How Papa Joe Stalin lifted the nation, won the war, and still had time to play Cupid.
All without getting a single smudge on his dazzling white uniform.
We’re seeing it all in Soviet Cinema: Wars, Revolution and Propaganda, a class being taught by Dr. Marina Sonkina, a former professor of literature at Moscow State University and more recently a broadcaster, producer, and film critic for the CBC.
The first film to be shown in class was The Fall of Berlin, premiered a few years after the end of WWII, and screened in the Soviet Union virtually non-stop for years.
The Fall is truly propaganda at its most raw, the cult of personality and the deification of a monster. The all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-conquering Joseph Stalin. The dictator who was responsible for the deaths of as countless millions of his people, yet was portrayed as a loving father to the nation.
The movie was epic in scope. The director had virtually a blank cheque to make the film. He had access to entire armies as extras, and the best cinematic talent – actors, writers, camera crews, etc. – to work with. For example: the music was scored by none other than Dmitri Shostakovich. And virtually everybody associated with the film was awarded the prestigious Stalin Prize.
This was Stalin’s pet project, the shaping of his legacy. He insisted on approving every scene and even had characters ‘edited out’ if they fell out of his good graces. Sort of like 1950’s photo shopping.
It is almost laughable in places. Or, it would be if it didn’t hide such horror. There is a fresh coat of paint on every paintable surface. Everything ‘works’; nothing is broken down. And every tree, shrub or potted plant is in bloom.
Children are chubby, clean and happy, and apparently spend all their time running gaily through fields of flowers. We even see them being taken on tours of heavy industry factories where they could gaze, impressed, at buckets of molten steel, no doubt thinking how proud they were of their country’s growing industrial strength, and of their ‘Papa’ who made it happen.
Yep. This was the Soviet Union before the Germans invaded and made a mess of things. At least, this is how Stalin, film director, ordered it portrayed.
But no mention of the bad stuff. Like famines, the camps, or The Terror.
Pravda praised the movie as ‘an authentic representation of history’. Another Soviet reviewer gushed that it was ‘a truthful portrayal of the relations between the people and the leader. . . and the love of all people for Stalin.’
The New York Times film critic dryly noted that it was ‘directed as it the director’s life depended on it.’
Probably did. After Stalin died, the film was withdrawn from circulation, and the director was ordered to make himself scarce, to leave Moscow and stay outta sight.
Stay tuned. More propaganda coming.
To see the film for yourself, go to (then the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-hZam8dXHU). Even if you don’t understand a word of Russian, you’ll find it a real eye-opener.