Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Soviet Silent Animation, Part 2 (2013 Pordenone retrospective curated by Peter Bagrov and Viktor Kapterev)

POCHTA / Mail (USSR 1929), Mikhail Tsekhanovskii. Photo: Gosfilmofond.
Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone), with e-titles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter Buchwald, 8 Oct 2013

ODNA IZ MNOGIKH [Una fra le tante / One of Many] (Mezhrabpom-Rus, SU 1927) D: Nikolai Khodatayev; SC: Nikolai Khodatayev, et al.; DP: Pavel Mershin; AD: Nikolai Khodatayev, Valentina Brumberg, Zinaida Brumberg, Olga Khodatayeva; ass. D: Tatiana Lukashevich; C: Aleksandra Kudriavtseva (studentessa di cinema/a film school student); 35 mm, 444 m, 18'20" (21 fps); AN (flat-figure marionettes [articulated cut-outs]), live action); print source: Gosfilmofond, Moscow. Russian intertitles.

Sergei Kapterev: "Among the Soviet studios’ earliest animation departments, one of the most versatile was that established at Mezhrabpom-Rus with the help of graduates of the State Film Technicum’s experimental animation workshop."

"After the workshop’s dissolution, one of its founders, Nikolai Khodatayev, began to take commissions from different studios. In 1926, he combined animation and live action – for one of the first times in Soviet cinema – in an educational short about the importance of correct mail addressing made for Goskino’s 3rd Film Factory. Khodatayev used this combination again the following year in One of Many, an “animated comedy” produced by Mezhrabpom-Rus. Khodatayev recalled that in his efforts to combine animation and live action he had been inspired by a programme of films from Max Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell series, which he saw in Moscow in 1924 – although, admittedly, he felt that Fleischer’s characters “floated in space” and were not “on the same plane with the photographed objects”."

"One of Many should probably be viewed as a supplement to The Kiss of Mary Pickford (Potselui Meri Pikford, 1927; shown at the 2008 Giornate), an “acted” comedy about the excesses of fandom and admiration for Hollywood, co-produced by Mezhrabpom-Rus. The story in The Kiss was built around documentary footage of the visit of Pickford and Fairbanks to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1926; fragments of this footage were also used in the live-action sequence of One of Many."

"Besides Pickford and Fairbanks (both as themselves and as animated characters), One of Many cites Griffith, Chaplin, and other luminaries of American cinema, as well as the Danish comic actors Carl Schenstrøm and Harald Madsen, who were very popular in Russia as Pat and Patachon, but, of course, did not belong to the American film culture."

"While extending the friendly irony towards American cinema which pervaded Bushkin’s A Mysterious Ring, One of Many went considerably further, reflecting on the conflict between fantasy and reality, maybe in reference to the dream sequence in Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924), which had been playing in Soviet cinemas under the title The Obsessed (Oderzhimyi)."

"Besides some ingenious trick photography linking live-action and animation segments, One of Many boasts sophisticated background designs – for example, in the scene of the heroine’s imaginary transportation to Hollywood – provided by Khodatayev’s sister Olga, and Valentina and Zinaida Brumberg, who had worked under Khodatayev’s guidance on China Aflame (Kitai v ogne, 1925) and later joined, as directors, the Soviet animation élite."

"One of Many was one of the last direct – and, arguably, one of the smartest – Soviet cinematic tributes to American cinema and the exotic vitality of American life. It appeared at the moment when domestic productions were squeezing foreign films out of the Soviet market."

"The film’s unfair characterization as a “primitive fairy tale” in 1936 was most likely induced by the aggravation of the negative official attitude towards non-Soviet cultural products. Paradoxically, the mid-1930s were also the time when Soviet animation was enthusiastically embracing Walt Disney’s method and style, effectively ending the animation careers of Khodatayev and some of his most creative colleagues." – Sergei Kapterev

AA: Live action and animation. The starstruck girl dreams of Hollywood and movie stars. The legends come alive in her dream: Griffith, Chaplin, Pat and Patachon, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton in Three Ages, Douglas Fairbanks in A Thief of Bagdad. The attack of the lions wakes her up, and the film legends burst into a laughter. Ok print.

