“Of all the arts, for us the most important is cinema.”
Joseph Stalin was in power from April 1922 to March 1953. During his years as dictator of the Soviet Union, the arts, including cinema, suffered from the constraint and censorship that defined his time in power. During the time after the Great Patriotic War and through mostof the despotic years of the Stalin regime, Soviet cinema glorified the hero of the war film. Because Stalin often had the final say on whether a film was to be released, frequently the hero of the film bore a striking resemblance to him. After the death of the Great Leader, Nikita Khrushchev sought an urgent de-Stalinization of Soviet society, as he led the way for an increase of more personaland artistic freedoms. Soviet motion pictures could now enter Western film festivals and be released to an international audience. A new group of filmmakers began to make a different type of film during the Khrushchev years; with a noticeable emphasis placed on the personal stories of common people.
According to Wikipedia, the “Khrushchev’s “thaw” refers to the period from the mid 1950’s toearly 1960’s, when repression and censorship in the Soviet Union were partially reversed.” In his “secret speech” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s cult of personality and began to criticize Stalin’s reign of terror.” Stalin’s death, and the subsequent relaxation of freedoms under the Khrushchev leadership, allowed for a renewed growthin film production. According to Zorkai︠a︡ ‘s book, The Illustrated History of the Soviet Cinema, “The level of Soviet cinematographic output had never been so low, neither in 1919 nor in 1943; the years of fierce fighting in a war”. The waning years of Stalin’s rule were as devastating on Soviet society as they were on the motion picture industry. The most important of all the arts for theBolsheviks, according to Lenin, had come to a standstill. In his web article, “Russian Film: What Was and What is. Images: a Journal of Film and Popular Culture’”, David Gurevich mentions that towards the end of Stalin’s rule, only biographical and patriotic films were allowed to be released. Then came "the Thaw". According to Wikipedia, the term was coined by Ilya Ehrenburg, a prominent author and apopular journalist. An example of this is in the final scene of Grigory Chukhari’s, The Clear Sky (1961). In the film there is a scene that depicts ice beginning to melt as winter ends and springs begins, a very fitting representation for what was about to cinematically transpire.
There were many young filmmakers studying in the VGIK (All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography) in the 1950’seager to make films. Before the thaw, only those established directors who had applied the Communist Party ideology to their pictures were allowed to make the few films that were released at the turn of the decade. These new, younger filmmakers who came of age during this time wanted to shift the focus and themes of the motion pictures that preceded that thaw. A majority of these early thaw filmswere about World War II, but differed in the way the war was portrayed. No longer did films glorify the Red Army’s victory over the invading Germans, nor were they these war epics that deified its leader(s) like Mikhail Chiaureli’s three films about Stalin: The Vow (1946), The Fall of Berlin (1949) and 1951’s The Incredible 1919. These new war films were intimate, poetic films that focused on thedevastation of the Russian landscape, the human cost of the war and at the children affected by the war.
New filmmakers who came of age during the thaw, like Andrei Tarkovsky, were fortunate to have done so during this time. A lot of them grew up during the 1940’s, and had direct experiences of the devastation of war. During the more tolerant Khrushchev period, one of the results was the...