Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The Phenomenon of the Soviet Cinema by Yuri Vorontntsov and Igor Rachuk
Yuri Vorontntsov and Igor Rachuk. “The Phenomenon of the Soviet Cinema”. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1980.
This book argues that much of 20th century Russian art, including cinema, as deeply intertwined with the Soviet Revolution where “hitherto unknown paths led to a creation of a fundamentally innovative, revolutionary art.” The authors see much of the 1920s Soviet movies as masterpieces, These movies contained special meanings to uplift the masses.
Russian film began as fairground tent entertainment. Permanent cinema theaters were established first in Moscow and Petersburg These theaters first showed foreign films. A few years later, Russians produced films. The authors blame the capitalist system for not allowing political and social documentary films. The authors do credit camera operators who filmed parts of the Russian Revolution as it occurred. These films, though, were seized by police and are missing.
“Stenka Ravin and the Princess” , also known as A Free Cossack State in Lower Reaches of the Volga”, made by A, Drankow in 1908, is considered the first Russian cinema movie. A musical score was presented to be played during its showing The movie quality was poor, even for its times, yet the novelty of being a Russian made film drew Russian audiences.
The success of the first Russian film attracted others. Aleksandr Khanz was among early Russian feature film producers. The authors argue these films ignored the era’s social and political events. Social themes would be explored beginning with Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s.
Pyotr Chardynin was an early Russian film director who was noted for working well with actors. Famous actors would apply to be in his movies.
The authors argue many early Russian filmmakers had an “underlying cause” to “disorient the mass audience on the eve of social conflicts.” The authors view their fimls as having “a superficial understanding of life and a total lack of realism.”
There were stage actors who felt appearing in a film was undignified. Others saw film as a means to present audiences with more realism.
The authors view the movie “Late Blooming Flowers” directed by Boris Suskevich as a very good early Russian film for its realism and interesting plot.
The authors note many patriotic films were amateurishly made as propaganda for the Tsarist government The authors view these films as “artistically impoverished.”
George Sadoval, a French film historian, notes the rise of Soviet films helped push movies worldwide more towards the working class. Lenin argued art “should be understood and loved by these masses.”
The first Russian film companies were privately owned yet operated under the government’s “ideological and economic control.” Newsreel and feature movies were made “for propaganda purposes”. Noted writers such as Maxim Gorky, Alexi Tolstoy, and Kornie Chukovsky were hired to write themes for movies. These films met resistance from some movie theater owners and some cinematographers. Some private film producers made films that were “melancholy, pessimistic, and despairing.” Many of these private filmmakers moved to other countries.
The Soviet photographic and cinematographic trade and industry was nationalized by Lenin of August 27, 1919. Lenin wanted to remove movies from “crude speculators who produced movies about murder, sex, perversion, and pathologies that “often perverts the masses for profit at any price.”
1920s Soviet films were noted for their realisms and for “appropriate images of unity and fraternity between working people.” Some Soviet movies were adapted from classic Russian literature. Lenin supported embracing Russia’s “cultural inheritance.”
The Soviet film of the literary classic “Polikastika” was considered one of the best films of 1924 in the United States.
Dziga Vertoz combined newsreel footage with newly shot footage to enhance his films. He also used slow motion accelerated motion, and the stop-camera method for effects.
Agitational films, a.k.a agit-films, began being produced in 1918. These movies told stories of the Soviet Red Army. Critics noted some of these films were simplistic and “too straight forward”. These films were parts of the steps filmmakers used in moving towards full length fictional movies.
A State Film School was created.
Soviet movies were required by the state to have “ideological purposiveness.”
Sergie Eisenstein was an early leader in producing artistic films. Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” won the American Academy of Cinema’s award as Best Film in 1926.
The Soviet filmmakers lacked the technological skills of American filmmakers who made their movies for profit.
Aleksandr Dovzhenko created the film “Arsenal” to criticize counter-revolutionaries in Ukraine. He showed “the bright glow of historical battles.”
There was much examination of Soviet filmmaking in the 1920. “Socialist realism” was a dominate artistic method used.
