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A People Passing Rude

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Anthony Cross

21. The British Reception of Russian Film 1960-1990: The Role of Sight and Sound

Julian Graffy

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1Film is now well established in British universities as a medium for the study of Russian and Soviet culture and society—but this is a development of the last two decades. Twenty years ago, the study of Russian film in the way and on the scale in which it is practised now was unthinkable, for several reasons, not least of which was the almost total inaccessibility of the primary materials, a problem which our colleagues teaching literature (or we in our role as teachers of literature) did not encounter. The situation was no different in the USA. Here is how a leading American scholar of Russian and Soviet film, Vladimir Padunov, recently began his contribution to the eightieth anniversary edition of the Russian film journal Iskusstvo kino:

  • 1 Vladimir Padunov, ‘Kak my otkryvali rossiiskoe kino’, Iskusstvo kino, IV (2011), pp. 48-50 (p. 48)

Right up until the last decade of the twentieth century, Russian cinema of the Soviet period remained in fact terra incognita both for Western researchers and film scholars and for Slavists, whose research into Russian culture was logocentric to the same degree that that culture identified itself with the literary word. With the exception of a few directors who had become legendary figures (especially, of course, this means Sergei Eisenstein and Andrei Tarkovsky) [...] Russian Soviet cinema remained at this point for American film scholars an ‘unnoticed elephant’. It was not studied in film faculties, not included in special educational programmes and monographs on questions of ‘national cinemas’, not mentioned in discussions or in any theoretical works. Unlike for example, French cinema, and also Italian, German, Japanese and Indian cinema, Russian cinema was a ‘blank space’ (beloe piatno) and it seemed as if there was nothing to say about it.1

2Padunov does go on to make minor equivocations but he does not deviate substantially from this initial position.

3In terms of the British reception and discussion of Russian film many factors came together about twenty years ago. In the first place, Russian films became purchasable for the first time as the enterprising Hendring company released about twenty classic films on video (before that they could only be hired on film from the British Film Institute (BFI) or other distributors, or seen at the occasional enterprising season at the National Film Theatre). Though the quality of these tapes now seems dire, I well remember the excitement with which they were greeted at the time. At the same time a number of key studies of Russian film appeared, books which have remained seminal texts to this day. Pre-eminent among them is The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents 1896-1939, edited by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie (London, 1988). And coincidentally with these technological and scholarly developments, the Soviet Union was undergoing major changes, culminating in its demise in 1991. A key role in the cultural ferment was played by the Union of Film Makers of the USSR, of which the now legendary Fifth Congress, which took place in May 1986, is considered to be the first major sign of change in the state organisation of Soviet culture.

4For these reasons 1991 can be seen as a turning point, a new stage both in the functioning of the Soviet/Russian film industry and in its British reception. But how did that reception function before that? What was the situation like ‘before the beginning’? In order to offer some evidence towards an answer to that question I turn to the British film journal Sight and Sound. First published in 1932, it has, from 1934, appeared under the auspices of the British Film Institute. As the most widely read serious film magazine for a broad, non-academic audience, it has been instrumental in informing and shaping popular taste. Coincidentally, Sight and Sound underwent its own perestroika in 1991, changing from a quarterly publication, which it had been for most of its existence, to a monthly—the last quarterly edition is that for Winter 1990-1 and the first monthly one appeared in May 1991. It also gained a new editor, Philip Dodd, to replace Penelope Houston, who had been in post since 1956. For all these reasons, technological, political and cultural-receptive, 1990 seems a useful point to end my survey, and I have chosen to look at the issues of the magazine over the previous 30 years, starting in 1960, in order to cover a period which contains historical changes from Khrushchevian Thaw to Brezhnevite Stagnation to Gorbachevian Glasnost’, changes which are reflected in developments in Soviet cinema. Looking at 30 years of issues of the journal I shall attempt to shed light on the following questions: How much attention did the magazine give to Soviet cinema? Was it terra incognita? What films, directors and other phenomena were written about? Who were the articles’ authors and what was the nature of their knowledge of Soviet film? To what extent did the magazine’s coverage reflect or influence the broader reception of Soviet film in the West? To what extent, from the context of the present day, did the magazine’s coverage adequately reflect developments in Soviet film? Are there developments in the Soviet film industry on which it did not report at all? Are there key individuals whose careers it does not consider? Have approaches to the study of the Soviet cinema of this period changed in substantial ways?

