by Yevgeni Margolit

The famous shot from Ermler's Debris of the Empire in which two soldiers of the First world war - the Russian one and the German one - run into each other near the crucified Christ in a gas-mask (a direct reference to the George Gross's painting) and get astonished at the discovery that they both have the same face - the one belonging to Fyodor Nikitin, a great actor, can be an epigraph to the present study.
Therefore, movies produced on the basis of the German material during the whole period between the two world wars occupy a special place among the films devoted to the life of foreign countries. Soviet Russia and pre-Hitler Germany (particularly the left one) are looking at each other as if at the reflection in the looking glass where they see their past and future accordingly. At the same time features of the national German culture are of the least interest to the Soviet Russia.
Aggravation of social conflicts after the Germany's defeat in the First world war turned it into the arena for class battles and into the centre of the European labour movement as a result. The official Soviet propaganda demonstrated the situation in Germany as a visual proof for the thesis of the inevitability of the world revolution and an expressive analogue of the situation in Russia on the eve of the revolution of the proletariat. The commonness of fates of the Russian and the German revolutions seemed undisputable.

Fascism without Germany. Germany without Fascism

The most striking and the most logic thing about the movie Germany shown on the screen is that there is no place for fascism in this Germany. It is extremely surprising bearing in mind that the words like "a fascist" and the "fascism" are the most often used in the Soviet mass media, literature, theatre and cinematograph. Yet the conception of the Soviet culture of those years was that the fascism is not more than realization of extreme reaction, namely radically anti-Soviet forces of the capitalistic society. Such forces include aristocracy, military circles and clergy shown with a trace of purely gender infernality. No wonder that the fascist in Kuleshov's The Death Ray (1924) portrayed by V. Pudovkin is a catholic priest from an imaginary country; and later in L. Roshal's Salamander (1928) even a "fascist prince" (!) played by Khmelev appears. And in the Soviet literature of 1920-s this character turns up for the first time perhaps in an adventure story American Fascists written by Dir Tumanny, a "nichevok" ("never minder" - transl.) poet (later this author will become known under his own name Nikolai Panov for a number of stories about the adventures of Lyudov, a brave KGB major struggling with foreign intelligence services).
As we will see, until mid-1930s there will not be a place for national-socialist ideology in Germany of the Soviet screen and social fascists (social betrayers) will be officially called German social democrats and will be an absolute analogue of the Russian Mensheviks. And only with them will the struggle go on till the last gun is fired on the Soviet screen. It is quite important that revelation of social democrats as social betrayers actually pushes out the subject of struggle with fascism from the films of this period. Moreover: it were social democrats who were often called social fascists in the official propaganda vocabulary of that period. Sometimes it came to absurd: thus, in spring 1934 Pravda, the central newspaper, mentioned doubtfully in a generally positive notice about V. Pudovkin's picture The Deserter that fascism was not even mentioned in the movie at all1. Such situation was formed due to a number of production difficulties (in the first place due to the reason that The Deserter was the first sound picture by Pudovkin); mastering of the sound equipment and the producer's disease dragged out the job for a year and a half. Yet basically the reason for that lied in the fact that fascism actually could not be placed into the main plot pattern. A similar story happened to the Death Conveyer: the script submitted for the production in early 1932 was reconsidered many times, and it resulted in the fact that shootings were regularly suspended, but only in July 1933, six months after Hitler's coming to power the cinema commission of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks decided to introduce the subject of fascism into the new picture2.
Generally speaking, German would look as a complete analogue of Russia on the eve of the October revolution.
In this aspect the Hamburg (1926), produced by the Odessa studio about Hamburg workers' armed revolt in 1923 is a model one. It was often compared to Battleship Potemkin. It refers not only to rather impressive mass scenes; drawing a parallel between the two movies a reviewer of the Trud newspaper says: "The Hamburg drama gives a very strong impression. A combination of both heroic and tragic feelings typical for all revolts doomed to defeat is well shown"3. Thus the Hamburg revolt becomes one of the similar event amongst those of the Russian revolution of 1905, which Lenin had called a general rehearsal of the October upheaval.
Hamburg became Vladimir Ballyuzek's producer debut; from the middle of 1910s he worked as a painter for the cinema, predominantly with Yakov Protazanov (while shooting the famous Queen of Spades in particular). Ballyuzek studied art in Germany and there he emigrated after the Russian revolution of 1905, therefore he knew the realities of German life and German art tradition from the first hand. Using his contacts with German companions he invited Henrich Beisenherz; this "artist-architect" (as mentioned in titres) built veneer quarters in the Odessa studio, which accurately reproduced the "German Petersburg" topography, and the press wrote about it with enthusiasm. The picture was made by German camera men Joseph Ron and Michael Holdt, well-known from the period of silent movies. And finally, most part of the actors was selected "by type principle" out of the International Club members, students of the German section of the Odessa party school and German colonists; at that time there were many German settlements in Russia where Germans migrated to (mainly due to religious reasons) in late XVIII century.
As for the literary basis of the picture, the cinema historians refer to the book essays by a well-known party journalist Larissa Reisner who wrote in the times of the civil war - Hamburg on Barricades But the tough plot in the adventurous manner was build by the scriptwriters of the film: Semyon Shreiber, an Odessa journalist and Yuri Yanovski, a Ukrainian prose writer; in their turn they used the plots of a German expressionist-play writer Carl Vitfoegel. This detail should be specially mentioned, because it was Vitfoegel who used the motive extremely popular in the Soviet feature films about Germany in 1920-30s in different modifications. It is about a revolutionary who runs away from prison and voluntarily returns back to the sitting of the court to unmask butches of the working class in his passionate speech. The USSR cinematography will return back to the Vitfoegel's plot in the sound movie Runaway (1932); variation of the same subject can be easily discovered in Pudovkin's The Deserter4.
