Illusionary Spoils: Soviet Attitudes toward American Cinema during the Early Cold War

By Kapterev, Sergei | Kritika, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Illusionary Spoils: Soviet Attitudes toward American Cinema during the Early Cold War


Kapterev, Sergei, Kritika


At any stage of the Cold War, Soviet film culture was inevitably influenced by the political and ideological content of the conflict and by fluctuations in its course. Soviet films represented confrontation with the West with various degrees of directness, dealing with such issues as ideological struggle, espionage, the fear of global hostilities (influenced by traumatic memories of the past world war), and ostentatious or genuine attempts at rapprochement with the other side. Soviet ideologues and commentators from different cultural fields were mobilized to defend Soviet filmmakers and film audiences from possible contamination. Western cinema was condemned as a source and emblem of bourgeois decadence and regarded as a tool of enemy propaganda. Films produced in the United States were the main targets of this condemnation: in stark contrast to the general friendliness which had characterized Soviet attitudes toward American filmmaking during World War II, with the advent of the Cold War they were commonly described as a "filthy torrent of slander against humanity produced by Hollywood's conveyor-belts." (1)

Against considerable odds, however, during the Cold War American cinema remained an important presence within Soviet culture and generated a significant effect on its Soviet counterpart even during the conflict's most difficult periods, when most American cultural products were rejected as unfit for Soviet consumption. (2) Even in the conditions of growing ideological repression and thorough filtration of anything that was perceived as a product of American capitalism and a tool of imperialist subversion, American films reached the Soviet intelligentsia, as well as "common" Soviet viewers. The new xenophobic atmosphere (fueled by "anti-cosmopolitan" witch hunts and "courts of honor") did not prevent Soviet filmmakers, who since the earliest days of Soviet cinema had demonstrated enthusiastic interest in American representations of dynamic modernity and American film techniques, from being perceptive observers and processors of America's cinematic achievements. (3) Moreover, in spite of the declared intent to fence out contaminating Western influences, Soviet ideologues paid close attention to the developments in American cinema, sanctioning the use--for very different ideological aims--of stylistic and narrative patterns commonly associated with Hollywood. (4)

This article examines certain channels and mechanisms of American cinema's penetration of the Soviet realm at the Cold War's initial and, arguably, most acute stage, the parameters of which were shaped in the last years of Stalin's rule by the most violent official rejection of Western culture. It explores two interrelated issues: patterns of Soviet bureaucratic, intellectual, and popular reception of American films; and U.S. efforts to secure a position in the Soviet film market. The first issue opens another perspective on the two superpowers' ideological and cultural rivalry; the second specifies the problem of cultural influences in a situation when the influencer has to circumvent powerful mechanisms of defense.

By demonstrating and explaining diverse responses of Soviet audiences, authorities, and filmmakers to one of the most popular and accomplished products of American culture and one of the most powerful instruments of U.S. cultural policy, I aim to give a more nuanced picture of a period traditionally regarded as one of the lowest points in the relationship between the USSR and the United States.

American Films in the USSR during World War II

The history of Soviet attitudes toward American cinema in the early course of the Cold War would be incomplete without a look at its reception in the Soviet Union during World War II. (5) First, positive attitudes toward American cinema prevalent at that time provide a dramatic contrast to the mood of the subsequent Cold War. Second, the wartime access to allied countries' films, and the fact that large numbers of foreign movies were obtained as war trophies, profoundly influenced postwar Soviet filmmaking and the general cultural situation in the USSR.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Illusionary Spoils: Soviet Attitudes toward American Cinema during the Early Cold War
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?