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The last century of czarism, from the Napoleonic invasion to the October Revolution, was troubled by continuous unrest and rebellion: in 1825 the Decabrist uprisings, in the 1870s the sabotage and attacks of the Nihilists, in the 1880s the strikes fomented by the Social Democratic Party, and then the fateful war against Japan of 1904-05 (the first time that a European power lost a war to an Asian nation) and the revolution of 1905 (the massacre of unarmed protesters in January, the the mutiny of the battleship Potëmkin in June, the general strike of October) that forced czar Nikolay II to liberalize political parties and trade unions.
While nothing could match the incredible literary flourishing of the 19th century, the era of czars Nikolay I (1825 - 1855), the one who embarked in the doomed Crimean War against the Western powers, Alexander II (1855 - 1881), the one who abolished serfdom in 1861 and was assassinated by an anarchic, and Alexander III (1881 - 1894), the era that yielded Aleksandr Pushkin's poem "Evgeny Onegin/ Eugene Onegin" (1831), Aleksandr Ostrovsky's play "Groza/ The Storm" (1860), and some of the greatest novels in any language, from Nikolai Gogol's "Mertvye Dushi/ Dead Souls" (1842) to Ivan Goncharov's "Oblomov" (1859) and to Mikhail Lermontov's "Geroi Nashego Vremeni/ A Hero of Our Time" (1840), from Fyodor Dostoevsky's four masterpieces ("Prestuplenie i Nakazanie/ Crime and Punishment", 1866; "The Idiot", 1869; "Besy/ The Possessed", 1873; "Bratia Karamazovy/ The Brothers Karamazov", 1880) to Lev Tolstoy's two masterppieces ("Voina i Mir/ War and Peace", 1869; "Anna Karenina", 1877), the turbulent era of czar Nikolay II (1894 - 1917) opened with Anton Chekhov's theatrical masterpieces ("Chaika/ The Seagull", 1896; "Dyadya Vanya/ Uncle Vanya", 1899; "Tri Sestry/ Three Sisters", 1901; "Vishnevyi Sad/ The Cherry Orchard", 1904) and Maxim Gorky's early novels and plays, such as "Na dne/ The Lower Depths" (1903). In fact, poetry thrived more than ever, thanks mainly to the symbolist movement started by Dmitry Merezhkovsky's 1992 manifesto "O Prichinakh Upadka Io Novykh Tecenijakh Sovremennoj Russkoj/ The Causes of the Decline of the Contemporary Russian Literature", a movement that included Konstantin Balmont, Valery Bryusov, the erotic Mirra Lokhvitskaya, and the androgynous Zinaida Gippius, peaking with Alexander Blok. Symbolism spilled into fiction yielding novels such as Dmitry Merezhkovsky's trilogy "Hristos i Antihrist/ Christ and Antichrist" (1895-1905), Aleksei Remizov's "Prud/ Pond" (1903), and Fyodor Sologub's "Melkii Bes/ The Petty Demon" (1905).
The Russian intelligentsia of Saint Petersburg had plenty of magazines to gather around: the cultural magazine Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought), founded in 1880 by Vukol Lavrov, the successor to the glorious Otechestvennyua Zapiski closed in 1884 by the czarist authorities; the literary magazine Severny Vestnik, founded in 1885 by Anna Yevreinova; the art magazine Mir Iskusstva, founded in 1899 by Sergei Diaghilev (the future founder in exile of the Ballets Russes); etc. They assembled in private homes like the home of symbolist poet Vyacheslav Ivanov and his wife Lidia, who hosted salons between 1905 and 1907.
The symbolist movement intersected with politics in multiple ways. For example, the first Bolshevik journal published in Russia itself, Novaia Zhizn, financed by Maxim Gorky in 1905, was initially run by the symbolist philosopher Nikolai Minsky. In 1904 the symbolist magazine Vesy devoted quite a few pages to Japanese culture, just when the czar was embarking on a war against Japan.
At the same time, the symbolist movement mixed with a movement of "novoe religioznoe soznanie" (new religious consciousness). The rebellion against organized religion had started with the two giants of Russian literature: Dostoevsky, whose Grand Inquisitor (in the novel "Bratia Karamazovy") had mocked the Christian Church, and Lev Tolstoy, who was even excommunicated by the Orthodox Church after the publication of novel "Resurrection" (1899), continued with attempts to reconcile religion and science by the philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, and led to the atheism of the Bolsheviks (both the Lenin and the Bogdanov wings of the party in exile). When the insurrection erupted in 1905 (a spontaneous uprising with no leader in control), the symbolists saw the dawning of a new age. Both Merezhkovsky and Andrei Belyi interpreted the events of 1905 in apocalyptic and mystical terms.
The Moscow Art Theater was established in 1898 by Konstantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko with a celebrated production of Chekhov's play "Chaika/ The Seagull", with Vsevolod Meyerhold in the lead male role. Stanislavski became famous all over the world for his "system" of actor training. His pupil Vsevolod Meyerhold (of German descent) became famous for his productions of symbolist plays, for which he was inspired by the Italian "commedia dell'arte" and by the circus, notably the 1906 staging of Aleksandr Blok's "Balaganchik". He trained actors to perform in an exaggerated and grotesque physical style. Theater was still an enormously popular form of entertainment for the intellectual and political elite.
Russian literature was just Russian, but the performance arts were as cosmopolitan as it gets. For example, Russian ballet (later the greatest ballet school in the world) originated from a milieu of foreigners who were hired by the czar for the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg. In 1862 the French choreographer Marius Petipa set up the extravagant “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” (1862) with Italian ballerina Carolina Rosati, music by Italian composer Cesare Pugni, and set designs by German artists Andreas Roller and Hermann Wagner. Petipa later became ballet master of the Imperial Ballet for more than 30 years, producing epochal ballets like Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker”. A frequent collaborator of Petipa was composer Ludwig Minkus, a Jew from Austria.
Cultural diversity was inherent in a multinational empire like the one inherited by czar Nikolay II in 1894, an empire that included Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states, Finland, Karelia, Armenia, the Muslim provinces of the Caucasus, Armenia, Turkestan, Siberia, etc. The Russians were just one ethnic group, and not even the most charismatic. For example, the Cossacks were generally more idealized. They were almost the Russian equivalent of the American gunslingers and cowboys: they colonized the South and the East, they defended the new territories against the native people (the “Indians” of Russia) and they were sometimes bandits and sometimes heroes. They symbolized the Russian version of the “Frontier”. Lev Tolstoy proclaimed that “All Russians wish to be Cossacks”. The most famous Cossack, Stepan Razin, raided Persia. Russia also had a sizeable population of Jews. In fact, at the turn of the 20th century the Russian Empire had the largest Jewish population in the world. Unfortunately, state-sponsored anti-semitism led to horrific pogroms. Many Jews were forced to convert in order to live normal lives. Jews were persecuted (especially in Ukraine) after the assassination of czar Aleksandr II. Jews were expelled from Kiev in 1886 and from Moscow in 1891. It is not surprising that many Jews joined the socialist and communist groups which plotted to overthrow the czarist regime.
Ironically it was the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 that triggered the sociopolitical movement that would lead to Russia's communist revolution. There was a whole class of intellectuals that saw that "emancipation" as simply turning peasants into oppressed agrarian workers. The goal of "liberating" those peasants mixed with the goal of terminating the czarist monarchy. Despite being inspired by the conditions of peasants (after all, Russia was not an industrial economy yet), Russian socialism evolved out of the urban axis connecting Saint Petersburg's salon and Moscow University, but mostly grew in exile. Some of the influential intellectuals that contributed to its ascent in Russia (while often living abroad) were: Mikhail Bakunin, who spent most of his life between prison and exile, who in 1864 formed the International Brotherhood with members in multiple European countries, and who developed an atheistic, anti-clerical and anarchic philosophy in the magazine Liberta` e Giustizia (Freedom and Justice) that he started in Italy in 1865; Alexander Herzen, an emigre' in London who founded in 1857 the Russian-language newspaper "Kolokol" (The Bell) and argued that the peasants, not the proletariat, the peasants organized in communes, should launched Russia's socialist revolution; Nikolay Chernyshevsky, author of "Chto Delat?/ What Is to Be Done?" (1863), who similarly viewed the peasant cooperatives as the launching pad for the building of a new society; the Rouble Society, founded in 1867 in Saint Petersburg by Herman Lopatin and Felix Volkhovskii; Mark Natanson, a Lithuanian Jew who in 1868 in Saint Petersburg started the Bolshoye Obshchestvo Propagandy (Grand Society of Propaganda), originally a secret society to share banned books but then famous for the 1874 campaign Khozhdeniye v Narod (Going to the People), an almost religious exodus of thousands of students from Saint Petersburg and Moscow to the countryside (an example of stateless social organization), following a call by Pyotr Lavrov for the intellectuals to educate the peasants; students who embraced revolutionary terrorism like Peter Tkachev, arrested in 1869, and Sergei Nechaev, author of "Katehizis Revoljucionera/ The Revolutionary Catechism" (1869) and the inspiration for Dostoyevsky's "The Possessed"; Pyotr Lavrov, founder in exile in 1873 of the magazine Vpered/ Forward (first in Zurich and then in London); the economist Nikolai Danielson, who in 1872 published the first Russian translation of Karl Marx's "Das Kapital"; Georgi Plekhanov, who in 1876 led demonstrations in Saint Petersburg dubbed "Zemlya i Volya" (Land and Liberty aka Land and Freedom), which evolved into a secret revolutionary organization, a continuation of the Grand Society but with a marked Bakunin influence in its quest for "anarchy and collectivism"; Narodnaya Volya (People's Will), a terrorist wing of Land and Freedom founded in 1879 (largely in response to the regime's repression of the Narodist movement) that in 1991 assassinated czar Alexander II; the anarchist Peter Kropotkin, who in 1879 in Switzerland started the magazine Le Revolte' to elaborate an original mix of anarchism and communism; Chornyi Peredel (Black Repartition), the "peaceful" wing of Land and Freedom, started in 1879 by Georgi Plekhanov and others; and Pavel Axelrod, a Black Reparation co-founder who in 1883 in Switzerland co-founded Osvobozhdenie Truda (Emancipation of Labor) with Plekhanov and others, the first truly Marxist movement. Hence from the beginning this reform anti-monarchical movement was split between "terrorists" and "educators" (in the end Narodnaya Volya and Osvobozhdenie Truda), and it had countless different ideological branches. Plekhanov was instrumental in theorizing a syncretic view of the movement and in adopting Marxism in earnest, notably in "Socializm i Politicheskaja Borba/ Socialism and Political Struggle" (1883). Scholars like Vasily Vorontsov, author of "Sudby Kapitalizma v Rossii/ The Fate of Capitalism in Russia" (1882), Nikolai Mikhailovsky, Nikolai Danielson, Pyotr Struve and Vladimir Ulyanov (later better known as Vladimir Lenin, who had been living in Europe since 1900) were debating Russia's stance towards capitalism. Much of these intellectual activities were carried out through clandestine publications and/or in exile. Many of the original founders were actually detached from real Russian life, having resettled in Western European cities. However, their work began to produce results, as social-democratic organizations and unions of workers sprang up in many cities. Plekhanov and the other Osvobozhdenie Truda activists simply had to readjust their theories based on the events, both the grass-roots strikes and the relative success of Narodnaya Volya terrorist activities (which impressed Engels himself). At last, six organizations got together in Minsk in 1898 to form the Rossijskaja Social-demokraticeskaja Rabocaja Partija/ Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party (RSDRP). Struve wrote its manifesto. In 1902 Lenin published "What Is To Be Done?" in which he advocated a role for the party as "the vanguard of the proletariat". His rival in the party was Julius Martov (a Jew born Yuliy Tsederbaum in Istanbul and raised in Ukraine). In 1903 at a London conference Lenin's Bolshevik party split from Martov's Menshevik party.
If the left was getting more determined in its ambitions to overthrow the monarchy, the right was no less active in trying to defend the monarchy. The forces of reaction included many both aristocrats and landowners as well as church leaders and assorted spiritual figures. The Russian Orthodox Church was aligned with the czars. Two influential figures of the Church were Ivan Sergiyev, known as "saint" Ioann Kronshtadtsky, and Georgiy Dolganyov, better known as bishop Hermogenes. The occult, esoteric Theosophical Society had been founded in 1875 in New York by a Russian aristocrat, Helena Blavatsky. While she never returned to Russia, theosophy and other occult spiritual movements percolated into the Saint Petersburg aristocracy. Antisemitism was rampant. Pavel Krushevan published in Kishinev (Bessarabia/ Moldova) the Russian-language newspaper Bessarabets that stirred up the population to carry out the pogrom against Jews of 1903, the first major pogroms in 40 years. A few weeks after the pogrom, another newspaper owned by Krushevan, Znamya (Banner) in Saint Petersburg, published "Protokoly Sionskih Mudrecov/ The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", an antisemitic forgery that "proved" a Jewish plot to dominate the world (the full version of this forged document appeared in 1905 as an appendix to Sergei Nilus's second edition of his "Velikoe v Malom i Antikhrist, Kak Blizkaja Politicheskaja Vozmozhnost/ The Great within the Small and Antichrist, an Imminent Political Possibility"). During the 1905 riots, Vladimir Purishkevich, a wealthy Bessarabian (Moldovian) landowner, organized a paramilitary militia known as the Chornaya Sotnya (Black Hundreds) to fight left-wing rioters. He was a Russian fascist ante-litteram: pro-monarchist, pro-clerical, ultra-nationalist, antisemitic and anticommunist. He supported Russia's imperial annexation of other peoples (like Poland, Ukraine and Finland) and in particular he rejected the existence of an Ukrainian people.
It was against this political background that cinema arrived in Russia. In 1896 the Lumiere brothers traveled to Moscow and Saint Petersburg to exhibit movies and their cameraman Camille Cerf filmed the coronation of czar Nikolay II. For a decade the French (Lumiere, Pathe', Gaumont) dominated the Russian film industry and exhibitions. Nikolay II was fond of both photography and cinema, and starting in 1897 short films (newsreels and home movies) were shot at his Saint Petersburg palace mainly by Polish photographer Boleslaw Matuszewski.
The year 1905 ended with the liberalization of political parties.
In the wake of this proclamation, a group of right-wing aristocrats led by Alexander Dubrovin and Vladimir Purishkevich formed the Soyuz Russkogo Naroda (Union of the Russian People), a right-wing political party. The Black Hundreds becamed the armed wing of this party. A few weeks later, Alexander Dubrovin started the newspaper Russkoye Znamya, which became the organ of the new party. In 1908 Purishkevich also established the anti-semitic and nationalist Soyuz Mikhaila Arkhangela (Union of the Archangel Michael), further to the right of the Soyuz Russkogo Naroda. In 1910 a member of this far-right group became the leader of Soyuz Russkogo Naroda.
However, after the 1905 revolution Nikolay II and his wife fell under the spell of a charlatan from Siberia who claimed to be a healer and a fortune teller: Grigori Rasputin. His power at the Saint Petersburg court increased in the following decade until a conspiracy of aristocrats assassinated him in 1916. In 1916 Purishkevich was one of the conspirators in Rasputin's assassination.
The years between the two revolutions (1905 and 1917) witnessed a creative boom in the arts. Some of the greatest novels in the Russian language were published: Maxim Gorky's "Mat/ Mother" (1907), Ivan Bunin's "Derevnya/ The Village" (1909), Andrey Bely's "Petersburg" (1912), and Velemir Khlebnikov's "Ka" (1916). Theater was blessed with plays such as Sologub's "Pobeda Smerti/ Triumph of Death" (1907), Leonid Andreev's "Tot Kto Poluchaet Poshchechiny/ He Who Gets Slapped" (1915), Mikhail Kuzmin's "Venetsianskie Bezumtsy/ Venetian Madcaps" (1914), Velemir Khlebnikov's "Death's Mistake" (1915), and Aleksandr Blok's "Balaganchik/ The Puppet Show" (1906), "Roza i Krest/ The Rose and the Cross" (1912) and "Neznakomka/ The Unknown Woman" (1914). Symbolist poets such as Aleksandr Blok, Sologub, Innokenty Annensky and Vyacheslav Ivanov kept churning out great poems. In 1910 the aspiring Ukrainian painter and poet David Burliuk organized the Gileya (Hylaea) group (Hylaea being the ancient Greek name for the region of Ukraine around Kherson where he lived) and in 1912 he worded the manifesto "Poshchochina Obshchestvennomu Vkusu/ A Slap in the Face of Public Taste" (1912), inspired by the Italian futurists of Filippo Marinetti. This futurist group soon included two outstanding poets: Velemir Khlebnikov (of Tatar descent) and Vladimir Mayakovsky (a Georgian of Cossack and Ukrainian descent) Another poetic movement, "acmeism", nurtured the careers of two other important poets: Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelstam.
