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

By Cristina Vatulescu | Go to book overview

Concluding Thoughts

In 1959 five men and a woman, all young professionals of Jewish descent, as the secret police never tired of noting, were accused of robbing the Romanian National Bank. Within just a few months of the bank heist, they were caught, judged, and sentenced. All sentences were speedily carried out: the men were shot and the woman was shipped to a women’s prison, but not before all six prisoners were made to participate in a feature-length film reconstructing their crime. The film, Reconstruction (Reconstituirea, 1960), called itself “a collaboration” between the secret police and the State Documentary Film Studio. The secret police provided the protagonists—the criminals and the investigators—as well as the extras: for one scene, a central part of the city was temporarily evacuated and filled with over a hundred secret police agents. The film studio then provided the equipment and the know-how, in the persons of some of its leading names. The film made a dramatic statement about the place of cinema in the new socialist society from the very opening sequence. The first shots reveal a collection of open history books, as an authoritative voice-over tells us that these chronicles recorded some of our past, while some is forever lost in the darkness of history. A shot of an open book gradually covered in darkness illustrates this meditation. We are cheerfully informed that today, for the first time, history is written by a chronicler—the film camera—“that offers a perfect living record that can be contested by nobody.” As the book recedes into the darkness, the image of a film camera fills the screen.

Authoritatively spelling out the end of the written word and the secret police’s embracement of cinema, this secret police cinematic ars poetica might appear as the denouement of the complicated relationships between the written word, film, and the secret police that we have followed in this book. We have seen those dangerous liaisons range widely. There were the complicities between words and images of different kinds at play in camp exotica films, inmate mug shots, and idealized drawings. And there were overblown

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