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Soviet Children’s and Adventure Film

One unusual feature of Soviet cinema was the extent it cultivated films for children. Perhaps surprisingly, the first major push happened in the Stalinist 1930's, where live-action films supplanted animation (used mostly for propaganda at first) as children's fare. Though such films were no doubt intended to inculcate children with appropriate Soviet values, on the whole ideological messages are less pronounced, making them good candidates to be shown to Western audiences and easier for former Soviet citizens to remember fondly.

The Snow-Maiden walks on water.The fantasy film was the earliest and most resilient children's genre. Soviet children's films mined folklore and fairy tales from all corners of the globe to create innocent, enchanting fantasy worlds, often with quite intricate sets and costumes. Films of this genre in the the Rzhevsky Collection span the post-war period: Jack Frost (Morozko), The Night Before Christmas (Noch pered Rozhdestvo), Sampo, Ruslan and Liudmila, The Snow-Maiden (Snegurochka), Aladdin's Magic Lamp (Volshebnaia Lampa Aladdina), Tale of the Tsar Sultan (Skazka o Tsare Sultane). It also includes one of its earliest manifestations, 1946's The Stone Flower (Kammenyi Tsvetok), directed by Aleksander Ptushko, without whom no discussion of Soviet children's cinema would be complete. A woman in ceremonial garb talks to a couple standing arm-in-arm. A technical pioneer of sorts – he directed the first Soviet feature-length animation and widescreen film – Ptushko made use of newly acquired German color film stock in this film, one of the earliest Soviet color productions. It received a special prize in an ad hoc category of “Best Color” at the first Cannes Film Festival in 1946. Framed with an opening storyteller who recounts it, The Stone Flower is based on a folk tale from the Ural regions recorded by noted folklorist Pavel Bazhov.

In a media environment that reiterated ideology ad nauseum, films with a childlike, unserious focus could be a breath of fresh air, even if film critics and intellectuals found them trivial. A juvenile sensibility could be said to pervade the slapstick and hijinks of Soviet comedies and adventure films. The emphasis of many dramas on the experience of young people in Soviet society this period similarly gave them affinities with children's fare. Some film studios, such as the Gorky studio, were dedicated to producing children's films, but they sometimes produced films outside of this stated mission. One canonical example, preserved in the Collection, is the classic war film The Dawns are Quiet Here (A Zori Zdes' Tikhiye, 1972), produced by the Central Children's Film Studio. Actors and directors also moved back and forth across this boundary throughout their careers, and none did it more extensively than Rolan Bykov, who appeared in numerous films, across this era and was voted best actor of 1966 in Soviet Screen. As a director, Bykov was best known for his children's films, and he is represented in the Rzhevsky archive by the Attention, Turtle! (Vnimaniye, Cherepakha!), a children's variant of the eccentric comedy. The crazed energy of this film is probably best left to speak for itself.

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