One can speak about the finalising character of Hamburg for this period, because immediately after the Hamburg revolt of 1924 the Soviet cinematography issued two feature films Red Rear and Defeated Today. Neither of the pictures remained, and there are almost no information about the latter, as it had been made by the Proletkino studio department in Saratov by efforts of local amateurs. The place of the film creation is yet important, as the Republic of Povolzhye Germans was founded on the basis of German settlements. Several years after the Proletkino Saratov department was reorganised into Nemkino and issued a number of films (including feature ones) about the life of Germans in Povolzhye. Thus a modest half-amateur short-length picture in 3 parts initiated the practice of the local German population participation in making films. Lenfilm will follow the Saratov example: at the beginning of 1930s old Petersburg Germans will participate in Fritz Bauer (1930) and Wipe your Tears (1932).
Red Rear produced by the Proletkino Moscow Department was propagandizing the activity of the International Society for Assistance to Workers (Mezhrabpom), the headquarters of which was based in Germany. Judging by annotation in the Soviet Feature Films catalogue and reviews in press, it was a movie typical for 1920s with a lot of adventures: the heroine is a communist who secretly sends her party companions to the Soviet Union showing miraculous abilities in creativity and conspiracy (the role was played by actress Olga Tretyakova - the wife of Sergei Tretyakov, a famous playwright, Bertold Brecht's friend and translator). Rudiments of the adventurous plot which two years later the critics of Hamburg called the most archaic point of the film, is dominant in the Red Rear. The authors of the film (the producer was Dimitry Bassalygo, a fertile silent movies producer with a solid party record) did not mean to reproduce the modern German life. But here - as it was in The Death Ray or Napoleon-gas were fascists, and there was no sign of them in Hamburg, because national socialist did not show themselves in any way during the events of 1923.
It is worth mentioning, that in Hamburg the role of right social democrats as betrayers occurred for the first time: one of the characters of the film starts from the betrayal of the idea and comes to the direct cooperation with police as a paid agent. This was the way how permanent negative character appeared in films about Germany, such character was a social betrayer and the main opponent of the positive heroes in accordance with the official Soviet ideologic requirements. Gradually this character was turning into some personage like a Menshevik from Soviet films about the Russian revolution; for decades such Menshevik was supporting the police regime in its struggle with proper revolutionaries - Bolsheviks.
The search of direct analogies was shown in full in Towns and Years - the most significant work (after Hamburg) based on the German material in the Soviet silent cinematography. This principle was used on the level of the plot in the literary original, a novel written in early 1920s by Konstantin Fedin, a Soviet writer and a member of a notable literary group "Serapion's Brothers"; the novel was devoted to the event of the First world war and the revolution in Russia and Germany; action was developing on the basis of parallel montage in both countries at the same time. Yevgeni Chervyakov, one of the brightest workers of the Soviet avant-garde in Leningrad of 20-s immediately felt purely cinematographic manner of creating the plot of the novel.
Meanwhile the film was completed only by the end of 1930. In 1926-1930 German subject practically disappeared from the long-term plan of subjects of Soviet cinema studios giving way to American, Polish and French subjects (particularly in this period several pictures about the events of the Commune of Paris of 1871 were produced). The paradox of the situation was that it all happened with intensively developing various Soviet-German relations, successful exchange of experience and creative personnel and joint cinema productions; one of them was Salamander made in 1928 - the only film based on the German material in this period to which we shall get back again. The reason is that it was a period of a relative stabilization of economy which resulted in the stabilization of the German's public life which lasted till 1929 when the crises burst out marking the beginning of the Great Depression. The transition character of the new situation reflected in the fate of the Towns and Years movie. This film was supposed to become the next joint Soviet-German production (the German party was represented by Derussa Berlin Company), but in the final variant only Lenfilm performed this job. As official grounds, administration misunderstanding and even financial machination were called, but - whatever it were - it was the last joint project in 1920s the work at which came to the shooting stage. The group managed to shoot some scenes in Germany (by the way, most of them were not included into the final version of the film) and to shoot an outstanding German actor of 1920s Bernhardt Heitzke in one of the leading roles of a German officer and an aristocrat (Heitzke had already played in Salamander before that).
The transition character of the Towns and Years is demonstrated by the choice of time of action: in 1930-1932 the Soviet cinema addressed to the German material, and it began with the early 20s: Hamburg revolt (Fritz Bauer), Ruhr miners rebellion in 1920 (Friends of Conscience) remain the favourite material. However the tragedy pathos, which Hamburg as something natural (judging by the above mentioned review), official the Soviet press of the middle of 20's welcomed in Hamburg ideology at the beginning of 1930's was perceived absolutely different, what directly affected the fate of the consequent films.
No doubt that the impression of Germany of 1930 affected the tone of Chervyakov's film. One of the most impressive subjects of the Towns and Years - a crowd losing all human signs in chauvinistic intoxication - became more impressive than the image of revolutionary masses what was at once noticed by cinema managers and official critics as the producer's big ideological error.
Internal cognation with the main character of the novel and the film - a Russian painter, an educated and idealistic person - no matter how persistently the authors of the novel and the producers of the film denied it, was quite distinctly seen and was the reason to blame them. Chervyakov was one of few if not the only one among the authors of the Soviet feature films devoted to the German theme who understood the actual character and frightening scale of the phenomenon of German fascism. It was only natural that during several years after the production of Towns and Years he was trying to get a permission to shoot a film by the script Gods on Artificial Limbs - a portrait of a bourgeois society sick with the idea of a superman. It was also logic that the artist was never allowed to realize his idea.
The future of the film Friends of Conscious (working titles Rebellion in Ruhr, Flaming Ruhr) produced by Mezhrabpomfilm in 1932 was even catastrophic. The picture was prohibited by Glavrepertkom of RSFSR with the following formulation: " prohibit as the picture giving a gloomy and pessimistic evaluation of the Ruhr proletariat's struggle in 1920 and depriving the revolutionary movement of any meaning by outlining its spontaneous character and as purely formalistic work, absolutely beyond comprehension of the audience"5. It is extremely sad that the film has been lost especially taking into account that Konstantin Eggert, an actor and a theatre and cinema producer was the director of the film; he was one of the most commercially successful producers of Mezhrabpomfilm, in his famous thriller of 1925 Bear's Wedding (an author's version of the famous novel Lokis by Prosper Mérimée) strong influence of German early thrillers was evident; the hero was a vampire (whose role played Eggert himself).
