heroine too young to have seen the battles, against a teen villain who hero-worships a Vader-helmet relic, and snotty young new Death Star trainees trying to be Peter Cushing...A reverent New Generation dress-up movie for a reverent New Generation dress-up audience, until gray-haired old Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill show up for real.
Speaking for all us mad old grizzled O.G. hermits in the desert, it's not about Dressing Up.  It never was.  For Star Wars to be mentioned at all in the media in the fall of '77 (look, network TV's going to do a Holiday Special!) was validation that our little secret, which we called "A new hope", was finally starting to take hold with a grownup moviegoing society who were paying more attention to Vietnam-vet movies and Woody Allen comedies.  Hope for saving the Alliance went hand-in-glove with hope for discovering that Movies Were Fun Again, and our going to Star Wars was our trying to celebrate how much fun our grandparents must have had going to the Flash Gordon serial every Saturday.


The Boston Sack Charles?...Oh, that.  It isn't around anymore.  The downtown theaters all closed one by one in the 90's, to be replaced by the Loews' Boston Common 20-screen on Tremont St. (and some highway cineplexes in the Cambridge suburbs), and nearby Massachusetts General Hospital added six more floors to the future Richard B. Simches Research Center. When I went to MGH for a specialist appointment a few years ago, nobody I talked to could remember that Charles River Plaza North had ever been anything else.  You'll notice the CVS Pharmacy is still there, though.
Me, I can still remember a couple of Boston books I bought at the plaza bookstore nearby (not there anymore either), because to my Old Geezer memory, Star Wars was never a "franchise", a "phenomenon", a "Jedi religion" or a "fan lifestyle".  It was a movie night out with my folks in the big city, and even standing in the stupid line turned out to be worth it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

December 12, 2016 - How Chuck Norris Freed Romania


Coming up to the end of the year, I'm usually making the last-ditch viewings of titles I didn't catch up with on my Netflix queue.  
It may be coming late to the party--seeing as it was already shown at film festivals in '15 and on PBS back in January '16--but for anyone else who hasn't yet picked up on it, I had to give a shoutout to Ilina Calugareanu's documentary produced for HBO Romania, Chuck Norris Vs. Communism, now currently available on Netflix US, and where all fine indie documentaries are sold.  (Which would be...most of the subscription streaming services.)


Like any great populist mainstream-audience documentary, it's one of those stories that, if it didn't happen, it should have, but fortunately, it did:


Under Nicolae Ceausescu's tight Communist control up through the 80's, Romania was culturally isolated from the Western world.  Two channels of television were cut to two hours of television a night, usually state-sponsored propaganda of ministry speeches.  Anything that even hinted at the infiltration of anti-state ideas was tightly cut.  Film or television might be state-censored just for showing an abundance of food, lest it give the masses dangerous ideas to grumble about.

Irina Nistor worked as translator for the state media's information department, before she was privately approached by a man she only knew by his last name and title, "Engineer" Zamfir, for a part-time job dubbing over black-market bootleg VHS tapes of smuggled Western films.
Sitting like a United Nations interpreter with headphones and microphone in front of a small monitor in a rented room, Nistor singlehandedly added UN-style second-after translation dub-overs to Zamfir's bootlegs--And in the process, she not only found herself exposed to new Western influences, but also the unseen free-spirited thrill of enjoying the job in the process.
"I was allowed to say things you weren't allowed to say in this country", Nistor recalls, in her job of translating Ralph Macchio in "The Karate Kid" one day and Sylvester Stallone in "Rambo: First Blood Pt. II" the next.  "I could say 'You stinking Communist'!"

So many secret fans recognized Nistor's voice coming out of every actor's mouth ("She had the voice of an angel", one surviving fan jokes, as most try to guess what body the Voice must have belonged to), Irina found herself becoming literally the Voice of the Underground.
In a country where a foreign-bought VCR could cost as much as a Dacia automobile, fifteen or twenty people could gather in a neighbor's darkened living-room apartment with the curtains closed for a cash-under-the-table "Video night", to watch just whatever forbidden Western VHS tape the local black-marketer had smuggled past the border in his car trunk.
As with any cheap forbidden-thrill, sex and action were the big sellers at first:  Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Stallone--A machine gun volley or kickbox-chop always transcended language barriers.  One woman remembers her first experience with Western films hiding her eyes to "Last Tango in Paris" ("I realized how far behind the West we were", one recalls.)
But as Zamfir expanded his operations to a thriving black-market factory of more smuggled goodies, audiences were exposed to more and more eye-opening images of life outside cultural repression.  Eddie Murphy driving through Beverly Hills was not as much of a culture shock to a disgruntled generation of Romanians as seeing the movie scene of a character walk into a grocery or convenience store with full shelves of food.

Although watching forbidden movies didn't mean deportation, watching unapproved movies might still attract attention by the Secret Police.  Kids grew up only vaguely knowing why they weren't supposed to talk about their parents and parents' friends watching a static-riddled Nth-generation copy of Top Gun (some barely visible, copied by bootleggers who had never heard of Macrovision), or why to hide in the bedroom if there was an unexpected knock at the door.