Literary criticism had a massive role in the literary debates of the time. The most famous school was the "formalists, which had two centers: the Moscow Linguistic Circle (1915), with Filipp Fortunatov and Roman Jakobson, and the OPOJAZ group (1916) in Saint Petersburg with Viktor Shklovsky and Osip Brik (OPOJAZ stands for "Obshchestvo Izucheniia Poeticheskogo Yazyka", Society for the Study of Poetic Language).
Music too was churning out artists of international standing, notably: Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofev and Igor Stravinsky.
After 1905 the Russian art world was equally ebullient. Artistic movements (plural) were born, mutated, cannibalized themselves and died in rapid succession. The "avantgarde" spanned various isms. Generally speaking, they were original Russian variants of the groundbreaking artistic movements of western Europe (Impressinism, Cubism, Fauvism, Futurism, Expressionism) that often integrated ideas coming from different capitals of the art world with Russian folkloric traditions. Generally speaking, the Russian avantgarde rejected the aristocratic painting tradition and focused instead on the ordinary life of the everyman but also increasingly explored the edges of figurative painting until it entered the uncharted territory of pure abstraction. Art exhibitions were important: an exhibition was viewed as the manifesto of a new artistic movement. And then there were plenty of defiant manifestos and declarations. Russia was not in the mainstream of the scientific revolution but obviously the intellectuals were aware of the new view of matter arising from western science: in 1900 Max Planck laid the foundations for Quantum Mechanics and Sigmund Freud published "The Interpretation of Dreams", in 1902 Ernest Rutherford argued that the atom are made of smaller units, and in 1905 Einstein introduced Relativity. The paradigm shifts in western science and art and the political revolution inside Russia fueled a burst of artistic creativity around Russia. It all started with Neo-Primitivism, launched in Moscow by Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov in 1907, a child-like artistic style that paid tribute to Russian folkloric styles, similarly to what Paul Gauguin had done with his African-influenced paintings. In November 1909 the painter and musician Mikhail Matyushin in Saint Petersburg formed the group Soyuz Molodyozhi (Union of Youth), whose manifesto was written by Olga Rozanova. Matyushin's vision was essentially spiritual: he thought of art as a vehicle for the human mind to transcend the spatio-temporal dimensions. Nonetheless Soyuz Molodyozhi nurtured the avantgarde. Artists who gravitated around it included Kazimir Malevich, Pavel Filonov and Vladimir Tatlin. Their exhibitions were supported financially by a wealthy young man, Leki Zheverzheyev. In 1909 the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published his "Manifesto del Futurismo", which exerted a strong influence on Russian artists. Russian artists (who lived in a mainly agricultural nation) were fascinated like the Italian futurists by the rise of the machine age, seduced by the dynamism and energy of industrialization. Larionov organized an exhibition of avantgarde paintings called “Bubnovy Valet/ Jack of Diamonds”, held between December 1910 and January 1911 in Moscow. It included some minor French cubists, Wassily Kandinsky (an influential Russian living in Germany) and members of the Russian avantgarde influenced by the French (especially by Cezanne and Matisse), including Malevich. Bubnovy Valet became the name of an association of Muscovite painters who also benefited from the blessing of a famous art collector, Sergei Shchukin. Kandinsky was living abroad but exerted a strong influence on the Russian avantgarde. In 1911 he formed in Munich, along with Franz Marc, the expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), and his "Painting with a Circle" (1911) inaugurated European abstract art, aka Non-Objectivity. Meanwhile, Goncharova and Larionov were gathering artists around their cause, including Malevich and Tatlin, while changing style every year. Larionov organized two important exhibitions of the avantgarde in Moscow: “Osliniy Khvost/ The Donkey’s Tail” (1912), whose title paid tribute to the bohemian Parisian artists who claimed that their painting was executed with a donkey’s tail, and “Mishen/ The Target” (1913), which summarized all the currents of the previous years, from Neo-Primitivism to Futurism. During the latter, Goncharova and Larionov published "Luchisty i Budushchniki/ Rayonists and Futurists", the manifesto of a new current, Rayonism, which subscribed to Kandinsky's new abstract and anti-naturalist style. At the peak of her fame, in 1913 Goncharova shocked Moscow with a personal retrospective, which counts as the first solo exhibition of an artist of the Russian avantgarde. Kubo-Futurizm (Cubo-Futurism) was a term originally applied to the visual and sound poetry of Alexei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebninkov within David Burliuk's Gileya group of writers, but the term was appropriated by Kazimir Malevich for the paintings that he exhibited at Larionov's events, and then Alexandra Exter and Lyubov Popova followed suit. The avantgarde artists drew attention also with their unorthodox and defiant behavior and clothing, clearly meant to provoke the bourgeoisie, and with their endless and vicious intestine quarrels. Predating the Dada movement, they often treated artworks as childish pranks, and behaved like masked carnival jesters. While briefly intrigued by the avantgarde, two painters remained in the periphery of the Russian avantgarde: Marc Chagall, a Jew in Vitebsk (Belarus), and Aleksandr Shevchenko, a Ukrainian. Shevchenko well expressed the futurist sentiment: “The world has been transformed into a single, monstrous, fantastic, perpetually-moving machine, into a single huge non-animal automatic organism" (1913). The visual arts influenced also theater (and later cinema). For example, in 1913 Goncharova designed sets and costumes for Diaghilev’s opera-ballet "Le Coq d’or/ The Golden Cockerel". In the summer of 1913 Soyuz Molodyozhi and Gileya joined forces to organize the Teatr Budetlyanin (Theatre of the Futurist), whose manifesto was written by Kruchonykh, Malevich and Matyushin (a writer, an artist and a musician). The result of their collaboration, at the end of 1913, was the cubist-futurist opera "Pobeda nad Solntsem/ Victory over the Sun", composed by Matyushin, with a prologue by Khlebnikov, a libretto by Kruchenykh (in the invented zaum language) and set design by Malevich, premiered at the Luna Park in Saint Petersburg. The opera narrates the conquest of the Sun by means of a black square. The audience didn't know it, but the black square inaugurated a new important style, Malevich's Suprematism. The dizzying merry-go-round of the Russian avantgarde ended with World War I. Soyuz Molodyozhi and Bubnovy Valet were disbanded. But the multiple competing streams of the avantgarde had taken Russian art to pure abstraction. In March 1915 Ivan Puni and his wife Xenia Boguslavskaja organized in Saint Petersburg the first Russian Cubo-Futurist exhibition, titled "1-aya Pervaya Futuristicheskaya Vystavka Kartin/ Tramway V - The first Futurist Exhibition of Paintings". The show featured two controversial highlights: Malevich's abstract paintings consisting of geometric figures and the equally abstract sculptures made from unorthodox materials by Vladimir Tatlin. Suprematism was another attempt to create an original (not derivative) Russian avantgarde movement. Malevich had started out as an impressionist, then embraced neo-primitivism, then transitioned to Cubo-Futurism, and finally reached Suprematism or, better, Alogism, which was all about geometric abstraction. Malevich's followers included Aleksandra Ekster, Liubov Popova and Olga Rozanova (and an unusual number of female artists). At the end of 1915 Malevich organized in Saint Petersburg an exhibition of "non-objective" paintings titled "Poslednyaya futuristicheskaya Vystavka Kartin 0,10/ The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0,10" (the two numbers separated by a comma). The centerpiece of the show was the "Black Square". Vladimir Tatlin contributed a hanging sculpture titled "Corner Counter-Relief", which inaugurated yet another movement, Constructivism (although the name would be coined much later). A few months later, in March 1916, Tatlin organized a group exhibition titled "Magazin/ The Store", which debuted a new suprematist and constructivist artist, Alexander Rodchenko. In 1916 Aleksei Kruchenykh published a book of collages titled "Vselenskaja Vojna/ Universal War".
A Saint Petersburg photographer named Alexander Drankov established the first Russian movie studio (in the same building where Andrei Bely had written his masterpiece "Petersburg") and, after shelving an adaptation of Alexander Pushkin's “Boris Godunov”, produced Stenka Razin (1908), scripted by Vasily Goncharov, directed by a Vladimir Romashkov and shot by the Ukrainian photographer Nikolai Kozlovsky. Also in 1908 and also in Saint Petersburg, Vladislav Karpinsky launched his Omnium studio.
Russian cinema, like Russian ballet, was initially a cosmopolitan enterprise. For example, L’Khaim/ To Life (1910), was scripted by a Russian (journalist Aleksandr Arkatov) but directed by a Frenchman and a Dane (Maurice Maitre and Kai Hansen) for the French company Pathe' from an idea by Pathe's cinematographer Joseph-Louis Mundwiller who, under the pseudonym George Meyer, had made the first Polish fiction film, Antos Pierwszy raz w Warszawie/ Antosh’s First Time in Warsaw (1908). The film, devoted to Jewish life in a village, is better classified as the first ever Jewish narrative film than as a "Russian" film. The historical epic Pokorenie Kavkaza/ The Conquest of the Caucasus (1913), later released as Vziatie Guniba ili Pokorenie Kavkaza / The Capture of Ghunib or the Conquest of the Caucasus (36 minute shorter, 1775 metres instead of 2525 metres), was co-directed by Austrian filmmaker Ludwig Czerny and Georgian historian Simon Esadze (Georgia's first screenwriter and feature-film director), photographed by Nikolai Kozlovskii (the cameraman of Drankov’s Stenka Razin) with set designed by French-Ukrainian painter Francois Roubaud (aka Franz Rubo).
Vasily Goncharov discovered that the Russian public was fascinated by the great figures of the past, and so his biopics Petr Velikii/ Peter the Great (1910) and Zhizn i Smert Pushkina/ The Life and Death of Pushkin (1910) were hits. Aleksandr Khanzhonkov produced Russia's first feature film, Oborona Sevastopolja/ Defense of Sevastopol (1911), co-directed with Goncharov, a film that starred Ivan Mozhukhin (later a star in France as Ivan Mosjoukine). Goncharov therefore learned that the Russian public also craved for historical events and delivered 1812 God/ The Year 1812 (1912), Votsarenie Doma Romanovykh/ The Accession of the Romanov Dynasty (1913) and Ermak Timofeevich (1914). His studio employed photographer Boris Zavelev and director Pyotr Chardynin, and specialized in faithful adaptations of Russian literary classics, mostly costume dramas set in the countryside.
Yevgeny Bauer, the son of an Austrian man (a court musician for the czar), was Russia's first cinematic artist, directing first for Drankov, notably Sumerki Zhenskoj Dushi/ Twilight of a Woman's Soul (1913), and then for Khanzhonkov, aided by photographer Boris Zavelev, employing lighting effects and framing preferences that were influenced by Danish cinema (e.g. by Urban Gad), especially in Grjozy/ Daydreams (1915). Bauer directed ballerina Vera Karalli in movies such as Umirajushhij Lebed/ The Dying Swan (1917) and turned Vera Kholodnaya into a star with movies such as Zhizn zo Zhizn/ A Life for a Life (1916). The latter also starred Vitold Polonsky, who had become a star with Bauer's Posle Smerti/ After Death (1915), an adaptation of Ivan Turgenev's novella "Klara Milich" (1883). Drankov also produced the serial Sonka Zolotaia Ruchka / Sonya the Golden Hand/ Light-fingered Sonya (1914) about real-life criminal named Sonya Bliuvshtein who had captured the imagination of the Russian tabloids. Arkatov (the screenwriter of L'Khaim) directed several movies about Jewish life in Russia, from Gore Sarry/ Sorrows of Sarah (1913) to Hochu byt Rotshildom/ I Want to Be a Rothschild (1918).
Elizaveta von Mickwitz (of Polish descent) and her husband Pavel Thiemann (of German descent), formed a production company in Moscow, funded by the tobacco merchant Friedrich Reinhardt, that debuted with the short Smert Ioanna Groznogo/ Death of Ivan the Terrible (1909), adapted from Lev Tolstoy's story by Vasily Goncharov, while Elizaveta personally co-directed with Jakov Protazanov the 31-minute movie Ukhod Velikovo Startza/ The Passing of the Great Old Man (1912), about Lev Tolstoy's last days. Perhaps more importantly, their company imported the films of Ole Olsen's Nordisk production company, films like Urban Gad's 37-minute Afgrunden/ The Abyss (1910) that represented a major aesthetic departure for multi-reel cinema. They hired directors Jakov Protazanov and Vladimir Gardin (born Dobronravov) for their literary adaptations: Anfisa (Protazanov, 1912), from Leonid Andreyev’s play; Anna Karenina (Gardin, 1914) from Lev Tolstoy's novel; A Nest of Gentlefolk (Gardin, 1914) from Ivan Turgenev's novel; The Kreuzer Sonata (Gardin, 1914) from Lev Tolstoy's novella; Plebei (Protazanov, 1915), from Strindberg’s “Froken Julie”; culminating with the 100-minute Voyna i Mir/ War and Peace (1915), the first adaptation of Lev Tolstoy's masterpiece, directed by both. Gardin and Protazanov co-directed the three-hour Kliuchi Schastia/ The Keys to Happiness (1913, lost), Gardin's debut, adapted from Anastasiya Verbitskaya's novel, photographed by Aleksandr Levitsky and starring Vladimir Maksimov and Olga Preobrazhenskaya, their most ambitious endeavour. Gardin, Protazanov and Pyotr Chardynin directed the serial Peterburgskiye Trushchobi/ Petersburg Slums (1915). Elizaveta also empowered theatrical giant Vsevolod Meyerhold to direct a 22-minute adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel, Portret Doriana Greiia/ The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1915). The house of the Thiemanns was a popular meeting place for Moscow writers, artists, and actors. World War I doomed them. When Germany declared war on Russia, their studio was vandalized by a crowd of anti-German fanatics, and in 1915 Thiemann and Reinhardt were among the Germans expelled from Moscow. In any case the German blockade of the North Sea made it difficult to import the Danish films.
By then the “electric theatre” was established as a meeting place of the intelligentsia and several movie theaters were owned by women. After all, Saint Peterburg is where the All-Women's Congress was held in 1908.
Natalia Bakhareva (born Natalia Noga in Ukraine, Nikolai Leskov’s granddaughter), already a journalist and playwright, was a female film producer that in 1914 owned her company, Khudozhestvennaia Lenta, scripted several films and hired Aleksander Panteleev to direct them. The company focused on famous names of theater: Vo Ima Proshlogo/ For the Sake of the Past (1915) starred theater actor Vladimir Davydov and Uragan Strastei/ The Hurricane of Passions (1915) starred theater actress Lydia Yavorskaia while Cobra Kapella (1917) starred opera singer Kleo Karini.
Already around 1905 a dancer of the Imperial Ballet, Marius Petipa's pupil Aleksandr Shiriaev, created animated ballet movies with rudimentary stop-motion animation and puppet animation (for personal use). But the pioneer of Russian animation was a Lithuanian who worked for Aleksandr Khanzhonkovh's production company in Moscow: Vladislav Starevich, who made stop-motion shorts such as Lucanus Cervus (1910), considered the first puppet film, and especially Mest' Kinematograficheskogo Operatora/ The Cameraman's Revenge (1912), an early example of cinema within cinema, and later had a brilliant career in France.
Czarist cinema didn't offer much more than that. Jakov Protazanov directed Ivan Mozhukhin in literary works such as Pikovaya Dama/ The Queen of Spade (1916), a Pushkin adaptation, and Otec Sergij/ Father Sergius (1918), a Lev Tolstoy adaptation that also starred Vera Orlova.
The star of czarist cinema was Vera Kholodnaya, launched by Bauer. Her blockbusters were tragic melodramas directed by Pyotr Chardynin: Mirazhi/ The Mirages (1916), U Kamina/ By the Fireplace (1917), starring also Vladimir Maksimov and Vitold Polonsky, and Molchi, Grust, Molchi/ Be Silent, My Sorrow, Be Silent (1918). In 1917, at the peak of her fame, she made dozens of movies but then the Revolution slowed down and eventually killed her career. She died in 1919.
Before World War I foreign films dominated Russian theaters. The early stars were French comedian Max Linder and Danish dramatic actress Asta Nielsen.
World War I disrupted the flow of movies from western Europe to Russia, and largely isolated Russia from the European film market. The films of those four years were mainly made by Russians in Russia. Khanzhonkov became the largest studio of the Russian empire. The studio founded in 1911 in Moscow by Joseph Yermoliev/ Emolieff briefly benefited from the boom in domestic production, but in 1917 Yermoliev fled to Paris. Saint Petersburg studios included Omnium and a studio called Neptun, notable for hiring Mayakovsky. New studios were born, like Moisei Aleinikov's Rus, which opened in 1915.
