Sign in to follow this  
Spacedad

Reference and state-mandated 'inspiration' - Soviet animated films

Recommended Posts

Here is a smattering of soviet and soviet-controlled country propaganda and the odd agitprop critical film from insiders. As the title suggests, I hesitate to use the phrase 'inspiration' when describing these, given the circumstances under which they were conceived, though I do admire the craft that went into a lot of these.

First up, the remarkable 'shooting range' by Vladimir Tarasov. I love the aesthetic and animation, which is like an ultra-refined Yellow Submarine. The film is stylish and cool despite being a rather typical piece of soviet anti-capitalist propaganda with the usual fat capitalist stereotypes. I do enjoy the criticism of western commercialism, and it is interesting to see an outsider's perspective on American culture - but one must remember that this was a piece of state propaganda every bit as insidious as the thing it purports to be critical of. In spite of this, I really enjoy the film.

part 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8OkqSvw7Mw

part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzceGUNrPK8

Polygon (Aka 'Firing Range) - an anti-imperial anti-militarist cartoon from 1977. Given the proxy wars that Russia and the US engaged in close to that time, this film's anti-war message about an AI-controlled tank running amok to kill its creators should be especially ironic. The film features a very well-realized handpainted rotoscoped animation style that I like a lot, as it demonstrates a sense of form and dimensionality that is essentially like well-drawn life drawing slightly-caricatured illustration in motion. Or a well drawn graphic novel in motion. Too bad about its conception.

Part 1 of a many-parted documentary series on the history of Soviet animation propaganda.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KV5sIGm70SE&list=PLA6984F8F169F03B6

Also, here's a couple of films by rebel insiders. (These ones I feel I CAN use the word 'inspired' on without biting on my cheek as I say it.)

First up, Jiri Tryka's classic critical short film 'hand' - reality imitated art, as Trnka's career was destroyed by the government after he created this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqJSf93AfRc

And one of my favorites, "The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia" by rebellious Czech surrealist filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, who was a victim of czech soviet censorship that resulted in him being exiled from the country. After the Berlin wall fell, he was commissioned by the BBC to make this piece of agitprop as a means of revenge on the censors and bureaucrats who hounded him for his career, deliberately loading as much offensive anti-soviet symbolism as he wanted into his film. This is the closest thing in film form to an artist tap-dancing on an opressor's grave. The film shows off the various soviet russian leaders and their czech counterparts, with loaded symbolism mocking the various leaders, the tortures they inflicted on their citizens, and their failed promises. (Some stuff actually takes doing a bit of homework to understand, such as for example, the shaking of keys at one point in reference to the rampant locking up of dissenting citizens that was happening towards the end of the soviet union before everything collapsed.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOYEgB7-6F4

In the last film's case, I hope Dear Leader takes some of the bitterness that's present in Svankmajer's film somewhere in there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One interesting thing about Soviet movies was the creativity required to deliver a message while appeasing censors. It's actually pretty surprising what would make it through the approval process. For example, I've always wondered how in the world the most famous Soviet-era holiday movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073179/) was allowed to have this cartoon as an intro sequence --

P.S. Although, that message could always be applied to cookie-cutter houses and similar street names in American suburbia. Having grown up in USSR with same-looking mid- and high-rise buildings, it was rather surreal visiting some newly-built neighborhoods where houses look exactly alike.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, the last 2 films I posted by Trnka and Svankmajer both were critical of that censorship process. Svankmajer's film in particular, as his was an active aggressive attack on the now-powerless censors - a middle-finger if ever there was one. (They exiled him for his films, so he has every reason to be angry.)

Knowing Svankmajer, the fact that the highly conservative Uk government with its own problems was commissioning him to make this piece of agitprop was no doubt not lost on him. He is critical and skeptical of the new Czech republic at the end of the film too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know Dudes, these are very exotic examples, for my taste.

When I think of Soviet Propaganda, I think of early 20th century, first. From Avantgarde (non-propaganda) movies & short films, to "classic" Propaganda movie examples (easy to googlebing). Slowly building up to Stalin's purge, the Stalin era and the post-Stalin era, all the way to Brezhnev (that's when my own memories start). I don't see animated film as really iconic or historically important in that sense.

I don't see, how these examples are helpful, especially with the limited time, the team has left?

