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Animated Soviet Propaganda,1,7925605.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

Soviet propaganda cartoons come to video

The four-DVD set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’ opens the vaults on
decades of Cold War humor.

By Robert W. Welkos, Times Staff Writer
February 4, 2007

IN 1995, Malibu producer Joan Borsten and her husband, the Russian-
born actor Oleg Vidov, were poring over a library of animated films
produced at Moscow’s Soyuzmultfilm Studio when they discovered buried
among the children’s classics other films that caught their attention.

These were no Disney-like fairy tales or Russian folk stories.
Instead, these animated short films intended for the Soviet masses
painted a sinister portrait of life in capitalist America.

“Black and White,” produced in 1933, depicted a highway with an
endless row of blacks lynched on telephone poles. “The Millionaire,”
made in 1963, told the story of a rich American woman who leaves $1
million to her pet bulldog, who becomes so wealthy and powerful that
he eventually is elected to Congress. And in the 1979 animated short
“Shooting Range,” a jobless American youth finds work in a carnival
shooting gallery only to discover the evil, greedy owner is now
charging double – for people to use the youth as target practice.

These films, rarely seen in the West, are among several dozen included
in a four-disc DVD anthology titled “Animated Soviet Propaganda” that
is being distributed by Kino International and Films by Jove. The
collection retails for $89.

The anthology is divided into categories titled “American
Imperialists,” “Fascist Barbarians,” “Capitalist Sharks” and “Onward
to the Shining Future: Communism.” The DVDs include interviews with
Russian film school professors, directors and animators, including
famed animator Boris Yefimov, who was 101 and died two years after
being interviewed.

The earliest film in the collection is “Soviet Toys,” made in 1924;
the last is “History of the Toy,” an anti-fascist film made six
decades later.

Borsten is president of Films by Jove, which acquired worldwide
distribution rights to many of the Moscow studio’s animation library.

“After the Bolshevik Revolution, about 200,000 [Communist] party
members inherited a land mass of mostly illiterate people,” said
Borsten. “Lenin said film was the best media for propaganda. Within
the film genre, animation was by far the easiest way to say what was
bad and what was good.”

Joseph Stalin, who succeeded Lenin, ordered the building of the state-
run animation studio after becoming enamored with a Walt Disney film
festival held in Moscow. But while many of the films produced at the
studio beginning in 1936 were based on European and Russian folk
tales, some were blatant political propaganda designed to show America
and the West in the worst possible light.

New Russian Word, a Russian-language daily published in New York, said
in a recent article that one can’t help but chuckle at the 1949
animated short “Someone Else’s Voice,” in which “Russian
traditionalist nightingales hiss and boo” an “obnoxious magpie who
returns from the West having learnt to sing jazz while on vacation.”

“In 1936, most animation were films for children,” Borsten said. “But
while the studio was making beautiful films for children, it was also
making propaganda for adults and children.”

Over the decades, the depiction of capitalists in Soviet animation
rarely changed.

They were shown as greedy, racist, cigar-chomping fat cats bent on
exploiting the noble worker. That characterization didn’t change even
with liberalization of communist rule.

“After perestroika,” Borsten noted, “Americans who came to Russia to
invest were still being called ‘capitalist sharks.’ ”

Some of the early works in the collection were produced by Bolshevik
collectives; later works were produced at the Soviet animation studio.
But all of them serve to point out what the Russian people were
subjected to during the years of Communist totalitarianism.

Vidov believes the animated propaganda films that he grew up with kept
Soviet citizens wary about life outside their borders. People inside
the Soviet Union came to believe that America was a scary place, where
there was high unemployment, blacks were routinely beaten, and
capitalists had bags of money and were free to abuse those who had

“It was a war between socialism and capitalism,” Vidov said. “Now,
there are rich and poor in Russia. So, now, I don’t think anybody is
talking about it.”

robert [dot] welkos [at] latimes [dot] com

Soviet-era animation: An article in the Feb. 4 Calendar about a DVD
anthology, “Animated Soviet Propaganda,” said that famous Russian
animator Boris Yefimov, who was interviewed by the anthology’s
producers, had died. Yefimov, who turned 106 in September, is alive. –




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