World War I led to Russia's humiliating defeat by the Germans. The czarist regime was overthrown by the double revolution, of February and October, in 1917, and between the spring of 1918 and November 1920 the anti-communist Mensheviks had to fight a strenuous civil war, flanked by the Western powers in both Europe and Asia. Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks quickly took control of the main cities. The Communist Party proclaimed the dictatorship of the proletariat and in 1919 founded the Communist International ("Comintern") to spread communism all over the world. The biggest social and political transformation of Russia had begun.
Mayakovsky's brief involvement in cinema was typical of the enthusiastic reaction of many intellectuals to the fall of czarism and to the rise of the new medium of cinema. He worked for Saint Petersburg's Neptun studio as both a screenwriter and actor. He was the male lead of three movies that he scripted in 1918: Baryshnya i Khuligan/ The Lady and the Hooligan, which he co-directed with Yevgeni Slavinsky, adapted from Edmondo DeAmicis' play "La Maestrina degli Operai/ The Workers' Schoolmistress", Nye Dlya Deneg Radivshisya/ Born Not for the Money (1918), co-written with David Burliuk and directed by Nikandr Turkin, full of revolutionary spirit, and especially the fantasy Zakovannaja Filmoj/ Shackled by Film, directed again by Turkin, about the love of a painter for a ballerina who emerges from a movie.
In 1918 Russia's film industry was nationalized (like everything else) and soon only one state-owned monopoly of distribution existed: Goskino (formally created in 1922, then transformed into Sovkino and then into Soyuzkino), reporting to the Narodnyj Komissariat Prosveshheni (People’s Commissar of Education) or Narkompros), whose head was veteran Anatoly Lunacharsky. The Khanzhonkov studio became the Moscow film production unit of Goskino which then absorbed Yermoliev and others and became known as Mosfilm. The Omnium studio became the Saint Petersburg film production unit of Goskino, named Sevzapkino and eventually known as Lenfilm (after being called Sevzapkino, Leningradkino, Sovkino, Soiuzkino, Rosfilm, etc). Lenfilm initially made "agitki" and one of them, Uplotnenie/ The Condensation (1918), directed by Aleksandr Panteleev from a script by commissar Anatoly Lunacharsky in person, was the first feature film of post-czarist Russia (not yet Soviet Union). Drankov and others had already shut down. Similarly, in 1922 the Ukrainian film industry was nationalized under a state-owned monopoly, the Vse-Ukrainske Foto Kino Upravlinnia (All-Ukrainian Photo Cinema Administration) or VUFKU, with main studios in Odesa (the nationalized Kharitonov, Borisov and Grossman film studios) and Yalta (former Khanzhonkov and Yermoliev studios, technically in Russia because at the time Crimea was part of Russia not Ukraine).
One year after the Revolution, in October 1918, the communists organized the Vsesoyuzny Leninsky Kommunistichesky Soyuz Molodyozhi (All-Union Leninist Young Communist League) or VLKSM, better known as Komsomol. "Brigades" of the Komsomol were also organized in the film studios.
In 1919 another veteran, Vladimir Gardin, the director who had specialized in Lev Tolstoy adaptations, was placed in charge of the newly established Moscow Film School. One of the first teachers was Lev Kuleshov, another man who had learned the craft in Aleksandr Khanzhonkov's studios and now a theoretician of montage and editing. Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin were among his students.
An important movement that both predated and supported the revolutions of 1917 was the "Proletkult" movement (an abbreviation of "proletarian culture"), intent on creating a "proletarian culture" as fundamentally different from the elite culture of the past, a culture created by the proletariat itself, focused on the collective rather than on the individual. During the decade before World War I, Alexander Bogdanov was Lenin's chief rival for leadership of the Bolshevik party. Bogdanov, an atheist like Lenin, philosophized that human society was inevitably evolving toward collectivism ("sobiranie cheloveka") and that science was a key component of this process. Goethe’s Faust, who sold his soul for knowledge, was his role model. While in jail, Bogdanov wrote "Empiriomonism" (1906), which Lenin viciously criticized in "Materialism and Empirio-criticism" (1908). In 1909 at a Paris conference Bogdanov (now living in exile) was defeated by Lenin (also living in exile since 1897) and was expelled from the Bolshevik party. Nonetheless, Bogdanov, his brother-in-law Anatoly Lunacharsky and the writer Maxim Gorky launched their own "Vpered/ Forward" movement and in the Italian island of Capri developed their own theories on the future of proletarian culture while Lenin was in Paris. Gorky and Bogdanov were finally allowed to return to Russia in 1914, following a political amnesty. When the revolution deposed the czar, the Proletkult movement spontaneously spread to many cities, creating a network of proletarian cultural-educational organizations. Bogdanov was the key figure of the Moscow Proletkult. They organized the first national conference of Proletkult (1918) and founded the magazine Proletarskaia Kultura (1918). In 1920 Lenin terminated the existence of Proletkult as a separate organization. The end of the civil war in 1923 also spelled the demise of grass-roots movements.
An important vehicle for the spread of revolutionary ideology and spirit was the "agit-train" ("agitpoyezd"). The Bolsheviks used the czarist empire's extensive rail network not only to deploy troops (Trotsky set up his permanent headquarters aboard a train) but also to spread propaganda. These special trains, brightly painted by artists like Malevich and Lissitsky, were equipped with a printing press, a library, a movie theater, a broadcast radio station, a newspaper office, and a darkroom to develop photographs. They distributed pamphlets, posters and newspapers. They showed newsreels to peasants who had never seen a movie before. They carried agitational speakers such as Mikhail Kalinin (who had been instrumental in establishing the newspaper Pravda) to deliver inspirational speeches to illiterate crowds. The trains also established "agitpunkty" (agitational offices) along the way, which in turn set up libraries and theatres. Cinema was the main attraction and the Soviet bureaucrats were the first in the world to realize its power over the masses. The trains showed and sometimes produced "agitki" expressly designed for exhibition on the agit-trains. Dziga Vertov produced the newsreel series Kinonedelja/ Kino-week on these agit-trains and showed his first full-length documentary, Godovshchina Revolyutsii/ Anniversary of the Revolution (1918), on such a train.
In 1920 the Communist Party instituted the Otdel Agitatsii i Propagandy (Department of Agitation and Propaganda) with the goal to direct "agit-prop" activities. Culture and propaganda became the same thing. Theater, in particular, was identified as a medium suitable to indoctrinate the uneducated lower classes (workers, peasants, soldiers). Theater, written by sophisticated intellectuals (like Anton Chekhov) and experienced in downtown theaters, had been largely off-limits to the lower classes. Vsevolod Meyerhold in Moscow (as well as Erwin Piscator in Berlin) was among the first theatrical directors to convert to agit-prop theater, theater less focused on bourgeois issues and more focused on ideological issues, and a theater that shunned the deep thinking of Chekhov in favor of exuberant spectacle. At the same time, itinerant agit-prop theater collectives like the Sinyaya Bluza/ Blue Blouse, established in 1923 in Moscow by Boris Yuzhanin, invented the "living newspaper", in which the performers would turn the act of reading the news into a circus-like spectacle with singers, clowns and acrobats. The agit-prop movement inevitably pervaded the film industry.
The civil war against the Mensheviks largely ended in 1920, but Russia had lost Poland, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania (which had all declared independence) and a famine devastated the Volga-Ural regions in 1921-22, killing millions.
At the end of 1922 the Soviet Union was born, a federation of four "soviet" (i.e. communist) republics: Russia, Transcaucasia (which in 1936 split into Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), Ukraine and Belarus.
Both the Reds and the Whites were guilty of widespread terror during the civil war. By the end of 1919, with the White armies defeated on all fronts, it became clear that the Bolsheviks were winning the Civil War. Russian aristocrats and wealthy families fled Russia for the West. The exodus escalated in 1920 withe the rout of the VSYuR or Vooruzhyonniye Sily Yuga Rossii (Armed Forces of South Russia) in Crimea (the last stronghold of the Whites in the south). Thousands of Russians, both soldiers and civilians, fled from the Black Sea ports for Istanbul (with famous scenes of panic in Novorossiysk, east of Crimea) on ships that were also Italian, British and French. Istanbul's population swelled with the Russian families who, in the old days, had fought the Ottomans, but then most of them scattered around the world. In 1922 the Bolsheviks conquered the Far East, the last major pocket of Menshevik resistance, causing another exodus, this time towards Manchuria in neighboring China, at that time controlled by warlords. Harbin soon boasted the largest population of Russians outside Russia. Despite the massive suffering of the Russian people during World War I (1914-17), the revolution (1917) and the civil war (1917-23), relatively few intellectuals fled Russia for western Europe: Diaghilev had lived in France since 1909 for merely business reasons, Stravinsky, who had been commuting with France since 1910 (the premiere of "L'Oiseau de Feu/ The Firebird"), followed him for good in 1914. Merezhkovsky, the novelist Aleksandr Kuprin and the poet Zinaida Gippius emigrated in 1919 (Vladimir Nabokov's family also emigrated in 1919); the poet Konstantin Balmont and the novelist Ivan Bunin in 1920; the poets Vladislav Khodasevich and Georgy Ivanov in 1922; the poet Vyacheslav Ivanov in 1924. Russian ballet was decimated: ballet was an aristocratic art form, not exactly the preferred art form under a communism regime. It had already lost the dancers lured by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris, like Mikhail Fokin/ Michel Fokine, Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky, and after 1917 Saint Petersburg's imperial theatres lost about half of their dancers, including Tamara Karsavina in 1918, Mathilde Kschessinska in 1920, Olga Preobrajenska in 1921 and Georgiy Balanchivadze, who became famous as George Balanchine in Paris in 1924. Russian ballet was saved only by commissar Anatoly Lunacharsky. The Communist Revolution drove almost the entire Russian film industry into exile. In 1918 Drankov fled to Ukraine, then to Istanbul, and then to the USA. Vera Karalli moved to France in 1918, and Mozhukhin in 1919 (where he became Ivan Mosjoukine). Vera Kholodnaia left for the Crimea, controlled by the Mensheviks, but died in 1919 of the "Spanish flu" (she was only 25). In 1920 Wladyslaw Starewicz moved to France and became Vladislav Starevich. Vera Baranovskaya left in 1928.
However, the visual artists and the writers, for the most part, remained in Russia.
The artistic avantgarde had not been politicized before 1917, but because it had consistently provoked the bourgeoisie and attacked elitist art, it was naturally adopted by the Bolshevik regime. In fact, it rapibly became the official art of the communist revolution, with a little bit of ideological tweaking: the old conceptual approach was slowly but steadily transformed into a materialistic approach which aimed at making art first a propaganda tool and then a productive sector. For a couple of years the artists had free rein.
The avantgardes (futurists, formalists and constructivists) prospered in a symbiotic relationship with the Bolshevik regime. The Futurists, reacting to Symbolism, advocated a strict alignment with contemporary reality. Hyperbolic, declamatory, subversive, vehemently and rigidly materialistic, Futurism briefly catapulted Soviet culture to the forefront of European research before it was rudely repressed. Formalism unmasked the essence of the work of art, fiction and convention, the product of artifice and estrangement. Constructivism put forward a synthesis of art, ideology and technology.
In 1919 Chagall inaugurated in Vitebsk a Vitebskoye Khudozhestvennoye Uchilishche (People’s Art School). In 1920 Malevich’s pupil El Lissitzky staged Matyushin's opera "Pobeda nad Solntsem/ Victory over the Sun" with human actors replaced by electrical robots. Soyuz Molodyozhi was resurrected for a big exhibition of all the avantgarde at the Hermitage in 1919. The futurists collaborated with the Proletkult. For example, El Lissitzky crafted the Bolshevik propaganda poster "Klinom Krasnym Bey Belykh/ Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge" (1919). In 1920 Tatlin designed a monument to the Third International (to the "Comintern"), a high-rise revolving tower. The tower was never built, but the designs were published in Germany and the unbuilt tower soon became the recognizable icon of Constructivism. In 1920 Chagall invited Malevich at Vitebsk, and Malevich created an art community devoted to his Suprematist art called UNOVIS, an acronym for Utverditeli Novogo Iskusstva (The Champions of the New Art). The civil war was still raging. Constructivism, led by Tatlin, Alexandr Rodchenko and El Lissitzky, was the leading movement of the 1920s, when the political and military situation stabilized. Before it had its name, Constructivism was the subject of theoretical discussions between 1920 and 1922 at Moscow's Institut Khudozhestvennoy Kultury (Institute of Artistic Culture), known as InKhUK, inaugurated in March 1920 by Kandinsky. The Jewish sculptor Naum "Gabo" Pevzner, who had studied in Europe, wrote the "Realisticheskii Manifest/ Realistic Manifesto" in 1920. Constructivists also collaborated with the Formalists of Viktor Shklovsky. Constructivism also spilled over into theater: both Vsevolod Meyerhold and Alexander Tairov (another influential theatre director, who had established the Kamerny Theatre in 1914) employed Constructivist artists to design their stage sets. But the spirit of INKhUK changed as it came to be dominated by the theory of Osip Brik, Productivism, according to which artists should contribute to industrial production. Brik was the ultimate Marxist: he claimed that authors were mere vehicles for society's trends. It was society, not the artist, that produced the artworks. The artist was merely the "worker" building the artwork. However, a trilingual magazine (in Russian, French and German) called Veshch-Gegenstand-Objet, edited by El Lissitzky and Ilya Ehrenburg and published in Berlin in 1922, spread the tenents of Constructivism to the rest of Europe, as did the Erste Russische Kunstausstellung (First Russian Art Exhibition) organized by Lissitzky in Berlin in 1922. But the old avantgarde quickly fell out of touch with the new cultural atmosphere: Kandinsky left Russia for the Bauhaus in Germany in 1921 (replaced at InKhUK by Rodchenko), Chagall left for Paris in 1922 (replaced in Vitebsk by Malevich), Gabo emigrated to Berlin in 1922. In 1923 the Constructivists formed the Levy Front Iskusstv (Left Front of the Arts), whose magazine LEF promoted new art forms like photomontage, photography and cinema, all of them considered more significant for the future than easel painting.
When Stalin came to power in 1924, the tightening of the screw intensified. First of all, Stalin had no passion for abstract art: he wanted artists to glorify real people and real events, i.e. figurative art, not abstract art. The Constructivists' main political mentor had been Leon Trotsky: it didn't help that he was expelled from the Politburo in 1926 and from the Communist Party in 1927. And then in 1932 "sotsrealizm" ("socialist realism") became the de-facto law of the land.
Indirectly, the communist dictatorship meant a breath of fresh air also for Russian cinema that until then had mostly relied on literary adaptations and stereotypical stories. The cultural vibrancy of the 1920s fostered the development of cinema as an autonomous art. Open shows were held in all cities, small theaters proliferated, and it all prospered under the banner of populism (resulting in a revaluation of circus, pantomime, musichall). Influenced by the artistic avant-gardes and Griffith's cinema, Soviet filmmakers gained awareness of a film language based on montage, and montage became the password for all filmmakers of that generation. The montage technique meant a significant "engineering" of art: the construction of a work of art simulated the assembly of an industrial machine. The concept of "engineering art" was as dear to futurism as it was to Marxist-inspired materialism. Montage also met the practical needs of early Soviet filmmakers, who, by cutting and cropping, could make up for their lack of means (especially film). Soviet cinema decisively separated cinematic spacetime from real spacetime and the object from its cinematic representation (which can be multiple for the same object at the same instant-point depending on angle, background, etc.).
Lenin recognized the propaganda and didactic value of the medium, and therefore in 1922 directed for the industry to be restructured. This caused a reorientation of films towards realism, away from the lifestyle and values of the bourgeoisie.
In 1922 a wind of change was sweeping across the film industry. The two cultural poles, Moscow (the new capital since 1918) and Saint Petersburg (the old capital, briefly called Petrograd and soon to be renamed Leningrad) witnessed parallel cinematic revolutions. In the new capital, a Polish Jew born David Kaufman who used the pseudonym Dziga Vertov had learned montage technique while working on the Soviet newsreel "Kinonedelia" (for which he had to collate scraps of footage coming from the fronts of the civil war). In 1922 Vertov, his wife Elizaveta Svilova and his brother Mikhail Kaufman began to release their "Kino-Pravda" (cine-truth) newsreels, which they felt was a better way to employ the cinematic medium than making up dramatic or comic fiction. Vertov's ebullient manifesto “We” in the first issue of the magazine Kino-Fot hailed the arrival of “the perfect electric man” and advocated "kinoglaz" (cinema-eye): "Hurrah for the poetry of machines, propelled and driving; the poetry of levers, wheels and wings of steel; the iron cry of movements, the blinding grimaces of red-hot streams."