From now on during the consequent decade in the group of films under study a tendency for showing a tragic personal collision will be seen for the sake of complete correspondence to the ideologic pattern. In 1930-s the situation was aggravated by the fact that: the party machinery tried to manage cinematography for the first time; propaganda becomes the leading genre, it presents a set of the most popular illustrative slogans by means of documentary and feature films. Barely schematic construction of the films of such type is quite evident. Very often it proved to be inconsistent, but on the films devoted to foreign subjects such tendency put the most significant print especially because it was in early 1930s that the production of such films increased, on the account of pictures about contemporary Germany in the first place.
Thus, for example, in 1932-1935 seven pictures were made on the American material, only four - on the Polish material and fifteen - on the material of contemporary Germany. We should make clear once again that for our study we have selected only those films which at least include episodes of the life abroad. Therefore we are just touching upon various films with foreigners acting on the Soviet territory as characters. Therefore we do not mention such remarkable films about the First world war, as The First Platoon, Sharpshooter or the great Suburbs.
The majority of films of this period under study are made in accordance with one and the same pattern. The plot is based on a strike of workers. Proletarians are opposed, on the one hand, by the repressive system of the police state and on the other hand - by a treacherous policy of its supporters - social democrats. Following the tradition created in Hamburg, the social democrats bribed by the police regime are doing their best to distract proletariat from the class struggle - by all means triumphant. In the end the workers become convinced that social democrats have betrayed the general proletarian idea, and their road is different from the one of the working class. The action is always finishing with a tremendous demonstration. In accordance with such pattern lost and forgotten Attack (1932) - Odessa film about the miners of Ruhr, The Sun Rises in the West (1932) - one of the first sound films produced by Mezhrabpomfilm, Leningrad film There is a Job for You (1932) were made; the same motives are used in notable for their time films The Deserter by Vsevolod Pudovkin (1933), Death Conveyer by Ivan Pyriev (1933), Worn out Boots by Margarita Barskaya (1933).
Not only rigidness and speculativeness impress, but also a complete abstractedness of this pattern from actual political life of Germany. The cinema managers demanded that the thesis that Germany is on the eve of the triumphant proletariat revolution should by all means be reflected in the cinematographic material; complicated drama collisions now looked inappropriate what affected the destiny of such films Towns and Years and Friends of Conscious as mentioned above.
A demonstrative example is the destiny of the Death Conveyer. The initial script version (written by Victor Gusev, the future scriptwriter of Pyriev's village comedies, and Mikhail Romm - in future one of the leading producers, the director of Ordinary Fascism) was called Goods of Squares and the heroine was the girl who had lost her job and had to start turning tricks. The conclusion of the ARRK stated: "The script rejects capitalism but does not convince in termination of the bourgeoisie government and establishment of the proletariat dictatorship. As a result in the script we have the critic of the modern capitalism predominantly from the point of view of petty bourgeoisie humanistic positions. The film made pursuant this script... will rather spread the mood of despair, depression and pessimism" (6).
The final version of the script introduced three girlfriends and the history of the previous heroine was pushed to the periphery of the film and an active Comsomol member successfully fighting with capitalism came to the first place.
The central conflict of The Deserter is not less typical. The story about a foreign specialist - a worker or an engineer - who comes to the USSR in the period of the crisis and in the end get actively involved into construction of socialism was very popular in the Soviet cinematography of early 1930s. As a rule the hero decided to stay in the Soviet Union forever: this meant his final transformation and switching to communist positions. But in The Deserter this pattern is mirrored upside down. The main character is a Hamburg docker who is leaving for the USSR during the strike, understands that his action is a desertion and returns back to Germany to bring the revolutionary struggle to the victory which is sure to come soon. The principle of analogies dominates here as well, particularly in the emphatic parallelism in the montage of demonstrations of workers in Germany and Soviet Russia. Only in 1935 the picture New Motherland appeared, it was actually the last work exploiting the story of a foreign specialist in the USSR, where a German engineer faces the dilemma either to return back to Germany where fascism is reining or to stay in the Soviet Union. However in the end the story focuses on intrigues of an antagonist trying to return the hero to Germany by spreading rumours about his wife's infidelity who works with him in the USSR. Even for the critics of 1935 this conflict looked too strained.
One more important detailed should be noted. In 1931-1933 several feature films appear; these films forestall the well-known series of so called "defence" pictures of 1936-1939. But if after 1936 the future enemy is easily recognised as Germany (and closer to 1939 Germany is directly named in the texts), in 1931-1933 the prospected enemy was deliberately abstract. It was rather associated with Antant States during the civil war by some indirect signs. Only in two films devoted to the civil war (not the most important subject for this period) - in the Ukrainian film Youth (1934) and the Belorussian film Full Age (1935) - the theme of occupation of Ukraine and Byelorussia by Germany after signing the Brest Treaty is touched upon. However the motive of occupation is just the background for a traditional story of struggle with White Guards (who actually were not yet formed as an army in those days); it all contrasts with the movies about the civil war of late 1930s - particularly with films like Shchors (1938) directed by Dovzhenko or Riders (1939) by Igor Savchenko (7), where the subject of German occupation is one of the leading ones.
The effect of illusions in the official Soviet ideology about the German proletariat's readiness for the revolution was obviously so strong that the USSR government held the wait-and-see attitude to the national-socialist regime till mid 30-s. It was believed that Hitler's coming to power would finally make social contradictions sharper and would increase poverty and unemployment and the regime would soon be crashed into pieces under the attack of the proletariat (8). Perhaps due to this fact films about pre-Hitler Germany, which appeared after January 1933 were not perceived as outdated: the situation was not supposed radically changed.
Till the beginning of the war the official ideology would not dare to acknowledge that the Third Reich managed to decide all those problems in its specific way and to strengthen the authority of national-socialist regime among the masses. And in 1938 in the brochure devoted to distribution of Lion Feuchtwanger's novel screen version The Oppenheims they try to convince the audience that: "Hitler's coming to power means increased exploitation, unemployment growth, epidemics, increase of children's death-rate and hunger. Fascism means endless suppression and lack of political rights"9. Until the beginning of Hitler's aggression against the USSR in the Soviet movies Germany will remain the arena of struggle of a repressive police state with proletariat united in one front against fascism with a branched network of underground organizations. The title of the movie made in 1938 Struggle Is Going on" is symbolic for the movies about Germany.
