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Directors:Ivan Ivanov-Vano & Leonid Amalrik
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Black and White © SoyuzmultfilmOf all animated Soviet propaganda films, ‘Black & White’ certainly is one of the most powerful. The film is essentially silent, but it’s accompanied by the beautiful negro spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” sung in a deep mournful voice. 

The film is based on a poem of the same name from 1925 by Vladimir Mayakovsky, who wrote the poem during a trip to Cuba. Like the poem, the film shows American racism and the exploitation of black people. We watch them being oppressed by the white, as if they were still slaves, and kept quiet by religion. The images are strong and very stylized. Each image of the film is staged wonderfully to the best effect. A most impressive image is that of numerous blacks in prison, but the bleakest of them all is the final shot of a car passing a lawn with a black man hanging on each tree.

The overall mood of the film is absolutely depressing, especially when one realizes that for once the Soviet propagandists were not too far from the truth. Nevertheless, the Soviet solution, “Lenin”, may be a little too short-sighted, and I doubt whether this film has ever been watched by its intended audience, and if it struck any international chord at all. Who knows? At least, Cuba has been the only country in the Americas to experience a Marxist regime…

Anyhow, despite its abrupt and inapt Lenin-ending, ‘Black & White’ is one of the darkest and strongest of all animated films of the 1930s, and certainly the most interesting animation film to come from the Soviet Union in that decade.

Watch ‘Black & White’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Black & White’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Grigori Lomidze
Release Date: 1947
Rating: ★★★
Review:

To You, Moscow © Soyuzmultfilm‘To You, Moscow’ is a long and slow Soviet propaganda film celebrating Moscow’s 800th birthday by depicting its turbulent history.

During the film we watch Moscow’s settlement, the victory of Ivan III over the Tartars (15th century), the revolt against Polish occupation (17th century), the defeat of Napoleon’s army in 1812, the 1905 revolution, the 1917 socialist revolution (‘led by Lenin and Stalin’) and the 1941 defeat of the fascist army to the present day.

The socialist revolution section leads to live-action footage of Moscow, a happy child, flowers, some buildings and street scenes and statues of Lenin and Stalin. The last section, the celebration, shows photographs of heroic inhabitants of the Soviet Union, and not only glorifies Moscow as “our youth, our glory”, “our dear mother” and “our birthday girl”, but also as a “glory to Stalin”.

The different sections are bridged by letters and postcards to comrade Stalin. The sections themselves focus on strives and battles, and are accompanied by alternately realistic and symbolic images. For example, the 1917 revolution is depicted by the czarist double-headed eagle struggling and falling to pieces, while the most impressive part may be that of 1812, with its realistic images of fire.

It may be clear that this film is propaganda at its worst. The film is saved from becoming totally unwatchable by the beautiful animation, the stark images, and the lively patriotic music.

Watch ‘To You, Moscow’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘To You, Moscow’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Ivan Ivanov-Vano
Release Date: 1972
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Ave Maria © Soyuzmultfilm‘Ave Maria’ is a very grim anti-Vietnam film, made in the Soviet Union.

It combines paintings of the Virgin Mary with images of war. Its darkest moment is when a soldier in a gas mask kills a Vietnamese child. The film ends with live action footage of people protesting against the Vietnam war. Clever montage suggests that the protesters are being repressed.

Despite its disturbing character the film is too blatantly propagandastic and too directionless to be a classic. It also uses little animation.

Watch ‘Ave Maria’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ave Maria’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Vladimir Tarasov
Release Date: 1977
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Forward March Time © Soyuzmultfilm‘Forward March Time!’ is a bold setting of a poem by soviet futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (1892-1930).

The film illustrates the meandering poem with associative images of the 1905 revolution, the 1917 revolution, World War II and even a futuristic battle in space.

Using a combination of typical seventies designs (besides communist paintings) and rock music (besides an excerpt from Mahler’s fifth symphony), the film is both a markedly modern and interesting piece of soviet propaganda, if a bit too long. It shows Tarasov’s unique style, which he explored further in the much more lighthearted short ‘Contact‘.

Watch ‘Forward March, Time!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Forward March, Time!’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Ivan Aksenchuk
Release Date: 1972
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Plus Electrification © Soyuzmultfilm‘Plus Electrification’ is a commissioned film for the State Commission for the Electrification.The film propagates the electrification of the Soviet Union.

Accompanied by a folky song glorifying electricity, we watch electricity pylons march through the countryside and Soviet electricity pylons shaking hands with Czech and Polish electricity pylons.

Its use of old-fashioned communist imagery, black-and white live action footage and ridiculously heroic music makes the film extremely dated. Despite the colorful images and even a look into the future, one can hardly comprehend that this film was made in the 1970s, not the 1940s.

Watch ‘Plus Electrification’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Plus Electrification’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Vladimir Pekar
Release Date: 1971
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Adventures of the Young PioneersIt seems that in the early 1970s Soviet Propaganda took a rather retrograde course, being more overtly propagandistic and using images that went all the way back to the 1920s.

Films with a peaceful message, like ‘Proud Little Ship‘ (1966) or ‘We Can Do It‘ (1970) were interchanged for self-important glorifications of the Soviet Union, and its ‘heroic’ history. This period produced some of the most terrible propaganda films ever made. ‘The Adventures of the Young Pioneers’ is a prime example.

The film plays during World War Two, Russia’s Great War. When their village is occupied by some goofy Nazi Germans, three communist children decide to withstand their occupants. They are betrayed by a collaborator, however, and captured when raising a red flag. Luckily, they are saved by the red army.

