Stalin’s ghost in perestroika cinema: Foreword
‘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.
Khrushchev’s Thaw was the time of relative liberalization in all arts, arguably enjoyed most by the workers of the literary arts. Many poets and writers heartily set out to purge Stalin’s ghost from literature, and a new kind of fiction, diverging from the canon of socialist realism, started to appear. This became possible partly due to Khrushchev’s policies of de-Stalinization and partly owing to the underground press, samizdat, that was evading the censorship and distributing controversial literary texts.
However, the 1960s did not see the analogue of samizdat in cinema, largely due to the specific nature of cinematic production and distribution that involves a lot of interdependencies at all stages. The cinema of the Thaw, more susceptible to state control and censorship, remained more conservative. Stalin’s ghost still ruled over the bureaucracy of the Soviet film industry, and this changed only with Mikhail Gorbachev’s ascendancy to power and the implementation of the policies of glasnost and perestroika.
One of the most energetic tendencies in cinema of the perestroika period was the film-makers’ desire to revisit, reconsider and reclaim the past, in particular Stalin’s years. The Stalinist era was always one of the highly mythologized themes of Soviet history and, by extension, art. Until perestroika, it was always required to treat this theme in a certain “mythological” way or avoid it altogether.
The myth began to be deconstructed soon after the famous Fifth Congress of the Union of Cinematographers (May 1986). Responding to the Party directives of glasnost and perestroika, the Filmmakers Union and Goskino underwent radical transformations in their administrative systems that resulted in power decentralization in the film industry, higher autonomy of the film-makers and the release of many films that were shelved in the previous decades due to the censorship. Film-makers from all over the Soviet Union were eager to fill in blank spots of history, and soon an impressive number of films, investigating dark spots of recent history and addressing current problems, always providing a cause and effect link between the two, saw the light.
Structurally, the series will be divided into three articles designated memory, fantasy and metaphor, each represented by the detailed analysis of one film and each discussing a particular filmic mode used to express historical memory. It will be attempted to look at the films under discussion from the three perspectives: the historical time portrayed, its representation in the film, and the historical context of the film itself. The series of articles will examine and compare the ways in which the films in question address the same historical period, as well as the ways that the contested period is shaped by film into coherent narratives.