3.28.2011

A Glimpse in to Animated Soviet Propaganda: My Conclusion




I feel that in all narrative films, down to the kindliest kid-friendly fare, are elements of horror. Threat or discovery of the unknown, no matter the subject or method of approach, can be found in every story. Similarly, though not as permeatively (or randomly introductory), propaganda is everywhere. Widely anymore, propaganda is hardly regarded as such in the United States outside elections. I chose - and stand by - the term "militarysploitation" to describe the recent American feature Battle: Los Angeles, but it's a fine line between blatantly exploitative entertainment and, in this case, a two-hour-long US Armed Forces recruitment video. Then, I don't mean to say propaganda can't be subtle. Where some films, Battle: LA perhaps included, are so embedded they may not intend to be so propagandistic, others are true works of art open to various interpretation in spite of a typically finite political message.

Webster's definition of "propaganda" is as follows: "Ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause." In this boiled-down regard, the vast majority of Soviet animated films I examined for this blog series are extremely successful, even twenty years after the fall of the USSR to someone who's never set foot outside his continent let alone inside Russia. They are very easy to become caught up in, as may be drawn from some of my not-always-entirely-objective write-ups on each. Though the era of stateside-uttered "Ruskie" defamation is long gone, the mere mention of communism still carries sour connotation. This is thanks in no small part to apparently backwards nations like North Korea, but those seem an entirely different beast from the USSR. America was founded on what we call "individual freedom" and that more or less dictates the society I've grown up and lived in for 26 years. Thoughts of socialist collectivism don't fly well here. We, of course, had our own animated propaganda before my time, famously during WWII (I.E. Walt Disney's commissioned Der Fuehrer's Face starring Donald Duck). Anti-communist propaganda still lurks today, one example in the form of a slanted documentary covering the very films here in question. The USSR appears to me, however, to have been on to something special - at least under Lenin.

Between opposing sources of propaganda it's difficult to know what to believe. I do have to remember that most if not all of these films and posters were produced under Stalin after Lenin's death. Lenin appears to me the true Marxist - the one with the real vision for "the shining future". Stalin appears a mere shadow of Leninism and its promises - a dictator resorting to mass punishment in lieu of positive motivational skills for the upholding of Lenin's values. I want to believe the hearts behind these films were, more often than not, genuine - that hands weren't forced by despicable threats of prison camps or exile. Realistically, particularly with early 20th Century pieces, this must not have often been the case. The inventive Interplanetary Revolution and Little Music Box director Nikolai Khodataev wound up vacating his animator's chair with frustration over Stalinist interference. Then you have Ivan Ivanov-Vano, who seems to have been a willing tool of Stalinism having directed simplistic quickies such as Fascist Jackboots Shall Not Trample Our Motherland and the thematically disgusting Someone Else's Voice. Artistic pride, or lack thereof, shows. It's easy to see why I generally prefer post-Stalin pieces from talents such as Vladimir Tarasov, Vitold Bordzilovsky and Yuri Prytkov.

Due to my own society, I connect most with the anti-capitalist sentiments. Coincidentally, I found such films were also the most compellingly complex, hence titles such as Shooting Range, The Millionaire and Shareholders being some of my very favorite discoveries herein. I was not surprised to find in these works the common metaphorical view of capitalists as corpulent top-hats (basically, they're all Mr. Monopoly) but I did particularly take interest in Khodataev's (and several others') presentations of their girth as brought on by the devouring of less powerful countries and their innocent citizens and, in one case, souls.

I was somewhat surprised, though perhaps I should not have been, to discover just how progressive the USSR portrayed itself regarding race relations. With Black & White and Mister Twister direct attacks are made on the American white man's prejudice toward blacks. In these and other works allusions are made to the abhorrence of slavery and allegations the practice continued long after it was purportedly abolished. With China in Flames, as in Vsevolod Pudovkin's Storm Over Asia (as just one live-action example), a "mighty" handshake is made across foreign borders encouraging Soviets to embrace China's issues as their own. Now, apparently there was a strict policy against Soviet travel abroad. I'm not sure how the specifics of that would have factored in to China in Flames' message. Perhaps it is intended only in spirit.