But a generation becoming hooked on the rush of illegal goods came to realize they weren't just watching the cheap thrill of seeing an action hero:  Watching Norris singlehandedly defeating his POW torturers in the "Missing in Action" series, or driving his Dodge Ramcharger out of the grave in "Lone Wolf McQuade", they were seeing lone heroes fight back against authority and win, and the triumph of the individual, not the state, over all impossible odds.
Golan & Globus's Cannon Pictures had now become Radio Free Europe.

By mixing dramatic re-enactment with the recollections, Calugareanu also manages to stage her documentary as an espionage thriller as well:
As Nistor's duties expand with Zamfir's growing business, she's aware the Secret Police may be on to her, but wonders why they haven't moved in yet.  Although she barely knows anything about her employer, agents seem to be treating him with kid gloves, and with her day-job bureau position, begins to suspect that she's been set up for high-level entrapment.
And yet, the movies win out even with that secret revealed.  Zamfir was a black-marketeer and a man of mystery, but behind all of that, he was an 80's video nut first

It's a feel-good documentary that takes a Romanian pop-culture nostalgia approach to the events--glossing over the other political upheavals that ultimately took down Communist Romania, and the harsh transitions in the changeover--as a romanticized myth that it really must have been Chuck who inspired the people to revolution.  As current Internet memes have it, what can't Chuck do?
And for US movie fans, it has any number of reasons to appeal:  On a culturally jingoistic level, it's another fun story of gloating over the end of the Cold War, and how the Berlin Wall couldn't stand up to our decadent capitalist revolutions of blue jeans, the Beatles and Coca-Cola.
For the movie-sentimental, it's another sigh in favor of the Power of Movies, as we see apartment living rooms of rapt audiences glued to an adventure on a small VCR-fueled TV set, and children playing out Chuck's victories in the street.
On a Big-80's Movies level, it's a nostalgia blast of how mainstream movies in the 80's could get fifteen or twenty people in a living room, of the thrill of taking the magic black hard-plastic tape out of its cardboard and popping it in the machine for Movie Night, and the cheesy glories of 80's action stars.  (Although for the glories of 80's Golan/Globus films, Mark Hartley's 2014 documentary Electric Boogaloo: the Wild Untold Story of Cannon Pictures, is recommended as further syllabus on the subject, and also currently available on Netflix.)

But with my own particular cause, I found the movie resonated an important lesson in our own repressed war at home as well:
It's a victory for democracy that could have happened ONLY with physical media.  


In the 60's, we'd be talking about forbidden books breaking down the Wall, a secret paperback copy of Jack Kerouac or George Orwell smuggled past the border guards in the book bag of an exchange student, and changing from hand to hand between intellectually curious university kids at a cafe'.  Ideas were in books, and books existed as things, conveniently packed objects that could be passed from one hand to another like a cigarette or cup of espresso, with the secret lure of "Here, try this, it'll open your mind, and it's, like, cool, too."  Preferably if there was no one watching who had already declared said package was against the interests of the Powers That Be.
In the 80's, once the technology caught on, we discovered that movies were books, things to put on your shelf to be preserved for posterity.  Or better yet, to be kept in a rental library for others, the more off-center the better, and loaned out to your friends and neighbors by hand, with the same personal-delivered message of "Watch this."  More just because it was Cool, Too than politically enlightening...But the point was to make it contagious, and watch the pandemic spread.  
The state could tell us "Don't read these books" or "Don't watch these movies", but nothing could stop the books or movies once we had them in our hand, because having them in our hands meant we owned the ideas.  And they were ours to throw about as we wanted, unless you could come and take it out of ours in person.
Studios at the moment don't have quite the same respect for treating a movie as a package that can sit on shelves or travel from hand to hand, or across patrolled borders in unmarked cardboard sleeves, next to a buried bottle of liquor or pair of blue jeans.  They wish to get it into our heads that, you see, we don't really like movies being physical objects, because they're so bulky and clunky, and that we wish for some great authority to handle them for us, and make it easier to watch the movies on their convenient terms.

Movies would be so much better, they tell us, if they were just somewhere in a corporate central location where important people could take care of them for you, and you wouldn't have to bother with tapes to snarl or disks to clutter up your shelf--That way they'd be YOURS, you see!

But it's because movies could travel, even to places where they couldn't, that they could infiltrate viewers who didn't even know yet that they loved the movies.  Movies that don't travel, and stay on the Internet in some soft, magic digitally-traveling ether of 1's and 0's, are at the mercy of the state's control of the Internet, what is allowed to travel on it, and just which of the masses are allowed to patronize advantage of it for their own good.  Physical media tends to frustrate that, since the problem of stopping that is in stopping the people who carry them...And that's always been a bit more complicated.
Ceausescu's regime could have stopped a theatrical film from being shown in public theaters, it could have stopped television, and it could have stopped the Internet before it even got to the border.  But Communism couldn't stop a VHS tape.