The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War

By David Caute | Go to book overview

Soviet Cinema Under Stalin

Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva, while still a schoolgirl, was frequently taken by her father to the Kremlin theatre to see films until two in the morning. ‘How many wonderful films were shown for the first time on the little screen in the Kremlin! There was Chapayev, the Gorky trilogy, films about Peter the Great, Circus and Volga-Volga. All the best Soviet films were launched in that hall in the Kremlin.’1 Svetlana Alliluyeva recalled that during her father’s later years foreign films not released to the public were shown at weekends in government dachas. Most of them were American.2 Dmitri Shostakovich recalled that ‘Stalin loved films and he saw The Great Waltz, about Johann Strauss, many times, dozens of times… Stalin also liked Tarzan films, he saw all the episodes.’3 Early in 1946 VOKS and the Soviet Information Bureau were still pressing the American Embassy for more films. Sunday-night screenings at Spaso House, the ambassador’s residence, became regular events, attracting select Soviet intellectuals and guests from other countries. Then came the freeze. In February 1946 the Film Committee halted a screening of Casablanca (starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman) and confiscated the film. After protests from the Embassy it was eventually returned.4 On 4 October Vecherniaia Moskva criticized Dom kino (House of Cinema), the clubhouse of film workers, which had shown sixty foreign films during the previous six months, including some with jazz and foxtrot. Soviet film production was fully committed to the cold war; American popular culture had to be fought at every level. On 8 January 1949 the New York Times happily reported that the display and production of photographs of Hollywood film stars had been banned the previous day. Vecherniaia Moskva had revealed that barber shops and beauty parlours were most prone to this sin—though Clark Gable was the only actor named. ‘This unique advertising of American cinema trash has flowered for more than a year not only in Moscow, but also in Tashkent, Leningrad, Baku, and other cities.’ The anti-foreign campaign picked up pace. The sheer charm, vivacity,

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