Some Figures

  • 2 For further evidence of British attention to Soviet culture during the 1960s and 1970s, see Verity (...)

5I have looked at 121 issues of the journal—those from Winter 1960-1 to Winter 1990-1 inclusive. In these issues I have logged 89 items of various kinds on Russian and Soviet cinema, a high total exceeded only, in my estimation, by the coverage of British, American and French film, with Italian and German probably at a slightly lower level. Throughout the period I have observed, then, Sight and Sound was looking at Soviet film and reporting on it to its viewers.2 If we look at the spread of these publications by period, we might expect to see them bunching at the beginning, to reflect the particular vivacity of Soviet cinema during the late Thaw, and at the end, to reflect a similar development under Glasnost’. In fact we find 21 publications in the 1960s, a further 20 in the 1970s and 43 (more than the previous two decades combined) in the slightly longer period spanning 1980 to winter 1990-1. Sustained interest in Russian and Soviet film is established slightly before the Soviet film industry enters its period of change, at the end of 1982, and from then on to the end of our survey period only 7 of 33 issues have no material on Russian subjects at all. The doubling of interest during this decade can be explained, I think, more by developments in the British reception of film in general and the greater ambition and reach of the serious British film press than by a prophetic anticipation of the changes in the Soviet Union. But once those changes were underway, Sight and Sound’s interest was acute and constant.

Who Were the Authors?

6If we look at the affiliations of the magazine’s writers, then we can note that the most frequent contributors to the magazine are either film reviewers for the British broadsheets or employees of the British Film Institute. In the former category pride of place is taken by David Robinson, the author of fourteen contributions on early Russian and Soviet cinema spanning the entire period under consideration. Robinson, for many years the lead film reviewer for The Times, took a particular interest in Eisenstein and early Soviet film, reflected here in five reviews of books about early Soviet cinema and a comparative study of the two versions of Eisenstein’s banned film Bezhin Meadow. But he also reported three times in the 1960s from the Moscow Film Festival and was instrumental in the showing in Britain of the films of Evgenii Bauer and other pre-revolutionary directors, a fact reflected in a pioneering article in the winter 1989-90 issue, ‘Evgenii Bauer and the Cinema of Nikolai II’, and an article about the leading historian and theorist of Pre-Revolutionary Russian film, Iurii Tsivian, in the following issue. Among other leading British film critics to contribute to the magazine on Russian film are Richard Roud of the Guardian, Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times and Tom Milne of the Observer.

7Of the BFI’s own employees, there are six contributions by John Gillett, whose generous curiosity about Russian and Soviet film resulted in several research trips to the Soviet Union—he reports on three Moscow Film Festivals—and in the organisation of pioneering seasons of Russian film at the National Film Theatre— he reports on the Boris Barnet season he helped organise in 1980. Beginning in 1983 there are 5 contributions by Ian Christie, who continues to write illuminatingly for the paper about Russian film to this day. At the time he was employed at the BFI, for whom he organised some wonderful seasons of Russian films, and in recent years he has been Professor of Film at Birkbeck College, University of London. His key contribution to the study of Russian film must be his editing, with Richard Taylor, of The Film Factory. Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, mentioned above, whose importance was immediately recognised in a review by David Robinson in the spring 1988 issue of the magazine.

