Red Soviet Down

Stalin’s Soviet Union used film to capture Russian audiences in the 1930s and to further their agenda of cultural revolution. Cinema served as the most efficient and gleaming tool for the masses, it was the easiest and most ‘entertaining’ way to hold the attention of the Russian people in a way that socialist realist literature could not achieve. Stalin created specialized departments behind the idea of cultural revolution for the most important centers of media which included film and literature, the head of film was Boris Shumiatskii. In the wake of bringing soviet culture back to the proletariat (compared to the ‘weird aesthetics’ of the old intelligencia and the other pre-revolutionary thinkers), Shumiatskii wished to make cinema more entertaining and enjoyable for his audiences but also wished for it to be able to spread the Soviet 1930s agenda. The aim of 1930s popular culture was to still keep a rigid stencil of what Stalin wanted Soviet Russia to be, but to bring it more back to ‘tradition’ and back to the simple proletarian thinker.

Just like the RAPP (Russian Association of Proletarian Writers) and Union of Soviet Writers, the cinema community was centralized within its own union, which imposed its own agenda based on Stalin’s wishes and were strict on what films it would support and approve. Blockbusters of their time, Happy-Go-Lucky Fellows and Chapaev followed the guidelines of uplifting Soviet rule and being able to hold the attention of audiences. Chapaev in particular, focused on the different facets within the Civil War between the tsarist Whites and the Soviet Reds; with Chapaev as the infamous commander of a diverse band of revolutionary fighters. The film was based off of the novel written by Dimitrii Furmanov who was a Russian military officer during World War II and during the revolutions 1917. Interestingly, the glorified fighter he based his novel off of was also the same man that his wife had an affair with, the irony. Now Furmanov’s most famous novel about his wife’s lover will be forever remembered as a lively story about the “rough-cut” commander Chapaev, which made the film adaption one of Russia’s first blockbusters.

The original film poster for Chapaev that was released during 1934 and was influenced by Stalin’s 1930s cultural revolution. Chapaev struck its audience so deeply that when children would play a game called ‘Reds vs. Whites,’ the most popular soldier to play would be none other than Chapaev.

The politics involved in Chapaev surrounded the Russian Commander and his subordinate Kylchkov. According to Furmanov, Chapaev was the brawn of the Civil War, a celebrated and dignified war hero, but also not particularly ideologically inclined to Soviet thought, though possessed revolutionary sensibilities. The other side of the same coin, Klychkov, served as the political brains of the operation, one of his duties as a member of Chapaev’s band was it point him in the right ideological direction; his greatest asset was his hold on the politics behind the party. Chapaev represented the mobilized peasants of the revolution and Kylchkov as the informed working proletariat. Both are equally important in order to bring forth revolution, which could be seen as the beauty behind the brains and the brawn.

An ode to Chapaev the Hero, sung by the Red Army Choir


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