KATOK [Il campo di pattinaggio / The Rink] (Mezhrabpom-Rus, SU 1927) Supv: Nikolai Bartram, Yuri Zheliabuzhskii; AD: Daniil Cherkes, Ivan Ivanov-Vano; DP: Yuri Zheliabuzhskii; orig. l: 250 m.; 35 mm, 168 m, 7' (21 fps); AN (hand-drawn); print source: Gosfilmofond, Moscow. Russian intertitles.

Peter Bagrov: "Of all Soviet silent animations, Katok may be the one most loved by scholars and filmmakers. Less sophisticated than Pochta, less extravagant than Mezhplanetnaya revoliutsiya or Odna iz mnogikh, it nevertheless is absolutely unique in its graphic style, being a bridge of sorts between the age of the Primitives and the 1960s."

"It was made partially by the same team who did Senka-Afrikanets several months earlier. Senka had been criticized for a confusing plot, which sacrificed logic for a showcase of tricks and technologies. So with Katok Daniil Cherkes and Ivan Ivanov-Vano were aiming to rehabilitate themselves by producing a plain, simple story, designed to be easily understood by children."

"Katok is often credited to Yuri Zheliabuzhskii, a veteran Mezhrabpom director who specialized in melodramas starring established actors of the Moscow Art Theatre. But as Zheliabuzhskii himself recalled, his functions (besides camerawork, which is no more than routine in this case) were limited to supervising and consulting Cherkes and Ivanov-Vano. He also introduced them to Nikolai Bartram, a most remarkable figure in the Moscow cultural landscape of the 1920s. Bartram had the largest collection of toys in Russia. In 1918 he donated it to the government and founded The Museum of Toys in Moscow, a city shattered by revolution. By 1927 this tiny organization ranked second in attendance among Moscow museums after the Tretyakov Art Gallery. Bartram developed a concept of his museum that was decades ahead of its time. The older toys were placed in a “native habitat” (i.e., 18th- and 19th-century interiors), and children were permitted to touch some of the exhibits and to watch the production of new toys."

"It was this very knowledge of children’s psychology that allowed Bartram to write what was later referred to as the first successful screenplay for a Soviet animation film. The plotline is as simple as it can be. A ticketless little boy tries to sneak onto a skating rink. When he finally succeeds, he is so overwhelmed with joy that he bumps into a clumsy fat man who is courting a young girl. Followed by the furious man, the boy accidentally gets onto a racing track and wins a skating race. (It is impossible to ignore the precise parallel with Chaplin’s The Rink, and the relationship in that film of Charlie the Tramp, heavyweight Eric Campbell, and Edna Purviance.)"

"This simplicity was enhanced and brought to the level of high art through a deliberately primitive graphic style. All the characters and objects are drawn with thin lines – with no shadows, no volume (the legs and hands seem to be made of wire), and very few details. The background is just indicated. The people in a queue near the rink entrance are absolutely identical, and so are the fir trees on the roadside. These linear images remind one of children’s drawings. Which is probably not pure coincidence: the Russian avant-garde demonstrated a deep interest in children’s art after Corrado Ricci’s famous 1887 book L’arte dei bambini was translated into Russian in 1911."

"Another source of inspiration might have been Émile Cohl’s chalk-line style cartoons, although we don’t know whether the Mezhrabpom animators were familiar with them. The main difference is in the use of black and white: Cohl used white lines on a black background, whereas in Katok we have exactly the opposite. But… several of Ivanov-Vano’s and Cherkes’ original drawings for the film have survived – and their solution is identical to Cohl’s, white on black."

