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Visions of a New Land

Visions of a New Land: Soviet Film from the Revolution to the Second World War

Emma Widdis
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Visions of a New Land
    Book Description:

    In 1917 the Bolsheviks proclaimed a world remade. The task of the new regime, and of the media that served it, was to reshape the old world in revolutionary form, to transform the vast, "ungraspable" space of the Russian Empire into the mapped territory of the Soviet Union. This book shows how Soviet cinema encouraged popular support for state initiatives in the years between the revolution and the Second World War, helping to create a new Russian identity and territory-an "imaginary geography" of Sovietness.Drawing on a vast range of little-known texts, Emma Widdis offers a unique cultural history of the early Soviet period. In particular, she shows how films projected the new Soviet map onto the great shared screen of the popular imagination.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12758-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Transliteration and Translation
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Projecting
    (pp. 1-18)

    This is a book about Soviet spaces. And aboutSovietness. Through film, it will trace the map—real and imaginary—of Sovietness. What, then, is Sovietness? Its influence, malevolent or otherwise, on twentiethcentury history is indisputable; yet it remains a category about which we understand little. The existence and essence of Sovietness have been variously denied, disputed, and attacked over the past ninety years. More recently, it has been politically dismantled by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It should have disappeared. And yet in contemporary Russia and the former Eastern bloc at the beginning of the twenty-first...

  6. Chapter 1 Connecting
    (pp. 19-58)

    In the years between 1917 and 1930, the Soviet territory was a space under new management—and new ownership. The nationalization of land and property, in effect from 1917, entailed a conceptual transformation of the imagined national map: the capitalist space became a state-controlled space. The firstDekret o zemle(land decree) was passed on 26 October 1917, symbolically transferring the ownership of all land, earth, and water from private to state hands.¹ And these “state hands” were equated, significantly, with the hands of the people. Thus the territory became, symbolically at least, a whole—and a whole that “belonged”...

  7. Chapter 2 Feeling
    (pp. 59-75)

    Placing the human body at the centre of their theories, the “functionalist” architects sought to reorganize perception, to create a new way of looking at the world. Citing Lenin’s statement that “in order really to know an object, it is necessary to comprehend, to study all sides of it, all its ‘connections and means of mediation[sviazi i oposredstvovaniia],’ external and internal,” Moisei Ginzburg argued that art (in the broadest sense of the word) must seek to convey the three-dimensional, sensory fullness of experience.¹ It had a key part to play in the “emancipation of the senses” that, as discussed...

  8. Chapter 3 Decentring
    (pp. 76-96)

    This new relationship between the human body and space was frequently expressed through a focus on the periphery, both real and metaphorical—and in the transformation of traditional centres (ideological and spatial) into new peripheries. InMan with a Movie Camera,the decentred space of Vertov’s unnamed and composite metropolis transformed urban space into a kind of periphery, denying the possibility of any kind of centre, geographical or spectatorial. In parallel, across a broad spectrum of cultural texts in the 1920s, pictures of decentred space emerged. In 1921, for example, a group of young artists who collected around Grigorii Kozintsev...

  9. Chapter 4 Exploring
    (pp. 97-119)

    Theneob”iatnyi prostorinherited by the new regime was, both practically and symbolically, “ungraspable.” It was achuzhaia rodina—an alien native land.¹ This ostentatiously paradoxical phrase is revealing. The territory was both native and unknown. It belonged to the new state—and hence “to the people”—but it needed to be discovered,appropriated.The paradox of thechuzhaia rodinawas also, pragmatically, its strength: the very strangeness and mystery of the territory meant that it could be shaped—mapped—according to new criteria. Through “discovery,” it could be transformed from Tsarist empire into Socialist union. It was a space...

  10. Chapter 5 Travelling
    (pp. 120-141)

    Cinema’s role in shaping the imaginary geography of the Soviet Union was twofold: it represented the territory, of course, and, perhaps even more importantly, it also offered ways of looking at it. Shifts in attitudes to the territory—the movement between exploration andosvoenie—may be explored through an examination of two models of vision presented in Soviet cinema of the period: the train and the plane. Both represent different ways of looking: they offered different relationships with the space.

    From the first years of Soviet power, a cinematic obsession with the train and with rail travel was testament to...

  11. Chapter 6 Conquest
    (pp. 142-189)

    In the final sequences of Grigorii Aleksandrov’s film musicalSvetlyi put’(The Radiant Path,1940), the heroine, Tania, takes a magical trip across the Soviet territory in a rather smart flying convertible automobile. She departs from Moscow on a journey that takes her across a landscape of wide-open expanses and vertiginous mountain-scapes before returning to earth—now not only in Moscow, but in the Moscow of the future, in the new All-Union Exhibition.¹ This journey is Tania’s reward: it marks her transformation from humble servant girl to prize-winning weaver. Her extraordinary achievements as a member of the labour collective grant...

  12. Afterword: Mapped?
    (pp. 190-196)

    The old Soviet passport is a document of “hyphenated” identity. With categories of citizenship (of the Soviet Union), nationality (the infamous “fifth point” that insisted on a statement of “ethnic” origin and that included the category of “Jew”), and place of residence, it is symbolic testament to the layering of personal and public identities that constituted the Soviet “self,” from the supranational, through the national, and finally to the local. The roots of this matrix of “Sovietness” lie in the complexities of the period of “mapping” that we have explored. The cultural texts of early Soviet Russia sought to create...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 197-220)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 221-222)
  15. Filmography
    (pp. 223-230)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-250)
  17. Index
    (pp. 251-258)