8The people mentioned above were not Russian speakers or primarily students of Russian culture. The journal did, however, also publish materials by Russians, and by people who had themselves participated in the Russian cinematic process. Ivor Montagu initiated the Film Society in London in 1925 and showed key films of the Soviet avant-garde there in the following years. In 1930 he visited New York and Hollywood with Eisenstein (David Robinson reviews Montagu’s book, With Eisenstein in Hollywood in the Spring 1969 issue). Montagu himself writes three times for Sight and Sound between 1970 and 1975: a review of the book Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair. The Making and Unmaking of Que Viva Mexico; the magazine’s first article about Andrei Tarkovskii (on whom more later); and ‘When We Were Very Young’, a piece remembering the revolutionary cinematic avant-garde. Another legendary figure for students of Russian film is Jay Leyda, who had worked with Eisenstein on the doomed Bezhin Meadow and who wrote Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Cinema, (London, 1960 and later editions). Leyda published a piece in the Winter 1961-2 issue, ‘The Care of the Past’, in which he reports on an archive exhibition at the Moscow Film Festival, and on his discoveries in TsGALI and Gosfil’mofond—this is of particular interest to those of us walking in his footsteps fifty years later. A third person with a direct connection to the history of Soviet film is Herbert Marshall, the translator and author of studies of Maiakovskii and Eisenstein. He famously took up the case of the imprisoned Georgian-Armenian director Sergei Paradzhanov in the 1970s, and he published an influential piece about him in the winter 1974—5 issue, the first time Sight and Sound had written about him.

9Sometimes, too, the magazine turned to Russian contributors, translating Sergei Iutkevich’s study of Grigorii Kozintsev’s King Lear and publishing an extract from Kozintsev’s memoirs. It turned to the ‘zheleznaia zhenshchina’ (iron lady) Moura Budberg, famous for her relationships with Sir Robert Hamilton Bruce Lockhart, H.G. Wells and Maksim Gor’kii, in autumn 1963 for an appreciation of a book of Eisenstein’s drawings. It then turned to Soviet citizens of a new generation at the end of the 1980s, to Andrei Plakhov, now one of the leading film critics in Russia, with a worldwide reputation in film studies, in 1988 for a survey of the new Russian cinema, and to the Ukrainian director Leonid Alekseychuk for an obituary of Paradzhanov in the last issue under scrutiny here.

What Kinds of Publication?

  • 3 J. Imeson, ‘Moskva slezam ne verit’, Monthly Film Bulletin, no. 572 (September 1981), pp. 180-1. M (...)

10If we divide the 89 publications by type, then we find 10 book reviews and 5 reviews of films. Of the book reviews, 8 are concerned with the work of Eisenstein, Kuleshov, Dovzhenko, Kozintsev and the avant-garde in general, while the other 2, from the end of the period under review, are about two of the earliest books on Tarkovskii, by Mark Le Fanu and Maiia Turovskaia. Sight and Sound does not publish many reviews of books, and 7 of the 10 reviews mentioned here had appeared by 1979. The reason for the paucity of film reviews is that the British Film Institute also published separately, until the re-organisation of 1991, the Monthly Film Bulletin, which reviewed all new films. Sight and Sound reviewed only the best of the new releases, around half a dozen films in each quarterly issue. The five films considered worthy of this accolade during this period were, in chronological order, Iosif Kheifits’s The Lady with The Little Dog in 1962; Kozintsev’s Hamlet, in summer 1964; Mikhail Romm’s Nine Days of One Year, in the same issue (the most unpredictable of the films to be reviewed); Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace in spring 1969; and, the fourth of 5 literary adaptations, Kozintsev’s King Lear in 1972. Among the films which got a British release but were disdained by Sight and Sound and left to the attention of the Monthly Film Bulletin is Vladimir Men’shov’s Moscow Does not Believe in Tears, an omission which is revealing about the journal’s understanding of film culture and its failure to see outstanding merit in popular melodrama.3

Studies of Individual Directors

11This auteurist bent, shared with such other leading journals of the period as Cahiers du Cinéma (where it formally originated), and still adhered to in some measure in the journal to this day, is also strikingly evident in the number of publications devoted to individual directors. It is also consistent with the magazine’s sustained attention to other giants of European cinema of the period, Antonioni and Fellini, Pasolini and Bertolucci, Godard and Truffaut, Fassbinder and Wajda. A total of 48 publications fall into this rubric, of which 10 are devoted to Eisenstein and no fewer than 16 to Tarkovskii, making these two directors the journal’s absolute favourites, which is consistent with the remarks of Vladimir Padunov quoted at the start of this piece.

