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Stop motion animation

A translation of the famous Losharik.

Losharik is a portmanteau word made with Russian words “loshad” meaning “horse” and “sharik” meaning “little ball”. A stop motion cartoon about a strange but kind animal that was born out of juggling balls.
Produced by Igor Ufimtsev
Based on a story by Genrikh Sapgir
Soyuzmultfilm 1971

Soviet animation had traditionally strong ties with works of literature and folklore. Russian Media Subtitles group recently presented a translation of Yulian Kalisher’s stop motion cartoon Words of Wisdom (aka Golden Words, Золотые слова) based on stories by Mikhail Zoshchenko. Zoshchenko, immensely popular in the 1920-1930s, was later harshly criticized by Stalin’s officials and died in poverty.  At first glance, it’s just a story based on childhood anecdote about two children, Liola and Min’ka, who are present at the dinner with their parents and other grown-ups, including their father’s boss. Apparently, there is a socialization issue of smart but young kids who try to fit into the adult world. The “golden words” of this story are simple: one must always take into consideration changes in the environment. Kids must learn when one must remain silent, and when one should say something. This has additional meaning for a Soviet intelligent. The story was written in the late 1930s. During Soviet times many people had to choose wisely when and what they could say. To a degree, these golden words are mottos of many Soviet artists. Film features creatively made puppets and skillful visual connection of various stories.

Russian with English subtitles

Words of Wisdom (Золотые слова) 1989.
Produced by Julian Kalisher
Ekran Studio

The Bug Trainer is a documentary film about Starevich produced in Lithuania. Interviews with film critics from Russia, Poland, Norway, and Lithuania are joined by an animated quest of the puppet Bug who falls in love with another puppet, the Lion Queen (uniting Starevich’s early films featuring bugs and his later masterpiece, The Tale of the Fox). The film is a mixed bag, and its animation  – unlike the one of Starevich – is the weak link. There is even an effort to depict Starevich himself to create surreal cinematic environment that does not look too convincing. On the other hand, the film features some rare shots of Starevich, fragments of his works, and brief bio. Sadly, his work during the 1940s-1950s is barely described. The film is serves as an introduction to works of the inventor of stop motion animation and tries to engage viewers describing the world of animated puppets. Recommended with reservations.

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]

Nikolai Khodataev (born 120 years ago on May 9, 1892) presumably started shooting this avant-garde piece to be included in Aelita, another innovative film by Yakov Protazanov (1924) based on Alexei Tolstoy’s novel.

However, later it was completed as an independent piece. The early 1920s was the time of booming avant-garde art in the Soviet Union, not only in the film (Eisenstein’s The Strike an Battleship Potemkin, Dziga Vertov’s Kinoeye), but also visual art (Vladimir Tatlin, Lazar (El) Lissitzky), photography and design (Alexander Rodchenko). Many constructivist and futurist artists strongly supported the Bolsheviks considering themselves artistic revolutionaries. The plot reflects expectations of the unavoidable revolutions around the world. Having overcome class enemies on Earth, the Soviet champion flies to Mars to spark an interplanetary revolution.

No capitalist could survive the Bolshevik warrior springing out of his mirror.

Khodataev employed cutout stop motion technique combining photographic and hand drawn backgrounds. He was one of the first Soviet animation directors who helped to establish this industry and produced over a dozen animated propaganda films until the mid-1930s when he switched to painting and sculpting.

Interplanetary Revolution (Межпланетная революция, 1924)

Silent, with English subtitles

Caution, the Doors Are Opening (Осторожно, двери открываются) is a beautiful stop-motion animation by Anastasiya Zhuravleva. One day of a busy subway featuring the most prominent buttons. No knowledge of Russian required to enjoy.

Over a century ago viewers already enjoyed animation in Russia.  Ladislas Starevich (Władysław Starewicz, born in Moscow to Polish parents in 1882) was a photography and entomology enthusiast. Employed by the Museum of Natural History, Starevich, passionate about new media, created a series of documentaries. For one of the films about stag beetles, he had to create puppets out of insects. Lucanus Cervus shot in 1910 was the first stop-motion effort of Starevich. The animation effort was highly praised by one of the first Russian producers, Aleksandr Khanzhonkov. Soon other animation shorts followed featuring puppets created out of insects, wire, and wax. Early viewers sometimes assumed that films featured live insects were trained by Starevich

The first feature stop-motion film by Starevich

1910 – The Beautiful Lukanida (Прекрасная Люканида, или Война усачей с рогачами), a parody on early history blockbusters.

1912 – The Cameraman’s Revenge (Месть кинематографического оператора), a parody on melodrama

1911 – The Insects’ Christmas (Рождество обитателей леса)

1913 – The Ant and the Grasshopper (Муравей и Стрекоза) based on Aesop’s fable

Like many artists, Starevich moved to France after the Bolshevik revolution. Unlike many Russian directors and actors, Starevich built a successful career in cinema and animation in the interwar period. Some of his works include:

1923 – The Frogs Who Wanted a King – based on the fable by La Fontaine

1930 – The Tale of the Fox / Le Roman de Renard  – the first full-length animated film

1934 – The Mascot – a story of a  puppy that was so popular that Starevich was asked to create a series with the same character.