He Did It His Way.

Michael Henry had a letter in the LRB (at the bottom of this link to the article it responds to) that has interesting things to say about Jack Fishman, “journalist, writer, songwriter, and spycatcher,” who had to give up writing songs for a while because his pseudonyms kept getting revealed and “He feared that if people found out that he was a successful Tin Pan Alley songwriter he wouldn’t be taken seriously as a journalist.” But I’m bringing it here for the final paragraph:

When I met Jack in the 1980s, he was working as music supervisor for the Cannon Group, a big player in the British film industry. He was a canny operator. In the opening scenes of Superman IV, a Russian cosmonaut is floating in space, struggling to repair the outside of his spacecraft. As he works, he sings a Russian version of the Sinatra classic ‘My Way’. The cost of acquiring the rights to one of the most famous lyrics of all time far exceeded the sum available in the music budget. But Jack knew that the American lyrics were a cover version of the French song ‘Comme d’habitude’. He suggested that instead of buying the rights to use the American lyrics, it would be cheaper to make a new Russian-language cover version to accompany the original French music. He figured that so long as the words weren’t a translation of ‘I did it my way’ it didn’t matter what they actually were, since any English-speaking viewer would automatically infer the words to ‘My Way’ from the tune alone.

(I was thinking the Wikipedia article I linked to should include the Russian version in Superman IV as a nice match for Raymond van het Groenewoud’s Dutch translation, but then I realized it’s not necessarily a translation of the French, so it probably doesn’t belong there..)


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    Although the soundtrack has been made commercially available (both on CD and via Spotify etc.) it’s not clear to me from the track listing whether the as-released soundtrack includes that Russian vocal number, and I’m not going to browse through two hours of stuff to see if it’s just non-obviously titled.

  2. This version of the movie end credits only lists “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Additional Source Music by Paul Fishman”, nothing for Jacques Revaux.

  3. Thanks for finding that clip! Boy, the Russian is terrible when he speaks, but I guess he could be from the Caucasus…

  4. Ah, those Golan-Globus production values…

  5. Thanks for finding that clip!

    Seconded (I suppose). “Superman IV has often been named one of the worst films ever made.” [wikipedia] 2001: A Space Odyssey had been made 20 years earlier.

    BTW orbiting space stations are above the atmosphere. So there’s no breeze to rustle your cape as you scythe through space. That’s the same shibboleth (re the wind-rustled flag) they use to tell the moon landings were faked in a TV studio.

  6. Lars Mathiesen says

    Never mind the cape, what is he pushing against? Any attempt to bring physical plausibility to Supes in LEO will easily be able to rustle his cape as a side effect.

    But of course the rustling cape _is_ the mechanism, did you ever think of that, ha? DE will confirm, he knows about these things.

  7. Trond Engen says

    This is not only a problem in space. How can he move about in the air? The most likely answer is jet propulsion. It’s his super metabolism.

  8. Stu Clayton says

    He uses his flatulence thrust motor.

    Interstellar travel will be based on cow batteries.

  9. The song Bowie translated before becoming Bowie, in 1968. “The clown turned around // And saw her smile…” It must have been the golden age of song translation.

    The French lyrics were something of a cuckold’s confession. I guess only a seasoned philanderer like Claude François could pull it off.

    The actor doesn’t sound like he’s from the Caucasus. He sounds like someone doing his best to pronounce a couple of sentences in Russian without learning the basic phonetics.

  10. I know, I was just trying to invent an alternate backstory that didn’t involve “actor can’t pronounce Russian.”

  11. Lars Mathiesen says

    In air he can just flap his arms at exactly 24 fps so they look stationary on film. He needs more ∆v for orbit.

    Also those cosmonauts were lucky that the rogue object was in so similar an orbit. When your speed is 7km/s or more (geocentric frame), and 10m/s can be fatal to pedestrians in a road accident, you need a good orbital match to survive in a space crash.

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    According to imdb, the “Cosmonaut – Space Walker” character was played by an actor named Eugene Lipinski, who frequently was cast to play Russian characters despite having been born and raised in England. (Even if one assumes he was the child of immigrant parents who exposed him in childhood to their non-English L1, from his surname you would infer they would have been more likely to be Polish-speakers than Russian-speakers.)

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