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Alexander Sedov
Some Thoughts about Soviet Animation / Мысли о советской мультипликации 
16th-Dec-2009 05:15 am
Алек Morse

Должен извинится за то, что не будет перевода на русский - текст сочинял на английском, дабы, не торопясь сформулировать мысли и подобрать слова. Первоначально это задумывалось как небольшая ремарка в чужом англоязычном блоге. Но почему-то требовались всё новые и новые пояснения и, в итоге, получилось нечто вроде обзора.
Посколько ответ предназначался человеку из другой страны, другого происхождения и культуры (английскому анимационному критику Йену Лумсдену), то для "нашего брата", подумал я, здесь открытий, пожалуй, не будет (да и, наверное, для "ненашего" тоже). Если в двух словах - я попытался коротко обрисовать ситуацию вокруг советской мультипликации во второй половине ХХ века (такая вот задача). Речь в основном о взаимосвязях "мэйнстрима" и "эксперимента". Повторюсь, всё очень бегло и общо, - но если будут настоятельные просьбы о переводе на русский, может, и сделаю (хотя, сейчас голова занята работой над другими текстами).

Alice in Wonderland, 1981

Some Thoughts about Soviet Animation

author: Alexander SEDOV (c), December, 2009

a free response on Ian Lumsden’s review of Tatiana Mititello’s animation “The Apple Cake”

Reviewing Russian animation “The Apple Cake”, Ian LUMSDEN (UK animation critic) wrote:

I could understand if the movie were made in the 1960s when that sort of thing was allegedly de rigeur. In fact it is from the great Soyuzmultfilm Studio and made in 1991 which goes to show I guess that glasnost had much to answer for in the Soviet era. No wonder there was dissolution of the empire although in fairness everything is harmonious on the floating pie”.


Firstly, I’d like to thank to Ian Lumsden for an interesting review (and recommend his Animation Blog to everyone, who is interested in the cartoons films) and as well for a capability given me by the author translating it into Russian – that I did earlier. I have to confess the above mentioned quote forced me (as I have just read the text) to seriously reflect upon. Because my response outgrown the size of a reply, I have decided to post the text here, in my LJ blog.

Honestly, I don’t see the connection between Tatiana Mititello’s animation “The Apple Cake” and dissolution of Soviet Empire. What might a parallel be here? As I know in USSR long before this film there were done a lot of short animations having so much creative, “improvisation spirit” and unusual artsy forms as well (anyway, on my eye – born in Soviet Union).

Yes, this animated film was filmed in 1991.

In such sense, the only obvious sign/concession of much art freedom for The Apple Cake (more freedom than earlier) is the soundtrack by Sergei Kurekhin (Сергей Курёхин) – in end of 1980s he was a very popular, genius underground jazz composer and multi musical performer. As I guess, the sound is record on normal speed – just Kurekhin liked a demonstrating his brilliant piano technique.

Recently I have come across a reply by (seems) a student of US university, who is confused by Soviet 1981 animation “Alice in Wonderland”, precisely, by surrealism of the film and a fact that is done in Communist state at all (http://eurokulture.missouri.edu/?p=1342 ). /see aniamtion/

I have to say such replies (they are many ones in Internet) confuse me not less than a Western viewer is amazed by an availability of artsy/psychedelic/surrealism animations produced on Soviet studios. I see that here is some fundamental incomprehension /vagueness. Because all my childhood fell on Soviet era, so, I’m a true eyewitness of Soviet animation mainstream shown on Soviet TV (and not only mainstream).

Although Communist government was dull (that is partially true), it didn’t forgotten to give significant subsidies on animation industry that to be creative/free art/individual style/ psychedelic/surrealism/etc (anyway, in big part of common number). I say about a situation of 1960-1980s mostly. Some ideological agendas were an extremely little. Generally, they were cartoons for children, as a rule, the tales, modern-day humour plots – very heart-felt and some moral (in traditional meaning). On one hand, the Soviet animation theory was based on slightly didactic education science (it is need to remember that Communist project was initially thought up as version of Enlighten Project in Russia of XX century). On another hand, the animators had always a strong tie with the visual arts tradition (many had academic art education), including Russian Vanguard, which was formally as if banned in USSR. But after 1960s Liberalisation (even in era of Stagnation since 1970 to 1985), the animators got an unofficial free to experiment with a visual form and narrative structure.

Animation was likely most free visual art in Soviet Union, because it was formally “frivolous business, especially for children”, and here people of different professions (different tastes, views, ways as well) – artists, writes, actors, composers etc – formed groups. Of course, the artists of painting genre officially had not such degree of creative freedom, and art design had not a commercial market – they were too close to the commissioning on public (ideological) design: posters, billboards, mosaic works on communistic theme (indeed, there were neutral themes too).