Yet German left artists may not have imagined the scale of the catastrophe in full if we judge by films produced at the Soviet studios by German theatre producers at that period: famous Ervin Piscator (Fishermen's Rebellion) and Vangenheim (Fighters).
As for Fishermen's Rebellion, it could be explained by a three-year period of making the film, initiated in 1931 the work was finished only in 1934. On the last stages of shooting a motive of a provocative burning bringing to life associations with Reichstag burning was included. But Vangenheim was making his Fighters from 1935 till 1936 (by the way, the story of Reichstag burning and Dimitrov's case became the key point here); and a big part of the shooting team witnessed the events happening in Germany (thus a recent prisoner of the fascist concentration camp Gregor Goge, a journalist and a representative of the Union of homeless proletarians was among the actors). Though the pattern described above is actually repeated in full in these works as well. The only principally new point was the removal of the role of social democrats as betrayers.
As for the aesthetics of the movie, nothing changed in this aspect.
It is important to note the habit of deciding the German subject by means of historical-revolutionary epopee montage - as described above this tradition originates from Hamburg. Fishermen's rebellion openly precedes it, as well as The Deserter does, and (judging by references) the same was in Friends of Conscious. No doubt that here the principle of analogy takes place, but the creative potential of such aesthetics was actually exhausted by this time and was to be overcome. That is why we face the situation of paradox when the works of world-known pioneers of that period like Pudovkin and Piscator look desperately archaic. In particular, it was noted in polemics developed around Fishermen's rebellion in Kino where Osip Brik, a critic and a scriptwriter, the leading theorist of LEF noted sketchiness of the construction10.
The artist were seeking tools to avoid evident sketchiness. But appealing to the genre of adventure so popular among the Soviet cinematographers, while working with American material, was extremely rare for this case. All efforts of Vladimir Lebedev-Shmidtgof, a Leningrad producer, to introduce elements of adventure into his movie Heil, Moskau (1932), caused somewhat close to scandal among the critics. The tradition of making films with children, beginning with Fritz Bauer (1930) by Vladimir Petrov, a Leningrad producer, became most fruitful. The future director of large-scale battle epopees Peter I, Kutuzov, Stalingrad Battle during these years Petrov began shooting films about children. He forms a permanent team, including young actors. The same pattern performed by children gives an impressive effect estranging the situation (Victor Shklovski's terminology). Totally in the first half of 1930s not less than five movies based on this principle were produced: along with Fritz Bauer appear Wipe away Your Tears (1932), Harry Goes in for Politics (1933), Worn out Boots (1933), Karl Brunner (1936). A movie about senior pupils of pre-Hitler Germany Rudy's Career (1934) could be referred here, the film was made by the script written by Anatoli Golovnya, the camera man who was shooting The Deserter; he used his own impression of Germany which he got during the shooting expedition together with Vladimir Nemolyaev, a producer of films for children11.
The most important film out of those mentioned above was by all means Worn out Boots which was kindly met by all critics, it was a sound picture of Margarita Barskaya an enthusiast of movie for children in the USSR. The film was built on children game improvisations very well controlled by the director (more than fifty children at the age of from three to five played in the film). In these games the conflicts so familiar to a spectator were not just reflected but were transformed, intensifying and making them less tragic at the same time.
We must underline that from the very beginning of this tradition (bearing in mind that Fritz Bauer and Wipe away the Tears were based on the theatre plays for children the film producers were rather more concerned about the grown-up audience than children, no matter whether they declared it or not like they did on Fritz Bauer. Therefore such paradoxical effect took place. Worn out Boots is a unique picture in its tragedy which ends with the death of a three-year-old child from a stray bullet during dispersal of a demonstration of workers, and the hero's playmate - a girl of the same age, trying to make him to get up pulling about the dead body. A bit expressionistic anguish of the scene was soothed by perfect organic children's play.
This series of films was finalized by Karl Brunner (1936) shot in Odessa by Aleksei Maslyukov, a producer of movies for children, the script was written by Bela Balazs. The main character is the son of a woman doing underground work; the police is hunting after her trying to catch the parents with the help of the child. The script writer meant the film for the grown-up audience. It is obvious that for Balas it was important to show the mood of Germany after fascists coming to power, he is doing it through the child's eyes after his mother's arrest; the native town becomes strange and frightening for him at once. The script righter introduces the child's very impressive dreams where fear is mixed with despair and longing for his mother. These scenes were shot but did not enter the final version of the movie: managers of the studio decided to take them away as formal and expressionistic. Remember that it was the time when an active campaign against formalism it art was developing, it meant a fight for a unique artistic style. The version shown on the screen could not reflect the oppressing air of Germany. The scenes of people's sufferings and despair seemed too frightening to the management and it ordered to remove them12 - was written in Kino in December 1936. Yet this newspaper text which retained the description of eliminated scenes of the original version of the film was the only one of this kind: all other comments were basically complimentary.
Much more important for us was the accusation in expressionism referring to the scenes eliminated from the final - distribution - version of Karl Brunner. It refers to making a schematic and abstract material trustworthy. If the authors of Hamburg, Towns and Years, The Deserter could somehow rely upon their personal experience in showing the German way of life, later for the majority of authors the basic source of such material would be the samples of temporary German art.
A natural question arises: what effect did the German cinematography make on the Soviet movie taking into account that in 1920-s it occupied the leading role in the world film production along with the American one?
The effect of the American movie especially in part of its experiments in montage was willingly acknowledged by the Soviet avant-garde, therefore cinema historians of different countries wrote about it a lot. As for the attitude to the German movie - to the German cinema expressionism in the first turn - Soviet producers and critics were suspicious: neither by perception, no by the subject they did not accept the German films close to their understanding of art.
