Individual Russian Films

Figure 1.-- This is a scene from the Soviet 1973 movie 'Capitan' based on the adventures of Viktor Dragunsky famed 6-year old character. Denis Korable. Viktor Dragunsky's Denis was probably the most popular boy character who emerged surng the Soviet era.

HBC has only limited information on individual Russian films or foreign films about Russia. Few of these films are available in the West. The only Russian film most Americans could name is "Potemkyn". Fortunately our Russian readers have provided us information about Russian films featuring children. They provide a wealth of information about Soviet ideology as well as the every day live of the Russian people, including children. Information on these films thus provide valuable insights on Russia. The ideological content of Soviet-era films is interesting. And it is interesting to follow film mking and the ideological twists and turns of the Soviet era. It is also interesting to observe evcery day Russian life as portrayed in the films. This is in part because the Soviets never profuced films depicting high-society life which was quite common in early American films.

(The) 3 Faces of Melancholia (Finland, 2004)

The Finnish documentary, "The 3 Rooms of Melancholia", is a poweful, beautifully made, almost poetic film addressing the continuing Chechen conflict. While the film crew is Finnish and other Europeans, the film is about Russia. The film adresses how the dreadful conflict in Chechnya has affected children. The production is notable for its very limited dialog abd a musical score which works with the images rather than overwealming them. I am not sure just who the children are, but their performances are exceptional.

(The) Adventures of Elektronik / Priklyucheniya Elektronika (Soviet Union, 1979)

A Russian reader has mentioned the Soviet film The Adventures of Elektronik to us. We know virtually nothing about the movie. It was made at Odesskaya Kinostudiya, Odessa, USSR, 1979. A reader tells us that it was an extremely popular movie. Apparently much of it is set at a school. Hopefully our Russian readers will tell us more about th film. The children wear school uniforms. Our Russian reader tells us that for two decades (1970s-80s) that the Soviet school uniform was virtually unchanged. So it was available in any shop selling goods for children. But in very warm days the official uniform was optional.

Adventures of Petrov and Vasechkin: Usual and Incredible (Soviet Union, 1982)

The movie “Adventures of Petrov and Vasechkin: Usual and Incredible” (“Priklucheniya Petrova I Vasechkina, obyknovennye I neeroyatnye”) was made in 1982. This is another film about 4th graders. Children play, sing, write love notes to girls, make a school preformance (in French) on the “Little Rrd Riding Hood", have a rest on the sea shore and so on. Here there is no heavy-handed ideology. The children are realistically depicted. They wear Pioneer Scarfs, but this is just a uniform item, nothing more. There are scenes at school and at a Pioneer camp. The film is essentially a children's comedy about school life, without Communism, Party and other such things. I am sure, you will notice the difference between movies during the Stalinist years (1930s-50s) and later movies. Just look at faces. Since the late- 60s most of educated people, writers (for example – Vladislav Krapivin, Anatoly Alexin, Edward Uspensky), actors and other progressive people of USSR began to openly criticize the Young Pioneer Organization for its formalizm, old-fashioned military style, stupid “marching in rows” and so on.

Adventures of the Small Daddy (Soviet Union, 1979)

A Russian reader has provided us an image of the Soviet-era film, "Advetures of a small daddy". A narrator (a small girl) tells about adventures of her daddy when he was a small boy. The boy (the narrator girl calls him "Daddy" through a whole movie, his name isn't mentioned) was teased by other boys for he played in a yard with a girl. A biggest of bullies threatened to throw "Daddy"'s new ball (a gift from his parents) under a bus. But then "Daddy" wishing to prove that he is not sissy, "cool" and absolutely not frightened throws his ball under a bus himself. Most of the boys in the film seem to be wearing short-sleeve shits and long pants even though the wearher seems warm. One boy wears short pants and what look to be tights. A reader writes, "Notice that the boy at the extreme right in this photo wears grey long stockings or perhaps tights. Tights were common in Russia but long stockings persisted well into the 1970s for reasons of economy and flexibility (the ability to wear them down or up depending on the weather)." Another factor here was probably it took Russian manufacturers a whole to shift from long stockings to tights. Russian state-owned ibndustry did not adjust as rapidly to consumer demand as in the West. The question of consumer demand is an interesting one. We are not sure to what extent conservative consumers continued to want long stockings.