"There is one more difference from Cohl’s films – and a very significant one. Cohl’s characters are 100 percent conventional; it is the degree of stylization that makes them cosmopolitan. Katok seems just as stylized; yet the very few details present make the characters concrete and recognizable. It is indeed a film about Moscow in the 1920s. The little boy has just one ice skate and is wearing a huge Red Army woolen hat (budenovka), which probably means that he is a street boy. The fat man wears a top hat, which indicates him as a NEPman (a new Soviet bourgeois). Thus three tiny details provide the story with a social accent, though not a very strong one. It is also reminiscent of the brilliant Eastern European animation of the 1950s and 1960s, with its combination of graphic laconicism and social accuracy – a phenomenon that would have a strong influence both on Soviet and American animation. Was Katok a catalyst in this complex historical process, or not? We’ll probably never know." – Peter Bagrov

AA: Minimalistic animation with matchstick figures, extremely limited animation, yet expressive in its unique way. The print is a bit soft and out of focus.

SAMOYEDSKII MALCHIK (US: Eskimo Boy) [Il ragazzo samoiedo / The Samoyed Boy] (Sovkino 3rd Factory, Moscow, SU 1928) D, SC, AD: Nikolai Khodatayev, Olga Khodatayeva, Valentina Brumberg, Zinaida Brumberg; AN: V. Semionov; orig. l: 384 m.; incomplete, 35 mm, 189 m, 8' (21 fps); AN (flat-figure marionettes [articulated cut-outs], hand-drawn); print source: Gosfilmofond, Moscow. Russian intertitles.

Peter Bagrov: "According to various memoirs, Samoyedskii malchik might have been the most popular Soviet silent animation film – especially the 1931 sonorized version (post-synchronization of a 4-year-old film is itself a nice indicator of success). But the sound version is lost, and the original silent one is very incomplete. So we’ll have to deal with a shadow consisting of fragments, hypotheses, and recollections. The plot of the existing version seems quite tangled. Yet, it is important to know the story, because the elegant style of the film is entirely dictated by the material."

"A polar bear attacks a reindeer sledge driven by a Samoyedic (Nenets) boy, Chu. The boy courageously fights the animal and kills it. He and his mother return home with his trophy, but the bear is taken away by the local shaman (priest). Offended, Chu reveals the machinery by which the shaman animates the statue of a local god. The cheat is now exposed, and the shaman’s reputation is ruined. In revenge the shaman lures Chu onto an ice floe, but the boy is saved by a Soviet trawler and brought to Leningrad. There he enters the Worker’s College (Rabfak) of the Peoples of the North. Several years later he returns home and brings the new Soviet culture to his people."

"In a way Samoyedskii malchik carries on the line of China Aflame (Kitai v ogne, 1925) and other “serious” animation films of the mid-1920s, with their tendency to work into their narrative as many important social and political issues as possible: the vestiges of religion, the brotherhood of nations, the promotion of Soviet education, and so forth. But here this mixture is balanced by an elaborate visual style. The Rabfak (later, Institute) of the Peoples of the North actually existed, and was aimed at educating the Northern minorities in a broad variety of fields. Perhaps the most exotic and amazing of its departments was the Art Studio, led by Aleksei Uspenskii (1892-1941) and other eminent graphic artists. The Samoyedics’ national primitive art – superfine carving on bone (scrimshaw) – was transferred to canvas and paper and enshrined by refined Leningrad traditions. Nikolai Khodatayev, who most likely was the leader of the production crew, did a similar thing in this film. He had a taste for applying different graphic styles to animation; throughout his career he made several remarkable attempts in that direction. This time he tried two styles: the scrimshaw drawings in the Northern sequences, and pure St. Petersburg graphics (precisely, the “urban vignettes” of the artist and designer Mstislav Dobuzhinsky [1875-1957]) in the Leningrad scenes. The film was praised for its sophisticated grey-scale tones – other Soviet cartoons were mainly in pure black and white."