One of the less interesting topics to me is the notion of German revanchism. Several films in the "Fascist Barbarians" chapter (I.E. A Lesson Not Learned and Tale of a Toy) spawn from this paranoia and ultimately amount to very little apart from modest amusement. The one particularly notable title in this bunch is 1971's The Pioneer's Violin. Violin is less subtle in its presentation of Soviet idealism conquering simply through the act of being than its anti-revanchism "Pioneer" companion, The Adventures of the Young Pioneers (also from '71 and not all that subtle itself, being primarily a Tom & Jerry-esque chase toon), but in remaining stalwart it more strongly speaks to the power of Soviet patriotism.

So, I learned a whole lot through this and had a great time doing it as I believe my increasingly enthusiastic write-ups reflect. I'll miss having pre-packaged batches of Soviet animated propaganda ahead of me for the devouring. Moving forth I'm sure I'll uncover many further titles and do a fair share of reading to better place their respective contexts. Then again, I don't want to do too much reading! In a way, I don't want to become an expert. Not knowing all there is to know about the USSR makes the journey through its propaganda all the more exciting - I am experiencing these deliberate works of art as close to as they were intended as I can.

Were Soviets content overall? If so, would that contentment have faltered without propaganda keeping them motivated to do as their government commanded? Was it enough for the everyday comrade to be part of building a shining future they may not themselves enjoy? The grass is always greener, and had I been born Soviet (or an early 20th Century American more in tune with the time) my tune might be a different one, but the messages of these films considered, a Leninist state seems it would have been a promising place to live.


-Below is a complete list of films viewed for "A Glimpse in to Soviet Propaganda" through Soyuzmultfilm's Animated Soviet Propaganda collection, ordered by personal preference. Included is Dziga Vertov's 53-second-long Lenin's Kino-Pravda - a boastful celebration of the Bolshevik party's bolstered numbers following Lenin's death in spite of international predictions - although it was not highlighted in any entry.

Shooting Range (Tarasov, '79)
Forward March, Time! (Tarasov, '77)
The Millionaire (Bordzilovsky & Prytkov, '63)
Shareholders (Davydov, '63)
Songs of the Years of Fire (Kovalevskaya, '71)
Proud Little Ship (Bordzilovsky & Tarasov, '66)
Interplanetary Revolution (Khodataev, '24)
Attention! Wolves! (Gamburg, '70)
We Can Do It (Atamanov, '70)
Vasilyok (Aristakesova, '73)
The Pioneer's Violin (Stepantsev, '71)
A Hot Stone (Sarkissian, '65)
Little Music Box (Khodataev, '33)
Mr. Wolf (Gromov, '49)
China in Flames (Khodataev, '24)
Results of a XII Party Congress (of Cooperation) (Unknown, ~'25)
Soviet Toys (Vertov, '24)
Plus Electrification (Aksenchuk, '72)
Samoyed Boy (Brumberg, Brumberg, Khodataev & Khodatayeva, '28)
War Chronicles (Babichenko, '39)
Ave Maria (Ivanov-Vano & Danilyevich, '72)
Black & White (Ivanov-Vano & Amalrik, '32)
Prophets & Lessons (Kotyonochkin, '67)
Mister Twister (Karanovitch, '63)
A Lesson Not Learned (Karavaev, '71)
Cinema Circus (Amalrik & Khodatayeva, '42)
A Mighty Handshake (Brumberg, Brumberg, Ivanov, Khodatayeva &/or Ivanov-Vano, ~'41)
Tale of a Toy (Ablynin, '84)
The Adventures of the Young Pioneers (Pekar, '71)
To You, Moscow (Lomidze, '47)
What Hitler Wants (Brumberg, Brumberg, Ivanov, Khodatayeva &/or Ivanov-Vano, ~'41)
Fascist Jackboots Shall Not Trample Our Motherland (Ivanov & Ivanov-Vano, '41)
Vultures (Sazonov, '41)
Victorious Destination (Amalrik, Babichenko & Pokolnikov, '39)
We'll Keep Our Eyes Peeled (The Nikolai Khodataev Group, '27)
Beat the Fascist Pirates (Brumberg, Brumberg, Ivanov, Khodatayeva &/or Ivanov-Vano, ~'41)
Lenin's Kino-Pravda (Vertov, '24)
Strike the Enemy on the Front Lines and at Home! (Brumberg, Brumberg, Ivanov, Khodatayeva &/or Ivanov-Vano, ~'41)
Someone Else's Voice (Ivanov-Vano, '49)

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