Ask your nearest film bro: Have you heard of Martin Scorsese’s 1973 crime thriller Goncharov? Chances are they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about a film once described as the greatest Mafia movie ever made. Despite a cult following, the film has never made any listicle on the greatest thrillers or gangster films. Thanks to Tumblr, though, the film is getting the recognition it deserves – and more.
Here’s a summary for you: Based in Naples, Robert de Niro stars as a Russian Mafia hitman, caught in the middle of a love triangle with Andrey (Al Pacino) and Katya (Cybill Shepherd). Their performances? Spectacular. The storyline? Layered and deliciously unpredictable.
Unsurprisingly, Tumblr is home to a cult-like Goncharov fanbase. Memes, fan fiction analysing the characters’ love triangle, gif sets and fanart have proliferated across the site and painstakingly unearthed the film’s homoerotic undertones.
The only thing is, the movie doesn’t exist. There is no Goncharov. The only critics who called it the greatest Mafia movie ever are Tumblr users meme-ing fan culture by creating a feverish reception worthy of an actual Scorsese film. As author Hailey Piper points out, there is now more Goncharov fanfiction on fanfic hub A03 than there are for James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the highest grossing films of all time. Welcome to Gonchposting.
Goncharov’s origin story begins with a pair of boots and a Tumblr user called zootycon, who originally posted an image of what looks like walking boots with a baffling label attached two years ago. It’s unclear where the shoes came from, but the label reads: “The greatest mafia movie ever made; Martin Scorsese presents GONCHAROV.” Printed underneath is the name of an Italian production company and the tagline that Goncharov is “about the Naples mafia”.
The image had the precise ingredients for a viral Tumblr meme, and has blown up over the past week with fake movie posters, fake academic papers and film reactions all over the site. Former Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter even joined in and posted an old black and white image of herself and Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli on Monday, claiming they were at the Goncharov premiere. Her post now has more than 128,000 notes.
LA artist Truffles, self-proclaimed professional shitposter and trufflesmushroom on the site, first saw the Goncharov image in 2020 and reposted a few jokes pretending it was real at the time. Why a two-year-old joke has now gone viral, they have no idea – but they’ve gladly helped spread the newer posts regardless.
Twenty-seven-year-old Sam (AKA thefiresontheheight) first realised Goncharov’s power after they made a personality quiz when they were bored titled “what Goncharov character are you”. Within hours, it had 25,000 notes on Tumblr. The aspiring Pennsylvania-based writer has a theory: They reckon lots of people have restarted their Tumblr accounts “as Elon Musk makes Twitter increasingly hateful and unusable”, seen Goncharov and doubled down on the joke.
The joke is a surprise even for users who’ve been on the site for years. Freelance writer Sylvie, who goes by lesbianmarrow on Tumblr, says nothing like this has ever happened on this scale before. “The closest thing I can think of is two years ago during US election time when Castiel confessed his love for Dean on Supernatural and Tumblr users went wild,” she said. Even then, that proliferation of posts was based on something that actually existed IRL. Sylvie also stresses that there is absolutely nothing serious about Goncharov posting. It’s proof of the fandom impulse to create content, “regardless of the quality or substance of the original text”, she says.
Arguably, Goncharov have never happened on any other site. Flags (AKA do-you-have-a-flag) said the platform’s “yes… and” culture allowed the joke to snowball. She knows this firsthand after sharing a mock-up Goncharov DVD case. “Reblogs allow for multiple threads building onto the previous person,” she explains. “So instead of a hierarchical main post and replies, you get a whole interaction laid out.
“There's also the way people use images and text – you can get into longer analysis under a gif set someone created as a part of a conversation that evolves from meta into shipping into arguing about something totally unrelated.”
Users are essentially parodying Tumblr-specific fan culture, Truffles explains, mimicking the “patterns we've observed over the years of how different types of film fans will analyse, critique, wax poetic about, create transformative works about, vilify, deify, rip apart, and take hold of a popular piece of entertainment media, and then complain about the others in the same space, and then comment on that same complaint.”
Tumblr fandoms by their nature create “this insular, passionate, sometimes toxic, sometimes genius bubble that we know so well by heart,” they add, describing the takeoff of Goncharov on the site as “cathartic, hilarious [and] good-natured”. As Flags, 30, puts it succintly: “[Goncharov is the] ultimate sandbox for people who love cinematography and queer subtext and making fun of themselves.”
In the end, the real Goncharov were the friends Tumblr users made along the way – no, really. Think of Goncharov as an open invite to everyone to join the shitposting party, and a reminder that the internet can be a fun, joyous place sometimes. Maybe we should all pivot full-time to Tumblr.
Correction as of 30/11/22: A previous version of the article misstated Flags’s name. This has now been corrected.