"Adopting the Leningrad style led to the typical “Leningrad Style” difficulties: detailed images were limited in motion. The animators could not overcome that in their attempts to simulate human facial expression: the “close-ups” look scrawled and archaic. But Khodatayev was convinced that animation was capable of portraying real emotions, placing particular emphasis on such scenes as the reunion of the mother and the son whom she considered dead. So whenever possible, they presented such dramatic moments in “long shot”, substituting static mise-en-scène with wide gestures for expressive facial detail. As for the animals (deer, dogs, even the evil polar bear), they were animated perfectly, for Khodatayev carefully examined the chronophotography of Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey."

"Samoyedskii malchik was an experiment in many ways – and probably a very successful one. Unfortunately, today we can appreciate only a small part of its achievements." – Peter Bagrov

AA: Fascinating to see a Tundra Nenets animation. Story elements: a reindeer sleigh, a polar bear attack, the little boy fells the bear, meeting with the shaman, the trick with the idol (qf. The Wizard of Oz), the boy exposes the idol trick, walrus hunt, the boy lost on an ice floe, rescued on board as ship, sent to Leningrad to study at Rabfak, dreaming of reindeer. - There are moments of real visual style and artistic achievement in this one. - From an used print.

POKHOZHDENIYA MIUNCHGAUZENA [Le avventure di Münchhausen / The Adventures of Münchhausen] (Mezhrabpomfilm, SU 1929) D: Daniil Cherkes; SC: Daniil Cherkes, Nataliya Sats, based on the book by Rudolf Erich Raspe; AD, AN: Daniil Cherkes, Ivan Ivanov-Vano, Vladimir Suteyev, Vera Valerianova; asst: Vera Yurgenson, Konstantin Tiulpanov, Aleksandr Barsch; C: Porfirii Podobed (il dubbioso/the doubting one); orig. l: 600 m.; 35 mm, 525 m, 22' (21 fps); AN (cut-outs, page-turn animation, live action); print source: Gosfilmofond, Moscow. Russian intertitles.

Peter Bagrov: "This 1929 animation was the first of five Soviet adaptations – four cartoons and one feature – of the tall tales attributed to the mythomaniac German Baron, and published to his annoyance in the 1780s, notably in the version of Rudolf Erich Raspe. Strange as it may seem, if we add unfinished projects and the 1930/31 German animation Die Abenteuer des Baron Münchhausen oder Die Wahrheit über alles made by the émigré Paul N. Peroff, the Russians would probably hold a record for cinematic Münchhausens. This must be due to something in the national character."

"The Mezhrabpomfilm version is relatively unknown. It is seldom described by historians, and there seem to be no reviews. The director Ivan Ivanov-Vano (1900-1987) claimed that the film was a great success among children’s audiences, but we’ll have to take his word for this. Ivanov-Vano would eventually become something like the Official Soviet Animator, receiving all the governmental awards possible, and representing the USSR at all the animation festivals. His brilliant career, royal self-assurance, and recurrent fights with young avant-gardists overshadowed the fact that he himself was an experimentalist, making avant-garde animation until his old age. But each of his experiments had to be veiled by a series of traditional sure- fire films. He trimmed his sails to the wind."

"Judging from a distance we can probably consider Pokhozhdeniya Miunchgauzena a turning point in Ivanov-Vano’s career. For it was the first of his films with no avant-garde techniques. Obviously influenced by Max Fleischer (an influence Ivanov-Vano never denied) and perhaps even Disney, it’s a skilful, amusing Western animation, with no trace of the Russian style, neither Moscow nor Leningrad. This style would become the mainstream for Soviet animation… some 7 to 8 years later, after the massive anti-formalist campaigns of 1935-36. It’s remarkable how a young avant-gardist had foreseen the changes to come."

"Still, we might trace hints of the avant-garde in the narrative: in the way the Baron moves in and out of the book, and in an obscure live- action comment by a young man dressed in a modern suit. The man is played by Porfirii Podobed, Kuleshov’s Mr. West." – Peter Bagrov

AA: Funny moments: "I always tell the truth. I can't stand liars and braggarts". Münchhausen tells his version of events, but in the images everything is otherwise. The drawing style is funny. "The castle" is very ordinary, and there is a lazy atmosphere with the rooster crowing in vain, the fox laughing, the horse being dragged by a dog. There are intrepid chase sequences and incredible feats of M. carrying both his horse and dog across an abyss. The spirit of the wind carries M. to outer space. Back on the surface of the Earth the horse loses half of its body, and has trouble holding the water it is drinking. There are fantastic hunting feats with ducks and elks. A cherry tree grows out of the cherry stone bullet to the elk's antler. The live music interpretation to this film was funny.

