Stalin’s ghost in perestroika cinema: Afterword
‘Stalin’s ghost in perestroika cinema’ is a series of articles that explores the ways in which late Soviet cinema engaged with history and past, and in particular focuses on how the Stalinist years were portrayed in perestroika cinema.
As this series has shown, all three discussed examples of the cinematic treatment of the past considered the re-evaluation of Stalinist past as their primary purpose, although had chosen very different filmic modes and techniques to address it.
Through the study of film, these articles allowed to appreciate the different ways in which the past may be approached and represented for the contemporary audience. Identifying and describing the techniques used by perestroika filmmakers to depict the Soviet past possibly can allow to account for the ways cinema deals with historical traumas and discuss the ethical issues it implies on a larger scale.
One cannot overlook the fact that there is a tendency for films depicting historical events to shift their focus from resolving the past to entertaining and fictionalizing history. What provokes heated debates is the fact that some of these films choose to deal with historical traumas that usually results in them being accused of emotionalising, trivialising, and falsifying history — Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Iron Sky (2012) serve as vivid Western examples in this instance.
This phase in the new Russian cinema has started very recently and includes films made by relatively young film-makers. In most cases, they did not live through the historical times they make films about, therefore are not emotionally attached to the horrors of these periods of history. Therefore, they can effectively challenge many of the rules set by former Soviet canonical cinema and offer a new perspective on the topic.
Most prominent examples of this tendency include Stiliagi (Hipsters, 2008) and Gitler Kaput! (Hitler Kaput!, 2008). The latter is a farcical comedy and grotesque parody of Soviet spy/war dramas, namely Seventeen Moments of Spring (1973), a Soviet 12-part TV series that tells a story of Maxim Isaev, a Soviet spy operating in Nazi Germany under the name Max Otto von Stierlitz. Stiliagi is a musical film about the life of youth subculture that flourished in Moscow after Stalin’s death. The youth subculture of stiliagi was known for their long hair slicked back with grease, their flamboyant self-made costumes that were inspired by the west and their similarly unorthodox musical tastes, which featured such outcast sounds as saxophone and jazz (read more here). Although being set in the 1950s, the film, primarily through its soundtrack, constantly draws parallels between stiliagi and the late 1980s non-conformist Soviet countercultures (such as rockers and punks), and even reflects on the place of subcultures and countercultures in modern day Russia.
However, Russian film-makers still did not dare to approach the Stalinist era in this playful way. Therefore, it would be highly interesting to return to the subject of this series after the first Russian films challenging the previous visions of the Stalin’s years with a humorous approach will appear.