To the East of Pixar : Russian and Soviet Animated Film

1. Introduction

Hélène Mélat.
International audience

2. Ladislav Starewitch: Talking about Cinema

Martin François.
Now that fifty out of the nearly one hundred films in Ladislas Starewitch’s filmography are available, now that recent exhibits of non-film materialfrom the collection Martin-Starewitch have been presented to thousands of people, in various parts of the world, at least, a new approach to Starewitch’s work, to his personal conception of cinema, his view of the world and imagination can be attempted. Now we can better understand his crucial place in cinema history and why various actual major directors refer to Starewitch as the master.Between his fantastic visions, realism and poetry, following the path of childhood and thanks to his prodigious ability in animating, his work is unique.

3. Comments on Space in Poste (1929) by Mikhaïl M. Tsekhanovsky (1889-1965)

Serge Verny.
The film Poste (1929) by M. Tsekhanovsky, illustrator and film director, based on a text by the poet Samuel Marchak, is an adaptation of the eponymous book conceived by the same two authors. The conjunction of this graphical universe with cinema is viewed in the artistic context of this period. Animation and montage reveal the dynamic unity of this poem in images. A registered letter written by a child pursues its recipient who has left on a voyage round the world. Space unfolds at several registers of representation, between the second and third dimensions, between the abstract and the figurative. Plastic and rhythmic composition play with typography and words themselves. The story progresses from the particular to the general to culminate in a hymn to the postmen of the whole world.

4. Agit-prop Animation and the Enchanted World of Modernity: Screening Samoyed Boy in the Northern Outskirts of the USSR

Caroline Damiens.
At the end of the 1920s in the Soviet Union, the animation fulfilledan agit-prop function, like other cinematographic genres. Adhering to the Sovietmovement for the cinematographic fact, animation rejected the illusion of “magic”and what the animators called the “cine-trick”. However, in its uses, the animatedfilm, as well as the entire cinematographic device, were also used for their power ofwonderment. Technology, of which cinema is one of the manifestations, was envisagedas a privileged instrument for modernization and the fight against the beliefs of thepast that the regime wished to eliminate. This study aims to show the Soviet culturalworkers were caught up in the magic dimension of cinema, particularly in the Siberiancontext where cinema is perceived as a substitute for the shamanic session, seen by theadministrators as a spectacle to compete with. Taking the screening of the animatedfilm Samoyed Boy (1928) to an indigenous audience as a case study, this paper replacesthe animation about the peoples of the North in its context of diffusion using variousarchival documents (press, publications, production archives) in order to question themodernizing dimension of cinema, both in its representations and in its apparatus.Ultimately, it shows that the “magic” of cinematographic projection is invested as theenchanted space of the Sovietization of the country.

5. Soyuzmultfilm: the Excellence in Service of Propaganda

Marion Poirson-Dechonne.
The Russian studios played a considerable part in animation. Which elementsallowed this success ? How did they reach the excellence ? How did they reconcile artisticfreedom with ideological pressure ? Soyuzmult Film benefited from considerable meansboth on the human and financial plan and developed a big variety of techniques.The productions of studios drew from immaterial heritage of Russia but aimed atuniversality to reach the widest public. The quality of the realizations which rested on the notion of author and style, the reflexivity and the intermediality, contributed in the success of Soyuzmultfilm. Nevertheless it is advisable to question this success, tohighlight the ambiguity of the model, which develops a propaganda sometimes visible,sometimes discreet, according to period. The omnipresence of the theme of the dreamappears as the symptom of a powerful censorship. A movie as 25th October, 1st day, ofYouri Norstein, could constitute the emblem of a censored propaganda.

6. The New Gulliver: Russian Mountains and Soviet Fantasmagoria

Pascal Vimenet.
The New Gulliver (1935), the first black and white Soviet animatedfeature film directed by Alexander Ptusko, has not been the subject of a specific studyso far. The following is contextual, biographical, as well as filmic analysis. It offers anew light on the route of Ptusko (1900-1973), especially on the 1920-1930 whichsees emerge his cinema. After having realized It Arrived at the Stadium (1928)and The Master of Everyday Life (1932), Ptusko took the lead of the section of theanimated film of the Sovkino studios become Moskinokombinat, then Mosfilm. Thepolitico-cultural context of the emergence of his feature film, 1927 and 1935, whichbrings together all the diversity of the Soviet avant-garde but sees the triumph of thedogma of socialist realism, is examined at length. Ptusko’s film seems receptive to theburlesque theories of the founders of the FEKS. The puppetisation of the characters inPtusko’s film, the symbolic games of scale, may have originated in this movement. Buthow could The New Gulliver, this « film-tale », have imposed itself in the politicalcontext and resist the realistic socialist sirens or divert certain codes? Ptusko choosesa philosophical tale doubled by a political pamphlet that authorizes him to link themarvelous to the political. An audacious adaptation of Swift, a Muscovite spectacular,The New Gulliver aims to compete, with its 1 500 puppets articulated, hundreds ofplastic figurines, their combination to the real shot and its 20 sets, with King […]

