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

By David Caute | Go to book overview

8
Soviet Cinema:
The New Wave

After Stalin’s death the Soviet film industry was freer to produce films of high artistic quality aimed at Western festivals and audiences. Soviet papers began to publish lists of foreign films they would like to see and to make appreciative comments about Italian neo-realism.1 The New York Times reported Pravda’s praise for Delbert Mann’s Marty,2 a great work of American neorealism shown at the Cannes Festival. The Pravda review, by Sergei Yutkevich, the Soviet member of the Cannes jury, lauded the film as truly depicting the life of simple folk in America.3 Four years later, when Marty, the story of a homely Bronx butcher’s humdrum life until he begins to court a teacher, reached Moscow under the first Soviet–American cultural treaty, the audience in the Udarnik Theatre roared and applauded when Marty’s girl tells her mother that she doesn’t think in-laws should live with their married children. Intense interest was shown in the modest Bronx kitchen of Marty’s home, the bar and lunchrooms he frequented, the elevated trains in the Bronx, the lively music at the dance-hall. The film moved into five large Moscow cinemas, with Izvestiia expressing pleasure at finding a film about ordinary Americans without violence, chase scenes, and Hollywood beauties. And Ernest Borgnine was a winner as the hero.4

The late 1950s and the 1960s witnessed a ‘new wave’ cultural renaissance, breaking out of the constrictive models of the collective-heroic and reaching a better-educated young audience hungry for films about personal experience and sentiment—like Marty or the work of Godard and Truffaut. The curse of Soviet cinema—indeed of Soviet culture—was the dominant and oppressive position occupied by war in general and the Great Patriotic War in particular. Virtually everything in human life was defined in adversarial terms; in art as in life, the Soviet citizen was relentlessly judged in terms of his or her war, his or her allegiance—the civil war against the Whites, the

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