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Unit 3: Art and the

Moving Image

Soviet Cinema
Why is studying Soviet Cinema
 Soviet films of the 1920s did much to define
the cinematic vocabulary of modern
Hollywood, producing a range of effects
designed to emotionally manipulate the
audience. Even today modern filmmakers
have at various times paid direct or indirect
homage to their Russian cinematic forebears.
Historical context: Tsarist
When studying film it is important to always consider the political, social and
historical context in which films are made. This is particularly the case with
Russia, which has a long and turbulent history.
 The origins of the revolution - Despite being the third biggest Empire in
the world it can be suggested that the prevalence of serfdom and the
conservative policies of Nicolas I and a Tsarist or monarchist system
impeded the development of Russia in the mid-nineteenth century.
 Nicholas's successor Alexander II (1855–1881) enacted significant reforms,
including the abolition of serfdom in 1861; these "Great Reforms" spurred
 However, many socio-economic conflicts were aggravated during
Alexander III’s reign and under his son, Nicholas II. Harsh conditions in
factories created mass support for the revolutionary socialist movement.
 In January 1905, striking workers peaceably demonstrated for reforms in
Saint Petersburg but were fired upon by troops, killing and wounding
 The abject failure of the Tsar's military forces in the initially popular
Russo-Japanese War, and the event known as "Bloody Sunday", ignited the
Russian Revolution of 1905.
Revolution in Russia 1905
Historical context: Effects of
War, Industrialisation, Famine.
 Famine - Although the uprising was swiftly put down by the army and although Nicholas II
retained much of his power, he was forced to concede major reforms, including granting the
freedoms of speech and assembly, the legalization of political parties and the creation of an
elected legislative assembly, the Duma; however, the hopes for basic improvements in the lives
of industrial workers were unfulfilled. Droughts and famines in Russia tended to occur on a fairly
regular basis, with famine occurring every 10–13 years. The 1891–92 famine killed approximately
half-million people.[77] Cholera epidemics claimed more than 2 million lives.[78]
 WWI & The Russian Revolution - Russia entered World War I in aid of its ally Serbia and fought
a war across three fronts while isolated from its allies. Russia did not want war but felt that the
only alternative was German domination of Europe. Although the army was far from defeated in
1916, the already-existing public distrust of the regime was deepened by the rising costs of war,
casualties (Russia suffered the highest number of both military and civilian deaths of the
Entente Powers), and tales of corruption and even treason in high places, leading to the outbreak
of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
 February Revolution & Provisional Government - A series of uprisings were organized by
workers and peasants throughout the country, as well as by soldiers in the Russian army, who
were mainly of peasant origin. Many of the uprisings were organized and led by democratically
elected councils called Soviets. The February Revolution overthrew the Russian monarchy, which
was replaced by a shaky coalition of political parties that declared itself the
Provisional Government.
 October Revolution and Lenin - The abdication marked the end of imperial rule in Russia, and
Nicholas and his family were imprisoned and later executed during the Civil War. While initially
receiving the support of the Soviets, the Provisional Government proved unable to resolve many
problems which had led to the February Revolution. The second revolution, the
October Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Provisional Government and created the
world’s first socialist state.
Vladimir Lenin
Historical Context: Soviet
Internal Conflict - Following the October Revolution, a civil war broke out
between the new regime and the Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, and
the White movement. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk concluded hostilities with
the Central Powers in World War I. Russia lost its Ukrainian, Polish and
Baltic territories, and Finland by signing the treaty. The Allied powers
launched a military intervention in support of anti-Communist forces and
both the Bolsheviks and White movement carried out campaigns of
deportations and executions against each other, known respectively as the
Red Terror and White Terror.

 The Soviet Union - The famine of 1921 claimed 5 million victims.[79] By the
end of the Russian Civil War, some 20 million had died and the Russian
economy and infrastructure were completely devastated. Following victory in
the Civil War, the Russian SFSR together with three other Soviet republics
formed the Soviet Union on 30 December 1922. Out of the 15 republics that
constituted the Soviet Union, the
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the largest republic in terms
of size and making up over half of the total USSR population, dominated the
Soviet Union for its entire 69-year history; the USSR was often referred to,
though incorrectly, as "Russia" and its people as "Russians."
Historical Context: Soviet
 Joseph Stalin - Following Lenin's death in 1924, Joseph Stalin consolidated power,
becoming a dictator. He launched a command economy, rapid industrialization of the
largely rural country, and collectivization of its agriculture. These moves transformed
the Soviet Union from an agrarian economy to a major industrial powerhouse in a
short span of time. This transformation came with a heavy price, however. Millions of
citizens died as a consequence of his harsh policies (see Gulag, Dekulakization,
Population transfers in the Soviet Union, Soviet famine of 1932–1933, and
Great Terror).
