3.20.2011

A Glimpse in to Animated Soviet Propaganda: Capitalist Sharks

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, 6 preferentially descending films castigating capitalism: Shareholders, Proud Little Ship, Interplanetary Revolution, China in Flames, Prophets & Lessons and We'll Keep Our Eyes Peeled.



Akcionery (Shareholders)
Roman Davydov, 1963
Through this yarn of a man - by appearances the embodiment of American folk ideals - who purchases a share in a major corporation with the idea it will fix his life's financial problems only to watch the corporation's stock plummet, a personal, internal conflict between capitalist and communist mentalities is made uniquely apparent. In capitalist society we grind ourselves in workplaces to earn the money required to survive through subsequent daily grinds. Most consider this cruel cycle a privilege. As free-thinking humans, do we not deserve better? Perhaps the key issue with capitalism is the same we see in allegedly dysfunctional communist states - human nature. Also of note in The Shareholder is the introduction of robots in the workplace, primarily as replacements for human laborers. In capitalism, this is good for the major players' bottom line but appalling amongst those who stand to be replaced (nationally, the same could be said for outsourcing). This raises a question. If robots in the workplace hinder capitalism, would they on the flip side aid communism? Think about it. I am. Watch Shareholders.



Gordyi korablik (Proud Little Ship)
Vitold Bordzilovsky, 1966
A small, red model of the Soviet battleship Aurora (which allegedly fired the first shot of the October Revolution) is set to sea by children where it sails from shore to shore on the currents of communism, inspiring other lands and infuriating capitalist pursuers. I am interested by the recurring idea (also seen in We Can Do It, Vasilyok and to a lesser extent in several others) that through simply being a proud communist one is mighty and beloved. Here our crimson symbol is entirely passive, but becomes indomitably influential even against an entire fleet of tap-dancing, shark-inflating, robot-owning, Weeble-looking (and probably Uncle Sam-wanted) enemies to which the inanimate hero is blissfully oblivious. When it reaches new lands it is cherished but not coveted and always set back to be shared with others. Often good-looking and supremely amusing, Proud Little Ship is thus far the best execution of one of this series' simpler ideas (the better films having all been of a more complex variety). It comes from the director of The Millionaire with animation from Shooting Range director Vladimir Tarasov, who describes the experience as indispensable. Incidentally The Millionaire and Shooting Range, both featured in American Imperialists, are two of my favorite pieces from this series yet, so Ship's favor here should not be surprising. Watch Proud Little Ship.



Mezhplanetnaya revolyutsiya (Interplanetary Revolution)
Nikolai Khodataev, 1924
I do enjoy a good rebuke of capitalism and thus far this series has had its strongest points with such fare. Much like the same year's live action Aelita from director Yakov Protazanov, Interplanetary Revolution depicts 1920s Mars expeditions as revelatory of extraterrestrial intelligent life in capitalist hierarchy. This is used as careful but powerful allegory for planetarily local parties, Nazis in particular. Unlike Aelita, in this case the lifeforms are grotesque soul-suckers - creatures anyone would be quick to revile and whose misdeeds reflect in their appearance (as shown through the use of mirroring shapes to create money-stuffed cheeks and subsequently unsightly hind-end cheeks). Apparently haunted by Red ghosts - an implication that communism is a universally permeating force - they are aware but unrepentant of their greed's cruelty. Parallels to Protazanov's film are no mere coincidence. Proposed backgrounds and sketches for Aelita's animated sequences had been scrapped in development, so artist Zenon Komisarenko's team (including Nikolai Khodataev) opted to use the work toward parody of the feature. Revolution's inventive cutout animation is quick and packs an eyeful into the seven and a half-minute runtime. Watch Interplanetary Revolution.



Kitaj v ogne (China in Flames)
Nikolai Khodataev, 1924
The USSR's first full length animated film (of which only a recovered 31 minutes is considered here) is also the first example of propaganda altruistically proposing support for neighboring countries, even if in this case it seems to have a marked financial motivation regarding trade with China. Khodataev calmly covers similar symbolism to that covered by his "Interplanetary Revolution" with the same visual style. The piece straight-forwardly educates as to China's social condition before delving into its story, which features the usual corpulent capitalists this time setting their sites on the large Eastern country and a final command to Soviets: "Support with all your strength the struggle of the Chinese workers. The struggle of China is your struggle." Watch China in Flames.



Proroki i uroki (Prophets & Lessons)
Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin, 1967
An energetically amoebic blend of traditional cel animation (based on Boris Yefimov drawings) and live action propaganda painting capitalists as flimsy hucksters who may attempt to conquer the Motherland but will always fall beneath the immutable communist hammer. Watch Prophets & Lessons.



Budem Zorki (We'll Keep Our Eyes Peeled)
The Nikolai Khodataev Group, 1927
A rallying song accompanied by images both animated and live action to encourage Soviets to purchase "obligazia" - government bonds rarely paid back - in aid against capitalists who don't understand the glory of communism. Rise up, workers, and drive out the British trade embargo... by giving us money! Incidentally, the embargo in question is apparently nonexistent in any Western history book. While relatively more complex (stress on "relatively"), this is not too far off from the WWII anti-Hitler posters portraying the dictator as either impish or hoggish as he tramples across a Eurasian map. In this prior case it's early 1920s British foreign secretary George Nathaniel Curzon meddling with a map of trade routes. Watch We'll Keep Our Eyes Peeled.

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