POCHTA [La posta / Post] (US: Mail) (Sovkino, Leningrad, SU 1929) D: Mikhail Tsekhanovskii; SC: Samuil Marshak, based on his children’s book in verse (1927); DP: Konstantin Kirillov; AD: Mikhail Tsekhanovskii, Ivan Duzhinin; ass D: Vera Tsekhanovskaya; asst. AD: Piotr Sokolov; orig. l: 550 m.; incomplete, 35 mm, 437 m, 18' (21 fps); AN (mixed techniques); print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia. Russian intertitles.

Peter Bagrov: "Mikhail Tsekhanovskii (1889-1965) embarked on a film career at the age of 38, during one of his numerous periods of deep dissatisfaction with all his previous work. Unlike many established artists who thought of cinema as a “ground for guest performances”, he took it as his last chance to express himself and reach the top. “The first place in any art: painting, literature, or cinema”, “doors that open great art of cinema”: his diaries are full of such entries. Should animation become a springboard to real art, or was it real art itself? – this Tsekhanovskii couldn’t decide. That’s why he considered all his projects purely experimental."

"It is curious that 1927, when Tsekhanovskii abruptly decided to change the course of his life, was perhaps the most productive year of his life. It took him much too long to get an education: in between two Academies of Art, one in Paris and one in St. Petersburg, he went through five years of law studies at St. Petersburg University, and later spent a year in a Midshipman School (naval college). So when he finally got a chance to work he did his best to make up for lost time. Between 1926 and 1928 he illustrated no fewer than 20 children’s books, in the process becoming one of the most established masters of book design in Russia. Not only did he illustrate poems and short stories, but he had a unique taste for technical and popular science topics. Tsekhanovskii made a name for himself transforming electrical schemata, charts, and diagrams into works of art. He was obsessed with textures: you could almost feel wood or steel in his drawings, however schematic and conventional they seem. It was necessary to give objects materiality, to demonstrate them multidimensionally – and to use as little detail as possible. So he applied the mathematical principle of necessity and sufficiency, situating his objects in the most unusual combinations, adding photographs and matchbox labels, creating refined collages."

"Samuil Marshak’s Pochta was a poem, and quite a sophisticated one in terms of rhythm and style. Today it’s hard to find a Russian who doesn’t know at least several lines from it. But since the poem explained the functioning of the postal system (a letter follows an addressee who keeps moving from one country to another, and they catch up only when he returns home), a “technical” illustrator was a perfect choice. This tiny 1927 children’s book is considered Tsekhanovskii’s masterwork. In 10 years it went through 13 editions, from 20,000 to 50,000 copies each. Occasionally Tsekhanovskii made changes, sometimes very significant ones. Thus, the 1929 film version could be considered a re-edition of a sort. In those days Tsekhanovskii used to call animation “dynamic graphics”, and scholars have traced how the film indeed arose from the book. The book itself was based on the principle of movement. Postmen, trains, automobiles, buses, airships, and steamships – everything moves from left to right as if entering into resonance with the direction of the reader’s eyeline. And what’s more, all four postmen (Russian, German, British, and Brazilian) have their steps set very precisely – according to the locale and to the rhythm of Marshak’s respective lines. Naturally, all this was transferred to the screen. To increase the motion Tsekhanovskii added the story of a caterpillar that is sent in the letter. After a journey around the world, it emerges as a butterfly (a true story, told by Lenin’s wife Nadezhda Krupskaya). Unfortunately the very last shots of the film are missing, but we can catch a glimpse of this butterfly if we pay careful attention."

