Moscow exhibition celebrates Soviet cinema's grand designs
Poster display highlights ideology and escapism of mass-produced publicity tools that spawned an artistic genre, The Moscow Times reports
The cultural heritage of Soviet cinema is being celebrated in a landmark exhibition, which brings together some of the most innovative film artworks of the past century.
With none of the romanticism of the Hollywood silver screen, these bold experiments in graphic design and ideology demonstrate how a mass-produced publicity tool became its own artistic genre.
Organised by the State Museum and the Moscow Museum of Design, The History of Soviet Cinema in Film Posters 1919-1991 allows visitors to track artistic developments as cinema became the USSR’s most popular artform, from the advent of constructivism to the arrival of socialist realism and sophisticated photo-montage techniques.
The exhibition’s curator Anna Pakhomova explains: “Even if the films are unknown, the language of film posters is very meaningful because the artist must give an impression of the whole film ‘in one shot’ to make the viewer want to go to the cinema.
“There are many metaphors, imaginative artistic decisions and framing elements. The language of film posters is very graphic and, at the same time, artistic.”
The exhibition comes as the Kremlin announces 2016 the “year of cinema”, which will see the government step up funding for local films, facilitate productions in remote regions, as well as launching a Eurasian film academy and festival.
When the USSR was first formed, Soviet cinema flourished. It was simultaneously a medium of mass entertainment and a channel for communicating ideology. The 1920s became a period of unprecedented developments in the graphic arts throughout Europe and Russia was no different. Freed from the confines of realism, artists reassembled images and photographs to create dramatically modern posters that defied the limitations of fine art.
A prominent example of this practice is the poster for Boris Barnet’s 1927 silent film Devuska c Korobkoy (The Girl with a Hatbox). Created by Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg, who famously staged the first constructivist exhibition in 1922, the poster incorporates geometric abstraction with a highly stylised composition.
During the early years of Bolshevik rule, much of the population were illiterate so cinema and its accompanying film posters provided a straightforward method of communicating political messages.
The second part of the exhibition, covering the 1930s to the mid-1950s, demonstrates aptly how cinema of this era fell under the auspices of state-sponsored propaganda.
Using the language of socialist realism, film posters had to convey the ideological messages of the ruling party as censorship squeezed the film industry and production. There was also a focus on patriotic, nationalistic themes.
Films produced during the war years, such as Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard), Zhdi Menya (Wait for Me) and Paren iz Nashego Goroda (The Boy From Our Town), reflected on the sacrifice and heroism of ordinary Russian citizens.
It was only in the late 1950s and 1960s that there was a return to creative freedom in cinema and art. During Khrushchev’s rule, artists could once again experiment relatively freely with composition, content and symbolism.
While many of the posters will be recognisable to Russian audiences, alone they still stand as bold works of art.
The exhibition also showcases the cinematography of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. Posters chart the rapid changes afoot in Russian society and the ways in which artists responded to artistic and technological advancements.
Films such as Chuchelo (The Scarecrow) and Igla (The Needle) had posters that played with photography, experimenting with the new possibilities offered by developments in photo montage.
“For me Soviet cinema offers a history of our country. It [represents] our past, as well as our favourite films,” adds Pakhomova.
A version of this article first appeared on the Moscow Times