Cinema of the Soviet Union
Cinema of
the Soviet Union
Sovietfilm.png
Russian Empire 1908–1917
List of Soviet films
1917–1929
1922 1923 1924 1925
1926 1927 1928 1929
1930s
1930 1931 1932 1933 1934
1935 1936 1937 1938 1939
1940s
1940 1941 1942 1943 1944
1945 1946 1947 1948 1949
1950s
1950 1951 1952 1953 1954
1955 1956 1957 1958 1959
1960s
1960 1961 1962 1963 1964
1965 1966 1967 1968 1969
1970s
1970 1971 1972 1973 1974
1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
1980–1991
Russian films 1992–

The cinema of the Soviet Union, not to be confused with "Cinema of Russia" despite Russian language films being predominant in both genres, includes several film contributions of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union reflecting elements of their pre-Soviet culture, language and history, although sometimes censored by the Central Government. Most notable for their republican cinema were the Russian SFSR, Armenian SSR, Georgian SSR, Ukrainian SSR, and, to a lesser degree, Lithuanian SSR, Byelorussian SSR and Moldavian SSR. At the same time, the nation's film industry, which was fully nationalized throughout most of the country's history, was guided by philosophies and laws propounded by the monopoly Soviet Communist Party which introduced a new view on the cinema, socialist realism, which was different from the one before or after the existence of the Soviet Union.

Any censorship regime is dynamic. Some subjects did not appear on screen - or only in a coded form. The reasons of censorship in USSR are mostly political (criticism of the Soviet Union, CPSU, Soviet regime, particular political bodies and figures). They are: political unreliability (temporary or permanent) of an artist, whose work was the subject of the publication; political unreliability (temporary or permanent) of an author of a publication; mentioning an unreliable person, unworthy fact or event in the text unless it was criticized (possible cuttings of the text or plates); generally prohibited subject (for instance: unofficial Soviet art); propaganda of fascism, violence or terror (horror films belonged to that category); pornography (a magic word - none of the censors could ever give a distinct definition of this term in their special vocabulary; the most frequent reason for art publications to become banned as most of the artists, since the ancient times, had made the studies of the nude models); themes, subjects, facts, events which caused or might have caused undesirable thoughts, associations or illusions not in favor of the Soviet state.

Contents

Historical outline

A 1926 Soviet poster for The Battleship Potemkin.

The new state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, officially came into existence on December 30, 1922. From the outset, this new republic held that film would be the most ideal propaganda tool for the Soviet Union because of its widespread popularity among the established citizenry of the new land; Vladimir Lenin, in fact, declared it the most important medium for educating the masses in the ways, means and successes of Communism, a position which was later echoed by Joseph Stalin. Meanwhile, between World War I and the Russian Revolution, the film industry, and the infrastructure needed to support it (e.g., electrical power), had deteriorated to the point of unworkability. The majority of cinemas had been in the corridor between Moscow and St. Petersburg, and most were out of commission. Additionally, many of the performers, producers, directors and other artists of pre-Soviet Russia, had fled the country or were moving ahead of the Red Army forces as they pushed further and further south into what remained of the Russian Empire. Furthermore, the new government did not have the funds to spare for an extensive reworking of the system of filmmaking. Thus, they initially opted for project approval and censorship guidelines while leaving what remained of the industry in private hands. As this amounted mostly to cinema houses, the first Soviet films consisted of recycled films of the Russian Empire and its imports, to the extent that these were not determined to be offensive to the new Soviet ideology. Ironically, the first new film released in Soviet Russia did not exactly fit this mold: this was Father Sergius, a religious film completed during the last weeks of the Russian Empire but not yet exhibited. It appeared on Soviet screens in 1918.

Beyond this, the government was principally able to fund only short, educational films, the most notorious of which were the agitki - propaganda films intended to "agitate", or energize and enthuse, the masses to participate fully in approved Soviet activities, and deal effectively with those who remained in opposition to the new order. These short (often one small reel) films were often simple visual aids and accompaniments to live lectures and speeches, and were carried from city to city, town to town, village to village (along with the lecturers) to indoctrinate the entire countryside, even reaching areas where film had not been previously seen.

Newsreels, as documentaries, were the other major form of earliest Soviet cinema. Dziga Vertov's newsreel series Kino-Pravda, the best known of these, lasted from 1922 to 1925 and had a propagandistic bent; Vertov used the series to promote socialist realism but also to experiment with cinema.