"Tsekhanovskii applied all his invention and knowledge of book graphic design to cinema. The Russian favourite “flat-figure marionettes” (two-dimensional jointed cut-out figures) were combined with stop- motion animation and traditional hand-drawn shots; highly stylized characters hold real postal envelopes. This was certainly one of the most “textured” animation films of the 1920s. And more than that: “The content, the essence of a picture is pure movement,” wrote Tsekhanovskii. “In other words, Pochta is an absolute film, as long as movement is the essence of the motion-picture art.” Which is practically a manifesto of abstract cinema. And there are indeed several shots that give the impression of pure abstraction – such as the tunnel as seen by the main character (i.e., the caterpillar, or even the letter itself)."

"It took Tsekhanovskii more than a year to complete the film. Judging from his diaries of 1928-29, all these months he was living with an explosive mixture of complexes and ambitions. And true genius – for how else could a man, who is so outrageously convinced that he is setting a new standard and making a perfect animation film, indeed make one? No wonder he couldn’t let go of this work. Soon after completing it as a black and white film he tinted it (a process practically abandoned in Russia by 1929, thanks to Eisenstein), and a year later he sonorized Pochta with music by the avant-garde composer Vladimir Deshevov, adding another reel with an ingenious explanation of sound-film technique by Daniil Kharms, one the greatest Russian absurdist poets."

"This complex sound avant-garde film (now lost) was received exceptionally well in the USSR and in the West. Animation films were rarely noticed by Soviet critics – this one was considered by some of them the most interesting Russian sound picture to date. As for the Western reaction, here is an eloquent quote. In his memoirs Sir Stephen Tallents mentions that one of the things that inspired him to create Britain’s GPO Film Unit was “an amusing cartoon film, produced by the Russian Post Office – the story of a caterpillar that was redirected in a postal packet all over the world, and finally hopped out as a butterfly”. It’s curious that for years neither Russian nor British film historians identified the film Sir Stephen had in mind." Peter Bagrov

AA: The masterpiece of the Soviet silent animation retrospective, a top achievement of world animation and graphic design. A multi-style, multi-technique film. Figures appear and disappear. The letter moves around the world, and the caterpillar inside turns into a butterfly. The postmen knock on doors in vain. The recipient has always moved already, from Berlin, from United Kingdom, from Brazil. There are vertiginous train rides, thunderstorms at sea, flights on the Zeppelin. "Glory to the postman". The image of the butterfly is but a flash in this print. Marvellous. - For a while I was thinking of Andrei Khrzanovsky and Zhil-byl Kozyavin.

NASH OTVET PAPAM RIMSKIM [La nostra risposta ai Papi / Our Answer to the Popes] (Mezhrabpomfilm, SU 1930) D: A. Skripchenko, G. Tarasov; AN: Nikolai Valerianov (?); orig. l: 180 m.; 35 mm, 177 m, 7'20" (21 fps); AN (mixed techniques, documentary footage); print source: Gosfilmofond, Moscow. Russian intertitles.

Peter Bagrov: "Nash otvet Papam rimskim (1930) is one of those films we know practically nothing about. Even the names don’t ring a bell, except that A. Skripchenko was a cameraman on several animation films, and the name of G. Tarasov is credited several times – once as a director of an animation film, twice – as an actor in second-rate Mezhrabpomfilm dramas. In some of the catalogues Skripchenko is listed as the director of this film, but it is more likely that he was the cameraman, as usual, and Tarasov directed the picture."

"The Mezhrabpomfilm archives give a completely different name – that of Nikolai Valerianov (1905-?). In 1928 he graduated from the State Film Technicum (GTK, later VGIK) in Moscow with a diploma of a “decorator” (i.e., set designer). A unique education indeed: Valerianov was one of the first nine decorators; the next class of set designers graduated only in 1943. For some reason most of his classmates started their careers in animation. But if two of them (Leonid Amalrik and Vladimir Suteyev) would later work on classics of the genre, for others, Valerianov included, animation was no more than a “reconsignment point”. For 20 years he worked as a set designer and costume designer with relative success, and then moved to designing advertising posters."