Meanwhile, in the old capital of Saint Petersburg in the same year (1922) four intellectuals (Leonid Trauberg, Grigorij Kozincev, Sergei Yutkevich and Georgii Kryzhitskii) published the "Eccentrism Manifesto". The foursome had created a theater workshop called "Fabrika Ekstsentricheskogo Aktera/ Factory of the Eccentric Actor” or FEKS. In a language reminiscent of the Italian futurists, FEKS advocated a provocative multimedia art, contrasting with the stern aesthetic of Meyerhold's acting workshop. Their first performance announced: “Eccentrism presents: operetta, melodrama, farce, movies, circuses, variety, puppetry in a single performance!”
In 1923 Sergej Eisenstein, who had worked in the Moscow Proletkult and assisted Vsevolod Meyerhold in theater, published the essay "The Montage of Attractions" (1923) in the magazine LEF (Levy Front Iskusstv/ Left Front of the Arts), just founded by futurist writers Osip Brik and Vladimir Mayakovsky.
In 1924 Sergei Eisenstein and Lev Kuleshov formed in Moscow the Assotsiatsiia Rabotnikov Revoliutsionnoi Kinematografi (Association of Revolutionary Cinematography) or ARRK, with the mission of strengthen the ideological element of cinema. Its manifesto claimed that cinema was "the strongest weapon in the fight for a communist culture." Among those who joined it in the following years were: Dziga Vertov, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Grigory Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg, Sergei Yutkevich, Fridrick Ermler, Esfir Shub. They rejected the view of film as entertainment. That was bourgeoisie cinema. Revolutionary cinema had a mission to educate and renovate the society of workers and peasants. They were inspired and influenced by Mayakovsky's poems, Meyerhold's theater and the Proletcult movement. In their attempt to severe all ties with the culture of pre-revolutionary Russia, they embraced new techniques of filmmaking, notably montage. Gardin (the rare director from the czarist era who had not emigrated and who was now in charge of the Gosudarstvennaia Shkola Kinematografii, the state film school later better known as VGIK) lectured on montage in 1919 describing it as a pillar of cinematic art, and Lev Kuleshov, who heard it, launched into wild experiments of montage and discovered that the effect of a montage sequence was due to juxtaposition of the elements not to the content of the elements themselves. Gardin also experimented with mixing theater and cinema in his adaptation of a Jack London novel, Zheleznaya Pyata/ The Iron Heel (1919). Kuleshov, Vertov and Eisenstein led collectives that attempted to get rid of the linear plot especially one that revolves around a protagonist, preferring stories that have masses as protagonists, and replacing the plot with the "montage of attractions" as de facto Kozintsev and Trauberg had done in their influential 1922 staging of Nikolai Gogol's play "Marriage" (which mixed actors and projections).
In 1924 Lenin was already dead and Joseph Stalin quickly consolidated his power, marginalizing both the left, that advocated permanent revolution, led by Leon Trotsky (expelled from the politburo in 1926 and assassinated in 1940), and the right, that had launched the pseudo-capitalist New Economic Policy, led by Nikolai Bukharin (expelled from the politburo in 1929 and executed in 1938). Having witnessed the failure of communist insurrections around Europe, Stalin proclaimed the doctrine of "Socialism in one Country".
This was the political and cultural background that led to futurism-influenced masterpieces such as Sergej Eisenstein's Stachka/ Strike (1925), with almost surrealist imagery, and Bronenossets Potyomkin/ Battleship Potemkin (1925), with a tragic symphonic counterpoint between Edmund Meisel's music and Eduard Tisse's cinematography, Lev Kuleshov's Luc Smerti/ Death Ray (1925), Vsevolod Pudovkin's Mat/ Mother (1926), adapted by Nathan Zarkhi from Gorky's novel and starring Vera Baranovskaya, and Potomok Chingiskhana/ The Heir to Genghis Khan/ Storm over Asia (1928), which feels like a Brecht-ian apologue, dressed with tropes of both the western movie and the horror movie, Oleksandr Dovzenko's Zvenigora (1928), a Ukrainianian historical epic that merged folklore and avantgarde, photographed by Boris Zavelev, and Arsenal (1929) a Ukrainian revolutionary drama, photographed by Danylo Demutsky, Dziga Vertov's documentary extravaganza Celovek s Kinoapparatom/ Man with a Movie Camera (1929), which was also filmed in Ukraine and confirmed his status as the most radical avantgarde filmmaker.
Lev Kuleshov, the other giant of montage with Eisenstein and Pudovkin, instead made movies influenced by the cinema of the USA, such as Neobychainiye Priklucheniya Mistera Vesta/Mister West (1924), photographed by Aleksandr Levitsky, and Po Zakonu/ By the Law (1926), scripted by the formalist Viktor Shklovsky. That genre peaked with Boris Barnet's lengthy spy comedy Miss Mend/ The Adventures of the Three Reporters (1926), co-directed with Fyodor Otsep and adapted from Marietta Shaginian’s "Mess Mend", and Barnet's satirical farce Dom na Trubnoi/ House on Trubnaya Sq (1928), which is also the rare film about everyday's life in the city.
Note that foreign movies had returned to Russia during the New Economic Policy (NEP), and in fact in the mid-1920s most box-office revenue still came from foreign movies.
The FEKS group of Saint Petersburg loved the eccentric, as manifested in the circus and the vaudeville, somewhere between surrealism and Dada. Grigorij Kozincev launched FEKS in movie theaters with Pokhozhdeniya Oktyabriny/ The Adventures of Oktyabrina (1924, lost), co-directed with Leonid Trauberg, and even Kuleshov's Neobichainje Prikliucheniya Mistera Vesta v strane bolshevikov/ The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924) embodied many of the FEKS principles. Sergei Yutkevich (Sergej Jutkevic) made Kruzheva/ Lace (1928). Kozincev and Trauberg made several films blessed by Andrei Moskvin's cinematography, notably Chyortovo Koleso/ The Devil's Wheel (1926), that also turned Lyudmila Semyonova into a star, and Novyj Vavilon/ New Babylon (1929), with music by Dmitri Shostakovich (his first film score ever) and starring Sergei Gerasimov.
Meyerhold's pupil Nikolay Okhlopkov made the grotesque satire Prodannyy Appetit/ The Sale of an Appetite (1928), scripted by Nikolai Erdman, in which a starving unemployed driver sells his stomach to a wealthy capitalist who has ruined his stomach by eating too much.
Lev Kuleshov's "American" style and the eccentric style of FEKS influenced the commercial movies of the 1920s and 1930s.
Alexander Sanin (born Alexander Shoenberg), a theatrical actor under Stanislavski, directed the rural fresco Polikuska (1919), photographed by Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky, yet another Lev Tolstoy adaptation, which became a worldwide hit, starring another famous theatrical actor, Ivan Moskvin.
Georgian pioneer Ivan Perestiani made the blockbuster Tsiteli Eshmakunebi/ Krasnie Diavolyata/ Little Red Devils (1923), adapted from Pavel Bliakhin's novel, a western-inspired war movie set during the Civil War, a natural link between czarist cinema and socialist realism, and Soviet cinema's second blockbuster. Georgian theater director Kote Marjanishvili, the Stanislavsky of Georgia, adapted Irish novelist Ethel Lilian Voynich's "The Gadfly" (1897) into Krazana/ Ovod/ The Gadfly (1926), the film that turned Georgian actress Nato Vachnadze into a star (later the wife of Nikoloz Shengelaia and the mother of Giorgi and Eldar Shengelaia). Early Georgian films also include Nikoloz Shengelaia's Eliso (1928), the rare film about a Muslim heroine, Kote Miqaberidze's political satire Chemi Bebia/ Moia babushka/ My Grandmother (1929), scripted by Giorgi Mdivani and Siko Dolidze (but banned until 1976), and Davit Rondeli's Ugubziara (1930), from another Giorgi Mdivani screenplay.
Hamo Beknazarian/ Bek-Nazarov made in Armenia the visually arresting Tune Hrabkhi Vra/ Dom na Vulkane/ House on the Volcano (1928), about a strike of oil workers, photographed by Aleksandr Galperin.
The biggest hit of early Soviet cinema was Jakov Protazanov's sci-fi comedy Aelita (1924), adapted from Aleksey Tolstoy's novel by Fyodor Otsep, which basically transported the communist revolution to Mars, starring Yuliya Solntseva as the queen of Mars, Igor Ilyinsky (Meyerhold's favorite actor) as the amateur detective, and Nikolai Tseretelli as an engineer.
The traditionalist Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky directed the comedy Papirosnitsa ot Mosselproma/ The Cigarette Girl from Mosselprom (1924), whose three stars were borrowed from Aelita (Ilyinsky, Solntseva and Tseretelli), and a famous adaptation, Kollezhskiy Registrator/ The Collegiate Registrar (1925), from Aleksandr Pushkin’s novella "Stantsionnyi Smotritel/ The Stationmaster", starring Ivan Moskvin and Vera Malinovskaya.
Some filmmakers opposed to FEKS a more austere style, like Fridrick Ermler, co-founder of KEM (Experimental Cinema Workshop), a group influenced by Meyerhold's theater, proponent of psychological realism in films such as Katka Bumazhnyj Ranet/ Katka's Reinette Apples (1926) and Oblomok Imperii/ Fragment of an Empire (1929), the latter with grandiose sets designed by Evgenii Enei and starring Fyodor Nikitin.
Two of the most original films were made by relative outsiders: Olga Preobrazhenskaya's Baby Ryazanskie/ Women of Ryazan (1927), on the condition of women in the countryside, and Abram Room's tragicomic Tretya Meshchanskaya/ Bed and Sofa (1927), written by Lev Kuleshov and Viktor Shklovsky, starring Lyudmila Semyonova. Room also made two films influenced by his studies with Vsevolod Meyerhold and by constructivist architecture: Prividenje Kotoroe ne Vozvrashchaetsya/ The Ghost that never Returns (1929), and Strogis Junosa/ A Strict Young Man (1934), a collaboration with novelist Yury Olesha that aimed at creating a work of both cinema and literature (and that was promptly banned by the authorities).
Opposed to both futurists, FEKS and realists, a group led by Yevgeni Chervyakov opted for "lyrical" cinema. Chervyakov called his Jean Epstein-influenced Devushka s Dalekoi Reki/ Girl from the Distant River (1928) a "kinopoema", a cinematic poem. He co-directed with Gardin the sentimental Poet i Tsar/ The Poet and the Tsar (1927) about Pushkin's last days.
Moscow raised an important school of animation under the supervision of Aleksandr Bushkin since 1922. Initially devoted to short political cartoons that were simply extensions of the caricatural comics published in the newspaper Pravda, like the one-reel Sovetskie Igrushki/ Soviet Toys (1924), directed by Dziga Vertov and drawn by Ivan Beliakov and Aleksandr Ivanov, it soon expanded to fiction. In fact, Bushkin's group split into two factions: IVVOSTON, gathered around Ivan Ivanov-Vano (the man who was destined to dominate Soviet animation for decades), and the other one comprising Jewish sisters Valentina and Zinaida Brumberg and siblings Nikolai and Olga Khodatayev. The Brumbergs made the exotic and constructivist 50-minute Kitai v Ogne/ China Aflame (1925), and then collaborated with the Khodatayevs for Samoedskii Malchik/ Eskimo Boy (1928). Both groups experimented in combining synchronized music and cartoon action. Ivanov-Vano and the Brumbergs worked together on the 20-minute Czar Durandai (1934), that synchronized the action with music by Dmitri Shostakovich (this is the cartoon that Frank Lloyd Wright later showed to Disney as the ideal fusion of design and music, just before Disney made Fantasia). Independently, Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky realized the seven-minute Katok/ The Skating Rink (1927), scripted by Nikolai Bartram (founder of Moscow's National Toy Museum), and Prikljuchenija Bolvashki/ Bolvashka's Adventures (1927), a pioneering short that combined live action and stop-motion animation.
Ukraine was a separate story. The VUFKU invited talents (writers, actors, artists) from both the Soviet Union and other countries and created a cosmopolitan atmosphere. At the peak, in 1927, VUFKU produced 39% of all Soviet films. It also established a film university (1924) that begin to graduate students in 1927. It is not a coincidence that Ukrainian cinema became more sophisticated in that year. Initially, its films were mostly of the revolutionary propaganda kind. In 1927 they adopted the language of the avantgarde and became more psychological. The theatre director Les Kurbas, who in 1922 had founded the experimental Berezil Theatre in Kharkiv and hired the constructivist painter Vadym Meller to design sets, staging a multimedia production of Upton Sinclair's novel "Jimmie Higgins" with projections of newsreels (1922), directed Arsenaltsi/ Armory Men (1925), a film influenced by both expressionism and constructivism that employed visual tricks like dividing the screen horizontally into two screens. The novelist Solomon Lazurin wrote the screenplays for three influential films: Borotba Veletniv/ The Struggle of the Giants (1926), directed by Viktor Turin, the rare Soviet filmmaker who had studied in the USA (at the MIT) and worked in Hollywood (actor and screenwriter), Order na Arest/ Arrest Warrant (1926), directed by Heorhii Tasin, whose Nichnyi Viznyk/ The Night Coachman (1928) would later cause the authorities to launch a crusade against “psychological insight”, and Dva Dni/ Two Days (1927), directed by Heorhii Stabovyi (aka Georgiy Stabovy) with photography by Danylo Demutsky and sets designed by German artist Heinrich Beisenherz (disguised as Georgi Bayzengerts). Mykola Shpykovskyi specialized in banned films, notably the 44-minute Khlib/ Bread (1929), photographed by Oleksii Pankratiev, which is almost a twin companion to Dovzhenko's Earth, and the satirical road-movie Shkurnyk/ Self-Seeker (1929), adapted from Vadym Okhremenko's novella "Tsybala" (both rediscovered only in the 1990s). The sculptor Ivan Kavaleridze made the most deliriously constructivist film: Zlyva/ Downpour (1929, banned and then lost). Then there were Oleksandr Dovzenko's masterpieces, photographed by Danylo Demutskii, and Vertov too made Celovek s Kinoapparatom/ Man with a Movie Camera (1929) in Ukraine. In general, Moscow was losing control of Ukrainian culture. The philosopher Mykola Khvylovyi, the founder of Vilna Akademia Proletarskoi LITEratury (Free Academy of Proletarian Literature) or VAPLITE in Kharkiv in 1926, was preaching a cultural Ukrainian identity separate from the Russian one, and even superior to it: he thought that Ukraine was naturally placed to become the center of Eurasian civilization. Stalin's regime took action: VUFKU lost its independence and was terminated in 1930. Then Stalin engineered the "Holodomor", the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 that killed millions of Ukrainians. At the same time many Ukrainian intellectuals were arrested, deported and executed. For example, Demutskii was repeatedly arrested and exiled. Khvylovy committed suicide in 1933.
In the years after 1917 agit-prop shorts proliferated as well as shorts glorifying collective work. Many young people were drawn to the new art that was suddenly so available. The documentary also dealt with historical reconstruction, such as Padeniye dinastii Romanovykh/ Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927) made by Jewish female director Esfir Shub (who had learned her trade by altering for the communists the films from capitalist countries to make them ideologically aligned with Marxism-Leninism), with life in Caucasian villages such as Mikhail Kalatozov's Sol Svanetii/ Salt for Svanetia (1930), with the colonization of Siberia, such as Viktor Turin's hour-long Turksib/ The Steel Road (1929).
A major ideological shift took place in Soviet cinema. In the West, cinema was conceived as entertainment (although it implicitly a manifested the moral values of Christian European societies). In the Soviet Union, cinema acquired the role of communication and education between the top and the bottom of the nation. Moreover, the revolutionary process invested the very instrument of communication itself: the work of the avantgarde filmmakers ultimately consisted precisely in the materialist refounding of the collective imagination, a transformation that could be accomplished through a new ordering of film practice. The exposition of the world according to proletarian values required a different language than the one adopted by bourgeois cinema.
Soviet cinema had its own specific task within the arts: to affirm the rightness of the society born of the Bolshevik revolution.
Summarizing, Soviet cinema arose from the confluence of theatrical contributions (futurism), revolutionary instances (agitprop), and technical innovations (montage). In spite of the first component, it always kept well away from theatrical schemes, conceiving cinema from the very beginning as an art based on its own mechanisms completely unrelated to theater. The second component, on the other hand, had great prominence both in the choice of subjects (which had to forcibly be either critique of the bourgeoisie, capitalism, imperialism, or exaltation of the Revolution, the Soviet Union, and socialism) and in the spirit of the filmmakers (at first strongly innovative, then satirical, then bureaucratic, then propagandistic, depending on political developments). The third component resulted in an extreme modernity of the films of the time, at the antipodes from the antiquated European production.