 World War II - On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union with the largest and
most powerful invasion force in human history,[83] opening the
largest theater of the Second World War. Although the German army had considerable success
early on, they suffered defeats after reaching the outskirts of Moscow and were dealt their first
major defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–1943.[84] Soviet forces drove
through Eastern Europe in 1944–45 and captured Berlin in May, 1945. In the conflict, Soviet
military and civilian death toll were 10.6 million and 15.9 million respectively,[85] accounting for
about a third of all World War II casualties. The Soviet economy and infrastructure suffered
massive devastation[86] but the Soviet Union emerged as an acknowledged superpower. The
Red Army occupied Eastern Europe after the war, including the eastern half of Germany; Stalin
installed socialist governments in these satellite states. Becoming the world's second
nuclear weapons power, the USSR established the Warsaw Pact alliance and entered into a
struggle for global dominance with the United States, which became known as the Cold War
Early Russian Cinema 1896-
 First Films - The first films were shown in Russia in 1896 and
within ten years domestic interest in cinema-going was so strong
that it led to the beginnings of domestic production. With its
origins as a novelty in stalls at fairs, cinema was seen as
entertainment rather than an art form.
 Silent Films? – Early screenings featured a series of short films
running continuously with often drunk and noisy audiences
wandering in and out. Films were shot without sound, but early
Russian films were based around songs that viewers could sing
along with.
 Literary Adaptations - There were a number of historical
productions and adaptations of well-known works of literature as
well, since cinema was seen as working better when the
audience was already familiar with the plot.
World War I
 Breakthrough – The onset of WWI created a wealth of
innovation and increased demand for domestic films as Imports
were hindered.
 First Auteur - The length of productions had by this time
increased, and Evgeny Bauer became the first Russian director
to insist that he have overall creative control for all of his films'
elements (set design, lighting, costumes, script, editing) and not
just marshal the actors in the shooting process.
 Although firmly rooted in melodrama and often exploiting such
clichés as the little country girl corrupted by the big city, Bauer's
films are of much interest, rooted as they are in symbolism,
Greek tragedy and the great Russian novels of the 19th century.
Even today, his choice of themes seems adventurous, albeit
morbid, and his sense of mise-en-scène is striking.
The Dying Swan 1917 Russian
Silent Vera Karalli Evgeni Bauer
After the Revolution
 Growth of Film Under Communism - The Tsarist
authorities and the Orthodox Church were extremely
distrustful of cinema, popular and bawdy as it was.
The communists, who seized power in October
1917, knew only too well its power and were keen to
tap into it.
 Initially though, the politicians were more concerned
with consolidating their shaky power base (civil war
raged in the country until 1921), and the Tsarist
filmmakers were more concerned with fleeing the
 Moreover, early Soviet film was hampered by a
shortage of film stock.
 The first films after the revolution were "agit-prop" (agitation-
propaganda) works that sought to educate a largely illiterate
population about the goals of communism. With few cinemas in
the areas that most needed educating, screenings took place on
specially converted "agit trains" that toured the country.
 With the old guard of filmmaking largely in exile and a new
political order in place, young emerging filmmakers sought to
create a new way of looking at reality (as did those working in
other art forms, such as music, poetry, architecture and fine art).
The result was one of the most intense periods of creativity in
cinema history.
 Early Soviet directors were highly influenced by the "cinema-
ness" of American films of the time: Keystone Kops chase
scenes made in the early teens, for example, included such
stunts as jumping off a bridge onto a bus passing underneath - a
scene that totally transcended the possibilities of the
conventional theater. D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), which
had to be smuggled into the country, was also a huge influence,
despite grave reservations about the director's racism.
 Kuleshov & Soviet Montage - In a 1922 article entitled
"Americanism," pioneering director Lev Kuleshov called for
filmmaking with an "organic link with contemporary life," "the
maximum amount of movement," shorter scenes and therefore
more rapid cutting, close-ups and attention to how individual
shots worked when combined together - montage. Russian
directors responded to Kuleshov with a series of works that,
despite the heavy influence of American cinema, came to be
known as Soviet montage.
Keystone Cops
Lev Kuleshov
 Kuleshov worked under Evgeny Bauer during the Tsarist period, first as a set designer and then
as an actor. Although Kuleshov repudiated "the Bauer method," he consolidated the notion of the
director as artist in total control and he doubtless learned much from Bauer.
 The Kuleshov Experiment - His first films were newsreels and enacted documentaries for the
nascent Soviet state and he then went on to found "Kuleshov Collective" at the State Film School.