Attention the Turtle! - (Soviet Union, 1971)

The movie “Attention, the Turtle!” (“Vnimanie, Cherepaha!”) was made in 1971. In this marvelous movie there is no ideolgy at all. Children and adults are real, alive people. There is not a single word about USSR, party, communism and so on. The movie is basically a school film. It begins with a scene, where a young school teacher goes on Moscow street dressed in a fashionable mini-skirt and bright short raincoat. On some distance she is followed by two small girls (1st or 2nd grade), who’s dresses are also very short. But when the teacher comes to school, she hides and rolls down her skirt, takes off a bright raincoat, then puts on glasses to become a “true” teacher. This would have been and inconceivable sceen in a Stalinist era film. Children following her also hide and rolls down their skirts, after that run to their teacher and greet her. This film is very touching. It teaches a love of animals. Even more, it openly rejects some traditional Communist principles. When a teacher says a ritual phrase “There are no indispencable people!” (one of communist ideas, that “one person is nobody, a zero”) a small boy askes her “But who are dispenable people?” and stuns her with this question. More in this movie authors smile about the Soviet obsession with war. Another small boy, the main character's antagonist, is obsessed with war and always paints war pictures. In the plot he steals from a “Corner of live nature” a turtle (who’s name is “Rocket”) and tries to put it under a tank “to check if its shell (armor) is "solid” or not. Another boy, the main character, knowing that Rocket is in danger, runs away from a children hospital where he is being treated. A girl from his class also concerned about rocket helps him by changing clothes with him and replacing him in the hospital. In the climatic scene, he manages to draw the tank commander's attention to Rocket and the tanks turn to avoid Rocket.

Boys/Mal'chiki (Soviet Union, 1971)

We note a Soviet movie about orphanages and choirs. The main character of the movie is a boy Zhenya Prokhorov. First he lives in an orphanage located in a small village Lipovka. A Russian reader tells us, "I'd say the depiction of the orphanage is rather realistic." We have noted reports of very poor conditions at Soviet orphanages. We do not know much about thatm although we have begun to collect some information on orphanages. One fact that seems true is that children from orphanages were less likely to get into good schools and pursue university educations. The orphage in the film is depicted as a realtively pleasant place. The director of a boys choir boarding school, seeking talented boys, visits this orphanage and discover that Zhenya has a very good voice. He takes Zhenya to the boarding school. There Zhenya lives with other boys, learns music along with the usual school lessons like maths or geography and so on. Later Zhenya is chosen as a soloist of the choir and becomes popular. But later, after his voice breaks, he needs to forget about his former glory and to find his own way in music from scratch. This imaginary boys choir boarding school has many common points with Gorky Boys Chapel Choir or with the Big Children Choir of the USSR. HBC has some information on Soviet choirs.

Come and See (Soviet Union, 1985)

Elem Klimoff, 1985.

Dr. Zivago (United States, ?)

While made in America, the novie based on Boris Pasternak's novel is the single most widely seen film about Russia. It could not be seen in the Soviet Union and was only availble to Russian after the collapse of Soviet communism in 1992. I remember taking a Soviet visitor to see the film and he was visably moved, asking "Why can't we see this movie?" The film is true to the book. Both the histriocity and the costuming seems very ccurate.

Elecronic Granny (Soviet Union-Lithuania, 1985)

"Electronnaya Babooshka"/"Electronic Granny" is a Soviet/Lithuanian children's movie. The title of the movie is "Electronnaya Babooshka" (Electronic Granny) and the screenplay is based on the famous novel I Sing the Body Electric by Ray Bradbury. Filming a Bradbury book in the Soviet Union is interesting in that his most famous novel, Farenhite 451 is about censorship. To my knowledge, the book was not used for a Western film. The movie was made in 1985 at the Cinema Studio of Lithuania. It was directed by Algimantas Pujpa. The cast included Ingeborga Dapkunajte, Ina Rosenajte, Darus Palakas, and Lorentis Sverdiolas. The language is Russian. The costuming was interesting. Some of the boys wear short pants with socks. A Russian reader tells us, "I have seen such a fashion except in wet chilly summer weather. Two times I saw this in the north of Russia--Karelia near the Finnish border."

I Love You, the Life! (Soviet Union, 1967)

Here are several screenshots from the Soviet musical movie "I love you, the life!" (1967). I didn't know that the Soviets made many musicals, but a Russian reader tells me that they did, both before and after Stalin. We do not know much about the film, as far as I can tell there is no internet listing for the film, at least in English. The plot is made up around a granddad and a grandson walking streets of Moscow. The boy look to be about 7-8 years old. We do not know who played the boy, but the Soviets took a different view as to children in films. There were no child stars as in Hollywood fims. Rather new children were recruited for each film. We are not sure just why they did this, but the experience would not have been as disruptive on the children's lives. Some American children managed to whether stardom. For others it ruined their lives. Grandfather tells the boys all his stories and experiences about the various city land marks. Notice the boy wears a short pants suit with a beret, white shirt, black bow-tie and long stockings. Notice how long the stockings are. This would have been standard contemporary clothing in Moscow at the time for a boy this age. In a couple years, tights would very quickly replace long stockings. We get the impression that children im many Soviet films wore their own clothes istead of costumes. But we do not know about this particular film.