7. Andrei Khrzhanovskii’s The Glass Harmonica (1968). Dissent in new forms.

Laura Pontieri ; Hélène Mélat.
Andrei Khrzhanovskii began to study and work on animation inthe wake of the more tolerant, although contradictory, spirit that characterized theKhrushchev’s Thaw, during which a few animators began to experiment with newstyles and create films on topical issues addressed to an adult public. With The GlassHarmonica Khrzhanovskii ventured to present a harsh critique of the system in a stylethat clearly departed from the prevailing children-oriented Disney style adopted in thestudio Soiuzmul’tfil’m. By proposing a subtle message about the position of the artistin a totalitarian system and endorsing a manner that contrasted with the official andapproved style, Khrzhanovskii created a work of art that, despite its exceptional artisticvalue, could be hardly accepted by the authorities.

8. Materializing ideas: the thoughtful animation of Garri Bardine

Hélène Mélat.
Garri Bardine (born in 1941) is one of those rare directors of Russiananimated films of his generation who has remained very active, despite the financialconstraints that are particularly significant in this field. Already having twenty-fivefilms to his credit, he continues to create films that use the visual possibilities offered byall sorts of materials alongside a variety of musical realms to convey to the viewer ideas,which are dear to him. Themes of tolerance, the absurdity of war, life passing, socialsatire and an increasingly significant satire on post-Soviet society are realised thanks toa careful choice of techniques (at the start drawing, quickly abandoned, then modellingclay, puppets, use of string, miscellaneous objects etc.) and of music that sometimesdictates the rhythm of the work. In this way Bardine, a real all-rounder of animation,achieves films that reflect on the human condition.

9. Le cosmos comme terrain de jeu : l'espace dans l'animation soviétique et russe

Birgit Beumers ; Nina Sputnitskaya ; Hélène Mélat.
This article argues that, over the Soviet and into the post-Soviet era,outer space in animated films has turned from a new, unknown territory for conquestand exploration into an undesirable mirror of earth, from a utopia into a dystopia, aspace that is no longer desirable for habitation, inferring that it is earth itself whichhas become undesirable. Following the use of animation to create the effects necessaryfor a realistic representation of spaceflight (e.g. in the works of Aleksandr Ptushkoand Pavel Klushantsev), outer space served as a perfect alternative for the realisationof a socialist lifestyle. However, after the American landing on the moon a shift takesplace, which turns other planets into domestic and bourgeois little replica worlds, theequivalent of Soviet utopia under “developed socialism”. Colonization has less a politicalsignificance as one of finding alternative living spaces for families, with children and pets.Space travel is an experience and a test of maturity, where conquest no longer relevantand outer space is a playground for children and teenagers, providing domestic comfortand serving as a mirror reflection of earth with some technical attributes, whilst alwaysmaintaining a link with earth, which remains at the centre of the universe. In the newmillennium animated remakes and sequels show the infantilization of cosmic exploits(in the figure of Neznaika, or Dunno), portraying teenagers as rebellious hipsters, whileKu! Kin-Dza-Dza portrays the other […]

10. Baba Yaga’s Construstion and Evolution of a Myth in Russian Animation

Lauren Dehgan.
Disney’s animation is accused of “americanizing” occidental folklore, butdoes soviet animation “sovietize” figure of the witch Baba Yaga? Far from the agitproppropaganda, the witch nevertheless serves the interests of the Party in an indirectmanner by shaping a feeling of national belonging. Supposedly “intemporal”, Russianfolklore is a construction related to the unaccomplished quest of a defined Russianidentity. Baba Yaga is a notable figure of a mythical past who keeps inscribing the national image in the tradition while she continues to evolve. The typical problem of anational soviet art defined by “being not” while not managing to define itself reachesits apex in the animated representations of Baba Yaga. The national symbol of thisfairy tale witch thus expresses the societal changes that Russia went through during thexxth century. From decade to decade, Baba Yaga evolves and becomes more modern.When she is animated, however, she preserves her visual identity with the repetition oficonic elements from movie to movie and remains identifiable at first sight no matterwhat technique is used. Crossing the xxth century without a wrinkle, Baba Yaga is oneof the pictures of the Russian folklore threatened to be occidentalized. Now a resilientfigure in feature-length movies that try to compete with American animated movies byimitating their processes while keeping a familiar national folklore, Baba Yaga subsistsas an essential point of reference in the history of soviet […]