12The Eisenstein pieces include 5 book reviews, an autobiographical fragment about colour in film, the publication of 2 letters from Upton Sinclair and the study of Bezhin Meadow mentioned earlier. But 8 of them had been been published by the winter 1973/74 issue. The magazine’s interest in the Russian cinematic avant-garde in the first half of the period under study is also evident in publications on Dovzhenko (1), Kozintsev (5, though three of them are connected with his 1970 King Lear), Kuleshov (1) and Vertov (1), of which the most substantial is Roland Levaco’s lengthy 1971 study of Kuleshov and his theory. More inventive and original, since there was far less discussion of these directors available in English elsewhere, are studies of the ‘second rank’: Grigorii Aleksandrov and his musicals, in 1979; the comedies of Boris Barnet, in 1980; Chris Marker’s engagement with Aleksandr Medvedkin through the Parisian Slon collective, in 1973, and a 1989 obituary of Medvedkin; a survey of the films of Iulii Raizman in 1985 (like the Barnet piece connected to a season of his films at the National Film Theatre) and a brief interview with him in 1983; and a report by an American scholar, with illuminating illustrations, of his belated discovery that there were now two versions of Mikhail Romm’s Lenin in October, the original, made in 1937, and the de-Stalinised version, re-edited in 1964.

  • 4 Ian Christie, ‘Canons and Careers. The Director in Soviet Cinema’, in Richard Taylor and Derek Spr (...)

13All of these publications concerned what was then considered the canon of Russian and Soviet film, upon which Ian Christie has written cogently.4 An equally important group of publications, from the mid-1970s onwards, was devoted to contemporary directors, to those who came to prominence in the Thaw and after. There are useful introductions to the work of Vasilii Shukshin and Larisa Shepit’ko, brief interviews with Vadim Abdrashitov and Gleb Panfilov, and two brief pieces about Elem Klimov, who became Chairman of the Union of Film Makers of the USSR with its Perestroika in 1986. The title of one of these pieces, ‘Perestroika in Person’, is indicative of the magazine’s usual approach. There are three studies of Paradzhanov, from Herbert Marshall’s lengthy placing of him in context in Winter 1974-5, to coverage of his return to film-making after his release from prison, with The Legend of the Suram Fortress, in 1986, to the obituary mentioned earlier.

14But it is Andrei Tarkovskii who attracts the magazine’s sustained attention. The first piece devoted specifically to Tarkovskii’s work appeared in the spring of 1973, which should be considered a tardy response to a director whose first feature film, Ivan’s Childhood, was released in May 1962. But that film had nothing like the resonance of Tarkovskii’s second and third films, Andrei Rublev and Solaris, both of which are considered in this first, substantial article. From then on Sight and Sound followed Tarkovskii’s every move, with lengthy and repeated engagements with all four of his subsequent films, the report of an interview he gave in London in 1981, a piece about this London operatic production of Boris Godunov, reviews of the first two books about him, a memoir by Michal Leszczylowski, who shot one of the first documentary films about the director while he was making The Sacrifice and an obituary by Peter Green. Green also published a lengthy study of The Sacrifice which included several stills from the film in Sight and Sound’s first colour section.

15That Tarkovskii and Paradzhanov were the two living Soviet directors who attracted the magazine’s greatest attention in the late Soviet period both reflected and influenced the taste of the time. Of course it was itself influenced by the choice of Soviet films for British distribution and that in itself had a political dimension to it, in that both directors were (rightly) seen as victims of the regime. But it is also consistent with critical opinion thirty years later, when both directors have retained their ‘classic’ status, when both remain the subject of numerous books and articles, when the films of both continue to be released on DVDs and Blu-ray discs of ever higher quality and ambition. If we look at the other directors whose work of this period has attracted most attention over the ensuing twenty years, then the magazine’s inattention to the work of Kira Muratova, Aleksei German and Aleksandr Sokurov is entirely explainable by the fact that this trio were the most prominent victims of the system of cinematic ‘shelving’ — Sokurov, the only one of the three to get sustained release of his work abroad in the last two decades, is now a firm favourite of the magazine. Their inattention to Nikita Mikhalkov, who produced 10 highly successful feature films in the years under discussion, several of which were released in Britain, seems less surprising from the perspective of the second decade of the 21st century from the present day since after the worldwide success (and Oscar) of Burnt by the Sun in the mid-1990s Mikhalkov’s career has suffered catastrophic critical and popular decline.

