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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 8.2 (2007) 453-460

Reviewed by
Oksana Bulgakowa
Leonid Valentinovich Maksimenkov and Kirill Mikhailovich Anderson, eds. in chief; Liudmila Pavlovna Kosheleva and Larisa Aleksandrovna Rogovaia, eds., Kremlevskii kinoteatr, 1929–1953: Dokumenty [The Kremlin's Movie Theater, 1929–53: Documents]. 1,119 pp. Moscow: Rosspen, 2005. ISBN 5824305323.

How to write a history of Soviet film is still a dilemma. Numerous publications have treated this complex medium as a traditional art, excluding as a rule the history of technical inventions and their delayed introduction into the Soviet space, the history of the changing forms of exhibition, and the history of Soviet film as an industry.1 Film—a new mode of vision, recording, social [End Page 453] representation, production, and consumption—has been mostly treated as a work of an auteur (director) in the usual interpretive frame: artistic intention and context, genesis, censorship and reception, canon and innovation. The standards developed for the description of Hollywood cinema (studio styles defined by producers, genres, and stars) have not been applied to a Soviet model regarded as unique (and in some sense mirroring the unique Soviet political model). Richard Taylor, the first to attempt such an approach, has treated Boris Shumiatskii, the head of the State Committee of the Film and Photo Industry (GUKF) in the decisive years 1933–38, as a producer in the Hollywood style.2 In 1988, Taylor and Ian Christie published a remarkable collection entitled Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, 1896–1939. Its goal was to understand the trajectory of Soviet cinema, which had become a prisoner of its own myth of "uniqueness," through public voices and documentary traces: declarations, manifestos, reviews, resolutions.

Kremlevskii kinoteatr presents a parallel—hidden—side of this trajectory by exposing the work files (records, correspondence, memos) of decision-makers that were not meant for publication. Most of the materials come from the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI), and no wonder: three of the four editors work there, including the director (Kirill Anderson), a head of a department (Larisa Rogovaia), and a senior archivist (Liudmila Kosheleva). The fourth person in the team is a Moscow-born scholar based in Toronto, Leonid Maksimenkov, the author of the brilliant 1997 study Sumbur vmesto muzyki (Muddle Instead of Music).3 His work on the project was encouraged by Karl Eimermacher, the founding director of the Lotman Institute at Bochum University, which has supported and developed numerous projects on Soviet cultural politics in cooperation with the Russian archives.4 [End Page 454]

Kremlevskii kinoteatr presents 394 documents—some of them published for the first time, some reprinted—selected from the depositories of the Politburo, the Orgburo, Stalin's chancellery, the Literature and Arts and Agitprop departments of the Central Committee, the State Committee on Defense (GKO), and the personal files of Stalin, Voroshilov, Malenkov, and Molotov. Some files come from the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI) (the records of Soiuzkino and Goskino); others are from the Presidential Archive and the archive of the Federal Security Service (FSB). I stop my inventory here. There are minutes of Politburo sessions, shorthand notes of conversations between filmmakers and politicians, letters from filmmakers to politicians and vice versa, first drafts of resolutions, complaints, appeals, congratulatory telegrams, denunciations, KGB reports (about the current "mood" among filmmakers in the wake of administrative decisions, such as the new system of payments), and pleas for money, apartments, and decorations. The volume contains Shumiatskii's transcripts of comments and commandments from Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich, and Voroshilov during late-night screenings at the Kremlin.5

These extremely heterogeneous materials are not organized in thematic clusters—such as broken or frustrated careers, censorship cases such as those associated with Zakon zhizni or Bol´shaia zhizn´, orders and their implementation—but in chronological sequence from April 1928 to March 1953. The time frame does not adopt traditional landmarks, such as the introduction of sound or World War II, which are commonly accepted in world film histories, nor...


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