A Cloud in Love (Влюбленное облако) was made in 1959 by Roman Kachanov, one of the pioneers of the Soviet stop motion animation. During the Stalin era in Soviet animation, realistic style with extensive use of the rotoscoping technique was dominant. In the late 1950s and in 1960s, during the Khrushchev's Thaw Soviet animators revived stop motion technique. Kachanov produced several dozens of animation films both hand-drawn and stop-motion (puppet animation). Among his films are a well-known trilogy about Cheburashka, The Mitten, and sci-fi The Mystery of the Third Planet. A Cloud in Love is a unique film based on a script by a Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet Ran (who lived in exile in Soviet Russia). It's an allegorical story about an evil desert spirit who tries to destroy an oasis that is tendered by beautiful Aishe. Luckily, a Cloud falls in love with her and protects the oasis, although it costs him a life. It features mixed technique (puppets, marionettes, and hand-drawn animation). In relatively low violent Soviet cartoon protagonists usually, survive and overcome challenges. However, in this cartoon, the main character (Cloud) perishes. It is not very surprising if one take a look at the desert spirit. A mustached oriental villain that tries to destroy the oasis is not only a political satire on Turkish rulers by Nazim Hikmet Ran. The Soviet Union at this time was going through condemnation of (some of) the Stalin's crimes. Children cinema and literature were less affected by the Thaw. Still, images of a ruthless and treacherous oriental ruler and his victims unavoidably create some allusions. Oriental overtones of Stalin despotism are empathized by historians (such as Robert Tucker) and his political enemies (such as Trotsky who called him Genghis Khan). Of course, this film is far from being a political cartoon. However, the presence of a menacing force that brings death and destruction reflects a mood of the day. A Cloud in Love (Soyuzmultfilm 1959) Russian, with English subtitles by Russian Media Subtitles [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm0nPi7px1Q]
Fyodor Khitruk, one of the most prominent Russian animators, passed away on December 3. Khitruk became involved in animation in 1938 shortly after the major Soviet animation studio Soyuzmultfilm was established in Moscow. The Second World War postponed his artistic career for almost a decade. He returned to Soyuzmultfilm in the late1940s and worked as an animator, director, and mentored some of the best Russian artists. His first cartoon, The Story of a Crime (1962) became one of the turning points in Soviet animation towards the new aesthetic of the 1960s-1970s. His cartoons for children such as Winnie the Pooh, Toptyzhka, Boniface’s Holiday are among the most beloved by several generations of Russian viewers. His works aimed at grown ups such as Island, The Man in a Frame, Film, Film, Film and others are full of wisdom and irony. In his later years he turned to teaching and writing. Khitruk became a symbol of Soviet and Russian animation.
Film, Film, Film (1968)
Vladimir Tarasov employed sci-fi motifs in several of his 1980s animation shorts, including the anti-capitalist satire Shooting Range about violence, and dystopic futuristic Contract dedicated to power of money that corrupts people in the capitalist society. Shooting Range is a beautifully rendered cartoon that features interesting perception of the US filled with avant-garde jazz (considered to be reprehensible music in the Soviet Union),classic American cars, highways with at least 12 lanes, and glass and steel skyscrapers. Stereotypical American hero wears jeans and baseball hat and is attached to his car in a way a nomad warrior attached to his horse. Violence and unemployment plague this geometrical generic Western city. The anti-hero inherits typical capitalist features including passion for cigars (while the unemployed hero smokes – presumably more proletarian – Camel).
In a scene of temporal (underlined by transformation of a cuckoo clock bird into firebird) happiness Vladimir Tarasov pays a homage to Disney characters – a vital part of American cultural image.
While this craftily executed cartoon has some ideologically correct features, there is artistic fascination with American aesthetics, design, music, and big city vibe. This cartoon presents the West both disturbing and appealing.
Shooting Range (Тир, 1979)
This April marks centennial anniversary of Russian animation. While recently rediscovered works of Alexander Shiryaev are dated between 1906 and 1909, it was Vladislav (Ladislav) Starevich who presented his first cartoon The Beautiful Leukanida (stop-motion cartoon with animated bugs as “actors”) a century ago, in spring (presumably in April) of 1912. To celebrate this occasion during the recent Open Festival in Suzdal a list of a hundred most acclaimed Russian/Soviet cartoons was created. Once There Was a Dog by prominent animator and educator Eduard Nazarov became the most popular film, followed by equally famous Hedgehog in the Fog by Yuri Norshtein and Winnie the Pooh by Fyodor Khitruk.
Once There Was a Dog (Жил-был пёс, 1982) is a beloved animation story based on Ukrainian folklore about misfortunes of an old dog. If features right combination of humor, ethnic/rural flavor, and themes of loneliness, friendship, and empathy.