11. Poietic Scenarios and Narrative Process in the Films of Yuri Norstein, a Dialectic of Invention

Patrick BARRES.
with his poietic and aesthetic inventions, Yuri Norstein is part of theexperimental movement of Russian Animation, which was developed in the 1960s andbroke away from a classic tradition of drawing on celluloid. In his films, he developsnew forms of narration, articulated with plastic experiments and poietic scenariosintegrated into the studio and in the middle of workshop projects. The narrativepatterns of invention are from “materialogical” trials, chromatic and textural opacities,fragmented scenographies and camera angle perspectives stretched between fluidityand twitching, all of which are characteristics of his experimental film-making. A new aesthetic emerges, qualified by the artistic filmmaker as a “small cliché”. The expression was formulated in the workshop around the exposure of celluloid to the “plasma amber”light source. It summons to mind, liquid and textile metaphors that emphasize thematerialistic and “crumpled” characters of celluloid and enhance the tactile feeling ofthe image and opens up to the “materialogical” developments that are ubiquitous inhis films and involved in the narrative process like fog, snowfall, flocks of leaves andrain curtains. This aesthetic allows the filmmaker to return to “the core of things” andto articulate from there in the different fictional territories. He spins a fantastic yarnof escapades into the developing narrative and finally renews the creative process ofinvention in phantasmagoria.

12. Seeing the Fog from Inside: Poetics of the Matter and the Tale in Yuri Norstein’s The Hedgefog in the Fog

Sophie Lécole Solnychkine.
we could define the cinema of Yuri Norstein as characterized by the change of status in the forms and textures materializing on the screen the elements of the story. According to these transformations, the narration – understood in the classical sense – seems to split in its films: it then designates not only the sequence of actions that compose the story of the film, but also the history of the successive plastic alterations constitutingthe flesh of the image and building photogram after photogram what one could describe as scenario-matter (by distinction of the scenario-narration).

13. Extraits de La Neige sur l'herbe de Youri Norstein

Eugénie Zvonkine ; Anne-Marie Passaret ; Youri Norstein.
the excerpts translated from Yuri Norstein’s Snow on Grass [Sneg andtrave] describe the artistic process of the filmmaker through his theories and throughhis influences (paintings, narratives, autobiography). They disclose the concrete ways inwhich he stages and films. The reader thus gains a deeper understanding of Norstein’soeuvre, which plays an essential part in Soviet and Russian animation.

14. The Urals School of Animation: Heroes, Motifs, Tales

Hélène Mélat ; Lilia Nemtchenko.
The town of Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk during the Soviet period) in theUrals is the third centre for animation in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg. Thearticle focuses on the work of the directors who have made the reputation of the Schoolof Animation of the Urals. The history of the Urals school of animation is dividedinto three stages: the first generation, that of the founders, which laid the foundationof animation at Sverdlovsk with a classic yet imaginative poetry and aesthetic; asecond generation, trained by the great masters of experimentation Yuri Norstein, Fedor Khitruk, Eduard Nazarov and Andrei Khrjanovski, for which animation is the basis for all investigations – of material, senses, production –; and finally the directorsborn in the 1960s, the heirs of the preceding generation, who continue and diversify theinvestigations of their elders and pursue new directions of artistic expression.

15. Le Rêve d'un homme ridicule (Fedor Dostoïevski, 1877) adapté par Aleksandr Petrov (1992) : quand l'adaptation devient extrapolation poétique

Jasmine Jacq.
it was in 1992 that Aleksandr Petrov, a budding star in Russian animated film, directed The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, based on Dostoevsky’s short story of the same name, first published in 1877. Choosing this extremely complex work, which engages with all Dostoevsky’s views on religion, seemed to correspond to some deep inner need on the part of the filmmaker. The resulting work, a 20-minute short, is an extremely powerful narrative that testifies to the striking and almost uncanny affinity that exists between Dostoevsky & Petrov – a true meeting of minds. On the one hand Petrov throws himself into condensing and redeploying the original text, using various evocative means (such as noise, music, rhythm & colour) imbued with Dostoevsky’s narrative world. But above all it’s the element of fantasy and the central presence of the dream in the text that stands out, providing an ideal subject matter for a filmaker deeply inspired by the notions of slipping (from one reality to another), passages and metamorphoses.

16. The Suzdal Festival Yesterday and Today

Dina Goder ; Anne-Marie Passaret.
this article presents the most important festival of animation inRussia, the open animation festival of Suzdal. Created in 1996 on the initiative ofAleksandr Tatarsky, it allows the animated film community to meet up and to discovernew names. The public can watch the whole production of Russia and Belorussia from the preceding year, whether in the context of the competition or of the videotheque,where one can find all the films in every genre from advertising clips to feature length.A jury of professionals will award prizes which are prestigious for the recipients.These gatherings have, over the course of time, seen a succession of the best Russianand Belorussian animation directors, and they are very important for professionalrecognition, as well as for the cohesiveness of the world of animation.