Soviet Movie Musicals

Movie musicals have long provided entertainment and escapism to their audiences. In post-Depression America, stars like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Judy Garland brought fantasy and glamour to the screen, as well as the ubiquitous happy ending. It may come as a surprise that musicals played a large role in the history of Soviet cinema as well, especially during Stalin’s rule. Unlike American films (which couldn’t be screened in the USSR), Soviet musicals could not and did not feature diamonds, top hats, and ball gowns, but rather provided utopian fantasy based in socialist ideology.

Soviet movie musicals were born at the same time as socialist realism, a Soviet dictate that required that all Soviet art should promote and reflect the ideal socialist state. The two made for a perfect marriage in many respects, as Soviet musicals were able to positively portray socialist ideals and were often able to have a stronger propagandistic impact than attending a political meeting.

Soviet musicals had a fine line to walk—be optimistic and entertaining, promote the socialist utopia without angering the censors, all while not alienating audiences who knew that what they were seeing on screen was not representative of their own reality. This summer that Davis Center will screen three celebrated Soviet musicals—two from the 1930s and one from the late 1950s. We hope you’ll join us and consider the messages sent by these films—and perhaps even sing along!

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