However, shortages of film stock were chronic and agit-prop work had priority. Starved of the
ability to make art films, Kuleshov went through an intense period of theorization about cinema
and experimented with a form of theater that mimicked the visual language of cinema - "films
without film."
 When he made his first film in 1924, Neobychainye prikliucheniya mistera Vesta v strane
bol'shevikov (The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, 1924) he
was able to claim that it was a "verification of [his workshop's] methods." As well as being notable
for its montage, Mr. West illustrates Kuleshov's interest in actors and acting, something that sets
him aside from montage directors such as Eisenstein.
 Innovation - After a science fiction thriller, The Death Ray (Luch smerti, 1925), Kuleshov made
By the Law (Po zakonu, 1926), based on a Jack London story about the Gold Rush (thus once
again showing Kuleshov's interest in America). It's a film that graphically demonstrates the ends
to which Kuleshov and his team of actors would go in order to make cinema. The cabin in which
the action takes place was built alongside an actual Russian river in the full knowledge that it was
about to flood. Kuleshov intended there to be a couple of inches of water on the cabin floor, but it
rose to a couple of feet. Nevertheless, the team continued shooting, despite occasional electric
shocks from the lighting cables that had to run underwater and the freezing conditions for the
soaked actors. The only film currently available on video from Kuleshov's oeuvre, By the Law
demonstrates his huge talent, imagination and energy.
By the Law
Vsevelod Pudovkin
 Pudovkin, like his teacher Kuleshov, also cherished the role of
the actor. His first film was the comic short Chess Fever
(Shakhmatnaya goryachka, 1925), which seemlessly blended
documentary footage of real-life Grand Master Jose Raul
Capablanca (shot at a tournament in Moscow) to make it seem
he is part of the story.
 His most famous film is Mother (Mat, 1926), based on a story by
leading light of communist literature, Maxim Gorky. It follows a
mother in Tsarist Russia who is unable to understand her son's
opposition to the regime. Only when he is imprisoned does the
need for revolution dawn on her. The final scene, with the son
escaping down a river on an ice floe and the prison guards in hot
pursuit, is one of the best known from Soviet silent cinema.
Vsevelod Pudovkin
 The End of St Petersburg (Konets Sankt-Peterburga, 1927) was one of a string of films
made to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. In this version, a
peasant arrives in pre-war Saint Petersburg to find work just as strikes break out across
the capital. He joins the strike-breakers and turns one of the organizers in to the police, but
he soon realizes he's wrong and tries, in vain, to make amends. Until, that is, some years
later when revolution breaks out.
 Storm over Asia (Potomok Chingis-khana, 1928) was filmed on location in Mongolia and is
set during the period when British rule was being destabilized by the Civil War. The wily
British believe they have found the heir to Ghengis Khan and install him as a puppet leader
to try and introduce stability. The ethnographically shot scenes are still notable, and this
cautionary tale of ill-advised imperialism may strike some as strikingly resonant with
today's global politics.
 Pudovkin's reputation is now less than that of his fellow montagists, perhaps because,
unlike directors such as Kuleshov, Eisenstein or Dovzhenko, he never made a film that
had a decidedly anti-regime subtext and was always the dedicated artist in the service of
the state. Furthermore, during the Great Terror he "was not always averse to protecting his
own interests at the expense of others," as Richard Taylor phrases it. Still, his films from
the 1920s are undoubted masterpieces of the era and, if they look less spectacular now
than they once did, it is because Pudovkin's experimentations with editing have been more
evenly successful and incorportated into the mainstream of cinema vocabulary than have
those of other directors from the period.
Sergei Eisenstein
 No film director has had more words written about them than Sergei Eisenstein,
the undisputed master of Soviet montage, and no director has written so much
about film. His works are still referenced and borrowed from by modern directors
such as Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma, not to
mention advertising.
 Yet none of the films he made exist in the final form in which he wanted them.
The negatives to his first two features Strike (Stachka, 1924) and
Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potemkin, 1925) were sold by Russia to
Germany to raise hard currency, and were censored and edited there. His next
two features, including October (Oktyabr, 1927), had to be radically revised in an
attempt to meet official approval. Two films from the 1930s were never
completed. His attempt to rehabilitate himself, Aleksandr Nevsky (1938) was
shown to Stalin before it was completed and the dictator was so pleased with the
unfinished work that nobody dared alter it further. Eisenstein died without
finishing his final project, the Ivan the Terrible trilogy (1943-46). Like that other
pioneering auteur Orson Welles (with whom he shared a passion for
Shakespeare), Eisenstein left behind a long list of unrealized projects and ideas
for films with his death.
