Russian cinematography. Yesterday

Tomorrow we’re going to celebrate The Cinema Day (to be more exactly the Russian cinema day). I decided to dedicate a few posts to our cinematography, to my favorite movies and to releases of this week..

History of Russian Cinematography

I’d like to say that we really have something to be proud of as for movies and I hope we will see some great works in future. I love good movies a lot.. not such commercialized movies that we used to see today.. Movies with charismatic characters, interesting plot, where director pays more attention to the atmosphere, discovering of each act and  where there is some kindness and love…some good emotions.

The first Russian movie was filmed in 1908 by Drankov and was called Stenka Razine. The first movies were influenced by the Russian royal regime and during the years the most famous directors were Protazanov, Gardin and Mozzhukhin.

After the revolution of 1917 the film sector changed a lot. Lots of directors emigrated. In 1919 it was established the first Russian Film School known as VGIK.  And movies served as main source of communication, education and propaganda.
The Revolution in 1917 brought disarray to the film sector. Many filmmakers emigrated (Ermolieff, Mozzhukhin, Protazanov – who later returned).  In 1922, Lenin relaxed his grip and re-established a private film industry that was to give birth to the works of Barnet, Protazanov and Pudovkin.

The period between 1925 and 1930 saw sweeping changes in Soviet film, but this time in the opposite direction: from experimentalism to totalitarianism. These are the high years of the great Russian formalist film experiment, the years during which the most famous Russian films are produced: Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin, 1925), Strike (Stachka, 1925), and October (Oktyabr, 1928, also known as Ten Days that Shook the World); Pudovkin’s Mother (Mat, 1926), The End of St. Petersburg (Konets Sankt-Peterburga, 1927), and Storm Over Asia (Potomok Chingis-Khana, 1928); Alexander Dovzhenko’s Zvenigora (1928) and Arsenal (1929).

However, these are also the years during which the Soviet industry began the move away from formal experimentation. Formally beginning in 1928, state policy increasingly dictated that films be made so that they could be immediately understood by the masses. In general, the state exerted an increasing control over the filmmaking industry.

The Stalinist “Cultural Revolution” continued for several years the tendency to erase formal experimentation with simple films that would be accessible to the masses. Stalinists rerecognized that film was a powerful tool of propaganda; the 1930s saw the compulsory purchase of projectors by Soviets, and a consequent rise in film attendance all over the Soviet Union.

Musical comedy became another leading genre performing the functions of mass culture during the Stalin’s period. The most noteworthy examples include the sparkling Jolly Fellows (Veselye Rebyata), distributed worldwide as Jazz Comedy, 1934) starring Leonid Utesov and Lyubov’Orlova, Circus (1936) and Volga-Volga (1938), all the three directed by Grigorii Aleksandrov and starring Lyubov’Orlova, as well as Tractor Drivers (Traktoristy, 1939) and Swineherd and Shepherd (Svinarka i Pastukh , or They Met in Moscow, 1941), both the films directed by Ivan Pyr’ev and starring Marina Ladynina.

Socialist realism included not only film but all the arts. Derived from the realist aesthetic in the novel of the nineteenth century, it was a blend of realistic setting and ideologically correct plot and message in which the proletarian hero wins against great odds over the enemy of the people.

The subjects of films in the 1930s and 1940s closely reflected the state message of the moment: anti-Nazi at one moment, antitraitor-to-the-revolution the next. SOne of the best movies shot during the war, was Dva Boitsa (Two Soldiers, 1943, dir. by Leonid Lukov), a patriotic film about the power of friendship, with Mark Bernes and Boris Andreev.

However, the death of Stalin did create a “thaw” in bureaucratic control of the arts in the Soviet Union. The “generation of the ’60s” would include the first set of world-famous Russian filmmakers to emerge since the 1920s: Andrei Tarkovsky and Andrei Konchalovsky, for example.

