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Post by Anna Fomicheva

One of the readers of this blog asked an interesting question in the comments to a discussion of ‘I Walk Around Moscow’. I have written a reply, and then, as it turned out to be pretty lengthy and touching on various important themes, I decided that it is worthy of a separate blog post. Below are the reader’s question and my answer. Do not hesitate to chip in with your own thoughts and comments.

Laura Sharp said:

I really enjoyed listening to this. I would have liked to hear more about the context of production. It was produced at the same time that movements such as village prose were popular and I’m interested in the very positive portrayal of Moscow. I’ve seen various accounts of the film where it is described as on one hand it was propaganda, and on the other it was not.. I’ve also heard that certain scenes were censored. I’m very curious about the relationship between this film as “quintessentially thaw” in form, but politically benign in content. Any thoughts?

kinobuff said:

Hi Laura! Thanks for your comment, I’m very happy to know you’ve enjoyed the discussion.

In terms of context, you’re right it’s very interesting, and also rather complicated to explain, especially in terms of the dichotomy of ‘propaganda’ and ‘not propaganda’, as things were more complex than that.

But if I were to boil it down, I would say that the liberalisation of Thaw period gave a lot of young artists a sense of freedom, a sense of hope, and even an illusion (however brief) that the state ideology can be concurrent with their artistic activities, values and so on. Hence such a revival of the 1920′s Soviet art and aesthetic during this period, but also the ideas of the purity of the 1917 Revolution and its intentions. Stalinism was denounced by the State as it was denounced by the new generation of artists. Leninism was brought back by the state and it fitted nicely with the young artist’s leftist ideals (as we know, young artists tend to have leftist ideals, we only have to look at the Western counterparts of the Soviet artists during the period).

Gennady Shpalikov (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gennady_Shpalikov), a wonderful poet, and the screenwriter of ‘I Walk…’ is a quintessential example of this. And not only in his successes to fit in with the state ideology (like ‘I Walk’), but also his failures to do so – ‘I am Twenty’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Twenty a much superior film, which was banned, then completely recut, and then the recut version shown in very limited release years later).

In this light, ‘I Walk Around Moscow’ can be seen as at once an attempt to honestly reflect the joy and the mood of the period as well as its young generation, but also to present it as a kind of Socialist utopia, which was realised in the Soviet Union. It stands in contrast with ‘I am Twenty’, which I highly recommend for comparison. It was made a few years earlier, and is a much more honest reflection of the times, although by no means devoid of naivity, joy and desire to work with the state to achieve socialist goals.

Soviet intelligentsia is very often talked about in terms of their opposition to the State. It does not however mean that they did not want to cooperate.

“Хотеть, в отличье от хлыща
В его существованьи кратком,
Труда со всеми сообща
И заодно с правопорядком”

And this is Pasternak, no less. And this was written in 1931… (I have not been able to find a translation of this online, unfortunately, but would be very grateful if anyone could point me in the direction of one)

And keep in mind, that I am basically generalising a huge group of people here, a whole social class even, and there was plenty of variation, complexity and nuance in their political attitudes.

Nonetheless, it would be fair to say that this hope for cooperation with the State was not very long-lived. Disappointment started to kick-in round about 1964-65 (for a variety of reasons, incl. the removal of Khruschev, Sinyavsky-Daniel trial, and various other political decisions).

You mention the Village Prose, which actually becomes an important cultural force as these political developments unfold all the way into the 1970′s. Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Matryona’s House’ was written in 1963, and became a kind of blueprint for the genre that flourished during the Brezhnev years, and was absolutely one of the forms that the oppositional culture took. Not least in the way it attributed virtue to the rural, authentic Russia and contrasted it to the evils of the industrialised might of the Soviet city.

And it’s very true that the kind of fascination with the city that Thaw cinema displays never really appears again in Soviet film afterwards.