One should remember, for example, the movie workers' discussion in early 1920s on The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari. It was followed by the polemics on the Soviet-German film of 1928 Salamander produced by Grigori Roshal, the future director of The Oppenheims; the movie based on the history of a biologist persecuted by the bourgeois society who found his new motherland in the USSR (the forerunner of multiple pictures with a similar plot that would be made in 1930s), the movie was made in the German "kammerspiel" style.
The attitude of artists and photographers to the German expressionism was much more complicated. A vivid example of it is the work of the famous Leningrad school cameramen to which belonged Andrei Moskovin, Yevgeni Mikhailov Vyacheslav Gordanov who worked with V. Petrov on Fritz Bauer" and Runaway (1932), also about the contemporary Germany. It was Gordanov who in his memoirs13 wrote that through the German fine arts they had first learnt the term "expressionism". In 1923 young innovators called so their experiments in romantic pictures. The samples of the modern fine arts became accessible to the Fritz Bauer movie makers much later, by the end of work at the movie, and they had never seen any films of expressionistic tendency. Anyway the cameraman acknowledges that they discovered many features principally close to their methods in the expressionistic graphics, especially Käthe Kollwitz's work. Therefore we cannot speak about imitation or borrowing but - in the first place - about the general situation generating searches in different countries in the same direction. Already in 1929 Adrian Piotrovski called the method of the Leningrad camera school expressionistic, and it was not accidentally14. Gordanov remembered that he was extremely surprised at learning that they were practically ignorant about the samples of the contemporary German fine arts. It means that the new aesthetics was happily guessed what is especially evident in Fritz Bauer15.
The movie expressionism experience was regularly studied by another big camera school - the Ukrainian one, in the middle of 1920s its teacher and the theorist of the camera work became Aleksei Kalyuzhny. One of his students Nikolai Kulchinski, a cameraman whom I interviewed in summer of 1990, remembered that the basic material for his lectures were the examples from the German expressionistic films. Expressionism also effected the creative work of a great Ukrainian cameraman Daniil Demutski; in the context of Aleksander Dovzhenko's Arsenal (particularly the scenes showing the World War I) Sergei Tretyakov, an expert in the German avant-garde outlined it already when the film had been just produced and ready for distribution16. It is important that the only indisputable positive feature of the above Crystal Palace was Yuri Yekelchik's camerawork in the style of German expressionism.
Even Moscow moviemakers who were persistently following predominantly the American experience in the first turn did not avoid fascination with the German expressionism. As the colleagues witness, such convinced realist as A.Golovnya, Pudovkin's cameraman fell under it during his work at The Deserter17.
The most paradoxical and vivid example demonstrating the subject could be producer Ivan Pyriev's early films, later he became a creator of 'kolkhoz pastoral' comedy tradition, and Fyodor Dostoyevski's novels screen versions director. Such a great and acknowledged expert in the Soviet cinematography as Maya Turovskaya defines the Death Conveyer as almost an encyclopedia by the scale of covering all subjects of the German screen - from kammerspiel to the proletariat movie18.
Unfortunately multiple amendments of the script against the demand of censorship turned the film into a typical sociologic model. The outcome achieved by Pyriev may be considered common for all efforts of this kind. In his review (mini-study to be more exact) entitled expressively Barbarian Talent about Death Conveyer Bela Balazs, who had recently left Germany for the USSR, managed to catch precisely the specific features of Pyriev's gift; he wrote: "No, it is not socialist realism. It (the movie - Y.M.) is neither the realty of the capitalist world. Generally speaking, the movie has nothing to do with any kind of real life. Beautiful and exciting scenes of the Death Conveyer are like a passionate feverish dream of a naive person who has only heard something about this life... The film includes scenes of a thrilling truth. The film includes scenes of ridiculous mendacity. And scenes of deep social meaning. Scenes of childish superficiality. Artistic sensitivity and unbearably heavy exaggerations..."19.
These words belong not only to the person who did not only know Germany and German movie very well (Balazs managed to fruitfully work for the German cinema as a script writer and a producer) but also to one of the first classics in the theory of cinema, so the film can be undoubtedly referred to the group of films under our study; and this group may be considered as a single unit taking into account the ideological integrity of the model against which Soviet feature films about Germany were constructed.
However the intended abstractness from the diverse collisions of the real life refers not only to the group of films we are considering. Balazs understood one of the most significant features peculiar to the Soviet cinema on the whole. It was not the real life that became the subject of the Soviet films, but some ideal future construction of which was declared as the main purpose of the Soviet people and in a wider meaning of the whole humanity. It was in 1925 that a very attentive spectator - Paul Sheffer, the Berliner Tagesblatt's Moscow reporter noticed this peculiarity of the Soviet movies and wrote in May 23, 1925: "The film produced by the state (Soviet - Y.M.) is designed for describing the world which does not exist yet, and as a regulation code for living in such ideal perfection"20.
Any current collisions in the Soviet cinema are always considered from the point of view of the future ideal world which is sure to come. The difference in the material is only in the decree of closeness to it. Comparison with the ideal is obligatory and is imposed as a duty with the artist by the system. Therefore historic, national, cultural originality of the material is not accounted by this type of cinema. It is more important to depict the supposed similarity of social models. The more evident it looks the more demonstrative is the principle of analogies as it happened with the material on Germany.

"The Third Reich" as a Kingdom of Night

With swift and rather unexpected for the Soviet government change of the political situation in Germany the ideological principle of presenting the material in the Soviet cinema does not actually change. Important qualitative changes in the Soviet films about Germany of the second half of 1930s are connected with processes that are happening in the Soviet Union and not Germany.
During this period the system of the Stalin state was formed in general; triumphant act of accepting a new Constitution in December 1936 proved it. From now on the Soviet reality is declared a realised ideal and the antithesis of this ideal also acquires quite clear features.
During the period of its formation in 1920s the Soviet society chooses the tsarist pre-revolutionary Russia as such antithesis - the arena of a constant struggle with the oppressors. Later the same model was extrapolated on modern capitalist states. As soon as the Soviet state announced that the main purpose - construction of an ideal society - has been achieved - it cancelled any movement forward and stopped the time. As a result the boundary between the USSR and the rest of the world stopped to be the border between the past and the future and inevitably became the conception of space. From now on the antithesis to the ideal is the hostile capitalist environment and the state border becomes the symbol of an obstacle between not just antagonistic but antithetic worlds. Now the slogan "locked border" becomes popular and it gives the name to a typical movie of 1937 where the borderers together with the frontier guards are catching a wrecker (from Germany).
