The Cinema of the Soviet Thaw: Space, Materiality, Movement

The Cinema of the Soviet Thaw: Space, Materiality, Movement

The Cinema of the Soviet Thaw: Space, Materiality, Movement

The Cinema of the Soviet Thaw: Space, Materiality, Movement

Synopsis

Following Joseph Stalin's death in 1953, the Soviet Union experienced a dramatic resurgence in cinematic production. The period of the Soviet Thaw became known for its relative political and cultural liberalization; its films, formally innovative and socially engaged, were swept to the center of international cinematic discourse. In The Cinema of the Soviet Thaw, Lida Oukaderova provides an in-depth analysis of several Soviet films made between 1958 and 1967 to argue for the centrality of space--as both filmic trope and social concern--to Thaw-era cinema. Opening with a discussion of the USSR's little-examined late-fifties embrace of panoramic cinema, the book pursues close readings of films by Mikhail Kalatozov, Georgii Danelia, Larisa Shepitko and Kira Muratova, among others. It demonstrates that these directors' works were motivated by an urge to interrogate and reanimate spatial experience, and through this project to probe critical issues of ideology, social progress, and subjectivity within post-Stalinist culture.

Excerpt

In May 1961 the Soviet film journal Iskusstvo kino (The Art of Cinema) published a short review of the just-released documentary The City of Great Fate (Gorod bol’shoi sud’by), directed by Il’ia Kopalin. the film—selected as an official Soviet entry for the shorts competition at the Cannes Film Festival taking place the very same month—is a visual lexicon of Moscow and joins numerous other Soviet productions of the 1960s that sought to define the image of the capital city within the more tolerant framework of post-Stalinist Soviet culture. the reviewer A. Zlobin unequivocally praised the film for its “interesting, original form” and for what he deemed to be its many inventive and investigative gestures. He appreciated its focus on the boundless manifestations of urban movement, especially when contrasted with the static solidity of the city’s buildings. He commended the film’s presentation, through its study of Moscow’s architectural and material surfaces, of the city’s history as unfolding in space rather than time. and he admired the director’s decision to develop his urban story through the visual buildup of its episodes, letting the images do the work most often left to voiceover narration in documentaries.

Zlobin’s enthusiasm, however, began to falter as he moved into a discussion of the film’s last section. Expecting to see a culmination of its episodic perceptions of the Soviet capital—a “philosophical generalization” of the diverse and disconnected routes of the film’s previous parts—he found instead only random moments, isolated fragments, and cyclical repetitions: “a story about yet another house,” an inquiry into yet another urban place. the city’s separate parts, the critic lamented, thus failed to cohere into a larger whole. Zlobin implied that Kopalin and his crew got so trapped in the abundance of Moscow’s diversity, particularity, and materiality that they could find no clear . . .

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