Sergei Eisenstein
 Eisenstein started in experimental theater but soon drifted towards cinema. His
first film, Strike (Stachka, 1924), although in some ways still marked by his
background in theater - Eisenstein would also prefer to use character "types"
rather than let his actors explore the personalities of complex individuals -
employed some boldly cinematic techniques. The film depicts the titular
industrial action, which takes place in Tsarist times, and its suppression by the
police. While some of the experiments in film language fail (the dramatic sweeps
and shapes to change or frame action would go in his later films), others are as
vivid and memorable as anything he would do in his more famous films. Though
Strike is a little more uneven than Eisenstein's later works, veteran critic Derek
Malcolm considers it his best, as it shows his basic humanity far better than his
later masterpieces.
 Eisenstein's most famous and influential film is Battleship Potemkin (1925).
Although originally conceived as one of a number of films celebrating the 20th
anniversary of the 1905 uprisings against Tsarist rule, Battleship Potemkin was
the only one of the series made. The film's plot is loosely based on the mutiny
aboard the titular war vessel in response to appalling conditions and an uncaring
and aloof officer class.
Battleship Potemkin
 Odessa, in the film, comes out in support of the militant sailors, and the
Tsarist army brutally suppresses the jubilant shoreline encouragement -
the infamous "Odessa Steps" sequence (in fact, a fictional invention by
the film's makers rather than a historical event). The battleship then
heads out to sea; in the final act, another memorable and endlessly
copied sequence, the battleship faces the combined might of the
imperial navy with its red flag (hand tinted on the film) fluttering proudly
in the wind. The true end was rather more ignominious, with the sailors
docking in Romania and being arrested and transferred to Russia.
 Eisenstein's conception of montage was that by understanding that the
shot is the basic unit of filmmaking you could play the audience's
emotions like a violin, making them feel rage or calm as the director
desired. This, for Eisenstein, was the basis of a revolutionary cinema,
galvinizing the masses to support the political changes in society. The
film was seen as so effective at rousing the emotions against the
tyranny of capitalism that it was banned in some parts of the world; in
England, the film couldn't be shown until 1954.
Battleship Potemkin – Odessa
 The director's next project was also a commemorative work, marking the tenth anniversary of the October
1917 revolution in which the Bolsheviks seized power. Its original title was simply October, but for
international distribution the film is also often given the title of communist journalist John Reed's account
of the events, Ten Days that Shook the World. More intellectual than Battleship Potemkin, the film uses
striking juxtapositions of symbols to comment on the events.
 The film had to be violently recut, though, in order to severely downplay the role played in the revolution
by Trotsky, who had fallen out of political favor and been expelled from the Party by the time the film was
finished. A similar fate would befall The Old and the New (Staroe I novoe, 1929), which was originally
entitled The General Line (General'naya liniya) and was to portray the advantages of collectivized farms
over individual peasant small-holdings.
 With the advent of sound, Eisenstein would travel abroad to investigate the new techniques. Although he
was feted in Hollywood as a genius, his proposals to make a film there never led to anything concrete; if
his attempts to make films under Stalin were perpetually hindered, in Hollywood they were thwarted
 Out of luck in Hollwood, Eisenstein tried to shoot a film, ¡Qué Viva Mexico!, in and about Mexico for his
first sound project. But the money ran out, and Stalin refused the director access to the footage he had
shot. The film was reconstructed in 1979 from the available footage and the director's notes.
 When the director returned to Russian in 1932, under the orders of Stalin, he was distinctly out of favor,
with his work branded as "formalist," a favorite term of abuse by the regime for directors who were more
concerned with film language than talking to the masses. Although he lived for another 16 years, he would
work on only three more film projects, one of which, Bezhin Meadow (Bezhin lug), was only partially
completed before the footage was destroyed. His other two works are covered in the section "Sound
Cinema and the Great Terror."
Dziga Vertov
 The work of Dziga Vertov (born Denis Kaufman) was diametrically
opposed to that of Eisenstein, but is just as rewarding and challenging.
Suspicious of "unreal" staged fiction, Vertov called a for a radical film
language that apotheosized the camera lens (the "cine-eye") as
superior to the human eye in capturing a cinematic reality. Perhaps not
entirely consistently, he claimed his work as objective documentary
while using extreme stylization in composition, special effects and
editing. Although later eclipsed by accusations of formalism in his own
country, Vertov's interest in everyday life would go on to influence
cinéma vérité, Direct Cinema, the French New Wave and Dogme 95.
