Post by Anna Fomicheva
To celebrate the career and artistic output of the recently deceased Fydor Khitruk, one of the greatest and most important Russian animators, here is my selection of some of his films. Hopefully they will serve as an introduction to the work of the great master and innovator, and his impressive range. Khitruk’s films are always filled with delightful wit, wisdom and compassion. This quality, together with his unique and immediately recognisable style, which helped to define an alternative approach to the world of Disney-dominated animation, they stand out as unique works of art, acclaimed internationally and much beloved in their country of origin.
The Story of One Crime (“История одного преступления”, 1962), Khitruk’s debut feature, was one of the first Soviet animated films to break away from the tradition developed during the Stalinist years of Russian animation. It did so in terms of its style, which abandoned the Disney-inspired graphics, realism and sentimentality in favour of flat perspective, simple features with little detail, and playful, witty shapes and lines. The influences of the 1920’s Russian avant-garde artists’ illustrations of children’s books are also detectable in Khitruk’s style and visual sense of humour. The film follows 24 hours in life of a man, which serve to explain (if not justify) his criminal actions. Social critique was to become one of Khitruk’s main subjects and Man in the Frame (“Человек в рамке”, 1966) is a great example of his social commentray and critique of bureaucracy in stylishly abstract form mixed with photography and collage.
Khitruk’s animation for children is no less notable. Having grown up on Boniface’s Holiday (“Каникулы Бонифация”, 1965) and, of course, the legendary Soviet version of Winnie-the-Pooh, Vinni Pukh (“Винни Пух”, 1969, ’71, ’72), I cannot help but feel sentimentally attached to their eccentricity. And anybody who criticises this style of animation for not being children-friendly (there are such critics) is plain wrong. I do not recall being more visually exhilarated as a child than when I was introduced to the delight that make up the coulours and shapes of Boniface’s Holiday, still one of my favourite cartoons of all time.
And for desert here’s Khitruk’s superb and, in my opinion, best creation (although, I am very biased here). Film, Film, Film (“Фильм, Фильм, Фильм”, 1968) follows the making of a film within the Soviet system of control and censorship all the way from the scriptwriter’s idea, through the director’s (who more than resembles Sergei Eisenstein) struggles to get the project approved, to the hilariously portrayed production and the final screening of the film. Very educational, very funny, and surprisingly relevant to filmmakers working under studio systems as much as those working under state control.