Cinema as collective work, as a function of technique and mass art, fit perfectly in Lenin's directives, which based the construction of socialism on the pillars of electricity and soviet. The enthusiasm aroused in the avant-garde by the Bolshevik victory and which had received new impetus from the New Political Economy (1921) was extinguished when Stalin, having disbanded the intellectual movements, institutionalized socialist realism as the only permissible aesthetic criterion. Art, understood in a purely pedagogical sense, was crushed by bureaucracy. World War II then did the rest. The social retraining of the intellectual is therefore more evident in cinema than in the other arts.
In 1929 Stalin launched the "Velikij Perelom/ Great Break": rapid industrialization and collectivization of agriculture. In the next few years, the Soviet Union underwent a massive social and economic transformation, with the elimination of the kulaks, the rapid industrialization and the obsessions on party loyalty, patriotism and collective vigilance (and unmasking the counter-revolutionaries, traitors and saboteurs hiding within the nation). Increasingly, the program of social transformation was mandating party loyalty from scientists, engineers, intellectuals and artists. In order to achieve the communism paradise, the communists believed in the transformative power of scientific progress while regarding religion as pure superstition, an anti-social force. All the arts came under pressure to spread this message.
At the same time the Soviet "futurists" seemed to have reached the peak of montage technique and they were debating its future. At the same time the arrival of sound introduced a new element in the very idea of montage. It all colluded to create a creative crisis.
Mayakovsky killed himself in 1930, at the age of 37: an era had ended.
At the same time, in October 1929, Wall Street crushed and the capitalist world entered the "Great Depression". The communist dream didn't seem so far fetched. However, Stalin's forced collectivization, achieved through the creation of kolkhoz (collective farms), resulted in a series of famines, notably the "Holodomor" that killed milions in Ukraine in 1932-33. To make matters worse, in 1934 Stalin used a political assassination (of Sergey Kirov) as a pretext to start political "purges" that sent millions to Siberian gulags. The agency called Narodný Komissariat Vnutrennih Del or NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) spread terror throughout the Soviet Union.
Also in 1934 a speech by Andrei Zhdanov instructed artists to follow the guidelines of socialist realism. Given the political atmosphere, it was implied that any artist not complying with those guidelines could be deported to Siberia. At the same time, the internal propaganda hailed the achievement of a miner called Alexei Stakhanov who had mined a record 102 tons of coal in less than six hours (1935), a message to all workers that they needed to mobilize to turn the Soviet Union into an industrial and military power. Show trials became commonplace, peaking in 1937. Even the head of the film industry, Boris Shumiatsky, was arrested, tried and executed (in 1938).
The import of foreign films, which had been very popular throughtout the Lenin era, all but stopped, and Soviet cinema became more insular and parochial. At the same time Stalin's increasingly paranoid censorship (he personally checked every film) caused a rapid decline in the number of films produced, from an average of 120-140 films per year in the 1920s down to an average of 30-40 per year in the 1930s (308 total between 1933 and 1940). In particular, Stalin believed that films (especially sound films) should be accessible to everybody, even to the most illiterate peasant, and therefore progressively ostracized the most experimental filmmakers. Worse: those formerly experimental filmmakers were forced to became accomplices in Stalin's terror campaign against counter-revolutionaries, traitors and saboteurs. The "avantgarde" was reduced to a mere propaganda vehicle.
There were premonitions of socialist realism, notable mainly because they introduced a generation of professional screenwriters: Yuli Raizman's Zemlja Zhazhdet/ The Earth is Thirsty (1930), scripted by Sergei Yermolinsky, and Iosif Kheifits' and Aleksandr Zarkhi's Veter v Litso/ Wind in the Face (1930), an emanation of Saint Petersburg's Proletkult movement, of Mikhail Sokolovsky's agit-prop Teatr RAbochey Molodyozhi (Theater of the Workers’ Youth) or TRAM, and of the local Komsomol "brigade".
Socialist realism was represented by: Fridrick Ermler's Vstrechny/ The Counterplan (1932), considered the first film of the genre, with music by Shostakovich; Kozincev and Trauberg's "Maxim" trilogy about a factory worker (1934-38), another peak of Andrei Moskvin's cinematography, with a folk-inspired Shostakovich soundtrack; Iosif Kheifits' and Aleksandr Zarkhi's Deputat Baltiki/ Baltic Deputy (1937); Vladimir Legoshin's Beleet Parus Odinokij/ The Lonely White Sail (1937); Yuli Raizman's Podnyataya Tselina/ Virgin Soil Upturned (1939), loosely adapted by Sergei Yermolinsky from Mikhail Sholokhov and photographed by Leonid Kosmatov; and several films about the 1917 Revolution and the Civil War, best perhaps the one made in Armenia by Stepan Kevorkov and Erazam Karamyan, Lernayin Arshav/ Gornyi Marsh/ Mountain March (1939).
Sergey Gerasimov, formerly an actor in the films of FEKS stalwarts like Kozincev and Trauberg, directed Uchitel/ The New Teacher (1939), perhaps the best of his collaborations with his wife actress Tamara Makarova, and several propaganda films.
Each nationality of the Soviet Union was encouraged to create one great epic movie about its national heroes (but, of course, these national heroes could not be shown as fighting against Russians). The most notable of these historical national epics were: Vladimir Korsh-Sablin's U Ahni Narodzhanaia/ V Ogne Rozhdennaia/ Born in the Fire (1930) in Belarus; Hamo Beknazarian/ Bek-Nazarov's Pepo (1935), the first Armenian sound film, with a score by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian; Yefim Dzigan's My iz Kronshtadta/ The Sailors of Kronstadt (1936), with music by Nikolai Kryukov, in Belarus; Ihor Savchenko's Duma Pro Kazaka Golotu/ The Ballad of Cossack Golota (1937) in Ukraine; Georgi Vasilyev's and Sergei Vasilyev's Chapaev (1934) in Russia itself, hailed as the archetype of socialist realism; Mikheil Chiaureli's Giorgi Saakadze/ Georgii Zaakadze (1942) in Georgia (replete of grandiose battle scenes, and complemented with Shostakovich's soundtrack, but later accused of distorting history); etc.
Biography was another genre that appealed to the regime. Mikhail Romm and Dmitri Vasilyev made Lenin v Oktyabre/ Lenin in October (1937), photographed by Boris Volchek, while Vladimir Petrov made the large-scale Petr Pervyi/ Peter the Great (1939), the film that launched the career of actor Nikolay Simonov, and Ermler made Velikiy Grazhdanin/ The Great Citizen (1939), with Arkadi Koltsaty's cinematography and a score by Shostakovich, a film that de facto glorified Stalin's purges. Mark Donskoy's trilogy on Maxim Gorky (1938-40) marked the grandiose peak of this genre, which continued with films such as Lev Arnshtam's Zoia (1944), featuring a soundtrack by Dmitri Shostakovich, Yefim Dzigan's Azerbaijani-language Fatali Khan (1947), and Igor Savchenko's Bogdan Khmelnitskiy (1941) and Taras Shevchenko (1950, unfinished), photographed by Danylo Demutskii and Arkadi Koltsaty. Sergej Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan Groznyj/ Ivan the Terrible (1945) stand out for Tisse's cinematography (the second part of the latter, completed in 1946, was not shown until after Stalin's death).
The cult of Stalin's personality transferred into cinema. Stalin appeared in several historical epics, and one actor became pretty much Stalin's double in cinema: Mikheil Gelovani, who impersonated Stalin in Kozintsev's and Trauberg’s "Maxim" trilogy, in Mikhail Romm’s Lenin v Oktiabre/ Lenin in October (1937), in Chiaureli’s Diadi Gantiadi/ Velikoe Zavero/ The Great Glow (1938), and in many other films of the Stalin era.
Vertov and Shub had shown the way and documentary prospered under socialist realism with the likes of Alexandr Medvedkin, who organized a "kinopoedz" ("film train") to document work around the Soviet Union (1932-34), of Roman Karmen, who documented both the Spanish civil war (Ispanija/ Spain, 1939) and the Chinese civil war (V Kitae/ In China, 1941) and recorded a day of ordinary Soviet life in Den Novogo Mira/ A Day of the New World (1940), of Ilya Kopalin, who documented the First Congress of Soviet Writers in Inzhenery Chelovecheskikh Dush/ Engineers of the Human Soul (1934), and of Nikolai Ekk, who experimented with color in Karnaval Tsvetov/ Carnival of Colors (1935).
Adaptations of classics were no longer as popular as they used to be, but at least the Alexander Ostrovsky adaptations made by Vladimir Petrov stood out: Groza/ Thunderstorm (1933) and Bez Viny Vinovatye/ Guilty without Fault (1945). Georgian director Siko Dolidze adapted stories by Georgian writer Egnate Ninoshvili for Dariko (1937). Davit Rondeli's satire Dakarguli Samotkhe/ Poteriannyi Rai/ Paradise Lost (1938), based on Davit Kldiashvili’s tales,
Real life was perhaps better captured by humbler films with neither ideological nor aesthetic ambitions, but precisely for this reason closer to ordinary daily life, such as Abram Room's Strogis Junosa/ A Strict Young Man (1934), Yuli Raizman's melodrama Poslednjaja Noch/ The Last Night (1936), reminiscent of Borzage, scripted by Yevgeny Gabrilovich, and Tatiana Lukashevich's Podkidysh/ The Foundling (1940), with a score by Nikolai Kryukov and starring legendary theater actress Faina Ranevskaya, which pioneered the family comedy.
The Latvian director Nikolai Ekk made both the first Soviet sound film, Putevka v Zhizn/ The Road to Life (1931), about juvenile delinquents, and the first Soviet color film, Grunia Kornakova/ The Little Nightingale (1936), about exploited female workers in a capitalist's factory. Note that sound had been used as early as 1930 in two documentaries: Vertov's Simfoniia Donbassa/ Symphony of the Donbass (1930), whose soundtrack is basically "musique concrete", and Room's Plan Velikikh Rabot/ Plan for Great Works (1930).
The regime occasionally allowed the subjects to laugh at comedies such as Aleksandr Medvedkin's farce Schastye/ Happiness (1935), a silent film made when sound was already widely available, Semyon Timoshenko's Vratar/ The Goalkeeper (1936), Mikheil Chiaureli's Ukanaskneli Maskaradi/ Poslednii Maskarad/ The Last Masquerade (1934), Georgia's first sound film, etc. In 1931 Anatoly Lunacharsky, the commissar for entertainment, had published a discouraging essay (titled "Kinematograficheskaia Komediia i Satire") in the magazine Proletarskoe Kino (as Iskusstvo Kino was originally called) that condemned comedies inspired by Western models, the comedies that aimed at distracting and benumbing the masses. Humor was held to be crude and anti-revolutionary, and therefore suspicious. Laughter as an end in itself was not welcome. Comedies were encouraged to mock capitalist values and to promote communist values, which was attempted in satires such as Yakov Protazanov's Marionetki/ Marionettes (1934) and, in Belarus, Aleksandr Faintsimmer's Poruchik Kizhe/ Lieutenant Kije/ The Czar Wants to Sleep (1934), adapted from Yury Tynyanov's novella "Lieutenant Kije" with photography by Arkadi Koltsaty and soundtrack by Sergei Prokofiev, peaking with Konstantin Yudin's Devushka s Kharakterom/ A Girl with Personality (1939).
The musical comedy was popular despite not being quite aligned with the socialist realist canon, possibly because it relied less on the distracting "gag" and more on moral values. The Ukrainian director Ihor Savchenko pioneered the genre with Garmon/ The Accordion (1934). Nadezhda Kosheverova, assistant of Kozintsev and Trauberg, co-directed with Yuri Muzykant the hit Arinka (1939). Aleksandr Ivanovsky and Gerbert Rappaport made Muzykalnaja Istorija/ Musical Story (1940).
Grigory Alexandrov, Eisenstein's close friend who had co-written Strike and starred in Battleship Potemkin, and followed Eisenstein in Mexico, returned to the Soviet Union in 1932 and became the Soviet Rene' Clair with a series of musical comedies that turned singer Lyubov Orlova into the first star of Soviet cinema: Vesjolyje Rebjata/ Jolly Fellows (1934), with jazzy skits and hit songs composed by Isaak Dunayevsky, Tsirk/ Circus (1936), Volga-Volga (1938), scripted by Nikolai Erdman and starring Igor Ilyinsky, all photographed by Vladimir Nilsen.
His rival Ivan Pyryev launched Marina Ladynina in musical comedies such as Bogataia Nevesta/ A Rich Bride (1937), Traktoristy/ Tractor Drivers (1939), starring also Nikolai Kryuchkov in his stereotypical role of "guy next door", and Svinarka i Pastukh/ Pig and Shepherd/ They Met in Moscow (1941), the latter scored by composer Tikhon Khrennikov.
Alexander Rou specialized in fantasy movies based on Russian folk tales such as Po Shchuchemu Veleniyu/ Wish upon a Pike (1938).
Russian cinema continued to produce sci-fi movies. After all, the Russian empire had given birth to two distinguished visionaries of space flight: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky wrote about colonizing the Milky Way in "Volja Vselennoj - Neizvestnye Razumnye Sily/ The Will of the Universe - Unknown Intelligent Forces" (1928) and about building multistage rockets in "Kosmicheskie Raketnye Poezda/ Space Rocket Trains" (1929), while Friedrich Zander founded Gruppa Izucheniya Reaktivnogo Dvizheniya (Group for the Study of Reactive Motion) or GIRD, where the young Sergei Korolev (the future leader of the Soviet space program) perfected rockets. The other lab that nurtured scientists of the Soviet space program, like Georgy Langemak and Valentin Glushko, was Gazodinamicheskaja Laboratorija (Gas Dynamics Laboratory) or GDL. Their work was coming to fruition: in 1933 the Soviet Union demonstrated its first liquid-fueled rocket, the GIRD-10, designed by Zander, and then GRID and GDL were fused in the Reaktivnyy Nauchno-issledovatelskiy Institut (Reactive Scientific Research Institute). In 1934 Korolev published the essay "Raketnyi Polet v Stratosfere/ Rocket Flight in the Stratosphere". Space travel was the subject of Vasily Zhuravlyov's constructivist and strikingly realistic Kosmicheskii Reis/ Cosmic Journey (1936), a silent film photographed by Aleksandr Galperin with sets designed by Aleksei Utkin and with a synchronized score by Valentin Kruchinin. On the other hand, Alexandr Andriyevsky's Gibel' Sensatsii/ Loss of Sensation (1935) was about robots, but based on Volodimir Vladko's Ukrainian novel "Zaliznij Bunt/ Iron Riot" (1929) rather than Karel Capek's play (despite using Capek's abbreviation "R.U.R" for the robots).
Mikhail Tsekhanovsky and his wife Vera Tsekhanovskaya crafted the animated film Skazka o Pope i o Rabotnike ego Balde/ The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda (1932, lost), based on Alexander Pushkin's 1830 poem, and Dmitri Shostakovich composed the soundtrack, but the film was never completed when Shostakovich fell into disgrace for his second opera.
Aleksandr Ptushko (born Ptushkin) started out with shorts that combined puppet animation and live action. He combined stop-motion animation and live action in his first full-length film, Novyy Gullivyer/ New Gulliver (1935), which became Russia's first feature-length animated film because Balda was canceled.
In 1939 Hitler's Germany invaded Poland, and only later did the world learn that there was a secret pact between Hitler and Stalin for the partition of Poland. The war was initially confined to western Europe but in 1941 Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. Now it became an existential war and, ordering a general mobilization, Stalin called it "Velikaia Otechestvennaia Voina" ("the Great Patriotic War"). The Soviet Union suffered millions of casualties but ended the war as a victor, even controlling most of eastern Europe, including half of Germany.
When Hitler’s army invaded Russia, Russia moved its film studios to Asia: Mosfilm and Lenfilm to Almaty in Kazakhstan and the Kiev Film Studio to Ashgabat in Turkmenistan. These improvised studios churned out propaganda war movies such as Aleksandr Razumny's Timur i Ego Komanda/ Timur and His Gang (1940), scripted by Arkady Gaidar, that inspired children all over the Soviet Union, Ivan Pyryev's Sekretar Raikoma/ Secretary of the District Party Committee (1942), Yuli Raizman's Mashenka (1942), starring Valentina Karavaeva, Fridrikh Ermler's Ona Zashhishhaet Rodinu/ She Defends the Motherland (1943), Sergei Yutkevich's anti-Nazi satire Novye Pokhozhdeniya Shveyka/ New Adventures of Schweik (1943), which capulted the anti-hero of Jaroslav Hasek's novel "The Good Soldier Svejk" into World War II, Leonid Lukov's Dva Boitsa/ Two Fighters (1943), Mark Donskoi's Raduga/ The Rainbow (1943), about a heroic woman partisan, Vladimir Petrov's Kutuzov/ 1812 (1944), about the general who had saved Russia from Napoleon's invasion, and Abram Room's Nashestvie/ The Invasion (1944). The propaganda continued after the end of the war to celebrate the victory with monumental movies such as Ermler's Velikii Perelom/ The Great Turning Point (1945), Ihor Savchenko's Tretiy Udar/ The Third Blow (1948) Vladimir Petrov's three-hour Stalingradskaia Bitva/ Battle of Stalingrad (1949), and Chiaureli's Padenie Berlina/ The Fall of Berlin (1949), photographed by Leonid Kosmatov and scored by Shostakovich (but de facto an exaltation of Stalin). The grandiose rhetoric of the Stalin era led to increasingly lower standards of quality.