The hostile antithesis-world is built on the Soviet screen as an upside down twin of the ideal world. If the Soviet real life is an everlasting feast and a sunny day, the hostile world is a world of never-ending night, gloomy caves in compliance with traditional mythological constructions. On the one hand, there is a world of a human personality's blossom, conscious heroic deed, great Soviet democracy, on the other hand - the world of regimentation, quarter, hunger and eternal misery. Thus Aleksander Macheret the author of the film Wader Soldiers formulated this aesthetics before its distribution21. The most popular and respected characters in the ideal Soviet life are good workers, active communists and proletarians, and even absent-minded but generous scientists always ready to help people, and in the antithetic world they are always persecuted and unhappy. In the group of films under consideration the persecuted scientists are usually Jewish physicians: Professor Mamlok, Wader Soldiers, The Oppenheims. Thus the theme of fascism as racism just touched upon in the previous period in Rudy's Career in 1934 entered the Soviet cinema. In the films of 1930s describing the Soviet society the Jewish secondary character rather often appears, as a rule it is a rather eccentric, by all means positive though strange scientific worker. And lastly the Soviet world respects and protects the world cultural heritage while the antithetic world of fascism rejects it: thus, in one of the scenes of the Wader Soldiers appears the monument of blindfold Goethe, and in The Oppenheims the teacher-fascist nervously turns the Voltaire's bust with the face to the wall. And fascism is a militaristic machinery ready to invade into the ideal world.
The state self-determination is impossible beyond the hostile surrounding. The thesis of the future war in the USSR as the threshold of the world revolution has never been removed from the agenda: films on this subject were created in the middle of 1920s and in early 1930s. But only in late 1930s they start to occupy such significant role in the cinema production: the image of the ideal state needs an image of a hostile aggressive state.
Then due to the logic of antithesis two worlds are opposed to each other like the world of life to the world of death. Among the films about the future war with Germany (about ten such films were produced in 1936-1939) this motive is very demonstrative. In most films the enemy is shown in a featureless military machinery: an aircraft, a tank, a submarine, often with swastika: lack of face is a sign of death (Motherland Is Calling, The Forth Periscope and the most important film in this series If the War Happens Tomorrow)22. The topography is also remarkable: an unassailable castle by a steep Tankmen or an underground castle where hostile forces are concentrated (Air Squadron No. 5) cause associations with the world of death as well as the battle with the enemy on the sea bottom, where the Soviet submarine feigns its own wreck in order to give a blow in a deciding moment and to surface with a triumph (Seamen, The Fourth Periscope). All these motives vary in this or that way the central image of Germany as a Kingdom of night. The Night Above Germany, Mist of Middle Ages etc. - permanent cliché of the Soviet press of that years are literary embodied in the cinema image of Germany of the late 1930s.
In accordance with the mythological model logic (which prevails here) the border between the two worlds is unshakeable. In this context the famous thesis - "we don't need an inch of foreign lands but we won't cede our own" - acquires a new meaning; all films of this type without exception are its illustration.
It should be mentioned here that all films of this period devoted to the modern Germany still use the story of struggle between the German proletariat and the regime - now the fascist one. The struggle is mass as before; it is widening and is perfectly arranged. However in contrast to the films of the previous period now a response to the aggression of the fascist regime from the USSR is necessary for the success. Only joint efforts of the USSR and the German proletariat can finally win and as a result unite in one state. "Oh, I wish I could see the Soviet Union of about forty republics after the big war" - Pyotr Shakhov, the main character of a famous film made in 1937-1939 The Great Citizen was dreaming .The forces of life are hidden in the very antithetic world of death and the task of the ideal world is to make them rise. A comparison of the German rear with a volcano ready to explode did not appear incidentally in one of the Stalin's speeches (during the war) 23.
That was why official Soviet conscious refuses to accept fascism as a tragedy: at that time quite different conceptual and ideological models worked.
However it is important to point out to a very significant tendency, objectively contradicting to this general concept: in pre-war films about contemporary Germany the support on personal impressions was strengthened. It can be expressed in different ways. The attempts of moviemakers to use modern German literature as a literary basis is obvious. If before that addressing to it was of episodic character (K. Wittfoegel's story in Hamburg and Runaway and Anna Seghers's prose in Fishermen's Rebellion exhaust the list), now many literary works become the basis of the film. To such material refer plays by Friedrich Wolf Professor Mamlok and Grecian Horse (film The Struggle Goes on), novel The Oppenheims by Lion Feuchtwanger, political review by Bertold Brecht Fear and Despair of the Third Empire (the film was titled Murderers Are on Their Way). Finally, the name of the film Wader Soldiers (made after the original script by Yuri Olesha Walter) referred - as the press of those days noted - to the book of Wolfgang Langhof, a German publicist's book of reviews under the same name.
On the other hand, among those who took part in the work on the films we meet emigrants from Germany: Professor Mamlok became a successful debut of Herbert Rappaport, G. W. Pabst's assistant for many years (one of the leading producers of Lenfilm). The painter in the Wader Soldiers was another emigrant - Arthur Berger. The director of The Oppenheims, Grigori Roshal had an experience of the first Soviet-German staging of Salamander. One of the leading roles in the Wader Soldiers is played by the star of the Soviet silent cinema Ivan Koval-Samborski; in 1920-30s he constantly worked for German studios and returns back to the USSR immediately after Hitler's coming to power. Aleksander Macheret, the director of Wader Soldiers, thinks it necessary to use his personal impressions of the World War I. Producer Aleksander Razumny who had staged a number of films in the German studios in the mid 20s wrote a script for Grecian Horse together with the author of the play F. Wolf. Direct participation of authors of the literary originals in the work at the scripts should also be noted: besides F. Wolf, whose name was in titles in Professor Mamlok and The Struggle Goes On the press also mentioned that the script for The Oppenheims was authorised by L. Feuchtwanger during his trip to the USSR.
