The Eastern European bloc or the area that was formerly the Soviet Union is much more than a politically repressive region. It is also for different kinds of artistic inventions and inspiration when it comes to diverse filmmaking. It is a region with varied history in filmmaking, expressive, and creative on one side and repressive on the other. The diversity of this cinema is due to the fact that there were different national cinemas within the bloc, each with its history and aesthetics. The Eastern European cinema served as a contrast to the West on many levels. Here was a cinema rooted in communism and gave a glaring view of what Eastern Europeans thought of the capitalist system that operated in the West. Soviet films presented images of the Western capitalist that even the most critical of Hollywood films could not have presented.
The Cinema of Eastern European countries, including Russia, was initially dependent on the United States or Western Europe for all the film technology they needed. This meant that the films they produced were behind that of the West in technical or aesthetic innovation. In fact, most movies shown in the theatres were imported from the West, with about 90% of the films before World War I being imported. The first indigenous film production company in Russia was only established in 1907. The Russian Cinema was already establishing itself by the time the October Revolution happened. It had produced its movies, usually modeled after other countries' styles. For instance, the first Russian feature film, Stenka Razin, which was produced in 1908, copied the film d'art French style. Even as the industry was still small, it had its film stars with actors like Vera Kholodnaya and Vladimir Maximov, and directors like Yevgeny Bauer.
The Russian film reached a significant point in its history in the early Soviet era. In the five years between 1920 to 1925, the film industry saw many breakthroughs and tremendous changes despite the West being stiffly opposed to the Soviet Union's Marxist regime. Due to the successful Bolshevik revolution, most of those who had established themselves in the Czarist film industry that existed before then chose to leave the country, leaving with all their filmmaking technology. This meant that the film industry had fewer resources at its disposal. This reduction in technology and expertise was further worsened by the blockade imposed on Russia by Western countries.
Following the revolution, there was the nationalization of the film industry. The wife of Lenin, Nadezhda Krupskaia, alongside other people, established the Cinema Committee, which later founded the Moscow Film School. Other Russian creatives also made what can only be considered as significant inputs based on time restrictions. Dziga Vertov established the Kino-eye style and theory of filmmaking. This film style blended the realist aesthetic with propaganda. Lev Kuleshov also discovered the Kuleshov Effect and established the Kuleshov Workshop. All the Russian Soviet development was not restricted to it as the film production was coordinated across all Soviet countries.
The Soviet film industry bureaucrats and filmmakers sought to combine the new art form with Marxist ideology using different means. One such was to deny it was even an art form at all, but not with the reasons Western intellectuals used to dismiss the film. They didn't consider the film to be lowbrow; they only saw it as an essentially different way to present the world, absent of the bourgeois apparatus. For them, the fact that the film appealed to the masses was a positive thing, and they considered it a tool for enlightenment.
The Moscow Film School, which was the first of such schools in the world, was also a significant part of the development of the Eastern European Cinema. The fact that the blockade limited the raw film stock that got into the country led to student filmmakers using old stock and just cutting and re-cutting it continuously to emphasize different emotional effects and narrative effects, or even tell different stories altogether. Thus, editing was a fundamental part of eastern European cinema, and the Russian montage was born.
This era saw a shift from experimentalism and creativity to totalitarianism. The period between 1925 to 1930 was a mixed period for Russian and Soviet filmmaking generally. The years witnessed the production of what can be termed the Russian classics such as Battleship Potemkin, October, Strike, Pudovkin's Mother, etc. But it was also the period when experimentation was replaced by state policy in terms of what the filmmaking industry could produce. Stalin's cultural revolution saw the value of film for the propaganda it can offer and replaced experimentalism with the production of simple films that the masses would understand at once. This new trend continued well into the 1930s and 40s, with movies exploring the same stock script that always ended with the proletariat triumph. Even when the Soviet became self-sufficient in terms of technology, films continued to reflect the state policy, shifting from anti-Nazi to anti-traitor-to-the-revolution.
The death of Stalin subsequently brought back experimentalism, with the bureaucratic control finally being relaxed. Experimental and entertainment films were made, and there were even movies criticizing the period of Stalin.
Other Eastern European countries such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc. had their cinema, which was stifled under Stalin, who centralized the entire Soviet Union. Therefore, the Death of Stalin was a rebirth for all these countries as they could finally express their national identity and cinema separate from the Soviets.
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