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Kozovoi, Andrei

“This film is harmful”: obstacles in the representation of America in Soviet cinema during the Cold War. 

The Cold War had an impact on Soviet cinema. In order to assess the degree of this influence, one must consider the changes in the image of America on the big screen but also behind it. Despite the commonly accepted view, the Communist Party never gave a carte blanche to the Soviet movie industry when it came to the representation of the “main enemy”. On the contrary, these films received the most scrupulous attention from officialdome, as the Mosfilm archival materials demonstrate.

Under Stalin, feature films like The Dollar Exchange Rate (1948) was never produced and remained in a script form. A History Lesson had a particularly difficult time. The film’s script underwent six years of editing until the film was finally released in 1956. After Stalin’s death, the representation of America and Americans had to adapt to a new context, commonly known as the Thaw. However, the Thaw had its boundaries when it came to such “sacred” subjects as World War II. For example, Peace to Him Who Enters (Aleksandr Alov, Vladimir Naumov, 1961), which was influenced by the French new wave, was almost banned. Before its (limited) release on the big screen, the film was shown to a select group of spectators in order to estimate the viewers’ reactions and, contrary to some assertions by film historians, enjoyed popularity with young viewers. Even such popular directors as Aleksandrov, Eisenstein’s pupil, had trouble with their work: Russian Souvenir (1960) failed miserabily when it came out.  At the dawn of Brezhnev’s time, when the Soviet-American relations warmed up even further, films like Hello, Miss Moscow attempted to reflect a new era of economic collaboration between the two superpowers. Despite its originality (the use of fantastic elements), the movie was not produced. Another example, during the era of détente, Aleksandrov’s spy war movie Starling and Lyra, finished in 1973, never saw the big screen.

These examples illustrate that one must be careful relying on the established clichés in historiography of international relations when it comes to the influence of ideology on Soviet culture during the Cold War.

Friday 30 Oct 13.45-15.45 SESSION 5
Panel: On the Big Screen: Cinema in the Cold War I