Of course, the animation directors were often forced to resist and to act slyly with the conservative studios’ juries. I think, on present-day view, it is difficult to mark where “art recommendations” by the studio jury ended and “ideological censorship” began. In practice, a lot of successful cartoons (not every, indeed) were a mix /synthesis of new /unusual form with a clear strong story. So, you shouldn’t be confused with if you are seeing a fun childhood story, where are interspersed motifs of Mark Shagal or Filonov (instance, animation about a very absentminded man)./see animation/
Вот какой рассеянный, dir. Marianna Novogrudskaya

An Absentminded Man

I have to say that being a little boy, in own imagination I didn’t separate the “experimental” animations from the “traditional/classic mainstream” – and now I see that it’s impossible regarding to a big share (because “creative synthesis”). My separation was (and is) on interesting or boring ones. I think one of most brilliant “synthesis” works is “Vinnie Pooh” series by Fedor Khitruk (Soyuzmultfilm studio, 1969-1972) /see animation/

– it is enough to compare with “Vinnie Pooh” series produced by Walt Disney Company. Another case is earlier mentioned series “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice through the looking glass” (1981 and 1982, Kievnauchfilm studio, Ukraine)
Alice throught Mirror, 1982

– here a literal material itself dictated a bit absurdist style slightly resembling Monty Python’s graphics and gags. It is a mainstream as well (anyway, it became spread popular) – you may compare with Walt Disney’s analogue again.

Nevertheless, Soviet animation studios produced the cartoons of a good genre and theme diversity. If you see compare, for example, Soyuzmultfilm studio’s diversity with the Walt Disney’s studio one (say, in period between 1965 and 1990), you can come to own conclusion regarding a studio’s policy. I highly recommend the MacFadyen’s The Yellow Crocodile and Blue Oranges book telling about post-WWII Soviet animation industry.

review on the book


btw, you may read a part of the book in Google library (public domain)

16th-Dec-2009 12:43 am (UTC)
very interesting! i love Russian animations as you know, though i am surprised by how many there seem to be!

That the cartoons come from Russia is not an issue fr me, it is more the wholehearted investment in the medium, after all in Western countries there is no equivalent during the era, for example Walt Disney studios was at its lowest ebb in the early 1980s and here in the UK televison cartoons were on the wane until Nick Parks brought new popularity.

i wonder if the comment you quote comes from someone unaware of the US Intelligence backing given to apparently radical work by Pollock and de Kooning.

and perhaps confusion arises from being aware of the brilliant CCCP design work of the 'red wedge' period compared to later more stolid 'tractor art' of the 50s and so on.
16th-Dec-2009 12:46 am (UTC)
and of course, though the art style for Alice may be labeled (unhelpfully perhaps)'psychedelic', the dark haired figure of Alice is more akin to Lewis Carroll's own version - a version much less well known internationally than the blonde girl from Tenniel.
16th-Dec-2009 01:01 am (UTC) - stereotype image/portrait of a hero
By the way, it is an interesting question - should do a filmmaker ignore the stereotype image/portrait of a hero or no? use it? what the degree in?
The first artist-illustrators made a serious problem for film industry. Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, Vinnie Pooh... how should do the filmmakers/animators?

16th-Dec-2009 01:12 am (UTC) - Re: stereotype image/portrait of a hero
i think it depends, a truly gifted director.writer/actor could probably boldly reinterpret anything from macbeth to dr who from james bond to king arthur...

but such visionaries are few and far between.

so i would always say a balance, between the letter of a thing and the spirit. i have just said as much regarding the new Sherlock Holmes film in America - it appears to lack a directorial vision, or love of the Holmesian spirit OR to the original text. Not good. So for example, Without a Clue although in some ways a comedy and parody is full of love for its subject and is made with intelligence.

Being too reverential can be as bad as paying no attention at all. Another example perhaps - Tarkovsky's Solaris is not Lem's Solaris but exists as a work of great wonder on its own - but without treating the source with disrespect. Kurasawa and Shakespeare another example.
16th-Dec-2009 01:22 am (UTC) - Re: stereotype image/portrait of a hero
// ...it appears to lack a directorial vision, or love of the Holmesian spirit OR to the original text. Not good. So for example, Without a Clue although in some ways a comedy and parody is full of love for its subject and is made with intelligence. //

I absolutely agree :)
Though new American Sherlock Holmes, seems, has sense of humour and an element of self-irony (if believe to promo), the actors are quite nice. But when I hear from their that they DO the film as more closely to spirit of Conan Doyle story, I'm wondering whome they want to deceive.

yes, "Without a Clue" is good conception. The filmmakers acted in gentleman style, I think.
16th-Dec-2009 01:35 am (UTC) - Re: stereotype image/portrait of a hero
another example is the appropriation of characters, alan moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is very fine.
16th-Dec-2009 01:42 am (UTC) - stereotype image and Sherlock Holmes
true, I begin getting tired from very action of Sherlocks Holmeses. I'd like to see new intellectual movie ;)
16th-Dec-2009 01:46 am (UTC) - Re: stereotype image and Sherlock Holmes
perhaps you could write one*?!:))

has the new Russian Holmes series begun filming yet???

