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Stage and Cinema

‘Sovetskii Ekran’

An introduction to the collection

This movie magazine was published in the USSR from 1925 until 1930, when it was axed by the government. It re-appeared in 1957 and lasted until 1998, when financial difficulties forced its closure.

Lenin had recognised the propaganda value of the cinema. As Stalin tightened his grip on every facet of life of the Soviet populace, the cinema was brought under ever stricter control and its creativity effectively strangled.

Our collection is primarily from 1929. The issues clearly show the influence of the avant-garde in the stark, vivid photography. These photographs are largely taken from movie frames – showing the extent to which the avant-garde had penetrated film making by the end of the 1920s.

One of the great innovative film directors of the 20th. Century –

Sergei Eisenstein

– is featured in several issues – even the 1959 edition. In the 1929 magazines his film ‘Old and New’ is publicised and reviewed. His picture is on the back cover of No. 36. However, a page of the 1959 edition gives us a glimpse of the interference of the state in the work of its artists:

Eistenstein and ‘Ivan the Terrible’

Eisenstein, like all Russian avant-garde artists, experienced great difficulty and danger as the 1930s progressed. His work was at once praised and then rejected on Stalin’s whims. People around him were arrested and sometimes shot. He released ‘Ivan the Terrible part 1’ in 1944. The music was written by Prokofiev. Stalin enjoyed the film and identified closely with the ‘byzantine’ tyrant. However, given that Stalin often personally watched films and decided if they were suitable for general release, ‘Ivan the Terrible part 2’ (1946) was probably the most optimistic piece of film-making ever. Its plot concerned the theft of land by the Tsar, his tricks allowing him to execute citizens, the aftermath of the murder of his wife, a plot against him and its ultimate bloody failure.

Given that Stalin :

  • collectivised agriculture in 1928-40 (theft of land)
  • had millions of innocent people arrested and either shot or worked to death throughout his reign
  • had two wives, one of whom died and the other shot herself
  • was well known as ordering the exposure of hundreds of (fictitious) ‘plots’ against him, justifying bloody reprisals against the plotters,

it is hardly surprising that the film was banned from public screening until 1958, 5 years after Stalin’s death. Eisenstein himself died in 1948 of a heart attack.

Thus our magazines are perfect bookends – in 1929, he is joyously publicising his new film. In 1958, ten years after his death, a film banned since 1946 is finally released. Watch the 1929 film in its entirety here:

(Source:
http://archive.org/details/Eisenstein-TheGeneralLine)

Look at the cover of the 1959 edition. Compare it to the 1929 covers. The banality of the 1959 photo says more about the sad enforced demise of published artistic creativity in the USSR than any written comment can hope to.