Avant-Garde Cinema and the Jewish Question
The wonderful cover of this magazine shows scenes from the forthcoming movie, ‘His Excellency’, to be released by ‘Belgoskino’.
For the director, Georgi Roshal, the film was a reaction to criticism that Jewish-made films were avoiding political issues and were not participating in the ‘new society’ properly. Roshal (a co-student of Meyerhold) decided to make a ‘Jewish’ film that had true revolutionary zeal, updating the public perception of the ‘typical Jew’. This was a touchy subject in the 1920s , as it is now.
Roshal stated that Lunacharsky* himself, (People’s Kommissar for Enlightenment) personally supervised the production of the film to ensure its ideological correctness. The film promotes a Jewish socialist as being a true Bolshevik hero, whilst attacking the Jewish clergy and pre-revolutionary social order. It was released in the USA under the title ‘The Seeds of Freedom’.
A Dangerous Deviation
This edition of ‘Art Life’ is evidence of the coming darkness that would soon envelop every aspect of creativity in the USSR.
The leading article is called ‘A Dangerous Deviation’. It discusses some shows, recently staged in Leningrad and criticises them for being too light, and too old-fashioned. October 1927, the time of this publication, market the tenth anniversary of the Revolution. It states:
We of course know, the social nature of the ‘neutral’ audience member and the vagueries of his ‘artistic’ tastes. If we focus on this audience… it means simply the substitution of the ‘class’ basis of the theatre by the ‘cash’ basis.
Is it worthy of our academic theatres on one hand to create a new, modern repertoire, and on the other feed the genre of the mouldy bourgeois operetta, against which we are stubbornly fighting?
It can be thought that two answers to this question cannot be found.
Mutually exclusive directions in the artistic-ideological politics of the state theatre organisations must not occur.
As Stalin tightened his grip on power, the rules regarding artistic expression became evermore inhibiting for creative people. From 1917, the theatre was supposed to have a political and social relevance for the working classes. This meant that many amateur dramatic groups were established among workers and peasants, and their output conveyed very simple political messages so as to be understandable to a population that had never before set foot in any establishment resembling a theatre. In the large cities, ‘Worker’s Theatres’ were founded. They attracted some of the members of the left-wing artist groups, such as Mayakovsky and Tretyakov, and existed in parallel with more established and ‘classical’ theatres.
*Lunacharsky, a friend of Lenin, was People’s Kommissar of Enlightenment. He was, by Bolshevik standards, a liberal and progressive individual. However, he had to keep a watchful eye on the whims of his political superiors and ultimately ensure that the dictates from the top were enforced throughout Soviet cultural life. He was removed from office in 1930 by Stalin.