(Denis) Korablev Movies (Soviet Union, 1960s-70s)

Viktor Dragunsky was a Soviet children writer. He was born in United States, in New York in 1913 in the family of Russian immigrants, but his parents soon returned to Russia. He worked as a theater/movie actor, as a clown in circus and as a screenplay writer. But he became famous after in 1959 he started to publish small novels about everyday life of a small Russian schoolboy Denis Korablev. Based on various Dragunsky’s novels about Denis Korablev there were taken several children movies in Sovien Union: “Funny Stories” (1962) “Where can it be seen, where can it be heard” (1973) “Captain” (1973) “A spyglass” (1973) “A fire in a house meaning rescue under the ice” (1974) “Wonderful adventures of Denis Korablev” (1979) In all of Dragunsky's stories, Dennis is pictured as a cheerful and active first-grader who lives in Moscow with his mom and dad. He is the most beloved boy character to come out of Soviet literature and movies.

Nicholas and Alexander (United States, 1971)

Nicholas And Alexandra was the movie version of the book written by Robert Maskie. Well made film on the fall of the Tczar. The Tczaravich Alexis wears a white sailor suit with short pants and knee socks. Until World War I began, Alexis almost always did wear sailor suits. Onnce the War began he wore an ordinary-looking Army uniform.

My Name is Ivan (Soviet Union, 1963)

Andrei Tarkovsky, 1963.

Rasputin (Soviet Union, 1996)

The story of the virtually illiterate monk Rasputin and the Russian royal family is one of the most often told tales of World War I. This 1996 made for TV movie prominently features the Tsarevitch Alexis and the many uniforms that he wore. Alexis usually wore a sailor suit, except for formal occasions. After the War began in 1914, he began wearing army uniforms.

(The) Road to Life - (Soviet Union, 1931)

Often cited as the first Soviet sound film. It deals with the orphaned, homeless children left in the wake of the Revolution and the subsequent war between the Reds and Whites. The film focuses on the difficult job of trying to educate the children.

(The) Steamroller and the Violin (Soviet Union, 1960)

This is a lovely little film made during the Soviet era. It is about a little 7 year old boy named Sasha. He is studying the violin and has trouble with bullies. He dresses like a British boy with short pants, kneesock s, and "T" strap sandals. Unlike British boys in the 1970s, Sasha wears patterned shorts and kneesocks. Most other boys wear long pant, but some wear shorts. Another violin student wears a large white collar and short pants with long stockings. A little boy being bullied hat Sasha helps wears shorts and long stockings as well. There was a short scene before his violin class when Sasha makes friends with a little girl tht has a huge hair bow. Sasha makes friends with a steam roller driver. His cultured mother disapproves when Sasha comes home with his hands all greassy.

(The) Thief (Russia, 1999)

Pavel Chukhrai, 1999.

Vasyok Trubachev and His Class-mates (Soviet Union, 1956)

The movie “Vasyok Trubachev and His Class-mates” (“Vasyok Trubacherv I yego tovarischi”) was made in 1956 and is a standard Stalinist era film. The main heroes were three boys from 4th grade, very good friends. Vasya is the true leader of the Pioneer squad. He is very responsible, athletic, learns good, can use instruments (like axe, saw etc.) and dreams to be a train locomotive driver like his father. (Note the choice of a working-class biy.) Kolya is very disciplined, principle, active, learns good. He is an older brother in a big family, so he can to make a dinner, care for children and even sew. Sasha is the smallest and weakest boy in the class. He is depicted as the only boy in the class still wearing short pants with long stockings, but he learns good (again), knows a lot about sciences, communications and so on. All the children in the movie are depicted schematically, they are so serious and in my opinion are more like small adults or even a small robots. They all tell long and boring speeches about “duty of a Soviet pioneer”, “being a true Soviet pioneer” and so on. Adults, the class teacher and the school Pioneer leader are depicted as “true communist” and “true comsomol member”. The plot of the movie is very primitive and liveless. This reflects Soviet film making during the Stalinist era. Imagination and complexity were not characteriztics that were highly prised in film making and literature. In fact they could get you in a lot of trouble. Stalin died in 1953 and Khruchev denounced him at the 20th Party Congress (1956). It took longer for the impact of Stalin to loosen his grip on Soviet film making.

(A) White Sail Gleams (Soviet Union, 1937)

The movie "A White Sail Gleams" is a movie based on the novel by Soviet writer Valentin Kataev (1897-1986). He was a notable Soviet-era Russian novelist and playwright. Somehow managed to craft insightful works describing Soviet social conditions without violating the standards of Soviet censors. Very few notable authors were able to accomplish this. One of his most beloved books is Beleyet parus odinoky/A White Sail Gleams (1936). Russian readers will immediately recognize both the book and the date, Kataev published it in the midst of the Great Terror. It was a popular success in Russia and immediately turned iinto a movie (1937). Here is a screenshot from the film. The story is set in Tsarist times. It is about the revolutional events of 1905 from the point of view of two small boys - one Petya, from the family of a school teacher, and second Gavrik, son of a poor fisherman.


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Created: 8:57 PM 4/9/2009
Last updated: 10:10 PM 12/31/2012