CLOSE
Original image
YouTube

How Irina Margareta Nistor Introduced Sylvester Stallone to Communist Romania

Original image
YouTube

During the 1980s, Irina Margareta Nistor was possibly the most famous woman in Romania. People crowded around their TVs night after night to listen to her, and speculated about her mysterious inner life like she was a Hollywood star, splashed across the pages of Us Weekly. But no one had ever seen her face.

That’s because Nistor was known only by her voice. From 1985 through the collapse of the Romanian communist regime, she translated thousands of bootlegged films from the West, talking over the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Tom Cruise. Her dubs could have landed her in a lot of trouble with Nicolae Ceaușescu’s government—which Nistor knew all too well, as she spent her mornings working for the highly censored national television service. But she managed to keep doing the clandestine work and, in the process, became the most famous voice in the country (well, apart from Ceaușescu’s).

Nistor began working for Romanian national television in 1983, three years after earning a degree in foreign languages. It wasn’t a great job. Ceaușescu had cut programming down to just one channel, which aired only a few hours of propaganda or severely edited films a day. People were hungry for something—anything—besides another speech extolling the virtues of communism, and VHS tapes became their salvation.

As filmmaker Ilinca Calugareanu detailed in Chuck Norris vs. Communism (a fantastically-named documentary released last year), the lucky few citizens with VCRs started acquiring smuggled Western movies through a network run by secretive businessman named Teodor Zamfir.

A colleague at the television station introduced Nistor to Zamfir in November of 1985, after hooking her on the promise of seeing new, unaltered movies. Zamfir offered her translation work if she could complete a dubbing test with a VHS copy of Doctor Zhivago. Nistor had already seen that one, so she aced the exam and got hired as Zamfir’s literal partner in crime.

Nistor kept crazy hours. From 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., she slogged through her work at the national television station. Once she was off the clock, she walked a few blocks to Zamfir’s apartment, where she would speed through six to eight movies in a row, often wrapping around midnight. It was just her, two VCRs, a TV set, and a microphone in a basement—unless she was dubbing cartoons. Zamfir’s two kids would join her for those, sitting on her lap as she rapidly translated into the microphone.

startevo, cropped by Ionutzmovie [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The movies Nistor dubbed ran the gamut from excessive ‘80s action movies (Bloodsport, Rambo) to erotic dramas (Last Tango in Paris, 9½ Weeks), to horror classics (Alien, The Shining). Some of the films might have been low on substance, but the Romanians watching them cherished these movies because they were so deprived of information. Chuck Norris movies gave them a glimpse of the world outside Romania, even if it was an explosion-filled world with cheesy dialogue and unfortunate haircuts.

Nistor had a number of close calls during her years of illicit work. In Chuck Norris vs. Communism, she recalled a scary, repeated encounter she had with a secret police agent at the national television station. They often ended up riding the elevator together and each time he muttered, “I heard you last night,” before exiting. She was also once explicitly reprimanded by a superior for dubbing a religious film, Jesus of Nazereth. She and Zamfir both suspected each other of being secret police double agents during their partnership, but it was a new associate that almost undid them.

Zamfir eventually hired a second translator, Mircea Cojocaru, to pick up hours when Nistor was unavailable. His output was nothing compared to Nistor’s; Romanians who watched these movies in the ‘80s either barely remember his voice or openly loathe it, and that was probably because he was an undercover agent for the secret police. Zamfir discovered this when Cojocaru intervened during a raid of the apartment, which he did at great personal risk. Luckily, Zamfir saved both their necks by bribing top government officials … with free tapes. Yes, even the top brass were secretly into Hollywood flicks, which helps explain why their operation was never busted. (Allegedly, even Ceaușescu’s son asked Zamfir for movies.)

The whole time, Nistor was kept relatively in the dark about where the movies were going and who was watching them, so she couldn’t appreciate the phenomenon she was helping to kickstart. Zamfir’s associates were distributing the films to towns and cities all over Romania, and those who had the tapes and the means to watch them would frequently host video nights, where 10 to 20 neighbors would pack into apartments and watch smuggled films into the early morning hours. Little boys started mimicking Rocky Balboa’s morning routine while little girls dreamed of copying Jennifer Grey’s dress from Dirty Dancing and, most importantly, dissidents began drawing connections between the goons Van Damme punched and members of their own government.

It would be ludicrous to chalk the bloody uprising that came along in December 1989 up to a few particularly passionate Missing in Action fans, but the movies confirmed there was a better way out there, and, eventually, the people of Romania got tired of waiting for it.

Today, Nistor no longer lives in the shadows. She’s a well known film critic based in Bucharest, where she started a film festival in 2012. Romanians have definitely seen her face, but for many who harbor cherished memories of secret movie marathons, she’s not quite a real person. She’s ethereal, a disembodied beacon of hope—whose voice just happened to tumble out of John Rambo’s mouth.

Original image
iStock
arrow
History
A Brief History of Time
Original image
iStock

You may have heard that time is a social construct, but that doesn’t stop it from having consequences in the real world. If you show up to a party 10 minutes before it’s scheduled to start, you’ll likely be the first one there, and if you arrive to an interview 10 minutes late, you likely won’t get the job. But how did humanity agree on when and how to observe certain times of day?

In their new video, the It’s Okay to Be Smart team explains how humans “invented” the modern concept of time. The increments we use to measure time, like seconds, minutes, and hours, come from the ancient civilizations of the Egyptians and the Babylonians. Early clocks, like sundials and water clocks, were pretty crude, so people couldn’t pinpoint a time like noon down to the second even if they wanted to. But as clocks became more accurate, the problem wasn’t being unable to tell time accurately, but deciding which clocks qualified as “accurate” in the first place.

In 1884, President Chester A. Arthur organized the International Meridian Conference with the intention of deciding on a uniform definition of time to be followed around the world. The attendees ended up choosing the meridian running through Greenwich, England as the official Prime Meridian, and all clocks would be measured against the clock in the town’s observatory. Greenwich Mean Time is still used as the standard world time today.

Check out the full story below.

[h/t It’s Okay to Be Smart]

Original image
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
Original image
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios