Categories
Films Russian Space History Soviet and Russian Space Flight Uncategorized

Russian Space History – Imagery

As this week closes, I wanted to highlight that seems somewhat obvious to those with even a casual interest in the history of Russian/Soviet space activities, its incredibly rich visual record. The picture that Andy posted of cosmonaut Shatalov meeting Native Americans in the U.S. in 1974 is one perfect example of that record. I’m posting here 6 images from the pre-Sputnik era which I think capture interesting moments in this long and rich history with appropriate captions. I’ll post some images from the 1960s and 1970s in a separate post.

This is a still from Iakov Protazanov's famous film Aelita, based on the novel of the same name by Aleksei Tolstoi. Besides being an important harbinger of a modernist aesthetic in the history of Russian cinema, the movie helped to foster a popular interest in space travel. The actress playing Aelita, the queen of Mars was Iuliia Sol'ntseva who would later come a well-known director.
This is a still from Iakov Protazanov’s famous film Aelita (1924), based on the novel of the same name by A. N. Tolstoi. Besides being an important harbinger of a modernist aesthetic in the history of Russian cinema, the movie helped to foster a popular interest in space travel. The actress playing Aelita, the queen of Mars, was Iuliia Sol’ntseva (1901-1989) who would later come a well-known director.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Current events in the Putin Era Films Imperial Russia Nostalgia and Memory Post-Soviet Russia Russia in World History Russian History in Popular Culture Russian Orthodoxy Teaching Russian History Uncategorized

Mikhalkov as monarchist and Slavophile – his 2010 Manifesto “Right and Truth” (Право и Правда)

In October 2010 influential filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov published an extensive “Manifesto of Enlightened Conservatism” which was published as “Right and Truth” in polit.ru. (Read in Russian here.)

The defense of serfdom attributed to Mikhalkov, which I posted yesterday, may well be a fake, but his conservative views are well-known and worth reading. A shorter overview (and critique) of his Manifesto was published in Vedomosti and translated in The Moscow Times. I am taking the liberty of copying that article in full (below) as it might be interesting for our students in Russian history classes. Lest they (students) think the debates and views of Russian conservatism are archaic, they can see them returning in the extremely conservative new laws on homosexuality, on diversity within the Russian Orthodox Church (the rules on “insulting believers” are very broadly construed), and in the takeover of the Russian Academy of Sciences (long a bastion of independent thinking).

Categories
Current events in the Putin Era Films Historiography Imperial Russia Nostalgia and Memory Post-Soviet Russia Russian History in Popular Culture Teaching Russian History Uncategorized

Filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov Praises the “Wisdom of Serfdom”

According to a website called “Tsenzor.Net” filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov told a group of journalists that he is preparing to make a film praising serfdom as “the wisdom of the nation.” His comments show a romanticization of history that is pretty hard to believe:

After all, what was serfdom? [he told the journalists]. Serfdom was patriotism, secured on paper. A person was tied to his mother-earth not only by a feeling of duty, but also on paper [in documents]. Serfdom is the wisdom of the people. It is 400 years of our history. And now, when people suggest we should erase 400 years of our history, I say to them, “Brothers, do you think our ancestors were idiots?”

“I am very happy that Putin is now reviving our historical memory,” said the director. “The law on registration [propiska] is exactly what our people are missing, what was torn out by the roots.”

Categories
Films Gender and Sexuality Nostalgia and Memory Post-Soviet Russia

Miss Gulag

Our university is holding a Russian documentary film series. We showed one of the films that I reviewed here earlier (http://russianhistoryblog.org/author/andy/page/2/). Our next film is called Miss Gulag, produced in 2007 and directed by Maria Yatskova (for an interview with the director see Sean Guillory’s http://newbooksinrussianstudies.com/2011/06/03/maria-yatskova-miss-gulag-nienhause-yatskova-vodar-films-2007/).

This fascinating documentary tells the improbable tale of a beauty pageant set in a modern-day Russian prison, one of 35 women’s prisons across the Russian Federation. The story of this documentary is simple enough. A group of young women in a Siberian prison – all of whom have come of age in post-Soviet Russia – stage a beauty pageant.

Categories
Films Russian and Soviet Art Teaching Russian History

Watching October

I have an uneasy relationship with using films in my classroom.  Since I most often teach early modern history, I tend to avoid the whole genre because I’d prefer to avoid ahistorical images in my classroom.  When I teach modern history, however, and particularly Soviet history, I feel film is an important part of its history.  I’ve shown various recent films toward the end of class, but I always show something from Eisenstein for the 20s or 30s.  I’ve found that students have an easier time understanding Battleship Potemkin, but, for whatever reason, I continue to plod on with October, which is so wondrously problematic for a class of students.

Categories
Archives Films Nostalgia and Memory oral history Russian History in Popular Culture Soviet Era 1917-1991 Teaching Russian History World War II

900 Days

The Nazi siege of Leningrad began on September 8, 1941. It ended 874 days later, one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history. The Soviets won at the cost of more than 1 million soldiers killed, captured, or missing and more than 640,000 civilian dead. Nearly a third of the city perished — from disease, bombings, and starvation.  Soviet propagandists — during the siege and afterwards — constructed a heroic story of perseverance and courage as part of a broader mythologizing of the war. That tale has served various social, political, and cultural purposes ever since. In the process, however, the real story was sanitized and simplified, hidden and censored — to the point that even participants often preferred the mythological version (which at any rate was more ennobling than the real story). This fine documentary (900 Days, 2011) uses interviews with survivors and archival sources to help peel back the layers of myth and to reveal the historical siege that few survivors had ever discussed publicly.

Categories
Chernobyl Cold War Films Post-Soviet Russia Russia in World History Russian Orthodoxy

The Nuclear Age: A New Documentary

People often say we live in the “nuclear age,” but what that means is never entirely clear. A new documentary produced by a former ABC newsman captures the spirit, or rather spirits, of that era – from its beginnings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and up to the present.

Inspired by the late Cold War, when Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan initiated a process of disarmament in Iceland in 1986, the producer hopes to make viewers believe that eliminating nuclear weapons can happen – despite the growing fatalism and relative inattention to the problem in the post-Cold War era.

Categories
Films Perestroika Post-Soviet Russia

Marina Goldovskaya: Chronicler of the Post-Brezhnev Era

My post is about a film festival that was held on my campus on March 18. We screened three documentary films by documentary filmmaker Marina Goldovskaya. I emerged from the event, and also after reading her autobiography, convinced of the importance of the documentary in understanding recent Russian history.

Goldovskaya — who was at the event and commented on the creation of her films — has a unique talent for finding subjects. Her subjects are ideal microcosms that provide a window into larger issues and themes. She adds to that talent an uncanny ability to draw her interviewees out on camera. She rejects the term “interview”and refers to her subjects as “characters.” She calls her interactions with the protagonists of her film “conversations.” Goldovskaya somehow manages to maintain an unobtrusive presence in her films. The setting for her conversations is often the apartment kitchen. She films her subjects as they chop onions, slice bread, and open their souls, as Russian so often do, around the cramped but cozy kitchen table. Her 1993 film (The House with Knights, 58 minutes) explored a famous house on the Moscow Arbat. It was so named because of the distinctive statues of knights in niches outside the grand structure. Built in the early 1900s as an apartment building for the rich and privileged, it was parceled into communal apartments after 1917.

Categories
Cold War Films Nostalgia and Memory Post-Soviet Russia Soviet Era 1917-1991 Teaching Russian History

Three Songs About Motherland

My university (California State University, Long Beach) is screening a number of documentary films about Russia this semester, including three films from the esteemed documentary film maker Marina Goldovskaya: A Taste of Freedom (1991, 46 min.), A Bitter Taste of Freedom (2011, 88 min.), and Three Songs About Motherland (2009, 39 min.)  Goldovskaya will be attending the event on this March 18 — and I will be participating in a panel discussion along with a number of other professors. So if you are in the LA area please do attend. Venue and details about this and other events can be found here: http://bwordproject.org/

Here is my review of one of the films, Three songs About Motherland. I have found it especially valuable for the classroom because of its brevity and neat division into three compelling stories.

Categories
Films Russian and Soviet Art Soviet Era 1917-1991

Desert of Forbidden Art

This 2010 documentary, which has deservedly gotten a lot of press, is well worth showing to students (http://desertofforbiddenart.com/). It follows a treasure trove of Russian art stashed in a remote desert region of Uzbekistan known as Karakalpakstan, where the art was hidden from Soviet censors. Getting there required crossing a vast desert—punctuated by breaks at fly-infested truck stops. Nukus was the principal city of this desert outpost and the location of the museum housing this unlikely art collection. The art was forbidden, not because the artists were consciously anti-Soviet, but because they simply followed their own muses, irrespective of the dictates of the official Soviet artistic style under Stalin.

That such a collection of astounding avante-garde art could exist in Nukus amazed a New York Times reporter, who happened upon the museum during his time as a foreign correspondent covering Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Categories
Cold War Films Stalinism Teaching Russian History

Stalin’s Daughter

The death of Svetlana Alliluyeva in a nursing home in Wisconsin brings to a close a fascinating and tragic life. The documentary film maker Lana Parshina in 2007 had the good luck of landing one of the few extensive interviews with Stalin’s daughter, who had taken on the new name of Lana Peters. Here are my thoughts on the film.

