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Soviet Cinema Online
Archival Documents from RGALI, 1923-1935


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Hrsg. v. Richard Taylor


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Online-Service mit Zugang zum digitalisierten Archivmaterial des Russischen Staatsarchivs für Literatur und Kunst (RGALI) über die Aktivitäten des sowjetischen Filmproduktionsunternehmens Sovkino zwischen 1923 und 1935.

Soviet Cinema Online. Archival Documents from RGALI, 1923-1935

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Brill Academic Publishers

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The documents in this collection cover the period when state monopoly control over the Soviet cinema industry - production, distribution and exhibition - was being established and this is why they cover a number of different organisations and institutions.

After the October 1917 Revolution the leadership realised the potential of cinema as a weapon of political propaganda amongst a largely illiterate, multilingual and multicultural population stretched across the largest country on the planet. Lenin is credited with the remark that, 'Of all the arts, for us cinema is the most important.'

The Soviet cinema industry was nationalised on paper in August 1919 but state control was not effectively established for at least another decade.

For most of the 1920s Soviet cinema was as commercially orientated as cinema in Western Europe and North America, even though many of the cinema institutions were owned by public organisations such as trade unions and local authorities.

The first centralised state-owned cinema organisation was set up in 1924 under the acronym Goskino [Gosudarstvennoe kino]. It was, however, underfunded and simultaneously overtaxed and thus unable to compete in a harshly competitive environment, so that in 1925 Goskino was replaced by the more generously funded and generally otherwise more powerful organisation, Sovkino [Sovetskoe kino].

Sovkino had, however, also to operate in a predominantly commercial environment. In the financial year 1927/28 the income from imported films (largely from Germany and Hollywood) still exceeded that from Soviet-made films.

The tenth anniversary of the October Revolution in 1927 gave pause for reflection. Despite an array of anniversary films, such as Eizenshtein's October [Oktiabr'], the general impression was that Soviet cinema was not Soviet enough, especially as films made by the leading left-wing directors remained less popular than imports with Soviet audiences.

In March 1928 the Party's agitprop department called a conference, which attacked Sovkino for concentrating on 'cash, not class' and demanded an ideologically correct 'cinema intelligible to the millions. This call has to be seen against the background of the cultural revolution that was supposed to accompany the first five-year plan of 1928-32 and the associated campaign for proletarianisation and against 'bourgeois remnants' from the pre-Revolutionary period, which were grouped under the general pejorative term of 'Formalism', used to denote an alleged obsession with form rather than content.

Sovkino's days were clearly numbered and in February 1930 it was replaced by Soiuzkino [Soiuznoe kino]. In October 1930 Boris Shumiatskii, an Old Bolshevik, was appointed head of this new all-embracing organisation and in the course of the 1930s, until his summary arrest and execution at the height of the Great Terror in 1938, he oversaw the final stages of the establishment of state control. Soiuzkino absorbed the other cinema organisations, including the semi-private Mezhrabpom studio, which had been partially funded by its association with the German-based International Workers' Aid movement; Proletkino, which had begun life as an arm of the Proletkul't proletarian culture movement; and Gosvoenkino, which had been established to provide the armed forces with suitable film material.

Shumiatskii was not only a capable administrator, he also thought hard about what he was trying to do. His 1935 book, A Cinema for the Millions [Kinematografiia millionov], which took its title from the 1928 conference resolution, laid out his plans for a Socialist Realist cinema with mass-audience appeal, which he summed up in the term Sovetskii Gollivud [Soviet Hollywood].

The documents in this collection cover the running of the Soviet cinema as both an industry and a political weapon. They include minutes of board meetings and discussions of the major issues confronting the medium during a crucial period in its development. Minutes and documents cover not only Sovkino, but other studios such as Proletkino, Gosvoenkino and the internationally orientated Mezhrabpomfil'm. The subjects covered deal not only with internal organisational, thematic and ideological matters, but also with external trade relations, especially with European countries and particularly with France.

These files will be of interest to anyone researching the history of Soviet culture in general and that of 'the most important of the arts' in particular, in both its domestic political and ideological context and in the light of the changing international political and economic background.

Soviet Cinema: Archival Documents from RGALI, 1923-35 continues the Brill series Mass culture and Entertainment in Russia. This series comprises collections of unique material about various forms of popular culture and entertainment industry in Tsarist and Soviet Russia.

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