"Whoever made Nash otvet Papam rimskim, the quality of graphics and movement here is far from perfect – it reminds one of Interplanetary Revolution (Mezhplanetnaya Revoliutsiya) and other films of 1924-25. The situation is saved by a frantic tempo: by 1930 even second- rate directors in Russia knew the laws of rapid cutting. But the film is worth watching, first of all as a perfect illustration of one the most notorious periods of Soviet film history. Today the years 1929-31 are considered the Golden Age of the Soviet film avant-garde, with the last silent masterpieces (The General Line, New Babylon, Fragment of an Empire, Earth) and the first sound ones (Enthusiasm, The Road to Life). Yet all these films suffered a harsh fate. Contemporaries remember these years as the reign of the “agit-prop film”."

"A classical agit-prop film was a hybrid of fiction, documentary, and educational film, meant to illustrate the latest political slogans, such as “There are no fortresses that Bolsheviks cannot storm” or “Cadres are the key to everything”. Sometimes they were disguised as full-length feature films with well-known actors. But there could be no story and no real characters: everyone represented a certain profession or social layer. You’d never notice any signs of private lives in these films; collective farmers and factory workers were supposed to abide in a state of eternal labour. The underlying motive for this philosophy was the idea of an inevitable future war. And thus “The Front Continues”, as one of these pictures was called, only the war front is temporarily replaced by “labour front”. Psychology was replaced with endless diagrams and schemata demonstrating the increase of coal output or the daily milk yield."

"Several directors got a kick out of making these 70-minute slogans as absurd as possible. Occasionally they succeeded artistically, but then their pictures usually ended up on the shelf – as was the case with Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Nail in the Boot (Lursmani cheqmashi,
1931; shown at the 2010 Giornate). Others soldiered on. What made the situation hopeless was the increasing share of agit-prop films on production calendars: by 1930 they made up 55 percent of total output, and the powers-that-be were complaining that even that number was too low. Avant-garde experiments and commercial “genre” films were equally unwelcome. Mezhrapbomfilm specialized in both, so it had to throw the authorities a bone once in a while. Moisei Aleinikov, the head of Mezhrabpomfilm, was wise enough to waste as few features as possible on agit-prop. Shorts were not only cheaper, but much more easily comprehensible. A 10-minute-long slogan, or “poster-film” (kinoplakat) as they were called in the USSR, could actually even be elegant.

"Nash otvet Papam rimskim agitated for Osoaviakhim (the Union of Societies of Assistance to Defence and Aviation-Chemical Construction of the USSR), a powerful organization aiming to prepare reserves for the armed forces. “Worker, you want peace? Learn to shoot!” Which has become easier, since Soviet Russia is now producing small-calibre cartridges that are better than the ones it used to import. Yet the title, which translates to “Our Answer to the Popes”, promises an anti-religious pamphlet. In 1930 Pope Pius XI declared a “crusade against the USSR”. Soviet cultural organizations were obliged to respond with a series of anti-clerical actions. But Mezhrabpomfilm was not willing to spend money on another agit- prop film, when it was possible to kill two birds with one stone. So the Osoaviakhim one-reeler was placed in an anti-religious frame. The Pope is mentioned in the title, then we forget about him until the last minute, when he finally appears onscreen, only to be crushed by a box of small-calibre cartridges." – Peter Bagrov

AA: Stalinistic animation, militaristic. There is something troubling in military animation in itself, and I understand why Walt Disney is not keen on spreading Victory through Air Power, visually brilliant, but a piece of war propaganda. The song that I hear in my mind while thinking about this movie is Hanns Eislers "Kominternlied".

KATOK (USSR 1927) [THE RINK]. Photo: Gosfilmofond.
POCHTA (USSR 1929) [LA POSTA]. Mikhail Tsekhanovskii. Photo: Gosfilmofond.

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