A scene from Chuck Norris vs. Communism.
By Don Simpson
By the year 1985, Nicolae Ceausescu had been the dictator of Romania for 20 years. Ceausescu controlled all media and entertainment, reducing television access to one channel that only broadcasted for a couple hours per day. The masses could only endure so much oppression, so a secret underground movement was established to illegally import and distribute bootlegged VHS recordings of movies from the Western world. Amazingly enough, a majority of the bootlegs were overdubbed with the voice of one person, Irina Nistor; she was the person everyone associated with the bootleg VHS tapes and became a mysterious savior to the Romanian public.
Combining talking head interviews with reenactment footage, first-time director Ilinca Calugareanu reveals the inner workings of an elaborate VHS smuggling ring that arguably might have prompted the eventual overthrow of Calugareanu’s tyranny in 1989. Oddly enough, there were plenty of Romanian officials and members of the secret police who helped out the VHS bootleggers (in exchange for free bootlegs, of course). In other words, Calugareanu’s government may have contributed to its own demise.
Through th title, Chuck Norris vs Communism, suggests that Chuck Norris was Romania’s savior, it was an entire catalog of films, mostly from Hollywood, spanning the gauntlet from action films to romantic comedies. These films taught Romanians about the many wonders of the Western world — specifically 1980s pop culture, free enterprise and materialism, but the films also served as an escape from the grim reality of their daily existence. While we can certainly debate the educational merit and the sociopolitical messages that most of these films communicated, it is quite invigorating to think that cinema might have been the root cause of a working class uprising.