The role of personal experience of the film creators was not limited by that. This experience became apparent in an unexpected paradoxical aspect. Creating the atmosphere of the German totalitarian system with its permanent shadowing, fear of denunciation for any careless word, the threat of arrest and putting in a concentration camp, the authors inevitably faced the occurrences well familiar to any Soviet citizen in his everyday life.
Thus the motive of a town dying out with the coming night, people listening to the noise of cars and night knocks with terror, sinister shining of black automobiles and soldiers' boots in the light of the street lamps, goes from one film to another with persistence regularity beginning with Karl Brunner.
On the script level the tragic collisions are soothed or at least mixed. Thus, in the film version the plot of the most famous F. Wolf's play Professor Mamlok is changed: the story of a Jewish physician persecuted by Nazies and committing a suicide gets transformed into another version of a story about discernment of a man who had nothing to do with politics and became an active fighter with fascism and sacrificing his life to the fighting for the victory of his son, a Communist24. A similar case can be found in the cinema version of The Oppenheims where one of the members of the family overcomes the same way, again it is a physician and a Jew, his book prototype went mad in a concentration camp. Not less demonstrative are transformations with the conception of A. Macheret and Yuri Olesha from the script Walter to the Wader Soldiers. In the original version it was a story of a young worker who was far from politics who quite incidentally found himself in a concentration camp where he was taken for a leader of the Communist underground - the story reminds us of a famous film by Roberto Rosselini General Della Rovere (1959). This version was shot by the end of 1937 and could become the first film on this subject but it was not accepted by the cinema management. The authors were asked to intensify the role of the friend of the main character, a convinced communist. During the changes made to the film I. Koval-Samborski, the actor who played the leading role was subject to repression and in the final version his hero was removed to the secondary plan, got a doubtful biography and became ready for betrayal. His friend, a convinced communist came to the first plan, he ran away from the concentration camp and arranged work for the underground, the whole picture acquired the taste of adventure genre which had not been found in the films made on the German material before that.
Meanwhile the basic load fell not on the script but in the air created by means of art. For example, decorations of the concentration camp in Wader Soldiers made by A. Berger on the basis of photographs of Dachau concentration camp (what was specially noted by press) appeared to be not less significant and impressive as the developing collisions. Perhaps, for the perception of today the naive dramatic composition makes this impressiveness even sharper, emotional authenticity of the atmosphere stronger; this happens for example in a purely adventure picture The Struggle Goes on about the heroic activity of the underground where the gloomy and threatening atmosphere becomes the leitmotif of the film from the first scenes.
In other words the most important for these films becomes not what the Soviet cinema said, but what it lets out unwillingly the image of the fascist regime in Germany shown in the Soviet films reflects the reality of the Stalin regime of the pre-war period.

Murderers Are on Their Way: Prohibited Answer

The subject under study could be practically exhausted with that. After signing the notorious Ribbentrop - Molotov Treaty movie production on the material of Germany was suspended and the majority of pictures on the subject which had been previously demonstrated were not shown any more (including Aleksander Nevski by Sergei Eisenstein who nevertheless was awarded a newly founded Stalin Prize just before the war, in 1941). But all those films were again distributed in the USSR during the first weeks of the war.
However by summer 1942 a picture was produced at the Central United Cinema Studio in Alma-Ata which appeared to be an epilogue to the subject; it was unique by its resulting completeness. The film was Murderers Are on Their Way, directed by V. Pudovkin.
The film was based on the political review of Bertold Brecht Fear And Despair of the Third Empire which was basically written before the Second world war and partially issued in the USSR (in Russian) during the first months after joining into the war with Hitler. Pudovkin wrote the script together with Manuel Bolshintsov, one of the script writers of already mentioned The Great Citizen. Out of 24 scenes of the final version of the play connected by the plot only five were used by the authors: the first - Unity; the third - Chalk Cross; the tenth - A Spy; the seventeenth - Winter Help and the twenty third - Employers. The script ended by a specially written epilogue where soldiers from the scene Unity (used as a kind of prologue to the film) found themselves in the vast territories of Russia covered with snow.
Novelistic structure of the film on the first sight refers to the Cinema Collections on the War - the basic production of the Soviet cinema studio till the end of 1942. The art value of such cinema collections with all novels shot by different authors and further mixed into one film was rather disputable. And the Pudovkin's picture impresses first of all by the consistency and unity of the creative concept of the authors. Belonging evidently to the stylistics of films about Germany made in late 1930s, this film becomes integral due to lack of the communist underground subject. Impressive air of the fascist Germany in the Pudovkin's film becomes the main character. Though the authors tried to escape the title given to the original (the script version was called School of Meanness), yet such words as "fear", "despair" became the key words for determining the atmosphere of the picture.
The symbol if fascism and lack of freedom became the closed dark space (the painter was A. Berger who had worked at Wader Soldiers). Out of darkness in the corners fascists appeared as personification of evil and terror. And the fascists were terrified by opened space. This motive occurred in the prologue of the picture and it terminated in the epilogue when the occupants who found themselves in snow-covered Russian fields were killed by the terror before the boundless territory.
Removal of the subject of the Communist underground (and speaking in a wider sense - the main ideological leader formulating basic slogans and postulates) resulted in interesting consequences. The theme passing through all episodes selected for the film was the loss of freedom of speech. The main case here was the fear of punishment for a carelessly, i.e. freely pronounced word, and the despair was caused by the inability to pronounce such. This subject sounded stronger and stronger and ended in the pre final novel by a desperate, almost hysterical shout of the worker's wife who learnt about her brother's death in the concentration camp.
Thus, purely class ideological values were replaced by traditionally humanistic values - those, which are suppressed by any totalitarian regime in the first place.
These principal changes impressively and paradoxically resulted in the choice of actors. Oleg Zhakov played one of the soldiers in the prologue and epilogue of the film; before that he used to play main characters, communists in Wader Soldiers and Professor Mamlok and Astangov brilliantly played the role of the worker who could not hide his hatred to the fascist regime in the talk with a provocateur (During the decade this actor used to play all kinds of fascists beginning from a fascist-teacher in The Oppenheims to Hitler).