Still, in 1921, there was not one functioning cinema in Moscow until late in the year.[citation needed] Its rapid success, utilizing old Russian and imported feature films, jumpstarted the industry significantly, especially insofar as the government did not heavily or directly regulate what was shown, and by 1923 an additional 89 cinemas had opened.[citation needed] Despite extremely high taxation of ticket sales and film rentals, there was an incentive for individuals to begin making feature film product again - there were places to show the films - albeit they now had to conform their subject matter to a Soviet world view. In this context, the directors and writers who had remained in support of the objectives of Communism assumed quick dominance in the industry, as they were the ones who could most reliably and convincingly turn out films that would satisfy government censors.

Screenshot from Grigori Chukhrai's Ballad of a Soldier (1959).

New talent joined the experienced remainder, and an artistic community assembled with the goal of defining "Soviet film" as something distinct and better from the output of "decadent capitalism". The leaders of this community viewed it essential to this goal to be free to experiment with the entire nature of film, a position which would result in several well-known creative efforts but would also result in an unforeseen counter-reaction by the increasingly solidifying administrators of the government-controlled society.

Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin was released to wide acclaim in 1925; the film was heavily fictionalized and also propagandistic, preaching the party line about the virtues of the proletariat. The party leaders soon found it difficult to control directors' expression, partly because definitive understanding of a film's meaning was elusive.

One of the most popular films released in the 1930s was Circus. Immediately after the end of the Second World War, color movies such as The Stone Flower (1946), Ballad of Siberia (1947), and The Kuban Cossacks (1949) were released. Other notable films from the 1940s include Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Soviet Cinema produced Ballad of a Soldier, which won the 1961 BAFTA Award for Best Film, and The Cranes Are Flying.

Height is considered to be one of the best films of the 1950s (it also became the foundation of the bard movement).

In the 1980s there was a diversification of subject matter. Touchy issues could now be discussed openly. The results were films like Pokayanie (Repentance (film)), which dealt with Stalinist repressions in Georgia, and the allegorical science fiction movie Kin-dza-dza!, which satirized the Soviet life in general.

Censorship

After the death of Stalin, Soviet filmmakers were given a free hand to film what they believed audiences wanted to see in their film's characters and stories. However, the industry remained a part of the government and any material that was found politically offensive or undesirable, was either removed, edited, reshot, or shelved. In rare cases the filmmakers managed to convince the government of the innocence of their work and the film was released. The definition of "socialist realism" was liberalized to allow development of more human characters, but communism still had to remain uncriticized in its fundamentals. Additionally, the degree of relative artistic liberality was changed from administration to administration.

Oddities created by censorship include:

  • The first chapter of the epic film Liberation (Освобождение) was filmed 20 years after the subsequent three parts. The film's director, Alexander Dovzhenko, had refused to minimize the errors of the Soviet High Command during the first year of the war, and instead waited for a time when he could film this portion accurately.
  • Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible Part II was completed in 1945 but was not released until 1958; 5 years after Stalin's death.
  • Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky was censored before the German invasion of the Soviet Union due to its depiction of a strong Russian leader defying an invading army of German Teutonic Knights. After the invasion, the film was released for propaganda purposes to considerable critical acclaim.

Revolution and Civil War

The first Soviet Russian state film organization, the Film Subdepartment of the People's Commissariat of Education, was established in 1917. The work of the nationalized motion-picture studios was administered by the All-Russian Photography and Motion Picture Department, which was recognized in 1923 into Goskino, which in 1926 became Sovkino. The world's first state-filmmaking school, the First State School of Cinematography, was established in Moscow in 1919.

During the Russian Civil War, agitation trains and ships visited soldiers, workers, and peasants. Lectures, reports, and political meetings were accompanied by newsreels about events at the various fronts.

1920s

In the 1920s, the documentary film group headed by Vertov blazed the trail from the conventional newsreel to the "imagecentered publicistic film", which became the basis of the Russian film documentary. Typical of the 1920s were the topical news serial Kino-Pravda and the film Forward, Soviet! by Vertov, whose experiments and achievements in documentary films influenced the development of Russian and world cinematography. Other important films of the 1920s were Shub's historical-revolutionary films such as The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty. The film Hydropeat by Yu. Zheliabuzhsky marked the beginning of popular science films. Feature-length agitation films in 1918-21 were important in the development of the film industry. Innovation in Russian filmmaking was expressed particularly in the work of Eisenstein. The Battleship Potemkin was noteworthy for its innovative montage and metaphorical quality of its film language. It won world acclaim. Eisenstein developed concepts of the revolutionary epic in the film October. Also noteworthy was Pudovkin's adaptation of Gorky's Mother to the screen in 1926. Pudovkin developed themes of revolutionary history in the film The End of St. Petersburg (1927). Other noteworthy silent films were films dealing with contemporary life such as Barnet's The House on Trubnaya. The films of Protazanov were devoted to the revolutionary struggle and the shaping of a new way of life, such as Don Diego and Pelageia (1928). Ukrainian director Dovzhenko was noteworthy for the historical-revolutionary epic Zvenigora, the Arsenal and the poetic film Earth.[1]

