Russian War Films: On the Cinema Front, 1914-2005
Baraban, Elena, Canadian Slavonic Papers
Denise J. Youngblood. Russian War Films: On the Cinema Front, 1914-2005. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006.319 pages. Photographs. Notes. Filmography. Bibliography. Index. $34.95.
Denise Youngblood's monograph is a scholarly contribution to the field of Russian cultural history. Following Hayden White's view of film as "a form of historical discourse" (p. 3), Youngblood writes Russian twentieth-century history through the analysis of fiction films about Russia's major wars: the First World War (1914-1918), the Civil War (1918-1921), the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), and the wars in Afghanistan (1979-1989) and Chechnya (1994-1996; 1999-2000).
The book is comprised of an introduction, nine chronologically arranged chapters, and a conclusion. Each chapter opens with a summary of key representational strategies adopted by film directors in a particular era. The first chapter features a discussion of Russo-Soviet silent films about the First World War and the Civil War, which were released in 1914-1932. The following three chapters are about war films of the Stalin era, with the second chapter focusing on how the method of Socialist Realism was applied in war films of the 1930s, the third one devoted to film productions during the Great Patriotic War, and the fourth one discussing postwar representations of the Civil War and WWII. After a chapter on war films of the "Thaw" period (1956-1966), Youngblood devotes two chapters to examining the complexities of war representations during the Brezhnev era, with chapter seven concentrating on films that do not fit the widespread view of the seventies as breaking away from the cultural achievements of the Thaw period in favor of explicitly conservative social values. In her subsequent analysis, Youngblood charts the "downward trajectory" (p. 187) of the war film in the Soviet Union's final decade (19801991). The last chapter of the monograph is a study of post-Soviet films about the infamous wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya and of numerous productions that have critically reevaluated the Soviet experience of WWH.
In comparison to subtle perceptive studies by Yurii Khaniutin, Peter Kenez, Josephine Woll, and Anna Lawton, all of whom inspired Youngblood, Russian War Films: On the Cinema Front, 1914-2005 foregrounds a somewhat predictable argument. According to Youngblood, war films are an extremely important genre in the history of Russian film. Socially, culturally, and politically, the most important war films in Russia are those about the Great Patriotic War. The scholar demonstrates the significance of war films in the Soviet period by showing how a number of popular titles served "to subvert official history in the guise of art or entertainment" (p. 3). Youngblood also shows that despite the Putin government's efforts to foster patriotism (p. 225), many post-Soviet films about Russia's distant and recent wars expose the totalitarian nature of the Soviet state and the corruption of post-Soviet Russian authorities.
Written by a historian and structured chronologically, Youngblood's study is also based on some archival research. Apparently unable to conduct research on historical documents in the archives that would be most relevant for her study (the Russian State Archive of Literature and Fine Arts and the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History), Youngblood has done some work in the Open Society Institute Archives (Budapest) and has also used selected archival material on wartime films (1941-1945) published in Valerii Fomin's Cinema in the War (2005). …