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Cinema of Russia

While Russia was involved in filmmaking as early as most of the other nations in the West, it only came into prominence during the 1920s when it explored editing as the primary mode of cinematic expression. Because of the depletion of resources due to World War I, Russian film schools would take copies of David Wark Griffith's Intolerance and re-cut it as an exercise in creating meaning.

Initially, it was believed that film would be the ideal artform for communist Russia because of its populist potential and facility in propaganda; Lenin, in fact, declared it the most important medium. Dziga Vertov's newsreel series Kino-Pravda lasted from 1922 to 1925 and had a propagandistic bent; Vertov used the series to promote "Socialist realism" but also to experiment with cinema. 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. Consequently, film in Russia waned in the 1930s.

Stalin's era created only two films of any note: Aleksandr Nevsky and Ivan Groznyi. These films were made during the Patriotic war when censorship was slightly loosened.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Soviet Cinima again flowered, begining with films such as Ballada o Soldate Ballad of a Soldier that won the 1961 BAFTA Award for Best Picture and Letyat Juravli (The Cranes Fly). After the end of Khrushchev Thaw, and a new encroachment on free expression, Soviet cinema began to rely heavily on use of subtle hints and themes to say with images what could not be said with words, to circumvent the government censorship.

Vysota (Height) is considered to be defining film of the Thaw era (it also became the foundation of the Bard movement)

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

After Stalin, Soviet directors got a free hand to do what they wanted (meaning they were not told what movies to make and about what), however their completed films had to pass the inspection of government censors. If any material was found offensive or undesirable, it was either removed, edited or if the director refused to do this, it was shelved. In rare cases the director managed to convince the government of his innoccence and the film was released.

Oddities created by censorship include:

  • The delay of the release of the film Solaris by two years, causing it to appear on the heels of Kubrick's 2001 (and thus was dubbed in the West an answer to 2001), although it was made before.
  • The release of Andrey Rublev in black and white (it was originally in color) because the film was deemed too bloody.
  • The first chapter of the epic film Osvoboshdenie (Liberation) was filmed 20 years after the subsequent three parts. The director 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.

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

  • Semnadzat' Mgnoveniy Vesny (Seventeen Moments of Spring), which created the immortal character of Standartenfuerher Stierlitz, and whose compelling and unbiased look at the life of a spy in wartorn Germany made the film popular in both the Germanies as well.
  • Beloe Solntze Pustyni (White Sun of the Desert), clearly propagandistic, but a classic.
  • Moskava Slezam ne Verit (Moscow Does Not believe Tears)
  • A Ya Idu Shagayu po Moskve (But I walk, striding Through Moscow)
  • Ironiya Sudiby ili s Lekhkim Parom ( The Irony of Fate or Light Steam)
  • Pokrovskiye Vorota (Protection Gates)
  • Gentelmeny Udachi (Gentlemen of Fate)
  • Operatzyya "Y" i drugie istorii (Opertion "Y" and other stories)

Soviet directors were more concerned with art than with 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 films. In keeping with Russian character, tragi-comedies were very popular. Soviet films tend to be rather culture-specific and are difficult for many foreigners to understand without having been exposed to the culture first.

"Soviet Cinema" should not be used as a synonym for "Russian Cinema". Although Russian language films predominated, several republics developed lively and unique cinemas, while others did not. Most notable for their republican cinema were Georgia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and, to a lesser degree, Belarus and Moldova.

Animation was a respected genre, with many directors experimenting with techinique.

Prominent studios included:

  • Lenfilm
  • Mosfilm
  • Gorky Cinema Studio (Kinostudiya imeni Gorkogo)
  • Odessa Cinema Studio (Odesskaya kinostudiya)
  • Belarusfilm
  • Minsk Cinema Studio (Minskaya kinostudiys)

and in the late 1980s:

  • Pilot

The collapse of the Soviet Union brought a virtual end to quality cinema (as well as literature) in Russia and the other republics. Very few films of note were created for over a decade. These included Obloko Rai (Paradise Cloud) and Opalennye Solntsem (Burnt by the Sun).

The new Russia's cinema is more profit-oriented, with artistic needs taking a backseat to more immediate desires. Much low-quality action, comedy and pornography has been filmed.

In 2002, Aleksandr Sokurov filmed Russian Ark, the world's first unedited feature film: recorded in uncompressed high definition, shot in a single take and featuring the world's longest Steadicam shot. The film is 90 minutes long.

Early personalities in the development of the Russian cinema:

Later personalities:

See also: History of cinema


Last updated: 12-22-2004 06:00:14