No offense.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I posted a documentary that has a lot of exactly what you described, and the svankmajer one has a lot of soviet related imagery in it that winds up getting sadistically mocked. I'm not sure how these don't help the team, because everything in the legacy of propaganda film in the USSR is linked. These are all meant to be optional viewing films if the team members have time or are interested.

Nevertheless, now for a flick that's closer to being on the money. Here's a film not about animation, but architecture - specifically Stalinist architecture - "Joe Building" by the great architecture (and food and art) historian, Johnathan Meades.

Link here:

This film is hilarious and by turns quite satirical.

There's also a similar film about nazi architecture called 'Jerry Building.' It's not USSR related, but here for people's general interest:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And now for some "Gin and Juche" - here's a North Korea anti-US film. Not sure what the title of it is, but it's every bit as jaw droppingly bizarre as the dictatorship it was made for is.

DPRK used the PROTRACTOR!

He can now more easily see the length of things!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good taste that man!

I've been writing about Trnka and Švankmajer in my PhD thesis (which is specifically about Czech animation, mostly under communism) so if you want to read any of that, I could send you some of it.

They're work is probably a bit too beautiful and delicate (Trnka) or surreal and dissident (Švankmajer for the style of the game, but still inspirational...

I'd also recommend Jiří Barta's remarkable work. I wish he'd be given the funds to complete his aborted 'Golem' project:

And here is his Krysar, a remarkable adaptation of a Czech variant of 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin':

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, those are worth looking at, though they don't really fit the category of soviet propaganda per se. Although I actually took Barta's Pied Piper as having some cruel undertones about Stalin's massacre of the kulaks and the bourgeoisie.

Barta also found himself a victim of the whims of the soviet-czech censors.

Here's something also worth looking at that is really out-there. No doubt influenced by Jan Svankmajer, this film has some anti-capitalist overtones to it - even the title is a soviet stereotype about everyone in the west being unemployed. It's a freaky film involving discarded mannequins brought to life, trying to mimic human behavior.

Here's another that's closer to modernist soviet propaganda animation, 'the disc jockey.' A slick abstract film caricaturing capitalism.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RL2Kyx9AHIA

Again though, Jiri Barta isn't what I would call a Soviet propagandist per se. His films do feature over and under tones of attitudes and symbols that remind people where these were made, but they strikingly seem to come more from the filmmaker's creativity than a state mandate. If anything, Pied Piper in particular seems really subversive. No doubt the censors realized this, which is why he had a difficult time getting his films funded for a period before the soviet collapse. (In spite of Pied Piper apparently being a successful film.)

Pied Piper is visually fantastic though - the german-expressionist-influenced abstract woodcarving puppets are brilliant, and some of the visual exaggeration and distorted representations of perspective are ingenious; stuff that I'd love the people at Double-Fine to look at for inspiration in general.

The film is also terrifying. Terrifying because it's a film that depicts the unrelenting massacre of human beings in a disturbing dehumanized way. The crooked townspeople are all one dimensionally corrupt - and they are all mercilessly turned into rats and slaughtered. I feel like this film might be what a mass murdering dictator might dream, in how their contempt for human beings is visually realized. Or like a nightmare one might have after reading a lot about the holodomar or the great purge. It's a deeply disturbing place, and I feel somewhat violated that the film forced me to view human beings as irredeemably corrupt before they were turned into victims of indiscriminate massacre. Of course, it's pretty clear from the tone of the film it was meant to be nightmarish - so I consider it a good film there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If you say "Soviet animation", I can only think of Vinni Pukh:

:D

Piglet has a fucking gun? I know it is a toy gun, but somehow that seems a bit dark. Also, I found it surprisingly funny.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Piglet has a fucking gun? I know it is a toy gun, but somehow that seems a bit dark. Also, I found it surprisingly funny.

In the book, it was Christopher Robin who owned a gun (and helped Winnie). I think it's funnier with Piglet's help. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've watched plenty of Disney Pooh cartoons but the Soviet Winnie the Pooh was a lot funnier than the US version. Since I've seen plenty of bears (even got a chance to pet a bear cub once), I think I always found it strange that American Pooh is yellow but, then again, I don't recall how it was in the books.

P.S. There are three Russian Pooh cartoons, about 40 minutes total in length. For example:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this