 Vertov, whose pseudonym translates as "whizzing top," started his film
career in news reels, reporting from the front of the Civil War and also
screening his works in the agit-trains. Trained in psycho-neurology in
the field of perception, Vertov was able to use his background to
experiment with montage techniques. Throughout the early 1920s, he
published a slew of manifestos and theoretical papers on cinema while
at the same time producing a series of features that sought to present
"life caught unawares."
Dziga Vertov – Man with a Movie
 The culmination of this came in 1929 with his magnus opus
Man with a Movie Camera (Chelovek s kinoapparatom), one of a
series of otherwise unrelated productions at the time that were
"symphonies" to the great cities of Europe. In Vertov's case, the
city was a composite one, including scenes from Moscow, Kiev
and Odessa, but the point was to capture general Soviet reality
not that of an individual place. As the title suggests, the film
follows a filmmaker who is shooting a documentary about life in
the city. Not only is the whole premise of the film exceedingly
self-referential, it also contains an unusually prescient subtext
that shows cinema as a medium of manipulation and casts doubt
on its own veracity.
 Vertov went on to experiment with sound in films such as
Three Songs of Lenin (Tri pesni o Lenine, 1934). The adulation
of the European avant garde and a steady stream of awards
protected Vertov's position at first. But it was not to last, and
Vertov eventually went back to editing newsreels.
Man with a Movie Camera
Aleksandr Dovzhenko
 Although Zvenigora (1928) was Dovzhenko's fourth film project, it is often labelled as his
debut, so violently did it fling him from provincial obscurity to bright stardom in the
firmament of Soviet montage. Dovzhenko, aside from his distinctive film language, is
distinguished from his contemporaries by his painterly eye (he trained as an artist), his
interest in the folklore of his native Ukraine, his attempts to reconcile modernity and
tradition and his lyricism.
 Zvenigora's sweeping narrative encapsulates the whole of Ukrainian history, and was, as
the director himself put it, "in 2000 meters of film, a whole millennium." Replete with
culturally specific references and adopting an ambitious narrative structure, Zvenigora was
notoriously difficult to follow for Soviet audiences at the time. Even Eisenstein's account of
the Moscow premiere of Zvenigora suggests as much confusion as admiration. Perhaps it
is no surprise then that nobody has yet risked springing it on the American public via a
DVD release. Arsenal (1929), was also historical, commissioned to mark the tenth
anniversary of the battle for Kiev during the Civil War. The battle was noteworthy for a six-
day siege in which Bolshevik irregulars managed to defend the city's munitions factory -
the "Arsenal" of the title - from the Tsarist "Whites." Although the narrative is firmly rooted
in one time period, Arsenal is thematically more ambitious. Not only did the director show
the Civil War victory to be a result of the commitment of ordinary people (rather than the
leadership of the Party), Dovzhenko made a brutal film that refused to glorify war or
revolution. Arsenal's triumphalist ending (slightly at odds with the rest of the film's tone) is
a retelling of a Ukrainian folk legend about an 18th-century leader of a peasant uprising.
 Arsenal sparked a storm of critical response, which the increasingly confident
and respected director was able to weather. But his next feature, Earth (Zemlia,
1930), was too controversial for the director's reputation to survive intact. His
supporters, however, instantly, and correctly, identified it as the masterpiece of
Dovzhenko's career.
 The film was intended to illustrate the state's new policy of collectivization of
agriculture and the end of "rural capitalism." Ukraine, as the "bread basket" of
the Soviet Union, bore the brunt of this transformation. And, indeed, Earth does
argue in favor of collectivism over small peasant holdings.
 Once again, though, the Party is entirely absent from Dovzhenko's vision, and
the film is a paean to the rhythms and cycles of nature - an antithetical notion to
communism's insistence on linear progression - and is lush with images of
fertility and sexuality. Unlike Zvenigora and Arsenal, the plot is marked by
narrative simplicity and, although the story is filled with confrontation and,
eventually, murder, the film is a supreme example of poetic lyricism.
 Dovzhenko would continue to make films, but the increasingly oppressive
political environment tamed the once-bold director. His legacy, though, would
not be forgotten, and the feature film studios in Kiev would later be named after
Entertainment Film in the
 Montage was a major innovation that has made Russian cinema
famous throughout the world. But it was not appreciated by Russian
audiences at the time. The classics of montage generally got small
releases and were seen by a relatively small number of people.
 Far more popular than these exercises in the avant garde use of film
language were genre films whose first aim was to entertain, returning
the cinema to its popular roots. Although frequently less than
ideological, these films often found favor with the authorities as they
could be exported, thus bringing the Bolsheviks much needed hard
 One of the big coups of Soviet cinema in the early days was succeeding
in wooing one of the big names of Tsarist-era cinema back to work in
the country - Iakov Protazanov. Given his connections with the old
guard of filmmaking, perhaps it is no surprise that Protazanov should
make far more "traditional" cinema, with strong characters and story-
lines; he was, after all, one of the most popular and prolific directors of
the time.