In 2007, the producer and director, a young Russian émigré named Svetlana Parshina, learned to her great amazement that Stalin’s 82-year-old daughter Svetlana was not only alive—but living in a retirement community in Wisconsin under the name “Lana Peters” (Peters is the name of her last husband, an American architect whom she divorced in the 1970s). Fiercely protective of her privacy, Stalin’s daughter had famously refused for decades to entertain requests for interviews, for they invariably turned toward the deeds and misdeeds of her infamous father.

Categories
Films Russian History in Popular Culture Teaching Russian History

Aftermath!

Just a quick update to my last post on “Ivan the Terrible and the American adolescent.” The show in which I appeared (http://www.spike.com/full-episodes/59fkzw/deadliest-warrior-ivan-the-terrible-vs-hern-n-cort-s-season-3-ep-307) declared Hernan Cortes the victor over Ivan the Terrible. Ivan’s weapons were superior but psychological factors, once entered into the “Simulator,” did him in.

Categories
Films Russian History in Popular Culture

Ivan the Terrible and the American adolescent

I got involved in the TV show described below to see first hand the process whereby expertise gets turned into entertainment. The show is called Deadliest Warrior. It’s on Spike TV and seems to be for the 12-18 year-old male demographic. When I was asked to appear on the show, I’d never heard of it and asked my 13-year-old boy Alex: he, of course, knew all about it. My character plays an Ivan the Terrible expert. In the favored sporting metaphor of American culture, I’m Ivan’s coach (the “brain”), along with another actor who plays the role of Ivan’s warrior, an ex-Russian special forces guy and stuntman trained in shooting, horseback, and swordplay known as “the brawn.” He bears a remarkable resemblance to Vladimir Putin.

Categories
Films Post-Soviet Russia Russian and Soviet Art Soviet Era 1917-1991

The Russian Concept?

I’ve just seen an engaging 2010 documentary entitled the “Russian Concept” (for a trailer see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-l66s2Fglk). Based on interviews with artists, art collectors and esteemed art historians, the documentary provides a short and entertaining survey of art little known to Western college students. Its subject matter is primarily unofficial – and sometimes persecuted – art from the Soviet era, much of it purchased by the art collector Norton Dodge (who smuggled 10,000 art works out of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, earning him the nickname the “Lorenzo de Medici” of Russian art). But it also examines the fate of art in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Categories
Films Russian Literature World War II

The Woman with the Five Elephants

This blog is about an excellent 2010 documentary by Vadim Jendreyko entitled “The Woman with the Five Elephants.” (For a trailer see: http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/woman-with-5-elephants/trailer)

The five elephants referred to in the title are classic novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Svetlana Geier, the central subject of the film, coined the phrase when she translated them from Russian into German.

The documentary dispenses Geier’s wisdom and wit, following her into the kitchen as she chops onions, cooks meat patties, and contemplates the meaning of life. She connects the feel of fresh linens with a passage from Moby Dick. Examining the intricate stitching of her white table cloth, she remarks that the details mean nothing outside of the context of the whole cloth. The remark concisely conveys her approach to translation: to see the work as a whole – and to eschew literal word-for-word translations that invariably distort the meaning of the text in its original language. Her translation of Dostoevsky’s classic work, Crime and Punishment, gave to German audiences the name by which it is known to English-speakers. It had previously been known in German, thanks to a far too literal translation, as “Guilt and Atonement.”

Categories
Cold War Films Nostalgia and Memory Post-Soviet Russia Soviet Science

On Monkies and Lost Colonies

Having just finished my last classes for my modern Russia survey, I wanted to share some thoughts on a documentary that I used to discuss Post-Soviet Russia. The 2008 documentary is entitled The Lost Colony. For a clip, see: http://hotdocsaudience.bside.com/2008/films/thelostcolony_hotdocs2008.

The action takes place in the tiny sub-tropical region of Abkhazia on the coast of the Black Sea. While Abkhazia is ostensibly a part of the post-Soviet nation of Georgia, it has been a de facto protectorate of Russia since the early 1990s.

Categories
Films Gulag Soviet Era 1917-1991

The Way Back: Cold War Emotions Revived?

 

Just before Christmas I saw the newly released The Way Back, in many ways a typical escape story. Directed by Peter Weir, the film tells the incredible story of how a young Polish officer, arrested in 1939 and sent to the Siberian Gulag, plots his escape – and with a small band of fellow inmates – manages not only to make it out of the camp, but also through Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, and the Himalayas to India. Along the way they face many of the knotty moral issues characteristic of the genre: Should they wait for weakened members of the group? When must they rest, and when battle on? And can they risk letting a newcomer – in this case, a young girl Polish also on the run – join them? There are some nice touches: I particularly like the way the girl acts as a go-between, passing on information about the men which they are too buttoned-up to share amongst themselves.