War movies have long been the most influential genre in Russian cinema, so much so that in the Soviet Union's militaristic society, "cinema front" was used to describe the film industry itself. Denise J. Youngblood, an internationally recognized authority on Russian and Soviet cinema, provides the first comprehensive guide to this long-neglected genre.
Youngblood explores more than 160 fiction films on Russian conflicts from World War I to Chechnya. These movies represent a wide range of cinematic styles and critical receptions. While not ignoring classic war films like Chapaev
and The Cranes Are Flying
, Youngblood introduces readers to the films that shaped and reflected Soviet views of war, like the rousing World War II favorite Two Warriors
, the Thaw classic The Living and the Dead
, and the Brezhnevian extravaganza Liberation
. This remarkably humanistic body of work was often at odds with official policies and depicted the futility of war. Youngblood is especially insightful regarding the relationship between Stalinism, Socialist Realism, and filmmakers in creating the war film genre during an era marked by increasing militarization, conformism, and state terror and by the importance of cinema in the World War II propaganda effort. Stalin's obsession with movies led to the "revisioning" of his role in the Civil War and the "Great Patriotic War."
Yet, Youngblood argues, Soviet filmmakers were not mere puppets of repressive regimes. Indeed, some filmmakers subtly subverted official politics and history in the guise of art or Hollywood-style entertainment. She brings the story to the present by showing how post-Soviet Russian filmmakers have not only turned a critical eye on the recent wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya but are also revisiting the complex realities of World War II.
Youngblood tells a fascinating story that will appeal equally to film aficionados and history buffs. By tracing the evolution of cinema through the twists and turns of both Soviet and post-Soviet society, she helps us understand the role movies played in 20th-century Russia, not only in the making and unmaking of political myths but also in the "writing" of history.
"Youngblood has contributed significantly to our understanding of Russia's rich cinematic tradition. Her book draws a clear and convincing picture of the ways in which Russian war films 'not only reflected their times but also shaped their times.' Recommended for a wide range of readers, including those interested in film history, twentieth-century cultural history, visual culture, and Soviet/Russian studies."--American Historical Review
"A beautifully written, carefully conceived, and meticulously researched study that will leave readers with new insights into films with which they are already familiar, a strong desire to see many others, and a rich and complex picture of Russian film art. More than that, it is a pioneering work in the young field of Russian history on film."--Slavic Review
"It is no easy task to locate, view, and categorize foreign motion pictures but Youngblood has the academic (and linguistic) golden touch. Overflowing with meticulous information, this book is a real gem."--Film & History
"The impressive scope of the material analyzed in the book as well as its lucid language will insure the book's popularity with general public and with students of Russian history and film."--Canadian Slavonic Papers
"An engaging, lucid, and path-breaking book."--Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema
"Youngblood's approach yields tangible rewards. . . . This work is a pleasure to read, with a useful filmography of war-related films listed by war, director, or by title in both English and Russian. The author deftly avoids jargon and includes enough information about the films for those who have not seen them. This book will spur readers to see the films and view them in a new light. It will also attract scholars for its interpretive insights and as a reference tool. Its scope should work well in graduate seminars on Soviet history, seminars on historical methods, or in undergraduate courses where films figure prominently as sources."--Journal of Military History
"Part critique, part documentary, this study vividly depicts the antagonistic interplay between government dictates and the often-contradictory humanistic goals of the directors. Actors, film creators, and the Communist Party functionaries who sought to mold the cinema as a tool of state propaganda all come alive in this dynamic, masterful book. . . . This comprehensive account fills a lacuna in Western understanding of the artistic creativity that elevated this genre far above simple propaganda. Essential."--Choice