1930s

In the early 1930s, Russian filmmakers applied socialist realism to their work. Among the most outstanding films was Chapaev, a film about Russian revolutionaries and society during the Revolution and Civil War. Revolutionary history was developed in films such as Golden Mountains by Sergei Yutkevich, The Outskirts by Boris Barnet, and the Maxim trilogy by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg: The Youth of Maxim, The Return of Maxim, and The Vyborg Side. Also notable were biographical films about Lenin such as Mikhail Romm's Lenin in October and Lenin in 1918. The life of Russian society and everyday people were depicted in films such as Courageous Seven and City of Youth by Sergei Gerasimov. The comedies of Grigori Aleksandrov such as Circus, Volga-Volga, and The Shining Path as well as The Rich Bride by Ivan Pyryev and By the Bluest of Seas by Boris Barnet focus on the psychology of the common person, enthusiasm for work and intolerance for remnants of the past. Many films focused on national heroes, including Alexander Nevsky by Sergei Eisenstein, Minin and Pozharsky by Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Bogdan Khmelnitsky by Igor Savchenko. There were adapdations of literary classics, particularly Mark Donskoy's trilogy of films about Maxim Gorky: The Childhood of Maxim Gorky, My Apprenticeship, and My Universities.[citation needed]

During the late 1920s and early 1930s the Stalinist wing of the Communist Party consolidated its authority and set about transforming the Soviet Union on both the economic and cultural fronts. The economy moved from the market-based NEP (New Economic Policy) to a system of central planning. The new leadership declared a "cultural revolution" in which the party would exercise tight control over cultural affairs, including artistic expression. Cinema existed at the intersection of art and economics; so it was destined to be thoroughly reorganized in this episode of economic and cultural transformation.

To implement central planning in cinema, the new bureaucratic entity Soyuzkino was created in 1930. All the hitherto autonomous studios and distribution networks that had grown up under NEP's market would now be coordinated in their activities by this planning agency. Soyuzkino's authority also extended to the studios of the national republics such as VUFKU, which had enjoyed more independence during the 1920s. Soyuzkino consisted of an extended bureaucracy of economic planners and policy specialists who were charged to formulate annual production plans for the studios and then to monitor the distribution and exhibition of finished films.

With central planning came more centralized authority over creative decision making. Script development became a long, torturous process under this bureaucratic system, with various committees reviewing drafts and calling for cuts or revisions. In the 1930s censorship became more exacting with each passing year, in a manner that paralleled the increasing cultural repression of the Stalinist regime. Feature film projects would drag out for months or years and might be terminated at any point

Alexander Dovzhenko drew from Ukrainian folk culture in such films as Zemlya (Earth, 1930) along the way because of the capricious decision of one or another censoring committee. Such redundant oversight slowed down production and inhibited creativity. Although central planning was supposed to increase the film industry's productivity, production levels declined steadily through the 1930s. The industry was releasing over one-hundred features annually at the end of the NEP period, but that figure fell to seventy by 1932 and to forty-five by 1934. It never again reached triple digits during the remainder of the Stalin era. Veteran directors experienced precipitous career declines under this system of bureaucratic control; whereas Eisenstein was able to make four features between 1924 and 1929, he completed only one film, Alexander Nevsky (1938) during the entire decade of the 1930s. His planned adaptation of the Ivan Turgenev story Bezhin lug (Bezhin Meadow, 1935–1937) was halted during production in 1937 and officially banned, one of many promising film projects that fell victim to an exacting censorship system.

Meanwhile, the USSR cut off its film contacts with the West. It stopped importing films after 1931 out of concern that foreign films exposed audiences to capitalist ideologies. The industry also freed itself from dependency on foreign technologies. During its industrialization effort of the early 1930s, the USSR finally built an array of factories to supply the film industry with the nation's own technical resources.