 It's a strange twist of fate, then, that the only film of his to be
available on DVD in the US is not one of his "popular" works but
his semi-experimental feature Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924), the
first film he made after his return. Commonly described as the
first Soviet science fiction film and noted for its expressionist
costume and set design, Aelita is both heralded as a precursor to
Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) and sometimes dismissively
written off as communist propaganda - an accusation which is
completely baffling, given that the film argues that the ideals of
revolutions are prone to being hijacked by tyrants.
 Protazanov learned his lesson from Aelita and never made such
a densely plotted and avant garde film again. Yet Aelita already
shows his interest in popular cinema and conventional genre
forms, such as the detective story, slapstick comedy and
romance, while the expressionist portions of the film, although
striking, take up relatively little screen time, causing some critics
to question whether it should be called a science fiction film at
 A refreshing alternative to the giddy experimentalism of the 1920s can
be found in the hilarious comedies of Boris Barnet. Two of them are
available on DVD, Girl with the Hatbox (Devushka s korobkoi, 1927) and
his first sound film, Outskirts (Okraina, 1933). Although light-hearted,
these are also works of considerable perception and artistry. Outskirts is
also the title of one of the most original Russian films of the 1990s, Petr
Lutsik's satiric homage to 1920s and 30s Soviet cinema that quotes
dozens of the classics, including its nod to Barnet's film.

 Worth noting is that Girl with the Hatbox features the comic genius of
Vladimir Fogel, an extraordinary chameleon actor who starred in some
of the best comedies of the age. He can also be seen in Kuleshov's By
the Law, Pudovkin's Chess Fever and Abram Room's Bed and Sofa.
The ability to entertain was obviously a deceptive reflection of his
personality; he committed suicide in 1929, at a time when the regime
was becoming more repressive. Barnet himself also took his own life,
although not until 1965.
Sound and the Great
 The introduction of sound in the 1930s had a huge effect on Soviet
cinema, creating two great challenges.
 The first problem was how to reconcile sound techniques with montage,
and Eisenstein quickly realized that sound could mean that cinema
would return to a more theater-like presentation of action, with the
sound added as mere "illustration." Rapid visual editing could not be
matched by rapid editing of sound in a way that would be decipherable
to the audience, and a continuous aural experience demanded a
parallel visual continuity which montage could not supply (Pudovkin's
sound film, Deserter [Dezertir, 1933] amply illustrates the mismatch). In
short, sound cinema made Soviet montage obsolete.
 Not to be defeated, Eisenstein immersed himself in sound theory and
proposed that sound would work best when the music undercut the
image rather than reinforced it. He was able to put his ideas to the test
in his film Aleksandr Nevsky (1938), which had an original score by
Sergei Prokofiev.
Sound and the Great Terror
 The second problem was that of the script. Sound cinema enabled film to say so
much more. Whereas previously the message was carried visually, now it could
be carried more directly in the dialogue. But this was a double-edged sword. As
well as allowing a plainer, simpler cinema, it also meant that it was more subject
to censorship. As a result, film production dropped as scripts struggled to make
it past the censors, who were monitoring words now rather than abstract

 Social Realism and the Great terror - These major changes were exacerbated
by a reorganization of the arts and the promulgation of Socialist Realism - the
aesthetic doctrine that tried to bring to life Stalin's famous dictum, "Life has
become more joyous, comrades, life has become happier." As Stalin increased
his grip on the reins of the country (murdering the only plausible challenger to
his power, Sergei Kirov, in 1934), he launched the Great Terror in which
thousands of people vanished into the Soviet gulag (prison camps) in Siberia.
Artistic expression became more difficult - and dangerous. Irony, expressionism
and "inner soul drama" were definitely to be avoided if a filmmaker wanted to
stay out of trouble.
 It required a certain amount of skill to produce a film, such as Mark
Donskoi's The Childhood of Maxim Gorky (Detstvo Gor'kogo, 1938),
that was exciting enough to please audiences and yet not contain
anything politically problematic. Also highly popular in this period were
Stalinist musicals, which had an uncannily similar history to Nazi
musicals in Germany at the same time.

 Nevertheless, the 1930s were not without brave souls who dared to
challenge Stalin in film, such as Lev Kuleshov, whose The Great
Consoler (Velikii uteshitel, 1933) is a complex critique of artists who
refused to tell the truth about the social conditions around them, and
Aleksandr Medvedkin, whose Happiness (Shchaste, 1935) is an
outrageously irreverent satire, complete with one of the strangest
images in of all Russian film - nuns wearing see-through tops.
