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Blockbuster History in the New Russia

Movies, Memory, and Patriotism

Stephen M. Norris

Publication Year: 2012

Seeking to rebuild the Russian film industry after its post-Soviet collapse, directors and producers sparked a revival of nationalist and patriotic sentiment by applying Hollywood techniques to themes drawn from Russian history. Unsettled by the government's move toward market capitalism, Russians embraced these historical blockbusters, packing the American-style multiplexes that sprouted across the country. In this volume, Stephen M. Norris examines the connections among cinema, politics, economics, history, and patriotism in the creation of "blockbuster history"--the adaptation of an American cinematic style to Russian historical epics.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-xi

On July 13, 2008, I was fortunate enough to meet Grigorii Chkhartishvili. Better known by his pseudonym, Boris Akunin, he suggested that we meet at a coffee shop in Moscow’s Chistie prudy neighborhood. After I interviewed him about his work on the film...

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pp. xiii-xv

Writing about Russian film gave me an entryway into another remarkable community of scholars. Denise Youngblood, the preeminent historian of Russian and Soviet cinema, has been a great inspiration and a great supporter of this project, reading various parts of this book and...

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1. Introduction: Multiplexing Russia

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pp. 1-18

The renovated October Theater on Moscow’s New Arbat Street is a nice place to watch a film. Owned and operated by the Karo Group, Russia’s largest multiplexer, October houses eleven state-of-the-art cinema halls, Karo’s offices, a video store, restaurants, and other commercial outlets...

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Part 1. The Russia That We Lost

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pp. 19-22

If a film’s success can be measured by how well it defines an era and enters public discourse, then Stanislav Govorukhin’s documentary The Russia That We Lost (Rossiia, kotoruiu my poteriali, 1992) may be the most significant movie of the 1990s. Aired on television as the Soviet Union...

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2. The First Blockbuster of the New Nation

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pp. 25-47

Nikita Mikhalkov’s Studio Tri-te understandably exudes confidence. The studio’s offices and location mirror the centrality of its creator, the Oscar-winning director of 1994’s Burnt by the Sun. Located between Pushkin Square and Patriarch’s Ponds in central Moscow, Studio...

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3. Terrorism Then and Now

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pp. 49-71

Director of Mosfil´m, Europe’s largest film studio, since 1998, Karen Shakhnazarov has personally overseen his studio’s cinematic renaissance, a stunning about turn that he considers to be his greatest achievement. At the time he became the studio’s head, the Russian film industry...

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4. Wars and Gambits

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pp. 73-90

Dzhanik Faiziev’s film The Turkish Gambit, a mystery set amidst the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, debuted in February 2005. It went on to earn $18.5 million—more than any other film in Russian history—besting the previous year’s blockbuster, Night Watch. Produced by...

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5. A Requiem for Communism

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pp. 93-110

One of the most memorable aspects of David Lean’s 1965 adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago is its soundtrack. Love it or hate it, Maurice Jarre’s “Lara’s Theme” strums throughout the film with the help of balalaikas and burns itself into your brain. Anyone who...

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Part 2. The Price of War

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pp. 111-113

A 2004 Moscow survey about the sources of pride in contemporary Russia found that “the country’s most significant achievement” remained the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. Second on the list was the postwar construction, followed by Russia’s cultural heritage...

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6. Mirror of War

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pp. 115-141

In May 1985, the Soviet film critic Lev Anninskii published a seminal article in Iskusstvo kino. Appearing just two months after Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary, Anninskii’s “Quiet Explosions [Tikhie vzryvy],” promised, as the subtitle suggested, to be a series of “polemical...

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7. Playing with History

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pp. 143-166

Dmitrii Puchkov left Fedor Bondarchuk’s 2005 blockbuster Ninth Company [9 rota] in a foul mood. The army vet and former MVD agent did not like the film; in his words, “while it was billed as ‘based on real events,’ it had no relation to reality.” Bondarchuk’s history of the events of...

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Part 3. Back in the USSR

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pp. 167-169

The Brezhnev era simultaneously served as the source of the greatest nostalgic longing and the most contested past in the zero years. Several polls indicated that many Russians would not mind living in late socialism again and certainly would rather return to the Brezhnev era than...

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8. The Blessed Blockbuster

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pp. 171-187

Perhaps the most surprising success of the zero years was Pavel Lungin’s art-house film turned national sensation, The Island. It opens in World War II, jumps to the Brezhnev era, and tells the story of how a Soviet citizen atones for a past misdeed by becoming a holy fool...

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9. The Soviet Horror Show

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pp. 189-207

Aleksei Balabanov knows how to court controversy. Best known for his cult-classic gangster film Brother (1997), Balabanov catapulted to iconic status with it and its sequel, Brother 2 (2000), when the eponymous hero of the series, Danila Bagrov (played by the equally iconic Sergei...

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Part 4. Fantasy Pop History

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pp. 209-212

In the middle of the decade, fantasy histories began to dominate box-office offerings. Animated films about Russian folk tales, epics about pre-Kyivan pasts, and even sci-fi blockbusters that reinterpreted Soviet history with the help of vampires profitably used the past in the...

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10. Animating the Past

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pp. 215-233

The fact that animated films served as a blockbuster historical centerpiece in the new Russian cinematic showcase should come as no surprise. Russian animation has a long history and has engaged in a longstanding cultural dialogue with Hollywood animation. Disney itself has long...

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11. The Look of Fantasy

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pp. 235-249

Billed as “the first Slavic fantasy film,” Nikolai Lebedev’s Wolfhound appeared in time for the 2006–07 winter holidays. Based on Mariia Semenova’s best-selling novels, Wolfhound premiered on over six hundred screens (a new record at the time) and was blasted by some film...

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12. The Business of Patriotism

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pp. 251-268

The Renova Group is one of Russia’s most successful businesses. Founded in 1990, by 2009 Renova was the largest private business group in Russia with twenty-five billion dollars in holdings. The company owns and manages assets in metals, oil, mining, machine building, energy...

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13. The Production of the Past

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pp. 271-296

When the USSR collapsed, Channel One went through massive changes. It reached the largest number of television sets in the Union and served as the primary means through which Soviet information got disseminated. Its symbolic significance cannot be overstated: when...

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14. Conclusion: Packaging the Past

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pp. 299-318

Video stores in the new Russia sell every film, game, and soundtrack mentioned in the previous chapters. The Soiuz chain, to pick one prominent example, operates 40 stores and 9 “hypermarkets” throughout Russia, while also distributing goods to 150 other shops. The...


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pp. 319-363


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pp. 365-385

E-ISBN-13: 9780253007087
E-ISBN-10: 0253007089
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253006790

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 27 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012