Sergei Gerasimas was a film writer and director who had themes of love and future hopes that appealed to audiences. He presented strong women characters that showed that being feminine did not mean being weak.
Soviet comedy movies became popular popular in the 1930s.These movies used “comedy to confirm what was new in socialist society.” Soviet comedies made jokes about “greed, egotism, and injustice rather than traditional comedies that show buffoons.”
Patriotic these were found in many 1930s Soviet movies. Several historical films were made about the October Revolution and the previous Civil War. Some films had anti-fascist presentations. Lenin was the subject of several movies.
(As an aside, there is no mention of what movies presented about fascism during the times the Soviet Union had a treaty with Nazi Germany.)
There were 10 historical Soviet movies released during World War II. These showed the public how previous Russians fought foreign invaders. These movies has strong patriotic themes. Several movies were then made about World War II.
In 1961, the Soviet Party Programme declared that “artistic depiction of line goes hand in hand with the cultivation and development of the progressive traditions of world culture”. Movies depicted collective farming, depicted Soviet military heros, and showed the strength of the Soviet people.
The Union of Soviet Cinematographers was designed to adhere to work as determined by the Communist Party. The Communist Party set moral values.
Soviet realism continued as a major theme in their movies in the 1960s and 1970s.
Rosing of the Petersburg Technological Institute invented electronic television. The
average U.S.family (circa 1980) viewed TV six hours a day while the average Soviet viewed TV two to two and a half hours per day.
Studies showed the productivity of TV viewers who support a winning sports team are 20% to 25% more productive than TV viewers whose sports team lost.
The authors note increased TV viewership led to decreased movie and theatre attendance within the Soviet Union. Some feared TV may “dull the audience’s aesthetic taste leading to a decline in cultural standards” Others observed TV show varied programming from documentaries to serials. Large screen movies offer an attraction that TV can’t. Soviet TV viewers went to the movies one to two times monthly. They also watched movies on TV two to three times weekly. Thus TV increased total viewership of movies.
TV can use “subliminal techniques” that viewers see brief images that implant into the brain.
Parts of the Soviet Union did not receive TV until 1965 through the 1970s. 40% f viewers (in both urban areas and rural areas) watched TV, 40% went to the movies, and 40% read fiction. Over half of those who watched TV watched it daily.
Studies indicated that watching movies on TV did not lessen how often the viewers went to the cinema. Yet is was noticed that cinema attendance decreased as TV viewing increased.
A study by the authors found 20% of TV viewers had a preference for fiction films, 18% had a preference for documentaries, and 48% liked both about the same. They also found 54% prefer watching documentaries on TV rather than in the cinema while 12% preferred watching in the cinema over TV.
A survey found 56% of Soviets preferred TV over the cinema during work days. (The percentage that preferred the cinema was not given.) During days off, 46% preferred the cinema and 42% preferred TV. On holidays, 38% preferred TV and 30% preferred the cinema.
American TV entertained, which the authors noted that an American TV company President called “the lowest common denominator.” The authors argued that when TV is a business it does not serve society.
Soviet TV was designed for news programs, popular literature presentations, theatre, and “the diffusion of knowledge and standards.”
The Soviet audience had “outstanding traits according to the authors, because they received Communist ideals and values. This, the authors believed, improved the Soviet social milieu.
52.5% of Soviets were interested in fictional movies based on actual events. 6.8% preferred movies based on imaginary events. 12% of Soviet audiences preferred “exotic surroundings, unusual characters, and extraordinary events.”
40% of Soviets preferred movies “as life is”, 47.1% allowed for “a bit of intervention”, and 3.6% preferred totally invented films.
Some 1970s movies used allegories, background music, and other artistic means that created discussions yet were accepted by many viewers.
The authors note foreign audiences liked Soviet films. They were different from Western films centered around sex, neuroses and perversion.” Soviet films displayed responsibilities to people.
The authors concluded that “Soviet movies reflected Soviet society: the path of labor, struggle for its ideals, and accomplishments for the good of the people.”