This children’s film uses ugly designs and very old-fashioned looking caricatures of Nazis, while the children and especially the red army are drawn quite heroically. The result is as unappealing and unfunny as it is sickeningly propagandistic.

Watch ‘The Adventures of the Young Pioneers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.fandor.com/films/the_adventures_of_the_young_pioneers

‘The Adventures of the Young Pioneers’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Lev Atamanov
Release Date: 1970
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

We Can Do It © SoyuzmultfilmFrom a fascistic egg sprouts a military bird.

The young bird is fed by a capitalist and a general (who both are clearly American) with money and weapons. It grows into a huge black war-bird, which flies over the whole world, threatening loving couples in London, Paris, Moscow and Japan, and an old man, two mothers and several children in an unclear place. When the war-bird starts to attack, one mother turns Asian, Muslim and black, in order to illustrate that war can affect everybody everywhere. Eventually, however, the war-bird is overthrown by a multitude of peace doves, created by workers, writers, children, artists, musicians and pacifists.

‘We Can Do It’ is a beautiful and strikingly pacifistic film and undoubtedly one of the best propaganda films ever created in the Soviet Union. Despite its anti-American sentiment, its pacifistic theme is timeless and universal. The film tells its clear message without any dialogue or voice over. Moreover, its designs are stunning and very effective, especially that of the war-bird.

Watch ‘We Can Do It’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘We Can Do It’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Inessa Kovalevskaya
Release Date: 1971
Rating: ★
Review:

Songs of the Years of Fire © SoyuzmultfilmOne could see ‘Songs of the Years of Fire’ as the Soviet answer to ‘Fantasia’.

This propaganda film features songs from the Russian civil war (1917-1922). These songs are accompanied by revolutionary and shamelessly patriotic images of the brave soviet army, to which the film is dedicated.

The resulting film is as graphically interesting as it is boring and sickening. It’s hard to believe such blatant propaganda could be made as late as 1971.

‘Songs of the Years of Fire’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Perch Sarkisyan
Release Date: 1965
Rating: ★★★
Review:

A Hot Stone © Soyuzmultfilm‘A Hot Stone’ is a Soviet propaganda film from the 1960s based on a children’s book by Arkady Gaidar from 1941.

In it a boy stumbles on an old stone in the woods, which has the ability to give someone a new life again. The boy wants to help an old and lonely man with it, but the man sees no need for it as he has led a happy life. Enter the propaganda, in which the old man tells about the revolution and the civil war. This part is not much of a story. but it’s full of symbolic images, like people breaking their chains, and a giant worker slashing the double headed eagle of the czarist empire with a giant hammer.

‘A Hot Stone’ is a slow and boring film, but it’s also beautifully designed, in an original graphic style, which makes use of bold ink strokes.

Watch ‘A Hot Stone’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Hot Stone’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Victor Gromov
Release Date: 1949
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mr. Wolf © SoyuzmultfilmMr. Wolf is a Russian propaganda film. The film is an oddball in director Gromov’s small animation output. His other seven films are fantastic fairy tales and children’s films

The film tells about Mr. Wolf, a rich American, who is fed up with weapons and war. He retreats with his unwilling family to a peaceful island. But then oil is discovered on the island. Immediately, Mr. Wolf and his family are overpowered by greed, and the American only too gladly drops his pacifism.

‘Mr Wolf’ is based on a comedy by Evgeny Petrov. Although drowned in caricature, this blatant propaganda film is hardly funny: its animation is elaborate, but painstakingly slow, and too excessive. Moreover, it is not too clear what the message is. Are all Westerners blinded by greed? Is pacifism senseless in a world of war? Are oil and peace at odds with eachother? I’ve no idea.

Watch ‘Mr. Wolf’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mr. Wolf’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Leonid Amalrik & Olga Khodataeva
Release Date: 1942
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Kino-Circus © Soyuzmultfilm‘Kino-Circus’ (also called Cinema Circus) is the most inspired of the anti-fascist war propaganda cartoons made in the Soviet Union.

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:

‘Kino-Circus’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Panteleimon Sasonov
Release Date: 1941
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Vultures © Soyuzmultfilm‘The Vultures’, like ‘4 newsreels‘ and ‘Fascist Boots on our Homeland‘ is a so-called political poster. Like the other two films from 1941 it is soviet propaganda at its most aggressive.

‘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:

‘The Vultures’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Directors: Aleksandr Ivanov & I. Vano
Release Date: 1941
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Fascist Boots on our Homeland © SoyuzmultfilmLike ‘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 as monsters and swines. The whole difference may be that the Soviet Union was invaded, while 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:

‘Fascist Boots on our Homeland’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Directors: Valentina Brumberg, Zinaida Brumberg, Aleksandr Ivanov, Olga Khodataeva and Ivan Ivanov-Vano
Release Date: 1941
Rating: ★★★
Review:

4 Newsreels © SoyuzmultfilmThe Soviet propaganda film ‘4 Newsreels’ consists of four so-called ‘political posters’, which are as blatant as propaganda can get.

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:

‘4 Newsreels’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin
Release Date: 1967
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Prophets and Lessons © Soyuzmultfilm‘Prophets and Lessons’ is a Soviet propaganda film. It tells us how every time the Western world predicted the Soviet Union to fail, but that these predictions never came true.

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 propagandistic message, its repetitive character, and its outdated symbolism make it rather tiresome to watch.

Surprisingly, two years later, the director of this humorless film, Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin, 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:

‘Prophets and Lessons’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Vitold Bordzilovsky
Release Date: 1966
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Proud Little Ship © Soyuzmultfilm‘Proud Little Ship’ is a Soviet propaganda film, which is clearly directed to children.

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 propagandistic, 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:

‘Proud Little Ship’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

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