During and after World War II leading filmmakers (Yutkevich, Kheifits/Zarkhi, Raizman, Pyryev, Gerasimov) were commissioned patriotic documentaries, notably Oleksandr Dovzenko's Bitva za Nashu Sovetskuyu Ukrainu/ Battle for our Soviet Ukraine (1943).
After the war, Stalin resumed the repression of anyone suspected of not being loyal to his regime and Andrei Zhdanov enforced again the dogma of socialist realism. Censorship resumed implacable and perhaps caused more damage to Soviet cinema than Hitler's invasion. In fact, it even extended to instrumental music In 1948 Andrei Zhdanov in person convened the Soviet Union's top composers for a lecture on how to compose music, and Tikhon Khrennikov was placed in charge of the Ordena Sojuz Kompozitorov (Union of Soviet Composers) with the mandate to enforce those guidelines. Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian (possibly the three greatest living Soviet composers) were singled out as making music that was not patriotic enough. Shostakovich had also been one of the most prolific composers of film soundtracks, despite the political trouble caused by his second opera "Ledi Makbet Mtsenskogo Uyezda/ Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" (1934).
Stalin-era comedies, such as Aleksandr Ivanovski’s Anton Ivanovich Serditsia/ Anton Ivanovich Is Angry (1941), the movie that turned Lyudmila Tselikovskaya into a star, Herbert Rappaport's Vozdushnyj Izvozchik/ Taxi to Heaven (1943), starring Mikhail Zharov and Lyudmila Tselikovskaya, Yuli Raizman's Poezd Idjot na Vostok/ The Train Goes East (1947), notable only for Tikhon Khrennikov's soundtrack, Grigory Alexandrov's Vesna/ Spring (1947) and Ivan Pyryev's Kubanskie Kazaki/ Cossacks of the Kuban (1950), were meant to conceal the terrible suffering of the Soviet people in peacetime, following the terrible suffering of war time.
Socialist realism permeated even the best intentioned dramas, like Mikhail Romm’s Mechta/ Dream (1943), photographed by Boris Volchek, Mark Donskoy's Selskaya Uchitelnitsa/ The Village Teacher (1947), starring Vera Maretskaia, and Donetskie Shakhtyory/ The Miners of Donetsk (1951), scored by Tikhon Khrennikov.
Far from Moscow there was a bit more freedom. Nabi Ganiev's historical Uzbek drama Tohir va Zuhra/ Tahir and Zuhra (1945), based on the 15th-century folk legend about the love of the poor Tahir for the princess Zuhra, was photographed by Ukrainian exile Danylo Demutskii.
The veteran Moscow cartoonists kept delivering original films, such as: the sisters Valentina and Zinaida Brumberg's Fedya Zaitcev (1948), and Leonid Amalrik's and Vladimir Polkovnikov's Seraya Sheyka/ The Grey Neck (1948), adapted from the tale by Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak. Aleksandr Ptushko, the chief animator of the 1930s, turned to adaptations of folk tales a` la Alexander Rou that were mostly pretexts to experiment with visual effects: Kamennyy Tsvetok/ The Stone Flower (1946), starring Tamara Makarova, Sadko (1953), Ilya Muromets (1956) and Sampo (1959). Abandoning animation, Ivan Ivanov-Vano made the black-and-white fantasy movie Konyok Gorbunok/ The Humpbacked Horse (1947), adapted from the poem by Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov and starring Pyotr Aleynikov.
Soviet cinema reached its lowest point between 1946 and 1953 when all Soviet studios combined only produced 124 feature films, and that includes documentaries. The official strategy was to produce only "masterpieces", but the result was to produce mostly garbage. However, at the same time, the VGIK was training a large pool of talents: directors, cameramen and screenwriters. And scores of technicians were being trained in filmmaking around the non-Russian states of the Soviet Union, from the Baltics to the steppes.
In 1953 Stalin died and in 1956 his successor Khrushchev gave a speech in which he admitted the brutality of Stalin's era and the millions who perished in the gulags. That was the beginning of the "Ottepel/ Thaw", a term borrowed from Ilya Ehrenburg's 1954 novel of that title. The "Thaw" was both an internal process, i.e. a de-Stalinization of the system with a bit more freedom for artists, and a foreign-policy process that included a meeting with US president Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 and Khrushchev's 1959 visit to the USA. Nonetheless, in 1956 the Soviet army put down a pro-democracy insurrection in Hungary (a very Stalin-esque action), in 1961 the Soviet Union erected a wall to isolate West Berlin, an enclave controlled by the western powers inside Russia-controlled East Germany, and in 1963 the Soviet Union and the USA almost started a nuclear war over Cuba.
If international tensions remained grave, and brought the world to the edge of a nuclear holocaust, internally Soviet intellectuals enjoyed more freedom of expression. The number of Soviet-produced films increased rapidly. The cinematic "Thaw", which lasted approximately until 1967, was mainly characterized by moving melodramas which empathyzed with the grief of ordinary people, films made by a new generation born in the 1920s: Vladimir Basov's and Mstislav Korchagin's war movie Shkola Muzhestva/ School of Courage (1954), adapted from Arkady Gaidar's novel "School" (1929); Lev Kulidzhanov's Dom v Kotorom is Zhivu/ The House I Live In (1956), influenced by Italian neorealism and starring Yevgeny Matveyev, and Kogda Derevya Byli Bolshimi/ When the Trees Were Tall (1961); Marlen Khutsiev's Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse/ Springtime on Zarechnaya Street (1956), the film that turned Nikolai Rybnikov into a star, photographed by Pyotr Todorovsky also in neorealist style; Grigorij Chukrai's Ballada o Soldate (1959), about love among the ruins of war; Sergei Bondarchuk's black-and-white Sudba Cheloveka/ The Fate of a Man (1959), based on a novella by Mikhail Sholokhov; Mikhail Kalik's neorealist fairy tale Omul Merge Dupa Soare/ Chelovek Idyot za Solntsem/ Man Follows the Sun (1961), with a poetic screenplay by Moldovan writer Valeriu Gajiu; Georgy Natanson's melodramas Vse Ostaetsia Liudiam/ Everything Is Left to the People (1963), starring Nikolai Cherkasov, and Eshche Raz Pro Liubov/ One More Time about Love (1968); Samson Samsonov's Civil War drama Optimisticheskaia Tragediia/ An Optimistic Tragedy 1963), adapted from Vsevolod Vishnevsky’s play and starring Oleg Strizhenov; Mikhail Ershov's war movie Rodnaya Krov/ Kindred Blood (1964); Vladimir Vengerov's Rabocij Poselok/ Workers' Settlement (1965), scripted by novelist Vera Panova and centered around a factory; Gennadi Poloka's moving Respublika ShKID/ The Republic of ShKID (1966), about the homeless children of the 1920s who were interned in the Shkola-Kommuna Imeni Dostoevskogo or ShKID (Dostoyevsky School-Commune); etc.
Marlen Khutsiev's three-hour black-and-white Zastava Iliycha/ Ilyich's Gate (which had been underway since 1959), photographed by Margarita Pilikhina, released in 1965 in a much shortened version as Mne Dvadtsat Let/ I Am Twenty, documented the alienation of the Soviet youth and the influence of the French nouvelle vague.
The younger Aleksei Saltykov delivered social dramas hinging on heroic figures such as the three-hour Predsedatel/ The Chairman (1964), starring the great theatrical actor Mikhail Ulyanov, Bab’e Tsarstvo/ Women’s Kingdom (1966) and Vozvrata Net/ There Is No Return (1973),
The "Thaw" revitalized old filmmakers born in the first decade of the century, who made their best movies in their 50s: Mikhail Romm (born in 1901) made the angst-filled Deviat' Dnei Odnogo Goda/ Nine Days in One Year (1962), which portrayed life in a secret nuclear facility, the film that launched the career of actor Innokenty Smoktunovsky; Michail Kalatozov (born in 1903) showed the other side of the "Great Patriotic War" in Letjat Zuravli/ Cranes are Flying (1957), with memorable acting by Tatiana Samoilova and Aleksey Batalov, and indulged in the virtuoso exercise Neotpravlennoye Pismo/ The Letter That Was Never Sent (1960), scored by Nikolai Kryukov, both photographed by Sergey Urusevsky; Yuli Raizman (born in 1903) crafted the romantic melodrama A Esli Eto Lyubov/ But What If This Is Love (1961); Iosif Kheifits (1905) made Bolshaya Semya/ A Big Family (1954), adapted from Vsevolod Kochetov's novel "Zhurbiny", and Delo Rumjanceva/ The Rumyantsev Case (1955), the films that made Aleksey Batalov a star; and Aleksandr Faintsimmer (1906) made the historical drama Ovod/ The Gadfly (1955), adapted from Ethel Voynich's novel, scored by Shostakovich and starring Oleg Strizhenov.
Literary adaptations became popular again, as proven by Pyryev's Idiot (1956), Kozincev's Don Quixote (1957), starring Nikolai Cherkasov and Yuri Tolubeyev, Grigori Roshal's colossal adaptation of Aleksey Tolstoy’s 1941 trilogy "Khozhdeniye po mukam/ The Road to Calvary" (1957-59), and Kheifits's Dama s Sobachkoi/ The Lady with a Lapdog (1959), with a superb soundtrack by Nadezhda Simonyan. They were all dwarfed by Sergey Gerasimov's monumental historical epic trilogy Tikhii Don/ And Quiet Flows the Don (1958), an adaptation of Mikhail Sholokhov's novel.
Comedies of the "Thaw" include: Michail Kalatozov's Vernye Druzja/ True Friends (1954); Aleksandr Ivanovski’s and Nadezhda Kosheverova’s Ukrotitelnitsa Tigrov/ Tamer of Tigers (1955); Ivan Lukinsky's Soldat Ivan Brovkin/ Private Ivan (1955), Written by Georgi Mdivany; Kaljo Kiisk's Vallatud Kurvid/ Ozornye Povoroty/ Naughty Curves (1959) in Estonia, the film that turned Eve Kivi into a star; Eldar Ryazanov's satirical musical comedies Karnavalnaya Noch/ Carnival Night (1956), starring Igor Ilyinsky, and Gusarskaya Ballada/ Hussar Ballad (1962); Yuri Chulyukin's Nepoddayushchiyesya/ The Unamenables/ Defiant Ones/ (1959) and Devchata/ Girls (1960); Leonid Gaidai's short farces Pes Barbos i Neobychainyi Kross/ Barbos the Dog and an Unusual Cross-Country Race (1961) and Samogonshchiki/ Bootleggers (1961) featuring the trio a` la Three Stooges of the "Coward" (Georgiy Vitsin), the "Fool" (Yuri Nikulin) and the "Experienced"; Elem Klimov's satirical Dobro Pozhalovat ili Postoronnim Vkhod Vospreshchyon/ Welcome or No Trespassing (1964); etc.
There was even room for an operetta, Cheremushki/ Cherry Town (1963), an adaptation by Austrian-born director Herbert Rappaport of Dmitri Shostakovich's operetta which had premiered in 1959.
The tradition of science fiction was continued by Gennadi Kazansky's and Vladimir Chebotarev's sci-fi fairy tale Chelovek-amfibiia/ The Amphibian Man (1961), adapted from Alexander Beliaev's 1928 novel and starring Anastasiya Vertinskaya.
Lev Atamanov crafted the 64-minute musical cartoon Snezhnaya Koroleva/ The Snow Queen (1957), scripted by Nikolai Erdman from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, and his assistant Fyodor Khitruk made Istoriia Odnogo Prestupleniia/ History of a Crime (1962). Dikiye Lebedi/ The Wild Swans (1962), from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, was the first major animated film by Mikhail Tsekhanovsky and Vera Tsekhanovskaya since their lost collaboration with Shostakovich of 1932. Georgy Natanson co-directed with puppeteer Sergey Obraztsov the stop-motion film Nebesnoe Sozdanie/ A Heavenly Creature (1956), and Elbert Tuganov made in Estonia the animated movie Peetrikese Unenagu/ Son Petrika/ Little Peter’s Dream (1958).
The "Thaw" also helped original filmmakers emerge outside Russia with innovative films: Yefim Aron's Botagoz (1957) and Mazhit Begalin's biopic Ego Vremya Pridet/ His Time will Come (1957) about a famous Kazakh explorer in Kazakhstan; Timofei Levchuk's historical trilogy Kievlianka/ The Woman from Kiev (1958–60) in Ukraine Raimondas Vabalas' Žingsniai Nakti/ Shagi v Nochi/ Steps in the Night (1962), photographed by Jonas Gricius, in Lithuania; the Georgian director Sergej Parajanov/ Paradzanov's Teni Zabytykh Predkov/ Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) in Ukraine; Vytautas Zalakevieius' film noir Adomas Nori Buti Zmogumi/ Adam Khochet Byt Chelovekom/ Adam Wants to Be a Man (1959) in Lithuania; Georgiy Daneliya's tragicomedy Ja Shagaju po Moskve/ Walking the Streets of Moscow (1964) in Georgia, written by Gennady Shpalikov and starring Nikita Mikhalkov; Bension/Boris Kimyagarov's medieval fantasies Sudba Poeta/ A Poet’s Destiny (1959), about the 10th-century Persian poet Rudaki, and Znamia Kuznetsa/ The Smith’s Banner (1961), adapted from the 10th-century Persian poet Ferdowsi, in Tadjikstan; Arunas Zebriunas' poetic Paskutine Atostogu Diena/ Last Day of Vacation/ The Girl and the Echo (1964) in Lithuania, the beginning of a 24-year collaboration with cinematographer Jonas Gricius; Vytautas Zalakevieius' propagandistic Nekas Nenorejo Mirti/ Nikto ne Khotel Umirat/ Nobody Wanted to Die (1965) also in Lithuania and also photographed by Gricius; Yuri Ilyenko's Krynytsya Dlya Sprahlikh/ A Spring for the Thirsty (1965) in Ukraine; Vadim Derbenyov's Ultima Luna de Toamna/ Poslednii Mesiats Oseni/ Last Month of Autumn (1965), written by Moldovan novelist Ion Druta; Valeriu Gajiu's realistic drama "Gustul Painii/ The Taste of Bread" (1966) also in Moldova; Bulat Mansurov's Shukur-Bakshi/ Sostiazanie/ The Contest (1964), played by nonprofessional actors, and Utolenie Zhazhdy/ Quenching of Thirst (1966) in Turkmenistan; Shaken Aimanov's Zemlya Ottsov/ The Land of the Fathers (1966), written by Kazakh poet Olzhas Suleimenov, in Kazakhstan; Emil Loteanu's Poienile Rosii/ Red Meadows (1966), about the Moldavian shepherds, Lautarii/ Fiddlers (1971), about Moldovian folk musicians, and Satra/ Tabor Ukhodit v Nebo/ Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven/ Queen of the Gypsies (1975), about the gypsies, all starring his wife Svetlana Toma, in Moldova; Shuhrat Abbosov's comedy Mahallada Duv-duv Gap/ Ob Yetom Govorit Vsja Mahallja/ All Makhalia is Talking About (1960) and his documentary-style black-and-white historical drama Tashkent Gorod Khlebnyi/ Tashkent Is a City of Bread (1968), adapted from a novel by Aleksandr Neverov, in Uzbekistan; etc.
Young directors like Elem Klimov, who debuted with Dobro Pozhalovat ili Postoronnim Vkhod Vospreshchyon/ Welcome or No Trespassing (1964), Andrej Tarkovsky, who debuted with Ivanovo Detstvo/ Ivan's Childhood (1962), Andrej Konchalovsky, who debuted with lyrical namely Pervyy Uchitel/ The First Teacher (1964), a black-and-white adaptation of Chingiz Aitmatov's novella, photographed by Georgy Rerberg, and Gleb Panfilov were encouraged to embrace thorny subjects like religion or rural poverty. But within a few years the more original films were accused of "formalism" or "cosmopolitanism", both considered vicious sins by the Soviet bureaucracy. The "Thaw" definitely ended in 1967 when three great films were banned, three films that could have heralded the rebirth of Soviet art-house cinema: Andrej Konchalovsky's Istoriya Asi Klyachinoy/ Asya Klyachina's Story (1967), also photographed by Georgy Rerberg; Andrej Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1966), photographed in black and white by Vadim Yusov and starring Anatoly Solonitsyn; and Aleksandr Askoldov's Komissar/ Commissar (1967), starring Nonna Mordyukova and with music by Alfred Schnittke. Askoldov was never allowed to make a film again and his film was only released in 1988.
In 1964 Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev and the Soviet Union became an efficient but stagnating bureaucracy. In 1968 the Soviet Union and other communist countries invaded Czechoslovakia that was drifting towards democracy. The economy, which had consistently grown under Stalin and Khrushev, was increasingly battered by incompetence, complacency and corruption, and also suffered from two major crop failures, the first in 1972 and the second in 1975. Between 1978 and 1981 several crucial events began to undermine the foundations of the Soviet empire: in 1978 a Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, was elected pope and assumed the name John Paul II; in 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to prop up its communist regime; in 1980 Polish shipyard workers organized in a union called Solidarnosh (Solidarity); in 1981 Ronald Reagan was elected president of the USA with a strong anti-communist agenda. In 1982 Brezhnev died and was succeeded by increasingly weak and faceless leaders until Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed leader in 1985.
Shortly after Brezhnev seized power, the end of the "Thaw" became evident. To start with, Khrennikov resumed his campaign against "modernist" music, which caused many composers, for example Alfred Schnittke, to turn to film soundtracks, less likely to be accused of "formalism", resulting in more interesting film music during this period. The Thaw was all but dead by 1967 (ironically, the year when Stalin's only daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva defected to the USA).
These were also the years when television began to represent a serious competitor to cinema, putting pressure on filmmakers to produce films that people actually wanted to see, i.e. to turn ideology into entertainment. Therefore the Brezhnev era actually encouraged the manufacture of blockbusters.
Nonetheless, among the quantity of films produced in multiple studios there was also quality. Clever filmmakers found a delicate balance between loyalty to the ideological dogma and artistic independence.
The Brezhnev era was a period of both political and cultural stagnation. The country was run by an uninspiring gerontocracy, increasingly out of touch with the generation that was born after the 1917 revolution and with the youth born after the "Great Patriotic War". Society was pervaded by a mood of resigned acceptance. The intellectuals felt not only marginalized but also powerless. The public was disillusioned with the communist values of economic equality and social justice that were endlessly repeated by all media. Inevitably, cinema reflected that mood.
Austere achievements of the first Brezhnev decade include: Viktor Georgiev's war movie Silnye Dukhom/ Those Who Are Strong in Spirit (1967); Igor Talankin's philosophical Dnevnye Zvezdy/ Daytime Stars (1968); Andrei Smirnov's Belorusski Vokzal/ Belorussian Station (1971), starring Yevgeny Leonov and scored by Alfred Schnittke; Sergey Mikaelyan's Premiya/ The Bonus (1974); Andrei Smirnov's Osen/ Autumn (1974), inspired by Ingmar Bergman; Sergei Mikaelian's kammerspiel Premiia/ The Bonus (1975), scripted by playwright Alexander Gelman and starring Yevgeny Leonov; and Nikolay Gubenko's tearjerker Podranki/ Wounded Game (1976) about orphans (played by real orphans).
Spy movies were popular, starting with Villen Azarov's Put v Saturn/ Road to Saturn (1967), adapted from Vasili Ardamatsky's novel, and Savva Kulish's Mertvyi Sezon/ Dead Season (1968), scripted by Vladimir Vainshtok and starring Donatas Banionis as the chief spy. Vladimir Basov's six-hour spy movie in four parts Shchit i Mech/ The Shield and the Sword (1968) was adapted from a novel by Vadim Kozhevnikov (the TV serial that inspired Vladimir Putin to join the KGB). The genre peaked with Tatyana Lioznova's twelve-episode television serial Semnadtsat Mgnoveniy Vesny/ Seventeen Moments of Spring (1973), based on Yulian Semyonov's novel and starring Vyacheslav Tikhonov as a daring Soviet agent.
More in the old Stalinist vein were: Sergei Bondarchuk's mammoth 431-minute Lev Tolstoy adaptation Voina i Mir/ War and Peace (1967), which launched the career of actress Ludmila Savelyeva and of soundtrack composer Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, and his historical epic Oni Srazhalis za Rodinu/ They Fought for Their Country (1975); Yuri Ozerov's colossal, eight-hour, quasi-documentary, celebration of World War II, Osvobozhdenie/ Liberation (1972); and Vladimir Motyl's three-hour historical epic Zvezda Plenitelnogo Schastia/ Star of Captivating Bliss (1975).
Art-house cinema could still exist, especially in Moscow thanks to the ambivalent management of the head of Mosfilm Studios from 1970 to 1984, Nikolai Sizov, who enforced censorship (dozens of films were banned or immediately withdrawn) but also allowed creative minds to experiment, and in the periphery. The Georgian filmmaker Sergej Parajanov/ Paradzanov moved to Armenia and made the spectacular Sayat Nova/ The Color of the Pomegrenates (1969) about the medieval Armenian poet Arution Sayadian. Andrej Tarkovsky's opus ranged from the sci-fi movie Solaris (1971), loosely based on Stanislaw Lem's novel, photographed by Vadim Yusov and starring Anatoly Solonitsyn, to Zerkalo/ Mirror (1974) and Stalker (1979), both photographed by Georgy Rerberg, the former an autobiographical meditation (that launched the career of actress Margarita Terekhova) and the latter a philosophical adaptation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's novella (starring again Anatoly Solonitsyn). Gleb Panfilov, whose films always starred his wife Inna Churikova (one of the era's greatest actresses), emerged with V Ogne Broda Net/ No Path through Fire (1967) and Nachalo/ The Debut (1970), the latter scripted by Yevgeny Gabrilovich, and reflected on the melancholy fate of Soviet artists in Tema/ The Theme (1979, fully released only in 1986), also starring Mikhail Ulyanov. Aleksei German wrapped his war dramas Proverka na Dorogakh/ Trial on the Road (1971), Dvadtsat Dney Bez Voyny/ Twenty Days Without War (1976) and My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1984) in a gloomy mood of decay and broken illusions. Nikita Mikhalkov launched a fruitful collaboration with cinematographer Pavel Lebeshev that yielded Svoy Sredi Chuzhikh Chuzhoy Sredi Svoikh/ At Home Among Strangers (1974), which basically trnasfers the "spaghetti western" into Russia's Civil War, Raba Ljubvi/ Slave of Love (1975), a meditation on cinema, and Pyat Vecherov/ Five Evenings (1978). Vadim Abdrashitov's intellectual meditations were written by Aleksandr Mindadze: the courtroom drama Slovo Dlja Zashchity/ A Statement for the Defense (1977), allegorical Ostanovilsya Poezd/ The Train Stopped (1982) Aleksandr Alov and Vladimir Naumov made Beg/ The Flight (1970), based on Mikhail Bulgakov's eponumous play (1927) and on his novel "Belaja Gvardija/ The White Guard" (1925) and his opera libretto "Chjornoe More/ Black Sea", with a stellar cast (Lyudmila Savelyeva, Aleksey Batalov, Mikhail Ulyanov, as well as the revelation Vladislav Dvorzhetsky) and Levan Paatashvili's cinematography. Perhaps the visual masterpiece of the 1970s was veteran animator Aleksandr Ptushko's monumental Ruslan and Ludmila (1972).
There were also quite a few female filmmakers. Dinara Asanova and her screenwriter Yuri Klepikov concocted Ne Bolit Golova u Diatla/ Woodpeckers Don’t Get Headaches (1975), about the love between two children, and especially Patsany/ Boys (1983) about juvenile delinquents. Kira Muratova in Ukraine specialized in provincial melodramas such as Korotkiye Vstrechi/ Brief Encounters (1967) and Dolgie Provody/ The Long Farewell (1971, released only 16 years later). Larisa Shepitko, also in Ukraine, made the black-and-white war movie Voskhozhdeniye/ The Ascent (1977), full of Biblical allegories, with cinematography by Pavel Lebeshev and music by Alfred Schnittke. Lana Gogoberidze in Georgia crafted Ramodenime Interviu Pirad Sakitkhebze/ Neskolko Interviu po Lichnym Voprosam/ Several Interviews on Personal Questions (1979), a film made by a woman on the condition of women.
Four veterans ruled the comedy genre: Vasily Shukshin, with the pastoral comedies Zhivyot Takoy Paren/ There Is Such a Lad (1964) and Pechki-lavochki/ Happy Go Lucky (1972), the movies that turned Ivan Ryzhov into a star; Eldar Ryazanov, with the satirical comedy Beregis' Avtomobilia/ Watch Out for the Automobile (1966), scripted by Emil Braginsky, and Garazh/ The Garage (1979); Leonid Gaidai, with blockbusters such as Kavkazskaia Plennitsa/ Prisoner of the Caucasus (1966) and Brilliantovaya Ruka/ The Diamond Arm (1969), both starring the comedian Yuri Nikulin; and Georgiy Daneliya, with blockbusters such as Dzhentlmeny Udachi/ Gentlemen of Fortune (1971), written by Viktoriya Tokareva, and Afonya (1975), written by Alexander Borodyanski, both starring his favorite actor Yevgeny Leonov.
Other comedies of the turn of the decade included: Edmond Keosayan's Striapukha/ The Concocter (1965), adapted from Anatoly Sofronov's play; Andrey Tutyshkin's musical Svadba v Malinovke/ Wedding in Malinovka (1967); Gennadi Poloka's Interventsiya/ Intervention (1968), starring Vladimir Vysotsky (which was viewed as making fun of the Civil War and banned until 1987); Vitaly Melnikov's Sem Nevest Yefreytora Zbruyeva/ The Seven Brides of Lance-Corporal Zbruyev (1970), the first of his four collaborations with screenwriter Vladimir Valutsky; and Vladimir Motyl's musical Beloye Solntse Pustyni/ White Sun of the Desert (1970), scripted by Azerbaijani novelist Rustam Ibragimbekov and with a soundtrack by Isaac Schwartz/ Isaak Shvarts, modeled after the Italian spaghetti-westerns but set in the steppes.
There were many more blockbusters of various kinds: Gerasimov's love story Zhurnalist/ The Journalist (1967); Stanislav Rostotsky's melodrama Dozhivem do Ponedelnika/ Let’s See What Monday Brings (1968), with music by Kirill Molchanov; Vladimir Rogovoy's string of melodramas that included Goden k nestroevoi/ Noncombatant Service (1968), Ofitsery/ Officers (1971), Nesovershennoletnie/ Minors (1976), and Zhenatyi Kholostiak/ The Married Bachelor (1983); Vasily Shukshin's film noir Kalina Krasnaia/ The Red Snowball Tree (1973), the biggest commercial success of Soviet cinema, with Ivan Ryzhov in his most memorable part; veteran actor Yevgeny Matveyev's melodramas Lyubov zemnaya/ Earthy Love (1974) and Sudba/ Destiny (1977), both adapted from Pyotr Proskurin novels; Pavel Lyubimov's Shkolniy Vals/ School Waltz (1978), about the rock generation; Andrej Konchalovsky's saga Sibiriada/ Siberiade (1979); etc. The blockbusters of Alexander Mitta (born Rabinovich) include: the melodrama Moskva Lyubov Moya/ Moscow My Love (1974), co-directed with Yesida Kenzi, the musical comedy Skaz Pro To Kak Tsar Pyotr Arapa Zhenil/ How Czar Peter the Great Married Off His Moor (1976), with a soundtrack by Alfred Schnittke, starring poet and singer Vladimir Vysotsky, adapted from Alexander Pushkin's unfinished novel "The Moor of Peter the Great", and Ekipazh/ Air Crew (1980). Latif Faiziyev merged Soviet dogmas and the emerging Bollywood attributes in coproductions with India co-directed with Umesh Mehra: Ali Baba Aur Chalis Chor/ Prikliucheniia Ali-Baby i Soroka Razboinikov/ The Adventures of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1979) and Sohni Mahiwal/ Legenda o Liubvi/ The Legend of Love (1984).
The "Thaw" had revitalized the national cinemas of Central Asia, of the Baltics and of the Caucasus, and each now boasted good studios and well-trained filmmakers (often trained by legendary filmmakers of the past at Moscow's VGIK). Notable in Ukraine were: Leonid Osyka's Kaminnij Hrest/ The Stone Cross (1968), adapted from Vasyl Stefanyk's novellam abd his colossal medieval epic Zakhar Berkut (1972) about 13th-century Carpathian peasants under the Mongol empire; Yuri Ilyenko's poetic war movie Bilyi Ptakh z Chornoyu Oznakoyu/ The White Bird Marked with Black (1971); and Ivan Mykolaichuk's Babylon XX (1979), about the struggle for collectivization in the 1920s. Belarus produced Viktor Turov's two-part, six-hour Polesskaia Khronika/ Polesia Chronicle (1982), adapted from Ivan Melezh’s trilogy of novels, and Moldova produced Vasile Pascaru's spy movie Marianne (1967).
Cinema was a new form of art in three Baltic republic, basically jumpstarted in the 1960s. Estonia had two hits in the escapist genre: Kaljo Kiisk's political satire Hullumeelsus/ Bezumie/ Insanity (1968) and Grigorii Kromanov's musical comedy Viimne Relikviia/ Posledniaia Rclikviia/ The Last Relic (1969). Lithuania had more ambitious films such as Algirdas Dausa's and Almantas Grikevicius' Jausmai/ Feelings (1968), Marijonas Giedrys' grandiose black-and-white historical epic Herkus Mantas (1972), Aleksandrs Leimanis' historical musical comedy Vella Kalpi/ Slugy Dyavola/ The Devil's Servants (1970).
The Caucasus had a longer tradition, and it showed. Armenia produced Frunze Dovlatyan's war movie Barev yes em/ Hello That's Me (1967), Henrik Malyan's Menqenq Mer Sarere/ My i Nashi Gory/ We are Our Mountains (1969), and Edmond Keosayan's historical epic Huso Astgh/ Zvezda Nadezhdy/ Star of Hope (1978), besides Artavazd Peleshyan's creative documentaries rich in visual effects such as Skizbe/ The Beginning (1967) and Tarva Yeghanaknere/ Seasons of the Year (1975), a collaboration with fellow documentary maker Mikhail Vartanov.
Azerbaijan's filmmakers produced Hasan Seyidbeyli's San Niya Sousoursan?/ Pochemu ty Molchish?/ Why are you silent? (1967), photographed by Rasim Ojagov and indebted to Italian neorelism, and Rasim Ojagov's anti-corruption Istintag/ Dopros/ The Interrogation (1979), scripted by Rustam Ibragimbekov.
Georgia experienced a veritable creative boom. It boasted at least four major authors: Otar Iosseliani, who engineered the satire Giorgobistve/ Listo Pad/ Fall of the Leaves (1966) and especially the existential farce Iko Shashvi Mgalobeli/ Zhil Pyevchi Drozd/ There Once Was a Singing Blackbird (1970); Tenghiz Abuladze, who made the black-and-white surrealist and philosophical Vedreba/ Molba/ The Plea (1967) and the poetic and hallucinated Natris Khe/ Drevo Zhelanii/ The Wishing Tree (1976); Giorgi Shengelaia, who crafted the colorful biopic Pirosmani (1969) and the musical Veris Ubnis Melodiebi/ Melodii Veriisko-go Kvartala/ Melodies of the Veriisky District (1973); and his brother Eldar Shengelaia, who directed two films scripted by fellow Georgian screenwriter Revaz Gabriadze, namely Arakhveulebrivi Gamopena/ Neobyknovennaia Vystavka/ An Unusual Exhibition (1969), a drama about a failed artist, and the comedy Sherekilebi/ Chudaki/ The Eccentrics (1974), both with a score by composer Giya Kancheli. And there were also Rezo Chkheidze's black-and-white anti-war movie Djariskatsis Mama/ Otets Soldata/ Father of a Soldier (1965), and Aleksandre Rekhviashvili's XIX Saukunis Qartuli Qronika/ The 19th Century Georgian Chronicle (1979).
