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Director: Leonid Amalrik & Olga Khodataeva
Release Date: 1942
The short is called ‘a cartoon satire in three acts’ and features a Charlie Chaplin-like character, who introduces us to three staged satires, all featuring Adolf Hitler:
In the first, ‘Adolf the dog trainer and his pooches’, Hitler throws a bone at his three dogs, Benito Mussolini, Miklós Horthy and Ion Antonescu, the leaders of his allies Italy, Hungary and Romania, respectively.
In the second, ‘Hitler visits Napoleon’, Hitler asks Napoleon’s tomb for advice, but the deceased drags him into the tomb. It’s the most prophetic of the three, for indeed both Napoleon and Hitler were defeated in Russia.
In the third, ‘Adolf the juggler on powder kegs’, Hitler juggles with several burning torches on a pile of powder-barrels, representing the countries he has occupied. When he accidentally drops one of the torches, the barrels explode. The animation is particularly silly in this sequence and a delight to watch.
After the grim political posters from 1941, ‘Kino-Circus’ is more lighthearted. The film ridicules Hitler more than it makes him threatening. Quite surprising since in1942 Nazi Germany was still a serious threat to the Soviet Union: Leningrad suffered under a long siege, and the Soviet Union had only just begun its counter-attack.
Interestingly, both directors of ‘Kino-Circus’ later became famous for their sweet fairy tale films.
Watch ‘Kino-Circus’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Panteleimon Sasonov
Release Date: 1941
‘The Vultures’ is the least interesting of the set. Its opening shot is its best part: opening with two eyes in the dark, just like ‘The Skeleton Dance‘ (1929). These eyes appear to belong to a fascist vulture. he and the other fascist vultures (battle planes) are chased away and destroyed by the Soviet airfleet in a rather silly and playful-looking air battle, accompanied by heroic march music.
About the director of ‘The Vultures’, Panteleimon Sasonov (1895-1950) little can be found. Giannalberto Bendazzi tells us in his excellent book ‘Cartoons – one hundred years of cinema animation’ that he made an animation film called ‘The Tale of the Pope and Baldo his Servant’ in 1939.
Watch ‘The Vultures’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Directors: Aleksandr Ivanov & I. Vano
Release Date: 1941
Like ‘4 Newsreels‘, ‘Fascist Boots on our Homeland’ is a so-called ‘political poster’, a short propaganda film that knows no competition in its vicious imagery.
In ‘Fascist Boots on our Homeland’ a horrific fascist pig marches on, trembling several European countries until he gets beaten by the Red Army. The film also contains a very patriotic song and rather associative imagery, including that of Russian soldiers riding horseback, a heroic image from the Russian civil war (1917-1923).
It’s interesting to compare the Soviet images of Nazis with that of American propaganda films from the same era. Whereas in American propaganda, like ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ fascist leaders were caricatured and ridiculed, in the Soviet Union they were depicted like monsters and swines. The whole difference may be that the Soviet Union was invaded, the United States were not.
Indeed, the US were less kind to the Japanese, who did stain American soil: they were all portrayed as silly, but treacherous Untermenschen, whom one could easily kill without remorse (e.g. in ‘Bugs Bunny nips the Nips’ from 1944 and the Popeye film ‘You’re a sap, Mr. Jap’ from 1942).
Watch ‘Fascist Boots on our Homeland’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Directors: Valentina Brumberg, Zinaida Brumberg, Aleksandr Ivanov, Olga Khodataeva and Ivan Ivanov-Vano
Release Date: 1941
The first, ‘What Hitler wants’, shows us an extremely ugly and vicious caricature of Hitler marching towards the Soviet Union until he is pierced by the Soviet bayonet.
In the second, ‘Beat the fascist pirates’, sea serpent-like German submarines are defeated by the Soviet fleet.
The third, ‘Strike the Enemy on the front and at home’, is typical for the paranoid society Stalinist Russia was, warning against treacherous fascist spies, foreign agents and saboteurs: “Be vigilant! Remember, our enemy is cunning!”.
The fourth, ‘A mighty handshake’, tells us about the union between England and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, showing two mighty giant soldiers shaking hands and crushing a tiny rat-like Hitler in doing so.
Obviously, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union left no room for subtleties.
’4 Newsreels’ was directed by five veterans of animated Soviet propaganda. All had made animated films since the 1920s. Of the five, Ivan Ivanov-Vano (1900-1987) would become the most successful, directing animated films up to the 1970s. Luckily, he and Olga Khodataeva would be able to show a gentler side in numerous animated fairy tale films for children.
Watch ‘4 Newsreels’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Viacheslav Kotenochkin
Release Date: 1967
Its chapters are all conceived in the same order: first we see animated capitalist predict something, then we see a giant Soviet blacksmith strike his mighty hammer and finally we see live action footage of the Soviet Union’s successes.
The separate chapters are the Soviet revolution, the civil war, the five year plans, the Second World War, the reconstruction after the war and the Soviet space program. The action is silent, and the imagery rather outdated (more like that of the 1920s than of the 1960s).
‘Prophets and Lessons’ is one of the most obviously propagandistic animation films ever made in the Soviet Union. Its overtly propagandastic message, its repetitive character, and its outdated symbolism make it rather tiresome to watch.
Surprisingly, two years later, the director of this humorless film, Viacheslav Kotenochin, would launch a successful series of comic cartoons, called ‘Ну, Погоди!’ (Just Wait!), featuring a very cartoony wolf.
Watch ‘Prophets and Lessons’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: V. Bordzilovsky
Release Date: 1966
Three little boys make a small red ship as a copy of the famous cruiser ‘The Aurora’. This little ship sails the seas and is greeted with enthusiasm among all the people of the world.
There are some mean militarists who try to destroy the little ship, but they do not succeed. These militarists are drawn extremely silly, while the rest of the people are drawn rather realistically and appear as noble and gentle. Nevertheless, these drawing styles blend surprisingly well. Moreover the design and choreography of movement is often gorgeous.
All the action is silent, while the story is told by a narrator, who provides the clearest propagandistic message of the film: “the proud little ship sailed as a messenger of a happy life, which, as spring after winter, would certainly come to all people”.
Although ‘Proud Little Ship’ is overtly propagandastic, it’s also an enjoyable and beautiful film. One almost forgets that the message is not concerning world peace, but the ‘glorious’ communist revolution…
Watch ‘Proud Little Ship’ yourself and tell me what you think: