The Soviet cinema is immensely powerful. Its films carry social and political contents expressed so emotionally and with such a degree of technical perfection that the content may be accepted in the admiration of the method. It will be recalled that among the proposals of the Soviet Government when it assumed control in 1917, was the suggestion that all forms of expression to the public, such as the cinema, theater, the press, and literature, should be under the guidance of the state. The aim was, of course, that the new ideas and concepts of the Government should be widely circulated in the outlying areas as well as in the industrial cities. The theater essentially was to become a unified form of drama, arising out of the social necessities of the masses.
Early Soviet Cinema
The aim has to some extent been successful, having evolved, during the process of rebuilding, a technique such as exists nowhere outside the Soviet Russia. Incorporated in this constructive policy for the theater was a similar but wider aim for the cinema. The initial aim of the Soviet film was to reflect and interpret a new civilization in the making, as conceived by Mark, and realized by Lenin, which resulted in a form of cinema demanding an entirely new scale of values. Lenin intended the theater to be a microcosm of the complete theory of Bolshevism, to be admired and copied by the masses. But it was also Lenin, who declared of all the arts, the most important for Russia is, that of the cinema.
The nationalization of the Soviet film did not take place until 1910, but two years earlier, a special Cinema commission was held in by the People Commissariat of Education to lay down a future policy. The complete control of film production and distribution, however, soon passed into the hands of Government and there began the development of the cinema along the lines of Lenin's policy. All profit derived from the exhibition of films went to the realization of better and more productions. Theoretically, it was an admirable state of affairs for the nurturing of a new form of dramatic expression.
Purpose And Contents of Soviet Films
The content of every film is whether of social, heroic, epic, historical, romantic, or national importance. Moreover, it is out of the desire to express this content with the greatest amount of emotional effect on the simple minds of the masses that the cinematic technique of Soviet directors has developed to a state of efficiency equaled by no other film-producing country in the world.
Soviet films falls into various classes, each made for a special purpose, and these are roughly as follow: (a) General subjects dealing with life before, during, and after the revolution, including satires, dramas, comedies etc. The usual aim of these pictures is to show the tyranny and oppression under the Czarist regime and benefits derived from the Soviet control. It shows the masses challenging the old-established authority (Ten Days That Shook The World, Battleship Potemkin, Strike); the individual film, depicting the effect of the Revolution on a single person, or group of persons (Mother).
(b) The educational, scientific, and cultural film, which is a form of cinema that the Government has developed to a wider degree. (c) The news reel, which, as in other countries, is the survey of the events of the week. (d) The children films, both cine-fiction and educational. This highly developed organization for the classification, cataloging, and sorting of film scenarios is an important feature of the Soviet cinema. In no other film producing country is so much attention paid to the construction of scenario work.
Aesthetic Principles of A Soviet Director
The cinema was controlled by Communists, whose sole aim is the spread of their faith; whilst the realization of the best films is in the hands of the workers, who are also by way of being artists. As a result, a film director, who for some past years has been training his mind and has been contented with the policy dictated to him in his work, may now find himself in the position of being unable to realize his aesthetic principles if they do not conform to the wishes of the Government.
Although he has freedom of expression in actual technical representation, his aesthetic progress is limited by the demands of the production committee. The Soviet film director was as restricted in his self-development as his fellow in Hollywood is bound by the capitalistic methods of picture-sense and star-system. Neither is free to develop his knowledge of the cinema along an individual instinctive course. The Soviet director, it is true, has the benefit of being able to realize his own ideas of technical expression which the German, American and British director did not have; bu they where equally prevented from progress in the realization of their intellectual, spiritual, and creative conception of the film as a means of self-expression.
Two Eminent Soviet Directors
S.M. Eisenstein and Pudovkin, have achieved during their evolutionary period the enviable position of being the most eminent directors in the world. They have been satisfied with State control over their themes and concepts whilst they have been otherwise interested in the perfection of their technique. In his first three films, Eisenstein has been interested in the representation of the mass mind, in particular the mass challenging the established authorities. The theme of Battleship Potemkin is familiar. It concerned the revolt of the crew of a battleship against their officers on account of the 'bad food; the warm reception of the rebel ship by the townspeople of Odessa; and the final meeting of the battleship with the remainder of the Russian fleet. 'Ten Days That Shook The World' was a representation of the events that followed the establishment of the Provincial Government in 1917; the attack on the winter palace; and the triumph of Lenin.
The intense dynamic vitality that is the keynote of Eisenstein's personality is the dominating feature of his cinematic expression. His films are unparalleled examples of ruthless, throbbing, vigorous direction. With absolute faith he remains true to the central aim of his theme. He does not seek help from outside sources, from irrelevant symbolic references, as does Pudovkin, in the expression of his content. Added to which, Eisenstein has a wonderful sense of pictorial composition and a unique feeling for the constant movement of his screen material.
Pudovkin is essentially the constructive director, perhaps more interested in the method of expressing his themes than in his themes themselves. His film contains more study, more deliberation, more calculation, more esoteric intellectuality than those of Eisenstein. Just as the themes of the later are expressed through the collective spirit of the people and things, so are Pudovkin's individual characters expressed through the themes. Pudovkin is scientific and analytical in his outlook. He was less spiritual and less physical than Eisenstein. He was more methodical and less visionary. The most important of Pudovkin films was undoubtedly 'Mother,' for in its brilliant realization were found the elements of his constructive process.
One may admire Soviet Cinema's technical excellence and acknowledge their unquestionable superiority over the product of any other film-producing country, but it is impossible to ignore their primary social, political, and often anti-religious influence. The primary aim of the film at the present moment is entertainment. This must statement must be qualified by the functions of the Soviet cinema, which have caused the film to be considered as a dominant factor in the social and political organization of a country.
The Oxford History of World Cinema, edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
Cinema of The Soviet Union - Wikipedia