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SL7: Soviet and Russian Cinema

This course investigates the history of Soviet and Russian cinema from its beginnings in the early 20th century through the present : from early silent comedies and melodramas to the emergence of the avant-garde in the 1920s; from Stalinist blockbusters of the 1930s through the Soviet ‘New Wave’ of the 1960s; from the tumultuous changes of the glasnost’ era through the postmodern challenges of the present. The paper encourages students to explore the work of one or more directors in depth, but it also asks students to think comparatively about the evolution of filmmaking practices, genres and themes across historical periods and political changes. This course is open to students in both Part IB and Part II; it does not assume any prior study of film, but students are expected to read a wide range of critical, historical and theoretical texts (in both English and Russian) as essential context for the films under discussion.

Topics: 

1)  Revolutionary Film Culture: From Boulevard to Avant-Garde

This topic traces the emergence of Soviet avant-garde cinema from pre-revolutionary popular filmmaking in films by Evgenii Bauer (Grezy), Sergei Eisenstein (Stachka), Iakov Protazanov (Aelita), Lev Kuleshov (Prikliucheniia Mistera Vesta v strane Bol’shevikov), Vsevolod Pudovkin (Mat’), Grigorii Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg (Novyi Vavilon).

2)  From Silence to Sound: Sergei Eisenstein, Oleksandr Dovzhenko and Dziga Vertov

This module explores the work of the three major figures of the Soviet avant-garde, focusing on the ways in which each navigated the technological and political changes of the 1930s and 1940s.   Films will be analysed in the context of each director's theoretical writings and contemporary critical debates. Works to be studied  include Eisenstein’s Bronenosets Potemkin (1927) and Ivan Groznyi (1944-1946); Dovzhenko’s Zemlia (1930) and Ivan (1932);  Vertov’s Chelovek s kinoapparatom (1929) and  Tri pesni o Lenine (1932).

3) The Other Soviet Classics: Popular Cinema in the Stalin Era

This module examines the ways in which Soviet filmmakers sought to ‘catch up and overtake’ Hollywood  in the musicals, melodramas, romantic comedies and war films that were popular in the 1930s and 1940s.  Filmmakers to be discussed include Vasil’ev Brothers (Chapaev), Grigorii Aleksandrov (Tsirk, Volga-Volga), Ivan Pyr’ev (Traktoristy), Mikhail Romm (Lenin v oktiabre), Semen Timoshenko  (Nebesnyi tikhokhod), Mark Donskoi  (Nepokorennye) and Mikhail Chiaureli (Padenie Berlina)

4)  Soviet Cinema After Stalin:  Rewriting the Past, Confronting the Present

This module investigates the ways in which Soviet cinema rebelled against the thematic and stylistic constraints of the Stalin era in a range of extraordinary films released between 1957 and 1985.  Filmmakers to be discussed include  Mikhail Kalatozov (Letiat zhuravli), Marlen Khutsiev (Mne 20 let, Iul’skii dozhd), Sergei Bondarchuk (Sud’ba cheloveka), Larisa Shepitko (Kryl’ia), Grigorii Chukhrai (Ballada o soldate), Kira Muratova (Korotkie vstrechiDolgie provody) and Andrei Tarkovskii (Ivanovo detstvo, Andrei Rublev)

5)  Russian Cinema from Perestroika to the Present:

This module addresses the principal trends and figures in Russian filmmaking from the glasnost’ era through the present. Filmmakers to be discussed include Aleksei German (Moi drug Ivan Lapshin), Aleksei Balabanov (Brat, Gruz 200),  Andrei Zviagintsev (Vozvrashchenie, Leviafan),  Kira Muratova (Astenicheskii sindrom, Nastroishchik), Vasilii Sigarev (Volchok), Aleksandr Sokurov (Krug vtoroi, Telets) and Sergei Loban (Shapito-Shou).

The course is supported by a Moodle site, where students will find links to learning resources, recommended readings and online versions of some films. Students who intend to take the course may contact the course convenor to request early enrolment in the site over the summer.

Preparatory reading: 

The best preparation for this paper is to watch as many Russian and Soviet films as possible over the summer. Works by all the directors listed above are available on DVD from the MML library.  Many are also available on youtube.com in high quality copies that have been posted by the major Russian film studios.

Recommended summer reading:

Bordwell, David and Thompson, Kristin. Film Art:  An Introduction

Beumers, Birgit. A History of Russian Cinema.

Christie, Ian and Taylor, Richard (eds),  The Film Factory:  Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, 1896-1939. London and NY: Routledge, 1994.

Tsivian, Yuri.  Early Cinema in Russia and Its Cultural Reception

Widdis, Emma. Visions of a New Land: Soviet Film from the Revolution to the Second World War

Woll, Josephine.  Real Images: Soviet Cinema and the Thaw

Condee, Nancy. The Imperial Trace: Recent Russian Cinema

Full reading list

Please see SL7 Course Handbook for details.

Teaching and learning: 

Weekly lectures in Michaelmas and Lent;  weekly revision seminars in Easter; fortnightly supervisions (10 in the course of the year).

For the SL.7 Moodle site, please see here. The password can be collected from the paper coordinator.

Assessment: 

Students in Parts IB and II will be assessed by examination at the end of Easter Term. The written exam consists of two sections. Students will answer three questions, at least one from each section.  In Section A candidates are asked to discuss the works of a single director.  Questions are phrased so that they may be answered with reference to the works of many different directors studied in the course.  In Section B students are asked to compare the works of two or more directors with reference to a wide range of thematic, theoretical and historical questions. The course has been deliberately structured to enable students to pursue and develop their individual interests across genres, periods and theoretical questions. 

Students in Part IB may choose the long essay option in lieu of the written examination.

Students in Part II may present an optional dissertation in lieu of the written examination.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Emma Widdis
Dr Susan Larsen

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