Psychological accuracy of all works of actors without exclusion contributes to the impressiveness of the film atmosphere because each actor was well aware of the situations shown on the screen from the personal experience of the Soviet life style. Collisions with provocateurs catching people for carelessly pronounced words, with children informing against their parents, with those who did their best to keep in secret that they have relatives subject to repression - all those things were tragic routine for both Hitler's and Stalin's states.
The principle of analogies worked here for the last time in the most unexpected way. An actual antithesis to the screen image of an ideal socialist society became its own routine life. This striking familiarity of situations determined the destiny of the picture: it was prohibited immediately after it had been finished. It was not possible to find documents formulating the reasons of such prohibition.
It means that the real life of the Stalin's epoch recognised itself in the screen image of Germany and was shocked and frightened. Revelation of the reasons for this frightening similarity became one of the purposes for the pieces of Soviet art about Hitler's fascism in the sixties - from Ordinary Fascism" by M. Romm to Life and Destiny by V. Grossman. But this story belongs to the next epoch.

Translated by Tatyana Ivanova

Kak v zerkale. Germaniya v sovietskom igrovom kino mezhdu 1920-30-kh gg, in Kinovedcheskiye zapiski, no. 59, 2002, pp. 61-80.


1. Dinamov, S, For the plot in art, in Pravda, 1934, April 16.
2. Kinovedcheskie zapiski, no. 31 (1996), pp. 113.
3. N.V, The film Hamburg , in Trud, 1926, August 27.
4. It is curious that we read the following in the review of a respectable critic Prim (Ivan Anisimov) in Vechernyaya Moskva newspaper, September 2, 1926: "We do not stage plays by Toller or Wittfoegel at the theatre any more... We do not want abstract schematism and bare pathos - we need vivid images with concentrated concrete things". The future Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in literary criticism forecasted the situation as we say with the opposite accuracy.
5. Margolit Ye., Shmyrov V, Seized Cinema, M., 1996, pp. 30.
6. D.E, Goods of Squares, in Kino, 1932, March 24.
7. The most demonstrative example in this aspect can be found not in feature films, but in animation. In 1934 an animation film Thief was made, it is known to the cinema historians as one of the samples of work with painted sound. The script was written by a Hungarian (German) cinematographer Bela Balazs who migrated to the Soviet Union just before Hitler's coming to power. The story of the film is a story of a pioneer and his dog that are fighting with an impertinent pig that had secretly come to the vegetable garden of a collective farm. A simple story for children is an excellent material for an experiment. But several years ago Aleksander Deryabin, a cinema critic discovered the first version of the film in RSACPD (Russian State Archive of Cinema and Photo Documents - transl.), there the pig appears with swastika on its side. So the film was meant as an allegory about the readiness of the Soviet country to oppose to the fascist aggressor. Here the commonness with the famous knights' formation from Aleksander Nevski by Sergei Eisenstein can be guessed. In the film the formation was called "svinya" (Note: Russian ?????? (svinya) is used both for a "military formation" (archaic word) and for a "pig" - transl.), but the possible hint to the fascist Germany did not pass the Soviet censorship.
8. Yet the majority of the Soviet people shared those illusions. Andrei Platonov's prophetic story Rubbish Wind (1934) is an exception from the rules. The rule can be the reaction of Maksim Gorki who valued the writer's talent but refused to publish the story due to its overhyperbolisity in the Gorki's opinion. The reaction of a well-known literary critic, prose writer and translator of Heine Yuri Tynyanov could be put in the same line. Ilya Ehrenburg remembered how he asked in 1934: "Is it really possible that a revolution of a monstrous form take place in Germany?"
9. Yakovleva, A, The Oppenheims, M., 1938, pp. 4.
10. Brik, O, Fruits of separatism, in Kino, 1934, May 22. It is interesting that Lina Voitolovskaya, who supported Brik in the same issue of the newspaper refers the archaic aesthetics of the picture to the tradition of German theatrical propagandistic performances of Alarm and Colonne Links teams on tour in the USSR in 1920-30's.
11. Nemolyaev, V, Remembering Golovnya, in Collection of works: Life and cinema. Veterans about themselves and their companions. Issue 4, M., 1994, pp. 132-135.
12. Ustinov, V, Kino, 1936, December 22.
13. Cameraman Vyacheslav Gordanov, L., 1973, pp. 62-64.
14. Ibid.
15. Perhaps the only German painter well-known in the USSR at that time was Georg Gross. His famous painting of a crucified Christ in a gas mask made for one of the Piscator's performances was more than once cited in the Soviet cinematography of late 20s - early 30s. In the episode of the Debris of Empire described in the beginning of the article twin-soldiers - a Russian and a German one run into each other near the cross with the Christ in a gas-mask. The same image is directly introduced into the plot of a rather poor Ukrainian film Crystal Palace based on the German material. The main character is a sculpture who is making a stature of Christ in a gas mask.
16. Tretyakov, S, Arsenal, in Cinema and culture, 1929, no 3.
17. Romm, Mikhail, Oral stories, M., 1989, pp. 78-79.
18. Turovskaya, M, I.A. Pyriev and his musical comedies. About the problem of the genre, in Kinovedcheskie zapiski, no. 1, (1988), pp. 119.
19. Balazs, B, Barbarian Talent, in Kino, 1933, November 22.
20. Kinovedcheskie zapiski, no. 6, pp. 183.
21. Kino, 1938, July 29.
22. It is significant that in the first film when the fascist Germany is the aggressor - Motherland Is Calling (1936) by A. Macheret - fascism is shown in the form of a squadron of aircrafts with swastika on their tails bearing death (a version of Valkyries flight). The main character - a brave Soviet pilot-veteran contrasts with this demonstrative facelessness; the working title of the film (The Hero's Face) speaks for itself.
23. Stalin, I, About the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, M., 1951, pp. 31.
24. In the German version of the play produced at the DEFA studio by the play writer's son Konrad Wolf in 1961, there is the initial variant of the final.