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Western Russian-themed animation

Tower Bawher (presumably Bawher is a reading of Башня, bashnia, a tower in Russian) is an animated short by a Canadian animator Theodore Ushev (originally from Bulgaria) made in 2005. It is a unique homage to the avant-garde Russian artistic movement of the 1920s featuring rich visual references to several of the most important Russian Constructivist artists: Klutsis, El Lissitzky, Rodchenko, the Stenberg brothers, Tatlin, Vertov, and others.

Gustav Klutsis, photographer and graphic designer, Let’s Fulfill the Plan of the Great Works

Эль Лисицкий «Проун»

 El Lissitzky, graphic designer, and book illustrator, Project of the Affirmation of the New

Alexander Rodchenko, photographer, and graphic designer, captured Lilya Brick, a muse of Vladimir Mayakovsky, the most notable Soviet futurist poet.

Vladimir Tatlin, the project of the Monument to the Third International

The Stenberg brothers. Poster for Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov, filmmaker, animation and montage pioneer

 

It captures energy and enthusiasm of early Soviet culture thanks not only to the images but also because of the Georgy Sviridov’s acclaimed piece, Time, Forward! written in 1965, three decades after Stalin crushed Russian avant-garde and replaced it with Socialist Realism. During the Thaw (1957-1965), the avant-garde was somewhat rehabilitated. Sviridov’s piece was written for the movie that took place in the early 1930s. Enthusiasm and passion should not obscure the fact that this Tower, symbol of the new world, like Tower of Babel, fails to be completed. This abstract film is an animated constructivist ballet, with an amazing sense of rhythm.

Wordless

 

Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) is one of the most influential Russian writers. Several of his short stories were adapted for animation. Particularly appealing for the Soviet animators were Gogol’s early stories influenced by the Romantic-era interest in nationhood and folklore and inspired by the Ukrainian legends and customs (Gogol was born in Poltava province, in what now is Ukraine). There are about 10 Soviet/Russian animated shorts based on Gogol. The Nose is one of the Petersburg stories (that include famous The Overcoat). The story consists of three parts; in first a barber finds a nose in his bread and tries to get rid of it. The second part is about the Major Kovalev who finds “only a flat patch on his face where the nose should have been”. Kovalev goes to a newspaper office and police trying to locate his nose. He meets the Nose, who is now a high-rank official in the Kazan cathedral. At the end a policeman returns Kovalev his nose, but if fails to stick back. In the third part, Kovalev wakes up and excitedly finds his nose in its proper place. The Nose is one of the most grotesque and unique masterpieces of the Russian literature.

This version of Gogol’s The Nose was filmed in France by Alexandre Alexeieff who was born in Russia but spent most of his life in France. Alexeieff invented pinscreen technique and pioneered in using for animation. In Le Nez he managed to create a rich grayscale palette with deep shadows reminding engravings. The smooth wordless animation shows a dream-like story.

World of police and civil service play a prominent role in many Gogol’s works, including The Overcoat, Dead Souls, and The Government Inspector.  To underline the Kafkaesque world of imperial bureaucracy, Alexeieff emphasized the disturbing presence of the ever seeing figure of an official in a bicorne hat.

Authoritarian Nicholas I, the adept of a rigidly centralized bureaucracy.

Le Nez, 1963

Wordless

Part 1

Part 2

There are at least two other animated versions of The Nose.

A Nose, 1966 by Mordi Gerstein

English adaptation

Adapting Gogol to the visual media is extremely challenging due to the role of language in his works. Beautiful mixed technique animation short by Mikhail Lisovoi preserved narration in the film.

The Major’s Nose (Нос майора), 1997 by Mikhail Lisovoi

Russian, no subtitles available

Cinema and animation were important propaganda tools of the war. The patriotic, Russophilic theme dominated the Soviet cinema of decade. The films about the Russian military leaders shot during the 1940s include Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Suvorov (1940), Igor Savchenko’s Bogdan Khmel’nitsky (1941),  Vladimir Petrov’s Kutuzov (1943), Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Admiral Nakhimov (1946), and of course Sergei Eisenstein’s chef d’oeuvre Ivan the Terrible (1943-1946).

During four years of the Second World War Soyuzmultfilm produced about 20 cartoons. Most of them are short political satire aimed at the Nazis. While this number appears to be low when compared with the US film industries, however, one should remember about the extreme hardships the Soviet Russia faced during the war. In 1941-1943 Soyuzmultfilm was evacuated to Samarkand (Uzbekistan).

Кино-цирк (Kino-Circus), 1942 is one of the few cartoons made in the darkest time of the war by Leonid Amalrik, Olga Khodatayeva, and her brother Nikolai Khodatayev – a short piece with three “attractions” aimed at Hitler. The first episode is about dogs representing the German allies (Italy, Hungary, and Romania), second compares Hitler with Napoleon and recalls his unsuccessful war with Russia in 1812, and third depicts Hitler as a clumsy juggler playing with fire.

Parallel with Napoleon was often used to remind about the defeat of Napoleon’s armies in Russia. World War II is often referred as the Great Patriotic War (Великая Отечественная война), just like the war of 1812  was called the Patriotic War (Отечественная война). The motif of the powerful, but unsuccessful invasion is reflected not only in cinema (Kutuzov, 1943) and animation, but also in books, and even propaganda leaflets

Soviet poster (in German), 1942 “Napoleon: This dwarf would be a great commander”

Кино-цирк (Kino-Circus), 1942  Russian, with English subtitles

One of the US cartoons of the wartime somewhat dedicated to the Soviet allies was Russian Rhapsody where Hitler meets his archenemy, mustached Gremlin from the Kremlin.

Russian Rhapsody, 1944

Friendly handshake of the Soviet and British soldiers that crushes the Nazi dwarf is shown in another Olga Khodatayeva’s short, Newsreel of Politsatire №2 (Журнал политсатиры №2), 1941

Russian, with English subtitles

This attitude did not last for long after the end of the war. Soon, as a part of the propaganda machine, Soviet cartoons would depict ex-allies in a completely different, negative way.