Other Rubrics

  • 5 ‘Viewing figures’, Sight and Sound, XXXI, no. 2, 1962, p. 65. The anonymous Sight and Sound report (...)

16The ‘In the Picture’ section, consisting of a number of short news-based items, made it possible for the magazine to broaden its coverage and there are 17 brief reports on Russian cinema under this rubric. The first such feature in the issues under discussion offers staggering evidence about the British reception of Russian culture—and, alas, on changes in British cultural practice. Entitled ‘Viewing figures’ it reports on an experiment by the BBC towards the end of 1961 in showing Aleksandr Nevskii and the two parts of Ivan the Terrible on successive Friday nights, each of them attracting audiences of five million.5 Eleven of the seventeen pieces under this rubric appeared in the last ten years under discussion, including a report on a Party Resolution on film, in 1984, and a sustained engagement with the changes in production and distribution practice following the 1986 Fifth Congress of the Union of Film Makers of the USSR.

  • 6 For a comparative analysis of the Moscow Film Festival with those in Western countries during thes (...)

17There were also reports from nine Moscow Film Festivals, in 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1975, 1983 and 1987. (The first festival took place in 1935 but there were no others until 1959, when it was allowed to begin again, as a sign of cultural openness. During the late Soviet period it took place every 2 years.) The Moscow Film Festival organisers were always torn between the desire to compete with A List festivals such as Cannes, Berlin and Venice and the need for the selected films, and especially those that won prizes, to be politically acceptable, and for this reason the Festival provided a reliable barometer of the relationship between the Soviet state and the film industry.6 The consistency of the rubric makes it possible for us to trace changes both in the political face of that industry and in the magazine’s attitude to Soviet cinematic officialdom, while the fact that on each occasion Sight and Sound’s journalists also manage to sample Moscow’s cinematic menu beyond what was on show at the Festival means that these reports give a relatively broad picture of the state of Russian film more generally.

18This is how David Robinson opens his report in 1961:

  • 7 David Robinson, ‘Moscow’, Sight and Sound, XXX, no. 4 (1961), pp. 171-2 (p. 171).

No film festival is more whole-hearted than Moscow. For two weeks the entire city is given over to it. Mr Kruschev [sic] graces the opening; Mrs
Furtseva, the energetic and attractive Minister of Culture, is constantly on hand. [...] Not everything goes right, of course. Before the Festival, people were laying odds against the new Rossiya Cinema (which has a restraint and elegance rare in Soviet architecture; but perhaps it is not finished) being ready in time.7

  • 8 Ibid., p. 172.

19In the same report he tells us of the reaction to the British film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning: ‘Mrs Furtseva was full of admiration for the film, but rather shocked. [...] she felt that it was not the sort of work that should be shown to a wider public’. Another British film shown that year was The Trials of Oscar Wilde, of which a leading critic opined that ‘other, socially more important aspects of the famous writer’s life could have been taken up to provide a fuller and pithier picture of his moral make-up’.8

  • 9 John Gillett, ‘Moscow Roundabout’, Sight and Sound, XXXII, no. 4 (1963), pp. 187-9 (p. 188).

20In his survey of the 1963 festival, John Gillett reports on the sensational award of the Grand Prix to Fellini’s Eight and a Half. This event has become legendary in Soviet cinematic history, with the brave resistance of the jury chairman, Grigorii Chukhrai, to official pressure seen as a key victory in the cultural Thaw, but it is represented here as a hard-won victory of the Western jurors over their Eastern counterparts. We are also reminded that these are matters of artistic taste as well as politics: when some young Soviet film-makers excitedly tell Gillett that Fellini’s victory will help them to break away from tired old formulas in their own work, he replies that he considers Eight and a Half to be ‘tired and vulgar’ and that the best of Fellini is in his earlier films— which of course they have never seen.9 But then, Gillett is clearly a man with ascetic tastes. He complains in the same piece that ‘so much contemporary Soviet cinema [...] knocks your eye out with dollops of ‘style’ which are either derivative or put in because they are considered fashionable’, and continues (in Sight and Sound’s first engagement with the work of Andrei Tarkovskii):

  • 10 Ibid., p. 189.

