2.11.2011

A Glimpse in to Animated Soviet Propaganda: American Imperialists

I am no historian, merely an individual intrigued by specific aspects of history. I have begun some modicum of self-education on the broad subject of the Soviet Union as seen through propaganda films, and with the assistance of a generous Soyuzmultfilm Studios collection I present to you an introduction to the animated variety. This installment, 7 preferentially descending films berating American ways: Shooting Range, The Millionaire, Mr. Wolf, Ave Maria, Black & White, Mister Twister and Someone Else's Voice.



Tir (Shooting Range)
Vladimir Tarasov, 1979
Based on a Viktor Slavkin play and the lengthiest of this bunch at 19 minutes, Shooting Range is also probably the subtlest, but it has a mouthful to say. A young man hunting desperately for employment in a neon brand-name emblazoned America is hired at a shooting gallery, but his post isn't ordinary - he's one of the targets. To make ends meet, his entire existence becomes a bullet-dodging dance as he sets up a home, marries and raises children, suggesting a Capitalist society's cutthroat, dead-end job market - a system with its crosshairs ever trained on the innocent. Furthermore Shooting Range becomes an apposite metaphor for American life in general - life subjugated by the omnipotent clock (here a Jiminy Cricket-esque conscience) while we're encouraged to whistle while we work. Proffered is universal human respect in spite of respective governments, and toward the end a near-sympathy for those so caught in the dance they don't know a flamenco from a bunny hop. The oft-psychedelic style reminds of Peter Chung's astounding early 1990s program, ├ćon FluxWatch Shooting Range.



Millioner (The Millionaire)
Vitold Bordzilovsky & Yuri Prytkov, 1963
A meek bulldog's inheritance of his owner's fortune propels him to the bipedal upper crust. He is immediately beloved for his newfound wealth; when too drunk in a club to groove properly his accidentally four-legged flit sparks not revelatory ridicule but a fad following. Similarly, on the verge of a drunk-in-public arrest he piddles on an officer's leg thinking it is a lamppost... and the officer is honored! Plutocratic clout soon perverts our lucky mutt as he invests his millions and campaigns for Congress. This brilliantly composed and fetchingly designed satire of American Capitalism is based on a Sergei Mikhalkov children's poem. Alive and biting! Watch The Millionaire.



Mister Volk (Mr. Wolf)
V. Gromov, 1949
Inspired by the artwork of political caricaturist Boris Yefimov, Mr. Wolf sees the titular magnate suddenly turning a new leaf by swearing off his mainland's violent ways and exiling his family to a private island where he plants a symbolically wavering "tree of peace". When oil is discovered on this island he is easily convinced to resume armament in his estate's defense. All the while Mr. Wolf is accompanied by a speaking pet cockatoo (a species not known for their articulation) - less a personification of conscience and more a mocking regurgitation of Wolf's prior galvanization. It would be easy to take this as a censure of pacifism, but the pacifist in question is never in any danger threatening enough to his wellbeing to justify this idea. Wolf's axis being his riches and his country's immediate military support of this mentality is in fact another inculpation of competitive American Capitalism, if in this case a comparatively mild-mannered one. Watch Mr. Wolf.



Ave Maria; AKA Against American Aggression in Vietnam
Ivan Ivanov-Vano & Vladimir Danilyevich, 1972
This blatant, manipulative yarn of a young Vietnamese girl's cruel murder at the hands of a soldier shamelessly juxtaposes the on-screen horrors, bourgeois America and eventually what appears to be a Kino-pravda montage with Franz Schubert's lovely song and overt religious imagery. Still, it is difficult to argue with for its resolute anti-Vietnam position. Forebodingly animated through the stop motion cutout method, it recalls Gustav Klimt's Golden Phase. Watch Ave Maria.



Blek end uait (Black & White)
Ivan Ivanov-Vano & Leonid Amalrik, 1932
This ephemeral piece concerning Lenin's nary-discussed universal civil rights platform (and based upon Vladimir Mayakovsky's poetry and drawings of his experiences with America's sugar and tobacco industries in Cuba) cleverly employs contrast and is worth a sociopolitical discussion a thousand times its surviving 2½-minute duration. Watch Black & White.



Mister Tvister (Mister Twister)
A. Karanovitch, 1963
Samuel Marshak adapted the rhyme-schemed screenplay for this from his own children's poem, telling of yet another bloated American businessman. This time the man, vacationing in Leningrad, is appalled by the non-white race of his hotel neighbor. Upon his flustered leave from the facility, a concierge rings up every other local hotel, warning them to deny the segregationist. All told, Mister Twister is a dry moral tale of little pretense, but a timely one as the American Civil Rights Movement was at its height. Watch Mister Twister.



Chuzhoy golos (Someone Else's Voice)
Ivan Ivanov-Vano, 1949
Another from Sergei Mikhalkov's children's poetry, this one sees an optimistically progressive Soviet returning from abroad, filled with enthusiasm for jazz (a so-called "enemy of the people"). Her style clashes with tradition and she is violently stripped and exiled - a show of heroism and loyalty to Communist party ways. Now, Communist doctrine looks as good on paper to me as to the next would-be Pinko, but contemporary sentiment leads me to feel this Disney Productions-esque animation works against itself in portraying the intruder (and her fans, the only other characters with charisma) in a wronged protagonist's light and the heroes as bitterly closed-minded, thereby acceding a key reason Communism as we know it seems doomed: human nature. In America invocation of "Commies" incites sour conviction and this film only enforces as much, becoming not only objectively distasteful but a propagandistic misfire. Considering Stalin-era USSR, that's just as well. Watch Someone Else's Voice.

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