Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Glasnost-Era Movies Provide a Window onto RussianThoughts and Issues Film Series Shows How Creative Energies Were Set Loose When Gorbachev's Policy of 'Openness' Revived Soviet Culture

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Glasnost-Era Movies Provide a Window onto RussianThoughts and Issues Film Series Shows How Creative Energies Were Set Loose When Gorbachev's Policy of 'Openness' Revived Soviet Culture

Article excerpt

While audiences go to movies primarily for entertainment and amusement, cinema also serves as a social weather vane, indicating the general state of mind in a country or region. Look at the films produced during a particular period and you'll see many signs of what people were thinking, doing, and hoping -- often expressed in cloudy or indirect terms, but revealing and provocative all the same.

This is what makes "A Dream, a Promise: Films of the Glasnost Era," now under way at Lincoln Center here, not just a motion-picture series but a major opportunity to gain new understanding of what may be the most remarkable era in Russian cultural life since the advent of Soviet rule.

Comprising more than 30 feature films as well as TV shows, cartoons, commercials, music videos, and other works, the exhibition clearly deserves its billing as the most comprehensive overview of the glasnost period -- from Mikhail Gorbachev's rise in the mid-1980s to the 1991 coup against him -- ever assembled in the United States.

Usually translated as "openness," the Russian word glasnost took on international significance during the half-dozen years of Gorbachev's effort to bring new freedom and flexibility into Soviet culture. Along with perestroika (restructuring), it signaled a belated recognition that shackles on free expression -- a fact of life in the Soviet bloc throughout most of its history -- served less to foster social discipline than to block progress, stifle inventiveness, and suffocate new ideas.

Seizing on Gorbachev's initiative, his subordinates opened up cultural activity in unprecedented ways. This profoundly affected the nation's state-run film industry, which embarked on projects that would hitherto have been censored out of existence. Industry figures also started combing their vaults for movies that had been locked away for political reasons in earlier years.

As dramatic as this activity was, it remained under the control of a centralized bureaucracy that maintained its power until the Soviet Union's full disintegration. In program notes for the Lincoln Center series, curator Richard Pena rightly notes that glasnost-era filmmakers were not so much free of the authorities as in dialogue with their notions of how Soviet and Communist interests might best be served.

Pena also points out that glasnost was not limited to any single form of communication, but swept across the entire cultural field, sparking complicated new relationships between filmmakers and, say, rock musicians and visual artists -- including some who wished to probe politically embarrassing or socially unsavory aspects of modern Soviet life.

All of which made for a complex and fascinating epoch, reflected in a remarkable quantity of highly diverse films. Any attempt to arrange these in neat pigeonholes is bound to be somewhat arbitrary, but a few important categories can be usefully identified.

One is the group of banned movies that were withheld from exhibition before glasnost but later released to theaters, where they were often greeted with loud applause. …

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