This lack of a general perspective and a really lively critical climate unclouded by dogmas and persistent theorising may also explain why a film like Tarkovsky’s Childhood of Ivan, with its defiantly humanist message and ugly bravura fireworks, is thought more worthy of discussion than, say, Heifits’s Lady with the Little Dog...10

  • 11 David Robinson, ‘Moscow’, Sight and Sound, XXXVI, no. 4 (1967), pp. 168-70 (p. 169).

21Four years later, in his article from the 1967 festival, David Robinson reports of the long delayed Andrei Rublev, which he has not been able to see, that ‘the general impression is that it is long and dull, with occasional brilliant passages’.11 It would be some time yet before Tarkovskii would assume his mantle as the magazine’s favourite Russian.

Broader Engagements with Industry Developments

22Of particular interest to twenty-first century readers may be the small number of articles published in the magazine covering developments in the Soviet film industry more broadly. Some of these were devoted to historical subjects, including David Robinson’s 1989-90 study of pre-revolutionary cinema and Ivor Montagu’s piece on the first years of Soviet cinema, mentioned above, to which we should add William F. Van Wert’s 1980 study of the use of intertitles in the silent films of several countries, in which the Russian examples are taken from Pudovkin’s Mother and Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin; and Herman G. Weinberg’s 1962 piece on ‘The legion of lost films’. Half a century later Dovzhenko’s Earth and Kalatozov’s Salt for Svanetia have been restored to us in their entirety, but Weinberg’s remarks about the butchering of a number of Eisenstein projects and the loss of Meierkhol’d’s 1915 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray alas remain true.

  • 12 Robert Vas, ‘Sunflowers and Commissars’, Sight and Sound, XXXI, no. 3 (1962), pp. 148-51 (p. 149).
  • 13 Robert Vas, ‘Humanist Sputniks’, Sight and Sound, XXX, no. 3 (1961), pp. 151-2 (p. 152).

23Moving forward, it is particularly interesting to read the two pieces of 1961 and 1962 by the Hungarian documentary film maker Robert Vas. ‘Sunflowers and Commissars’ looks at the 1930s canon, which, he admits, is at the time known ‘mainly from unrevised editions of old textbooks’. Having the rare chance to re-view several of these films, he pronounces many of them over-praised, while finding his own favourites in Mikhail Romm’s version of Boule de Suif and Kozintsev and Trauberg’s Maksim trilogy. As he admits: ‘there is only one thing more exciting than evaluating films: re-evaluating them’.12 Moving on to the films of the present in ‘Humanist Sputniks’, he finds the new Soviet Thaw films to be determined to confront the individual but ‘uneasy and tentative’ in their use of contemporary screen language. He is bracingly trenchant about the work of Chukhrai and Kalatozov, now seen as key figures in the early Thaw. Ballad of a Soldier is ‘a Primary School lesson in Humanism’.13

  • 14 Terry Doyle, ‘Truth at Ten? Some Questions of Soviet Television’, Sight and Sound, LIII, no. 2 (19 (...)

24The final and most important period of change is, of course, Perestroika. It was at this point that the magazine first paid attention to Soviet television, reflecting an awareness of its new centrality in the lives of Soviet citizens and its fundamental role as a bringer of change. An article published in 1984 provides detailed information about the way television functioned in the Soviet Union and describes the most popular programmes before concluding with an alarming quotation from the author’s Estonian guide: ‘There’s not enough laughter on our TV. People need to laugh. That’s why they watch Benny Hill’.14 Two more articles, both published in 1988, scoured the Soviet schedules for signs of the new openness, tracked the increasing visibility of the videocassette and reported on exchanges of experience between Soviet and British television professionals.

