Tag Archives: USSR

Soviet Comedy Movies

Soviet comedy movies are surprisingly awesome and funny. They also provide a window into a culture that was otherwise pretty cut-off from the west. A rather groomed and cultivated window, but still a window. And you can watch them on youtube, since they have no formal distribution in the west. This link contains a whole list of them; I will discuss a couple specific ones in this post.

The Diamond Arm (Russian: Бриллиантовая рука, Transliteration: brilliantovaya ruka) (number 6 on the playlist): A slapstick style comedy. Criminals conspire to smuggle jewels into Russia. The protagonist wins a vacation abroad, and due to a mix-up, unwittingly becomes a mule for the jewels.

The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! (Russian: Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!, Transliteration: Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom!) (Number 9 on the playlist): This is the “it’s a wonderful life” of Russia. They apparently play it all the time for New Year’s. A group of men go get very drunk at a bath house, before one of them flies out in the morning. They are still drunk in the morning, and accidentally put the wrong man on the plane. The man, who has been passed out, does not realize he is in the wrong city. He takes a cab to his street and building, and his key even opens the door, even though he is now in Leningrad, not Moscow. This is a spoof of the homogeneity of the Russian building style at the time. All the same street names, all the same buildings, even the same locks. The man gets a glimpse at how his life could be different.

The video below is a charming song from the movie called “esli u vas”. It’s an interesting study in Russian optimism. Basically, the lyrics of the song are about the things that can’t happen to you if you don’t expose yourself to them, but then you will have never experienced life. If you don’t have a dog, your neighbor can’t poison it (!), if you don’t have a house, you won’t fear house fires, if you don’t have friends, you won’t fight with them, etc. I couldn’t find a link with a nice translation.

 

Style: Soviet Propaganda Posters

The 20-40s really seem like it was a golden age for illustration. Color photos were not as vibrant as they are today, yet mass printing existed. Thus, beautiful and stylized portraits of life were used in advertising and propaganda (Alphonse Mucha did lovely art nouveau illustrations for advertisers since the late 1800s, I wrote about him here). Many of us have seen the posters created for the Great Depression and WW2 by artists such as Thomas Hart Benton.

When I visited the Czech Republic, Budapest and East Berlin, I was struck by their propaganda posters from the same period. There was such a contrast between the lovely illustrations and the content that we would likely find oppressive. It can be a window into history to understand how people chose (or were forced into) their path. For good collections of Czech or CSSR Propaganda, check out the Communist Musuem in Prague and Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. The featured image for this post is the poster for the Communist Museum; one of my souvenirs from Prague are some nesting dolls with this design.

To have more we must produce more (Wikipedia)

The Czech, Hungarian, and German posters seem hard to find, and I only know the languages a little (if anyone knows good sources, let me know!) I find the role of small countries in the early 20th century especially interesting since they are underrepresented. The countries of central Europe endured many of the worst hardships during the 20th century. There are many sources for Russian propaganda posters:

 

10 years since the revolution