The "new wave" of Central Asia extended also to theater and literature with influential writers like Chinghiz Aitmatov in Kyrgyzstan, Mukhtar Auezov and Olzhas Suleimenov in Kazakhstan. As far as cinema goes, Turkmenistan boasted Alty Karliev's Aygytly adim/ Reshajushhij shag/ The Decisive Step (1965) and Khodzhakuli Narliev aka Hojaguly Narliyev's Nevestka/ Daughter-in-Law (1972), his main collaboration with actress Maya-Gozel Aimedova, Tadjikstan had Bension Kimyagarov's Ferdowsi trilogy of Skazanie o Rustame/ The Legend of Rustam (1970), Rustam i Sukhrab/ Rustam and Zohrab (1972) and Skazanie o Siiavushe/ The Legend of Siiavush (1977), and Kyrgyz cinema awoke thanks to the films scripted by Kyrgyz novelist Chingiz Aitmatov: legendary cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky's war movie Proshhaj Gulsary/ Farewell Gulsary (1968), Tolomush Okeyev's Krasnoe Iabloko/ The Red Apple (1975), and Bolotbek Shamshiyev's Belyy Parokhod/ The White Steamship (1976). The Uzbek's new wave had two influential leaders. Elyor Ishmukhamedov was the author of Nezhnost/ Tenderness (1967) and of the visually stunning Vliublennye/ Lovers (1969). Ali Khamraev/ Hamroyev transported to the steppes the "commedia all'Italiana" in Yor-yor/ Gde ty moya Zulfiya?/ Where are You My Zulfiya? (1964), Italian neorealism in the black-and-white Belye Belye Aisty/ White White Storks (1966), and Italian spaghetti-westerns in Chrezvychainyi Komissar/ The Extraordinary Commissar (1970) and Sedmaia Pulia/ The Seventh Bullet (1972). Collaborating with cinematographer Yuri Klimenko, Khamraev then turned towards Tarkovsky-an cinema with Triptikh/ Triptych (1979) and the poetic autobiographical meditation Ia Tebia Pomniu/ I Remember You (1985).
The Soviet school of animation remained one of the world's strongest even in the darkest years. Estonian pioneer Heino Pars made the puppet-animation film Vaike Motoroller/ Malenkii Motoroller/ Little Motor Scooter (1962), with a soundtrack by Arvo Part, and the eight-minute stop-motion animation movie Nael/ Gvozd/ The Nail (1972), played by nails. Andrey Khrzhanovsky's short Stekliannaia Garmonika/ The Glass Concertina (1968), with a soundtrack by Alfred Schnittke, had the honor of becoming the first animated film to be banned in the Soviet Union. Vyacheslav Kotenochkin created the popular series Nu Pogodi/ Just Wait (1969-93). Yuri Norstein co-directed with veteran Ivan Ivanov-Vano the ten-minute Secha pri Kerzhentse/ Battle of Kerzhenets (1971), that employs Russian paintings from the 14th–16th centuries to adapt Rimsky-Korsakov'opera "Nevidimom Grade Kítezhe i Deve Fevronii/ The Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya" (1905), and then crafted by himself the sensational 29-minute Skazka Skazok/ Tale of Tales (1979). Revaz Gabriadze, a former Georgian screenwriter and now director of the Tbilisi Marionette Theater, directed the puppet movie Kojris Tkis Sizmrebi/ Sny Kodzhorskogo Lesa/ Dreams of Kojori Forrest (1978).
In 1979 Iosseliani left the Soviet Union for western Europe, and in 1982 Tarkovsky did the same. It wasn't only filmmakers. The turn of the decade witness several famous defections: ballet dancers like Alexander Godunov and Leonid Kozlov, conductor Maxim Shostakovich (the son of the late composer), and even chess grandmasters Lev Alburt and Igor Ivanov.
The 1980s began like an even more depressing decade. Nonetheless, the top intellectual Russian filmmakers continued to churn out high-caliber films such as: Rolan Bykov's drama Chuchelo/ Scarecrow (1984); veteran Vadim Derbenyov's Zmeelov/ Snake Catcher (1985); Andrej Konchalovsky's high-octane thriller Runaway Train (1985); Elem Klimov's harrowing war movie Idi i Smotri/ Come and See (1985); etc. The career of Andrej Tarkovsky, now in exile, culminated with Nostalghia (1983), the peak of his autobiographic symbolism, and the cryptic parable Sacrifice (1986).
Ditto for the other, non-Russian, states of the federation, each of which produced something valuable: Roman Balayan's Polyoty vo sne i nayavu/ Flights in Dreams and Reality (1983) and Filer/ The Spy (1987), both starring Oleg Yankovsky, in Ukraine; Raimondas Vabalas' blockbuster Skrydis per Atlanta/ Polet Cherez Atlanticheskii Okean/ Flight across the Atlantic (1983) in Lithuania; Tenghiz Abuladze's allegorical anti-Stalin critique Monanieba/ Repentance (1984), Eldar Shengelaia's comedy Golubye Gory ili Nepravdopodobnaia Istoriia/ Blue Mountains or An Improbable Story (1985) in Georgia; Uzmaan Saparov's and Yazgeldy Seidov's Muzhskoe vospitanie/ The Education of a Man (1982) in Turkmenistan; etc.
The comic blockbusters of the period were Vladimir Menshov's Moskva Slezam ne Verit/ Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (1980), written by Valentin Chernykh, and especially Eldar Ryazanov's Vokzal Dlya Dvoikh/ Station for Two (1983), scripted again by Emil Braginsky. Intriguing comedies of the early 1980s also included Sergei Ovcharov's surrealistic slapstick Nebyvalshchitsa/ Believe It or Not (1983) and Pyotr Todorovsky's Voenno-polevoy Roman/ Wartime Romance (1983).
Mikhail Gorbachev, a relatively young communist, was appointed leader of the Soviet Union in 1985. Gorbachev launched a program of political democratization and economic liberalization (Glasnost and Perestroika). Despite the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident of 1986, a more positive mood spread through the cultural world. The fifth congress of Soviet filmmakers of 1986 de facto removed censorial oversight on much of the film production. This greatly increased the number of films that actually reached the movie theaters. On top of the domestic films, the Soviet public could also watch dozens of foreign (mostly Hollywood) movies.
During Glasnost, the world rediscovered many Soviet films that Soviet censorship had confined to the warehouse (if not to the dustbin), like Aleksandr Askoldov's Komissar/ Commissar (1967), Andrej Konchalovsky's Istoriya Asi Klyachinoy/ Asya Klyachina's Story (1967), Kira Muratova's Dolgie Provody/ The Long Farewell (1971), Aleksei German's Proverka na Dorogakh/ Trial on the Road (1971), Gleb Panfilov's Tema/ The Theme (1979), all finally released in 1986-88.
Documentary led the way to both face the present and exhume the past, for example Latvian filmmaker Juris Podnieks' Vai Viegli but Jaunam?/ Is It Easy to Be Young? (1986), a social portrait of young people that became very popular, Marina Goldovskaya's Solovki Power (1988), a harrowing analysis of the first gulag created by Lenin in 1923, and Stanislav Govorukhin's Tak Zhit Nelzja/ We Can't Live Like This (1990).
A new spirit pervaded intellectual films such as: Konstantin Lopushansky's apocalyptic Pisma Myortvogo Cheloveka/ Letters from a Dead Man (1986), scripted by sci-fi writers Vyacheslav Rybakov and Boris Strugatsky and photographed by Nikolai Pokoptsev; Sergei Solovyov's very popular Chuzhaya Belaya i Ryaboi/ Wild Pigeon (1986), followed by Chyornaya Roza Emblema Pechali - Krasnaya Roza Emblema Lyubvi/ Black Rose Is an Emblem of Sorrow Red Rose Is an Emblem of Love (1989); Valeriy Ogorodnikov's Vzlomshchik/ The Burglar (1987) and especially Bumazhnye glaza Prishvina/ Prishvin's Paper Eyes (1989); Oleg Teptsov's horror movie Gospodin Oformitel/ Mister Designer (1987); Vasily Pichul's realist drama Malenkaya/ Little Vera (1988); Aleksandr Proshkin's crime thriller Kholodnoe Leto Pyatdesyat Tretego/ The Cold Summer of 1953 (1988); Nikolai Gubenko's allegorical Zapretnaia Zona/ Forbidden Zone (1988); Sergei Bodrov's Svoboda Eto Rai/ Freedom Is Paradise (1989), about a juvenile delinquent; Vadim Abdrashitov's Sluga/ The Servant (1989); Pavel Lungin's Taksi-Blyuz/ Taxi Blues (1990); and Marlen Khutsiev's four-hour Beskonechnost/ Infinity (1991).
Notable comedies of the Glasnost era include: Yuri Mamin's satirical collaborations with screenwriter Vladimir Vardunas, namely Prazdnik Neptuna/ Neptune’s Holiday (1986) and Fontan/ The Fountain (1988); Karen Shakhnazarov's political satire Zerograd (1988); and Pyotr Todorovsky's Interdevochka/ Intergirl (1989).
Kazakhstan saw the emergence of a new wave, led by Rashid Nugmanov's Igla/ The Needle (1988) and Yermek Shinarbayev's trilogy of adaptations from Anatolii Kim's stories about the ethnic Korean population relocated by Stalin to Kazakhstan, best the third one, Mest/ Revenge/ The Reed Flute (1989). Other national films of the era include: veteran Frunze Dovlatyan's Menavur Enkouzeni/ Odinokaia Oreshina/ A Lonely Nut-Tree (1987) in Armenia; Leida Laius' Varastatud Kohtumine/ Ukradennoe Svidanie/ Stolen Meeting (1988) in Estonia; Daneliya's sci-fi movie Kin-dza-dza (1986), with a score by composer Giya Kancheli and starring as usual Yevgeny Leonov, in Georgia.
In 1989 the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and tolerated democratic revolutions in eastern Europe. The "Berlin Wall" fell in 1991. That year Gorbachev declared the end of the Soviet Union, with each state of the federation becoming an independent country. Boris Yeltsin was elected president of Russia and Leningrad was renamed again Saint Petersburg. This was hardly good news for cinema, and for the arts in general. Chaos spread in every quarter of Russia. Yeltsin's rapid liberalization of the economy led to economic devastation, with few people becoming tycoons and the masses becoming poorer. In 1994 Russia invaded Chechnya that was falling to Muslim separatists, further complicating the transition to capitalism and democracy. The number of films produced annually in Russia fell to about 40 in 1994-95. The once busy studios of Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan fell in disrepair. Ironically, the end of censorship and the liberalization led to an almost complete paralysis of cinema. There are only a handful of notable films in the 1990s: Aleksandr Rogozhkin's historical drama Chekist (1991) about Lenin's terror and his comedy Osoben-nosti Natsionalnoi Okhoty/ Peculiarities of the National Hunt (1995); Pyotr Todorovsky's Ankor Escho Ankor/ Encore Once More Encore (1992); Alexsei Saltykov’s four-hour Groza nad Rusiu/ Thunder over Russia (1992), adapted from Aleksey Tolstoy’s novel "Knjaz Serebrjanyj/ The Silver Prince" (1862, not the author of "Aelita"); Vladimir Khotinenko's Makarov (1993); veteran Vladimir Naumov's collaboration with Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra Belyy Prazdnik/ White Feast (1996); and Pavel Chukhray's anti-Stalinist Vor/ The Thief (1997), starring Vladimir Mashkov.
The major talent that emerged in the 1990s was Aleksandr Sokurov, whose films Kamen/ Stone (1992), Tikhiye Stranitsy/ Whispering Pages (1993) and Mother and Son/ Mat i Syn (1997) propelled him to the role of Tarkovsky's successor.
Aleksei Balabanov directed the blockbuster noir Brat/ Brother (1997) but also the pessimistic and allegorical Pro Urodov i Lyudey/ Of Freaks and Men (1998) and a Kafka-esque caricature of the Soviet era in Gruz 200/ Cargo 200 (2007).
Kazakhstan was the only other place where cinema didn't come to a grinding halt, as shown by Ardak Amirkulov's Otyrardyn Kuirewi/ The Fall of Otrar (1991), written by Svetlana Karmalita, Damir Manabaev's Surzhekey - Angel Smerti/ Surzhekey the Angel of Death (1991), and Darezhan Omirbayev's Kairat (1991) and Kardiogramma/ Cardiogram (1995).
Russia was being devastated by terrorist attacks and economic collapse. At the end of 1999 Yeltsin resigned and his prime minister Putin, a former KGB agent, became president. Putin stabilized the economy, re-invaded and subjugated Chechnya and presided over a boom of natural resources that dramatically increased the standard of living in major Russian cities. Over the years he also reasserted Russia on the international scene, invading Syria, Georgia and Ukraine. At the same time, it became harder and harder to criticize him, almost a return to the censorship of the Stalin era.
For better and for worse, Russian cinema boomed again. Leading the charge were veterans such as: Otar Iosseliani with Monday Morning/ Lundi Matin (2002); Andrej Konchalovsky, with House of Fools (2002), Belye Nochi Pochtalona Alekseya Tryapitsyna/ The Postman's White Nights (2014) and Ray/ Paradise (2016); and Aleksandr Sokurov, with Russkiy Kovcheg/ Russian Ark (2002), Alexandra (2007), Faust (2011) and Francofonia (2015).
A major voice to emerge in the 2000s was Andrej Zvjagintsev, with films such as Vozvrashcheniye/ The Return (2003), Izgnanie/ The Banishment (2007), Elena (2011), Leviathan (2014) and Nelyubov/ Loveless (2017).
Other notable films of the Putin decades were: Ilya Khrzhanovsky's 4 (2004), Andrei Kravchuk's The Italian (2005), Alexei Uchitel's Kosmos kak Predchuvstvie/ Dreaming of Space (2005), written by Aleksandr Mindadze and photographed by Yuri Klimenko, Aleksei Fedorchenko's sci-fi mockumentary Pervye na Lune/ First on the Moon (2005) and Ovsjanki/ The Buntings/ Silent Souls (2010), Konstantin Lopusanskij's sci-fi movie Gadkie Iebedi/ The Ugly Swans (2006), also based on the 1967 novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Boris Khlebnikov's Svobodnoe Plavanie/ Free Floating (2006), Karen Shakhnazarov's Ischeznuvshaya Imperiya/ The Vanished Empire (2008), veteran animator Andrey Khrzhanovsky's biopic Poltory komnaty/ Room and a Half (2009) about writer Joseph Brodsky, Aleksei Popogrebsky's Kak Ya Provyol etim Letom / How I Ended This Summer (2010), Alexander Zeidovich's Mishen/ Target (2011).
In 2012 a Moscow theater finally showed the first complete retrospective of Tarkovsky's films in Russia.
Aleksei German returned with the 168-minute black-and-white Trudno byt' Bogom/ Hard to Be a God (2013), loosely based on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's sci-fi novel, that created a dystopian version of the European dark ages, followed by Pod Electricheskimi Oblakami/ Under Electric Clouds (2015) and Dovlatov (2018).
Other notable Russian films of the Putin era include:
Yuri Bykov's crime drama Durak/ The Fool (2014),
Kantemir Balagov's Tesnota/ Closeness (2017) and Dilda/ Beanpole (2019),
Kirill Sokolov's Why Don't You Just Die (2018),
Kirill Serebrennikov's Leto/ Summer (2018),
Ilya Khrzhanovsky's Degeneratsia/ Degeneration (2020) and DAU Natasha (2020),
Egor Abramenko's Sputnik (2020),
Kira Kovalenko's Unclenching the Fists (2021),
It took a while for Ukrainian cinema to recover from the crisis of the 1990s. The big events of the early 2010s were Sergei Loznitsa: Schastye Moe/ My Joy (2010), followed by In the Fog (2012) and A Gentle Creature (2017), and Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: Plemya/ The Tribe (2014). Talents rapidly multiplied and the turn of the decade delivered Valentyn Vasyanovych's Atlantis (2019) and Vidblysk/ Reflection (2021).
In the three Baltic states the economic success of Estonia stood out and it helped the local school of filmmakers, which yielded: Arko Okk's Ristumine Peateega/ The Highway Crossing (1999), Elmo Nuganen's Nimed Marmortahvlil/ Names in marble (2002), Ilmar Raag's Klass/ The Class (2007), Veiko Ounpuu's The Temptation of St. Tony (2009), Rainer Sarnet's November (2017), etc. Lithuania produced Sarunas Bartas' hermetic Trys Dienos/ Three Days (1991) and Koridorius/ The Corridor (1995), and Latvia produced Anna Viduleja's Homo Novus (2018) and Oskars Rupenheits's The Foundation of Criminal Excellence (2018).
The film of a veteran woke up Georgian cinema in the new century: Otar Iosseliani's Monday Morning/ Lundi Matin (2002). Then came: Gela Babluani's 13 Tzameti (2005), Levan Koguashvili's Kuchis Dgeebi/ Street Days (2010) , Zaza Urushadze's Mandarinebi/ Tangerines (2013), Dea Kulumbegashvili's Beginning (2020), Alexandre Koberidze's Ras Vkhedavt Rodesac cas Vukurebt?/ What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (2021) , etc.
Kazakhstan continued to have the most relevant cinema of Central Asia, thanks to: Timur Bekmambetov's supernatural horror movie Nochnoy Dozor/ Night Watch (2004), Sergey Dvortsevoy: Tulpan (2008), Rustem Abdrashev: The Gift to Stalin (2008), Emir Baigazin: Ozen/ The River (2018), Adilkhan Yerzhanov: Chornyy Chornyy Chelovek/ A Dark Dark Man (2019), Pak Ruslan: Tri/ Three (2020), etc.