Medvedkin, who claimed with a straight face throughout his life that he
was a committed Bolshevik, has been the subject of two documentaries
by Chris Marker.
 Eisenstein's Aleksandr Nevsky largely toed the Party line, thus rehabilitating him
and giving him the freedom to make the audacious and sophisticated cinematic
attack on Stalin in the dictator's lifetime, the epic Ivan the Terrible (Ivan Grozny,
1943-46). The film was originally intended to be in three parts, but Eisenstein
died before the third part could be completed. But parts I and II alone stand as
solid Shakespearean dramas about power and tyranny, complete with original
music from Prokofiev, lavish sets and costumes and truly astounding
camerawork. Part II is particularly dizzying, subjectively taking us into the causes
of Ivan's brutal ruling style - his madness. Stalin had no trouble in seeing
through the comparison Eisenstein was making, and the film was first recut and
then banned.

 After the war, Russian cinema was marked by hagiographic works that idolized
the position of Stalin in Russian history. As in the early 1930s, there was a
shortage of scripts that met the strict criteria of the time, and many of the films
shown in cinemas had been stolen from the retreating Germans. Also looted
from the invaders was color film stock, and Russia was able to make its first
color films (Ivan the Terrible contains some sequences in dazzling color).
Ivan the Terrible
 Essentially, though, Russian art cinema was in
hibernation and, after Ivan the Terrible, it would take
more than ten years for a Russian director to make
a film that would be respected on the international
cinema scene. In the intervening period, two
important events had to happen:
 in 1953, Stalin died and, in 1956, Khruschev gave
his "secret speech" denouncing Stalinism. It sent
waves through the establishment and allowed a
whole new type of cinema to be made. And, with
Stalin now a bête noire, Ivan the Terrible could
finally be shown to the Soviet public in 1958.
Summing Up
 Tsarism, famine and Industrialisation led to Revolution
 The Russian Revolution led to an intense period of artistic
creation by directors such as Lev Kuleshov, Vsevelod Pudovkin,
Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov.
 Soviet montage was highly influential and innovative to this day
 Internal conflicts within the Communist party led to the rise of
Lenin and Stalin and ultimately a return to dictatorship.
 Constraints placed on Artists and filmmakers led often to
banishment, reactive works such as Eisenstein’s Ivan the
Terrible and Social Realism (Documentary propaganda in favour
of the communist party).
 Censorship and the introduction of sound effectively led to the
end of much experimentaion in Soviet Cinema.
 Soviet montage theory is an approach to
understanding and creating cinema that relies
heavily upon editing (montage is French for "putting
 Although Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s disagreed
about how exactly to view montage,
Sergei Eisenstein marked a note of accord in "A
Dialectic Approach to Film Form" when he noted
that montage is "the nerve of cinema," and that "to
determine the nature of montage is to solve
the specific problem of cinema."
Eisenstein's theory of
 In formal terms, this style of editing offers
 discontinuity in graphic qualities,
 violations of the 180 degree rule,
 and the creation of impossible spatial matches.
 It is not concerned with the depiction of a comprehensible spatial or temporal continuity as
is found in the classical Hollywood continuity system.
 It draws attention to temporal ellipses because changes between shots are obvious, less
fluid, and non-seamless.
 Eisenstein describes five methods of montage in his introductory essay "Word and Image".
These varieties of montage build one upon the other so the "higher" forms also include the
approaches of the "simpler" varieties. In addition, the "lower" types of montage are limited
to the complexity of meaning which they can communicate, and as the montage rises in
complexity, so will the meaning it is able to communicate (primal emotions to intellectual
ideals). It is easiest to understand these as part of a spectrum where, at one end, the
image content matters very little, while at the other it determines everything about the
choices and combinations of the edited film.
 Eisenstein's montage theories are based on the idea that montage originates in the
"collision" between different shots in an illustration of the idea of thesis and antithesis.
This basis allowed him to argue that montage is inherently dialectical, thus it should be
considered a demonstration of Marxism and Hegelian philosophy. His collisions of shots
were based on conflicts of scale, volume, rhythm, motion (speed, as well as direction of
movement within the frame), as well as more conceptual values such as class.
Methods of montage
 Metric - where the editing follows a specific number of frames (based purely on the
physical nature of time), cutting to the next shot no matter what is happening within
the image. This montage is used to elicit the most basIC and emotional of reactions in
the audience.
 Metric montage example from Eisenstein's October.