The postwar repressions dealt a blow to the art of cinema. The Thaw period brought the biggest masters of cinema back to creative life; a new generation of film makers was also ripening. War became the major subject matter of cinema  in the 1960s – 1970s; Cranes are Flying,  (Letyat Zhuravli 1957) by Mikhail KalatozovBallad of a Soldier  (Ballada o Soldate, 1959) by Grigorii Chukhrai, the work of genius Ivan’s Childhood (Ivanovo Detstvo , 1962) by Andrei Tarkovsky, and The Dawns Here Are Quiet (A Zori Zdes Tikhie , 1972)directed by Stanislav Rostozkii after the same name novel by Boris Vasiliev – even today these films do not loose in their power and expressiveness, dwelling on the eternal basic issues of humanity, spiritual and moral values and life and death. And even today these films do not loose in their power and expressiveness, dwelling on the eternal basic issues of humanity, spiritual and moral values and life and death.

Innokentiy Smoktunovskyi (1925-1994) in Watch out for the Cars (1966)

Fascinating comedies  I Walk Through Moscow (Ya Shagayu Po Moskve 1964) by Georgii DaneliyaWatch out for the Cars (Beregis’ Avtomobilya , 1966) by Eldar Ryazanov touch upon various problems of life and even manage to relieve them somehow.

One cannot but mention here the epic screen versions of literature – the thrilling ‘Hamlet‘(1964)directed by Kozintsev and War and Peace (Voina I Mir , 1966-1967)shot by Sergey Bondarchuk.

The 1970s were highlighted by the flourishing creative work of the highly philosophical film director Andrey Tarkovsky (Andrey Rublev, Zerkalo(Mirror), and Nostalgia) and films by Georgii Daneliya (Pokayanie (Repentance)). This was also the time when the prominent directors Mark Zakharov and Eldar Ryazanov started making movies to go on in the next decade. A fascinating melodrama ‘A Tune for the Two‘ (1980) by Aleksandr Bogolybov and Gennadii Polok continued the line of the serious cinema art in the 1980s.

The Perestroika changed the whole picture. In 1986, the Union of Filmmakers pushed the old guard aside and made room for the reformers. Pichul (Little Vera), Podniek (Is it Easy to be Young?), Abouladze (Repentance), Sokurov (The Lonely Voice of Man) and Shakhnazarov (Zero City) showed images that had previously been forbidden and addressed themes that had long been taboo (drugs, sex, the Gulag, poverty, Stalinism, vulgar language, etc.), conferring a new image on Russian cinema. In 1990-1991 (with the dissolution of the USSR), Lounguine (Taxi Blues), Kanevski (Freeze, Die, Come to Life), and Bobrova (Hey, You Geese) reflected the social collapse. The 1990s were deeply rooted in this trend, even though “money-laundering films” abounded. However, the disorganisation of the system prevented these filmmakers from being screened publicly. Thanks to co-productions (mainly with France), directors like Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun), Guerman (Khrustalyov, My Car!), Dykhovitchny (Moscow Parade), Todorovski (Katia Ismailova) and Sokurov (Russian Arc) managed nevertheless to make films.
Rock-culture of the 1980s got its reflection in Assa (1988), a cult film of that time shot by Sergey Solov’ev starring Viktor Tsoy (famous Russian singer)

Sergey Bodrov Jr. (1971-2002) in Brother (1997)

The long-desired freedom of word in the post-perestroika period prompted a torrent of second-rate movies, however by the mid 1990s already the Russian cinema started recovering and bringing ahead some talented films amid the raunchy mess of ‘censure-free’ movies. Among the most notable films of the 1990s one should mention the cult action movie Brother (Brat ,1997) by Aleksei Balabanov.

The 2000s delivered a number of original masterpieces of cinema, such as A Walk (Progulka , 2003) by Aleksei Uchitel‘, Vozvrashchenie (The Return) (2003) by Andrei Zvyagintsev

In 2004 Russian director Timur Bekmambetov released the first holiwood-style blockbuster, Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor). Since then, comedies and action films have been generating a national market share of 15% to 25%, while the auteur films continue to be celebrated at festivals, especially since Zviaguintsev carried off the Lion d’Or for The Return (Venice, 2003)
Oleg Men’shikov (1960) in Burned by the Sun (1994)

The history of Soviet and Russian cinema counts four Oscars taken as the best foreign films: in 1968 it was War and Peace (1967) by Sergey Bondarchuk, in 1975 – a Soviet-Japanese movie Dersu Uzala (1974) by Akira Kurosava, in 1980 – Moskva Slezam Ne Verit (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, 1979) by Vladimir Men’shov, and in 1994 – Utomlyonnie Solntsem (Burned by the Sun, 1994) by Nikita Mikhalkov.





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