Stalin was their drug: Tractor Drivers (1939)

eltopoI love the poster of the 1939 Soviet movie called Tractor Drivers (Трактористы), as it instantly makes me think of my all-time favourite Jodorowsky’s El Topo.

To get El Topo, you had to smoke weed. While watching Tractor Drivers, I had a feeling that all the actors had to take speed to keep in line with the director’s vision. In this worker’s paradise, everybody is aggressively happy and hyperactive, they plough the soil in ecstasy, feverishly exclaim instead of talking, laugh their heads off for no reason and all of a sudden burst into singing. Cinematic pathos was very characteristic for the Stalin era. Tractor Drivers is one of many films mythologising the everyday life of a collective farm (the so-called kolkhoz) and representing its hyper-idealised image on the screen.

Tractor Drivers shows us the cult of personality in its full bloom. Stalin is omnipresent: the leader looks down from the portraits, tractors are named after him and the film’s characters constantly praise him in songs. Have to admit that Khrushchev did a pretty nice job denouncing the cult of Stalin’s personality: in the 1960s the songs of Tractor Drivers were re-written and the film was re-dubbed, as well as every trace of Stalin was removed from the film by retouching. Take a look at the stills below – on the left they are from the original 1939 version of the film, on the right – from the 1960s edited version.

In kolkhoz chairman's office, the portrait of the leader is substituted by a portrait of some bearded guy

In kolkhoz chairman’s office, the portrait of the leader is substituted by a portrait of some bearded guy

 

The tractor "Stalinets" is left nameless

The tractor “Stalinets” is left nameless

In the final wedding scene the image is zoomed in, cutting off Stalin's portrait above the banqueters

In the final wedding scene the image is zoomed in, cutting off Stalin’s portrait above the banqueters

Tractor Drivers is a musical film. I simply love the fact that even the musical genre, always defined by escapism it offered to audiences, in the Soviet Union served propaganda purposes. If musical numbers in Hollywood musicals were usually just spectacular disruptions of storyline meant to entertain, in the Soviet musical they were ideological interludes, used to remind the viewer about his duties as a Soviet citizen. This crazy dance sequence, for instance, shows how relentless a Soviet worker is – after ploughing the soil all day, he is tripping it away like nothing happened:

In the Hollywood cinema of that time the girls were gold digging, ‘flapping’ and ‘showing’, and their ultimate desire nevertheless was to get happily married. Tractor Drivers offers us a new type of woman. The heroine Maryana Bazhan is an expert tractor driver and foreman of the brigade, who in her spare time dashingly rides a motorbike and beats off unwanted admirers. Highly masculinised in the beginning of the film, Maryana gradually acquires femininity and finally ends up married to the hero, but does it only after the tractor station authorities grant their approval.

The evolution of Maryana Bazhan

The evolution of Maryana Bazhan

All sorts of crazy things were happening in the 1990s, and a remake of Tractor Drivers happened. Tractor Drivers 2 (1992), directed by the notorious cinematic hooligans the Aleynikov brothers, is a trashy mix of surrealism, absurdism and parody on the “bright” Soviet past, which I definitely will have to talk about on the pages of this blog one day.

Some of the Tractor Driver 2 characters

Some of the Tractor Drivers 2 characters

6 Comments

  1. Masha_i_3_medveda

    great stuff! keep up the good work

    • Obskura

      Thanks a lot! We are really glad to hear that!

  2. Patrick

    Michael Moore used a clip from this in Sicko to illustrate how Americans perceived anything vaguely “socialist.” I found that clip hilarious and have been looking for more info on the subject. This was great!

    • Obskura

      Oh, did he? Have to check the film out for sure! Glad to know you’ve found the article useful. Thanks, Patrick!

  3. Just Ducky

    Hi! Interesting post–I’m curious to know if there are accessible links to both the original and revised films? Thanks.

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