Movies and Film: Eastern European Film History

Eastern European Film History

It may or may not have been the Evil Empire, but the ex-Soviet Union (or Eastern bloc) has also been the origin and inspiration for diverse kinds of filmmaking. By turns creative and oppressive, it has had perhaps the most varied history of any of the national cinemas we have examined. It is really almost manic-depressive: Derivative of other national cinemas during the twilight of the czarist era, it became brilliantly avant-garde during the Leninist period and the 1920s, then oppressive and static from Stalin until the 1960s, and has since become in some arenas technically and ideologically progressive once again. As with so much of the arts, capitalism has been a sort of antidepressant, a kind of Prozac, providing a calming influence that has also meant fewer of the fireworks that have characterized the best moments of this strange, influential, and brilliant cinema.

Short Cuts

Eastern-bloc cinema is also—and perhaps most importantly—incredibly diverse because we are talking about several national cinemas: Russian, Polish, Czech, and so on, each with a different history and, consequently, aesthetic.

Finally, the Eastern-bloc cinema has much to offer American filmgoers for several reasons. First, because communism is the ideology most opposed to ours in the twentieth century, it can give us a view of ourselves that it would be difficult for us to have. The images of Western capitalists in Soviet films are not as flattering as they are in even very critical, Frank Capraesque American movies like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). Second (though we won't be treating this aspect), our own filmic responses to the Soviet Union tell us much about ourselves. When actor/resident Ronald Reagan names a military umbrella defense system after a George Lucas film—Star Wars (1977)—and refers to the Soviet Union as that film's bad guy—the Evil Empire—you know something interesting is happening between politics and movies.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Movies and Film © 2001 by Mark Winokur and Bruce Holsinger. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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