To secure independence from the West, industry leaders mandated that the USSR develop its own sound technologies, rather than taking licenses on Western sound systems. Two Soviet scientists, Alexander Shorin in Leningrad (formerly St. Petersburg) and Pavel Tager in Moscow, conducted research through the late 1920s on complementary sound systems, which were ready for use by 1930. The implementation process, including the cost of refitting movie theaters, proved daunting, and the USSR did not complete the transition to sound until 1935. Nevertheless, several directors made innovative use of sound once the technology became available. In Entuziazm: Simfoniya Donbassa (Enthusiasm, 1931), his documentary on coal mining and heavy industry, Vertov based his soundtrack on an elegantly orchestrated array of industrial noises. In Dezertir (The Deserter, 1933) Pudovkin experimented with a form of "sound counterpoint" by exploiting tensions and ironic dissonances between sound elements and the image track. And in Alexander Nevsky, Eisenstein collaborated with the composer Sergei Prokofiev on an "operatic" film style that elegantly coordinated the musical score and the image track.

As Soviet cinema made the transition to sound and central planning in the early 1930s, it was also put under a mandate to adopt a uniform film style, commonly identified as "socialist realism". In 1932 the party leadership ordered the literary community to abandon the avant-garde practices of the 1920s and to embrace socialist realism, a literary style that, in practice, was actually close to nineteenth-century realism. The other arts, including cinema, were subsequently instructed to develop the aesthetic equivalent. For cinema, this meant adopting a film style that would be legible to a broad audience, thus avoiding a possible split between the avant-garde and mainstream cinema that was evident in the late 1920s. The director of Soyuzkino and chief policy officer for the film industry, Boris Shumiatsky (1886–1938), who served from 1931 to 1938, was a harsh critic of the montage aesthetic. He championed a "cinema for the millions"[citation needed], which would use clear, linear narration. Although American movies were no longer being imported in the 1930s, the Hollywood model of continuity editing was readily available, and it had a successful track record with Soviet movie audiences. Soviet socialist realism was built on this style, which assured tidy storytelling. Various guidelines were then added to the doctrine: positive heroes to act as role models for viewers; lessons in good citizenship for spectators to embrace; and support for reigning policy decisions of the Communist Party.

Such restrictive aesthetic policies, enforced by the rigorous censorship apparatus of Soyuzkino, resulted in a number of formulaic and doctrinaire films. Apparently, they did succeed in sustaining a true "cinema of the masses". The 1930s witnessed some stellar examples of popular cinema. The single most successful film of the decade, in terms of both official praise and genuine affection from the mass audience, was Chapayev (1934), co-directed by Prokofiev (1900–1959) and Grigori Vasiliev. Based on the life of a martyred Red Army commander, the film was touted as a model of socialist realism, in that Chapayev and his followers battled heroically for the revolutionary cause. The film also humanized the title character, giving him personal foibles, an ironic sense of humour, and a rough peasant charm. These qualities endeared him to the viewing public: spectators reported seeing the film multiple times during its first run in 1934, and Chapayev was periodically re-released for subsequent generations of audiences.[citation needed]

A genre that emerged in the 1930s to consistent popular acclaim was the musical comedy, and a master of that form was Grigori Aleksandrov (1903–1984). He effected a creative partnership with his wife, the brilliant comic actress and chanteuse Lyubov Orlova (1902–1975), in a series of crowd-pleasing musicals. Their pastoral comedy Volga-Volga (1938) was surpassed only by Chapayev in terms of box-office success. The fantasy element of their films, with lively musical numbers reviving the montage aesthetic, sometimes stretched the boundaries of socialist realism, but the genre could also allude to contemporary affairs. In Aleksandrov's 1940 musical Svetlyi Put (The Shining Path), Orlova plays a humble servant girl who rises through the ranks of the Soviet industrial leadership after developing clever labour-saving work methods. Audiences could enjoy the film's comic turn on the Cinderella story while also learning about the value of efficiency in the workplace.[2]

1940s

Immediately after the end of the Second World War, color movies such as The Stone Flower (1946), Ballad of Siberia (1947), and Cossacks of the Kuban (1949) were released. Other notable films from the 1940s include the black and white films, Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible and the Encounter at the Elbe.

1950s

With the start of the Cold War, writers, still considered the primary auteurs, were all the more reluctant to take up script writing, and the early 1950s saw only a handful of feature films completed during any year. The death of Stalin was a merciful relief to many, and all the more so was the official trashing of his public image as a benign and competent leader by Nikita Khrushchev two years later. This latter event gave filmmakers the margin of comfort they needed to move away from the narrow formula stories of socialist realism, expand its boundaries, and begin work on a wider range of entertaining and artistic Soviet films.

