In the Soviet Union, the 1930’s were characterized by massive state-led transformations in agriculture, industry, and culture. The revolution in culture represented a shift away from aesthetic values that existed in the previous decade. This shift did not occur on its own, rather it was carefully implemented by the state.
In 1930 the Soyukino, a bureaucratic entity designed to coordinate film production and release, was formed. The Soyukino was led by Boris Shumiatskii, and his goal was to eliminate the 1920’s trend of avant-garde film-making which was deemed elitist. Rather, Shumiatskii sought to ensure films were easily understandable to mass audiences. The avant-garde films of the 20’s were seen as a threat that would split the Soviet audience. This quickly inhibited popular avant-garde filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein from making films. For example, Eisenstein was able to create four films between 1924 and 1929, but was only able to create one film in the entire decade of the 1930’s (The Cinema of Stalinism: 1930-1941). In fact, the Soyukino drastically slowed the process of film-making in general. The censorship of the 1930’s made script-writing a difficult process. It wasn’t uncommon for films to be abruptly cancelled at any point during production.
Despite the increasingly complicated process of film-making throughout the 30’s, the Soyukino achieved its goal of releasing widely popular films. The above image shows an advertisement for the popular 1934 film Chapaev. The film was directed by the Vasilyev brothers. Chapaev depicts the life of a Red Army commander during the Civil War. In a 1934 editorial in Pravda, Chapaev is celebrated as a film that brings the glory of the revolution back to life. The editorial clearly states the purpose of art in this era of Soviet history: “It is precisely this role – that of the crystallized artistic reproduction of our country’s past – that Soviet art is called upon to fulfill alongside its other tasks.” The editorial also says that the film would be shown in every corner of the country. Chapaev represents the party’s mission to create films that support and glorify the Soviet cause. A clip from Chapaev can be viewed here.
While Chapaev was a film that clearly stated the political values of the Soviet Union in the 30’s, it was not the only style of film approved by the Soyukino. Humorous musicals were also popular at this time. The above image is an advertisement for the 1934 film Happy-Go-Lucky Fellows, directed by Grigorii Aleksandrov. The film tells the story of a shepherd who is discovered for his singing ability and soon finds himself leading a jazz band in the capital. The film is lighthearted and features many musical numbers that captivated its Soviet audience. A clip from Happy-Go-Lucky Fellows can be viewed here.
While the Stalinist era should be criticized for its extreme censorship, great feats were established nonetheless. This era brought sound and music to the cinema, independent from western influence. While the suppression of avant-garde films severely inhibited artistic expression and experimentation, films such as Chataev and Happy-Go-Lucky Fellows were able to create a defining moment in Russian film history nonetheless.
This post received a “Comrade’s Corner” award from the editorial team.
Images (in order):
A.P. Bel’skii: Advertisement for Chapaev (1935). Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History.
I.V. Gersimovich: The Starlet Orlova (1934). Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History.
Videos (in order):
Georgii and Sergei Vasiliev: Chapaev (1934). Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History
Grigorii Aleksandrov: Happy-Go-Lucky-Fellows (1934). Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History.
Geldern, J. V. “Popular Film Industry.” Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History.
Pravda Editorial, “The Whole Country is Watching Chapaev.” November 21, 1934. Retrieved from: 17 Moments in Soviet History.
“The Cinema of Stalin: 1930-1941.” Retrieved from: Film Reference.