Russian, with English subtitles
Beautifully executed cartoon by Oksana Cherkassova, based on the Chukchi legend about a journey of a gosling between the worlds and his meeting with Kutkh, a spirit of Raven.
Бескрылый гусенок (Wingless Gosling), Sverdlovsk studio, 1987.
Russian, with English subtitles
Lubok (Лубок, from луб, bark of linden) is a traditional Russian woodcut print. Originated in Europe, lubok became a popular media in the 17-18th century and could be described as early comics. Usually, lubok prints depicted historical, religious, comical, or fairy tale scenes with some text. Often lubok prints were hand painted. Just like on the Web, one of the most popular characters of lubok was the Cat, usually described as “The Cat of Kazan, the Mind of Astrakhan, the Wisdom of Siberia” that sounded somewhat like title of the Russians tsars (We, by the grace of God, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russians, of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan, Tsar of Poland, Tsar of Siberia, etc; The Cat is sometimes considered to be a satire on the Russian tsars and particularly on Peter the Great).
Another popular “comic strip” is a carnival scene of the mice burying the Cat (mentioned in some Russian classic literature including Alexander Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter). Some of the mice are labeled with absurd rhymed inscriptions mentioning their names and occupations. Fantastic inverted world where weak creatures bury the strong enemy was a common for European folk culture, but lubok artists add unique Russian environment. There are various interpretations of such lubok scenes usually mentioning social satire and the skomorokh tradition of wandering actors (Russian version of mummers/harlequins).
Brightly, roughly colored grotesque pictures are being rediscovered during the recent decades and inspired several animation shorts. One of the best known is Alexander Guriev’s Cat and Company (Soyuzmultfilm). Shot during the late perestroyka, this witty cartoon skillfully incorporates bold colors and minimalist style of lubok. The kind-hearted cat does not want to catch mice and dreams about learning to fly (thus becoming free). When he is locked by his mistress, all mice gather to help him by arranging a funeral procession that mimics bombastic funerals of the Soviet leaders during the early 1980s (Brezhnev died in 1982, Andropov in 1984, Chernenko in 1985). Note one of the mice holding a poster depicting the Cat in a suit with numerous medals, satire on Brezhnev and his passion to decorate himself. Alexander Guriev, Кот и компания (Cat and Company), 1990 No knowledge of Russian is required N.B. Modern animation artist Andrey Kuznetsov created a gallery of contemporary lubok interpreting popular movies and cartoons, including Cheburashka (in Russian). Some of them are translated here.
Merry-go-Round (Veselaia Karusel) was a multivolume (33 episodes) collection of animation shorts. Pilot episode was produced in 1969. Veselaia Karusel episodes often included highly innovative and non-traditional animation. Anatoly Petrov was one of the almanac’s authors. His Чудо (Miracle) is a two-minute piece from 1973 short based on a poem by Roman Sef, popular author and translator of children literature:
Have you seen a miracle yet
Never seen a miracle?
What a pity –
Have not seen a miracle
You should go and you should see
You would see a pure miracle
By a kitchen store near a building #3
Pushing up through the pavement
There is a little birch tree.
Theme of highly technological, just, and somewhat sterile future was highly popular in the Soviet culture of the 1960s-1970. Petrov transforms a simple poem about a tiny tree in the urban landscape into the clean shiny future that completely separates people from nature. The city of future with streams of isolated commuters is a realm of shining glass and chrome oversaturated with technology. In this world of concrete, glass, and iron a tiny tree is in fact a miracle.
Russian, with English subtitles by Russian Media Subtitles
Nothing creates a holiday spirit better than the Nutcracker. This version of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story is combined with Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s famous ballets, the Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake. It was produced in 1973 by Boris Stepantsev, one of the prominent Soviet animators who among other films created a famous Russian version of Karlsson-on-the-Roof based on stories of Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren.
The plot is slightly changed, and the protagonist of the film is not Marie from the original Hoffmann’s story, a seven-year girl from a middle-class family, but a young maid who helps the enchanted Nutcracker to break a spell and become a prince again.
There are no dialogues, and this animated ballet does not require knowledge of Russian language to enjoy.
Many Russians learned the Godfather‘s Speak Softly Love from this cartoon. Filmed by Vladimir Tarasov in 1978, Contact is about the meeting of two worlds. The alien spaceship lands in a peaceful countryside where the Artist (modeled after John Lennon circa 1967) enjoys a peaceful landscape. Such encounter with the Alien seems to scare the Artist, but music helps to overcome a language barrier.
No Russian required.