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Bethany Davis Noll

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Films of the Soviet Sixties

Soviet Sixties" sounds like an oxymoron: Brezhnev in lovebeads. But Russia experienced a period of cultural ferment analogous in certain ways to the transformations that roiled America in the Age of Aquarius. The Soviet Sixties began earlier than the American version and ended sooner, though equally abruptly.

Change was set in motion by Stalin's death in 1953 and Khrushchev's famous denunciation of the "cult of personality" at the Twentieth Communist Party Congress in 1956. What followed was a period known as "the Thaw." While artists and thinkers were still subject to a grab bag of ideological constraints, there was an explosion of long-suppressed freedom in all of the arts. These were the years in which the charismatic poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko declaimed his verses to enormous audiences, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's landmark novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was published.

The Soviet film industry was also revitalized during this period. While the works of Yevtushenko, Solzhenitsyn, and other leading writers of the Thaw were widely read in the United States, few Americans are acquainted with the films of that era. "Soviet Sixties," a traveling show that played recently at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, has introduced some of the best of these movies to an American audience.

After Stalin's death in 1953, the first efforts to escape the constraints of socialist realism mimicked documentaries, seeking an authenticity that most Soviet-era films lacked. In these pseudo-documentaries, filmmakers rejected color—which had become synonymous with ideologically perfect socialist realism—and consciously chose black-and-white instead. By the Sixties, black-and-white had become a less politically laden choice. As Josephine Woll observes, "directors [in the 1960s] embraced black-and-white not in order to represent reality truthfully, as their predecessors had done ten years earlier, but to generate their own singular vision and version of it."1 This singular vision became ...

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