 Rhythmic - includes cutting based on time, but using the visual composition of the
shots -- along with a change in the speed of the metric cuts -- to induce more
complex meanings than what is possible with metric montage. Once sound was
introduced, rhythmic montage also included audial elements (music, dialogue,
 Rhythmic montage example from Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo where the
protagonist and the two antagonists face off in a three-way duel
 Another rhythmic montage example from The Battleship Potemkin's "Odessa
steps" sequence.
 Tonal - a tonal montage uses the emotional meaning of the shots -- not just
manipulating the temporal length of the cuts or its rhythmical characteristics -- to elicit
a reaction from the audience even more complex than from the metric or rhythmic
montage. For example, a sleeping baby would emote calmness and relaxation.
 Tonal example from Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin. This is the clip
following the death of the revolutionary sailor Vakulinchuk, a martyr for sailors and
Methods of Montage
 Overtonal/Associational - the overtonal montage is the cumulation of metric,
rhythmic, and tonal montage to synthesize its effect on the audience for an even
more abstract and complicated effect.
 Overtonal example from Pudovkin's Mother. In this clip, the men are workers
walking towards a confrontation at their factory, and later in the movie, the
protagonist uses ice as a means of escape.[1].
 Intellectual - uses shots which, combined, elicit an intellectual meaning.[2]
 Intellectual montage examples from Eisenstein's October and Strike. In
Strike, a shot of striking workers being attacked cut with a shot of a bull being
slaughtered creates a film metaphor suggesting that the workers are being
treated like cattle. This meaning does not exist in the individual shots; it only
arises when they are juxtaposed.
 Some contemporary examples of intellectual montage:
 In The Godfather, during Michael's nephew's baptism, the priest performs
the sacrament of baptism while we see killings ordered by Michael take
place elsewhere. The murders thus "baptize" Michael into a life of crime.
 At the end of Apocalypse Now the execution of Colonel Kurtz is
juxtaposed with the villagers' slaughter of a water buffalo.
The Godfather – Francis Ford
Apocalypse Now – Francis Ford
Dog Star Man – Stan
Soviet Art – Early Years
 Proletkult -During the Russian Revolution a movement was initiated to put all arts to
service of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The instrument for this was created just days
before the October Revolution, known as Proletkult, an abbreviation for "Proletarskie
kulturno-prosvetitelnye organizatsii" (Proletarian Cultural and Enlightenment
Organizations). A prominent theorist of this movement was Aleksandr Bogdanov. Initially
Narkompros (ministry of education), which was also in charge of the arts, supported
Proletkult. However the latter sought too much independence from the ruling
Communist Party of Bolsheviks, gained negative attitude of Vladimir Lenin, by 1922
declined considerably, and was eventually disbanded in 1932.
 The ideas of Proletkult attracted the intersests of Russian avantgarde, who strived to get
rid of the conventions of "bourgeois art". Among notable persons of this movement was
Kazimir Malevich. However the ideas of the avantgarde eventually clashed with the newly
emerged state-sponsored direction of Socialist Realism.
 In search of new forms of expression, the Proletkult organisation was highly eclectic in its
art forms, and thus was prone to harsh criticism for inclusion of such modern directions as
impressionism and cubism, since these movements existed before the revolution and
hence were associated with "decadent bourgeois art".
 Among early experiments of Proletkult was of , the prominent theoretist being .
 Another group was UNOVIS, a very short-lived but influential collection of young artists
lead by Kasimir Malevich in the 1920's.
Kasimir Malevich 1879 - 1935

Self portrait, 1912

Kasimir Malevich 1879 - 1935

 Black Square, 1915

 Influenced by Cubism
 Developed the concept of Suprematism an
art movement focused on fundamental
geometric forms (in particular the square and
circle) which formed in Russia in 1915-1916.
 ‘I felt only night within me and it was then that
I conceived the new art, which I called
Black Circle, 1915
Social Realism – Aleksandr
 Officially approved art was required to follow
the doctrine of Socialist Realism.
 Roses for Stalin (1949)
 One of the best known official Soviet artists
was Aleksandr Gerasimov. During his career
he produced a large number of heroic
paintings of Stalin and other members of the
Politburo. Gerasimov's painting shows a
mastery of classical representational
Gerasimov's famous Lenin on
the tribune, 1929–1930
Artistic Movements -
Summing Up
 Artistic practice was controlled by the state
 Artists were sponsored by the state and therefore
mainly worked creating propaganda
 European art movements such as Cubism,
Abstraction, Futurism were seen as bourgeoisie.
 In the 1950’s after the death of Stalin artists began
to experiment more with abstraction.
 Non-conformist art was established a move away
from Socialist Realism.