Notable films include:

1960s-70s

The 1960s and 1970s saw the creation of many films, many of which molded Soviet and post-Soviet culture. They include:

Soviet films tend to be rather culture-specific and are difficult for many foreigners to understand without having been exposed to the culture first. Various Soviet directors were more concerned with artistic success than with economical success (They were paid by the academy, and so money was not a critical issue). This contributed to the creation of a large number of more philosophical and poetical films. Most well-known examples of such films are those by directors Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Parajanov and Nikita Mikhalkov. In keeping with Russian character, tragi-comedies were very popular. These decades were also prominent in the production of the Eastern or Red Western.

Animation was a respected genre, with many directors experimenting with technique. Tale of Tales (1979) by Yuriy Norshteyn was twice given the title of "Best Animated Film of All Eras and Nations" by animation professionals from around the world, in 1984 and 2002.

In the year of the 60th anniversary of the Soviet cinema (1979), on April 25, a decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR established a commemorative "Day of the Soviet cinema". It was then celebrated in the USSR each year on August 27, the day on which Vladimir Lenin signed a decree to nationalise the country's cinematic and photographic industries.

1980s

The policies of perestroika and glasnost saw a loosening of the censorship of earlier eras.[3] A genre known as "chernukha" (from the Russian word for "black"), including films such as Little Vera, portrayed the harsh realities of Soviet life.[4] Notable films of this period include:

  • The Pokrovsky Gate (1982) a made-for-television comedy starring Oleg Menshikov
  • Repentance a.k.a. The Confession (1984), a Georgian film about a fictional dictator which was banned until 1987.
  • Come and See (1985) a widely acclaimed World War II drama
  • Kin-dza-dza! (1986) allegorical science fiction
  • The Cold Summer of 1953 (1987) about criminals being released from the gulags after Stalin's death.
  • Little Vera (1988) notable as one of the first Soviet films with sexually explicit scenes

Soviet films

There are many movies which are well-remembered and looked upon fondly in the former Soviet republics; famous lines or jokes from these movies are often quoted and some have even become a part of the Russian language as sayings and idioms. Most of these classic Soviet movies were produced by Mosfilm and other state-owned film studios.

Genres

Action

  • White Sun of the Desert, one of the best loved Soviet films of all time. For more information on this type of movie, see Red Western.

Science fiction

Comedy

  • Gentlemen of Fortune, a kindergarten principal played by Evgeni Leonov pretends to be a criminal boss called the Professor (who looks exactly like him) in order to gain information about a stolen artifact from the Professor's two lackeys.
  • Kidnapping, Caucasian Style. A lot of ethnic humor, as Shurik gets involved unwittingly in kidnapping. It's also a satire of corrupt local officials.
  • Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future, a scientist's time travel machine ends up teleporting his tenement administrator into 16th century Russia and bringing Ivan the Terrible into the present. The two are identical in appearance and chaos promptly ensues.
  • The Twelve Chairs - based on the famous novel of the same name by Ilf and Petrov.
  • The Diamond Arm - starring Yuri Nikulin, Anatoli Papanov, and Andrei Mironov. Inept smugglers try to recover diamonds which ended up with the wrong man.
  • The Pokrovsky Gate - starring Oleg Menshikov as a young student who comes to Moscow and finds himself involved in the misfortunes of his fellow apartment tenants.

Drama/Epic

Notable filmmakers

Early personalities in the development of Soviet cinema:

Later personalities:

Soviet studios

See also

References

  1. ^ Yakubovich-Yasny, Odysseus. "Советское кино" (in Russian). Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Yandex.Slovari. http://slovari.yandex.ru/dict/bse/article/00075/36400.htm?text=%D0%94%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B6%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BA%D0%BE&encid=bse&stpar1=1.6.1. Retrieved 2009-10-14. [dead link]
  2. ^ "THE CINEMA OF STALINISM: 1930–1941". Advameg, Inc.. http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Romantic-Comedy-Yugoslavia/Russia-and-Soviet-Union-THE-CINEMA-OF-STALINISM-1930-1941.html. 
  3. ^ Butenko, I. A. & Razlogov, K. E., Recent Social Trends in Russia, 1960-1995, McGill-Queen's Press, 1997. ISBN 0773516107
  4. ^ Hertenstein, Mike, Idols and Icons (Part II) A Survey of Russian and Soviet Cinema

External links

Germanically-transliterated Cyrillic. Eisenstein, a German name to begin with, goes through the wringer and comes back out as "Ejzenstejn", e.g.)


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