25In terms of its specific coverage of Russian and Soviet cinema, Andrei Plakhov’s 1989 study, mentioned above, is of fundamental importance. In retrospect its title ‘Soviet Cinema — into the 90s’ may cause a knowing smile, but Plakhov’s article has turned out to be remarkably acute and prophetic. He gives a concise overview of new developments resulting from the Fifth Congress: the setting up of the Conflict Commission; unshelving; the work of a new generation of documentarists; the interest in exposing the ‘blank spaces’ of the Stalin period; films about young people, among which he singles out Little Vera; the inability of the older generation of directors to adapt to new conditions; the vogue for international co-productions. He pays particular attention to the work of Sokurov and Muratova, introducing to the readers of Sight and Sound the two directors who will (along with Aleksei Balabanov, whose first feature film had not yet appeared) make the most important Russian-language films of the next two decades.

Sight and Sound’s Achievement

26There were indeed important figures in Russian and Soviet cinema to whom Sight and Sound paid no attention during this period— there are no pieces on individual actors, scriptwriters or cinematographers, for example, in contrast to the coverage of the cinema of the USA and Western Europe. This is largely explicable by the paucity of accessible material—either the films themselves or English-language studies. Current scholarship pays greater attention to the formal qualities of films, on the one hand, and to the social, ideological and financial contexts on the other. But looking back from 2012, and remembering the constraints under which they were operating, one can only admire the commitment and enthusiasm, the scholarship and intellectual curiosity of the magazine’s writers, as well their very real achievements in bringing knowledge of Russian and Soviet film to a broad British and international audience.

Notes

1 Vladimir Padunov, ‘Kak my otkryvali rossiiskoe kino’, Iskusstvo kino, IV (2011), pp. 48-50 (p. 48).

2 For further evidence of British attention to Soviet culture during the 1960s and 1970s, see Verity Clarkson’s article in this collection.

3 J. Imeson, ‘Moskva slezam ne verit’, Monthly Film Bulletin, no. 572 (September 1981), pp. 180-1. Moscow Does not Believe in Tears was seen by 84 and a half million viewers during its first release in 1980, making it the second biggest box-office hit of the entire Soviet era. See ‘Fil’my, kotorye posmotreli v SSSR za pervyi god prokata svyshe 40 mln. zritelei’, Kinoprotsess, III (2007), pp. 78-87 (p. 78).

4 Ian Christie, ‘Canons and Careers. The Director in Soviet Cinema’, in Richard Taylor and Derek Spring (eds.), Stalinism and Soviet Cinema (London and New York, 1993), pp. 142-70, 250-6.

5 ‘Viewing figures’, Sight and Sound, XXXI, no. 2, 1962, p. 65. The anonymous Sight and Sound reporter describes the decision to show the films as a highly successful experiment, which attracted higher audiences than the BBC’s regular film programmes. He points out that the National Film Theatre would have had to show the film to full houses for twelve years to reach such an audience figure. Now that anyone who wants to watch Eisenstein’s films can buy them on DVD (or watch them online) it is unlikely that such figures could be emulated.

6 For a comparative analysis of the Moscow Film Festival with those in Western countries during these years see Aleksei Vasil’ev, ‘Flagi nashikh otsov’, Seans blog, 24 June 2011, http://seance.ru/blog/33-mmkf/ [accessed 5.9.2012].

7 David Robinson, ‘Moscow’, Sight and Sound, XXX, no. 4 (1961), pp. 171-2 (p. 171).

8 Ibid., p. 172.

9 John Gillett, ‘Moscow Roundabout’, Sight and Sound, XXXII, no. 4 (1963), pp. 187-9 (p. 188).

10 Ibid., p. 189.

11 David Robinson, ‘Moscow’, Sight and Sound, XXXVI, no. 4 (1967), pp. 168-70 (p. 169).

12 Robert Vas, ‘Sunflowers and Commissars’, Sight and Sound, XXXI, no. 3 (1962), pp. 148-51 (p. 149).

13 Robert Vas, ‘Humanist Sputniks’, Sight and Sound, XXX, no. 3 (1961), pp. 151-2 (p. 152).

14 Terry Doyle, ‘Truth at Ten? Some Questions of Soviet Television’, Sight and Sound, LIII, no. 2 (1984), pp. 106-10 (p. 110).

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