Police Aesthetics: Literature, Film, and the Secret Police in Soviet Times

By Cristina Vatulescu | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Secret Police Shots at Filmmaking
The Gulag and Cinema

In the years following the October Revolution, the secret police appeared to have oscillated in viewing cinema as something between a suspect and a potentially useful propagandist. A 1923 Pravda article tersely summarizes this ambivalence:

The cinema has become a very important factor in the development of crime
and the judicial organs are establishing a direct and indirect connection between
one adolescent’s crime or another and the picture he has seen at the cinema. The
cinema, which in our hands can and must become a most powerful weapon for the
spread of knowledge, education and propaganda, has been turned into a weapon
for the corruption of adolescents.1

Critically addressing the commissar of cultural affairs, A. Lunacharskii, the Pravda article argued that contemporary cinema was far from living up to its revolutionary potential, and went so far as to argue that “the parlous state of the Soviet cinema [was] largely responsible for the delinquent element of Soviet society.”2 Discussing “the influence of cinema on the sexual arousal of adolescents,” another contemporary study writes, “We know, for example, of 10 to 15 visits to the same picture because of a feeling of sexual arousal stimulated by the appearance of the hero and heroine.”3 Besides arousing, cinema also “satisfies, engulfs like drunkenness, and as a result we see innumerable thefts carried out by adolescents and juveniles to get the money for the cinema ticket.”4 The 1919 Cheka document placing artists at the top of the surveillance list noted that “variety and cinema artists” should be “under special observation,” since they worked with contemporary themes and could thus easily engage in “[counter-revolutionary] agitation.”5 Before the Revolution, cinemas had also engaged in the illegal showing of pornographic films after the regular program ended; the vigilant new authorities immediately cracked

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