*or Pastor Brown!!!:))
16th-Dec-2009 02:03 am (UTC) - Re: stereotype image and Sherlock Holmes
I very hope that economic crisis closed new Russian SH. H. project (anyway, in the way that I read about).
I did nothing hear about it a long ago.

Actually, it would be better to try Pastor Brown adaptation :)
16th-Dec-2009 01:37 am (UTC) - Re: stereotype image/portrait of a hero
// Being too reverential can be as bad as paying no attention at all. Another example perhaps - Tarkovsky's Solaris is not Lem's Solaris but exists as a work of great wonder on its own //

the close case with Tarkovsky' Stalker - it is not the same as Strugarsky Brothers' novel. Though, this World means so many possibilities, nuances that is no a conflict betwenn Tarkovsky's movie and the novel. (if a case of taste, maybe?)

I think something like it in case of The Solaris.
16th-Dec-2009 01:39 am (UTC) - Re: stereotype image/portrait of a hero
absolutely, i agree! but Tarkovsky... such a genuine artist, such remarkable work... well, such a thing is rare.
16th-Dec-2009 01:43 am (UTC) - the close case with Tarkovsky' Stalker -
16th-Dec-2009 01:49 am (UTC) - Re: the close case with Tarkovsky' Stalker -
and of course i look forward to reading more books by the Strugarsky Brothers :))
16th-Dec-2009 02:04 am (UTC) - Re: the close case with Tarkovsky' Stalker -
I have replied there :)
16th-Dec-2009 02:09 am (UTC) - Re: the close case with Tarkovsky' Stalker -
16th-Dec-2009 01:14 am (UTC) - Vinnie Pooh
thank you very much for the words

I read somewhere that when a Russian animator Fedor Khitruk came to Walt Disney (in 1970s or 1980s??) and showed him Soviet version of Vinnie Pooh, Disney congratulated his and said almost word Dr. Watson ("It is interesting as an experiment, but what is the practice using?")

"It is very interesting art experiment, but my studio is commercial and cannot allow itself something like it".

Really, Khitruk did only three episodes during three years, and after came to another project. As he said: "my intereset was exhausted. In "Vinnie Pooh" I archieved all art and technical purposes".
16th-Dec-2009 01:35 am (UTC) - Re: Vinnie Pooh
what a fascinating story!
16th-Dec-2009 01:27 am (UTC)
On another hand, Disney's Vinnie Pooh is liked me too.

// and perhaps confusion arises from being aware of the brilliant CCCP design work of the 'red wedge' //

yes, Vanguard in animation,
agenda as an Art in moving picture
16th-Dec-2009 01:37 am (UTC)
yes, and such art from (former) Soviet Union was popular in the West also - and of long lasting influence, even today :))
16th-Dec-2009 09:36 am (UTC) - Upsetting the Apple Cake
Hello Alexander,
Thank you for your interest in my post regarding The Apple Cake. First let me commend you on a most lively debate; I am envious indeed. You referred to my post concerning glasnost and Soyuzmultfilm Studio. To be honest it was a throwaway line ironically poking fun at the prevailing view in the West at least that the liberalisation of the Russia state and beyond was unalloyed good. What I meant was that the communist state supported a magnificent animation studio whose work I have been at pains to feature on the Animation Blog. That work is sometimes unappreciated outside what used to be soviet block countries.

Much of this animation is surprisingly critical of the status quo, subversive even. In the film in question, I was pointing to a spirit of freedom readers of the blog might be surprised at given what they believed was the situation behind the Iron Curtain. I accept that the precise links with glasnost, film and date might be spurious. In my defence I can only point to the lack of time I have to fully research a subject. Daily blogs have dangers!

Your information concerning Sergei Kurekhin is most illuminating.

Wytchcroft wondered whether I was "someone unaware of the US Intelligence backing given to apparently radical work by Pollock and de Kooning." I was not but surely will acquaint myself of the facts.

Your comment on my blog compelled me to join this marvellous livejournal.
(Deleted comment)
12th-Jan-2010 02:13 am (UTC)
I think I'm going to check out MacFadyen's book. My university library has it.
12th-Jan-2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
it's great :)
if the Russian translation would exist yet!
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