MLT 265: Soviet and Russian Film Revolutions: Political, Social, Cultural
Professor: Charles Arndt
In this course, we will look at the idea of “revolution” in Russian and Soviet film. “Revolution” aptly describes our subject, since the film industry in Russia first receives world attention for its portrayal of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, as well as the “revolutionary” techniques it pioneers in the process. We will begin our study by analyzing both the political and historical context in which four great filmmakers of early Soviet cinema arise (Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Lev Kuleshov, and Dziga Vertov). We will then read about the innovative cinematic techniques they employ and observe these techniques in their films. Throughout the course, we will be consistently wrestling with the question of the role of cinema in society and attempting to determine how each one acts upon the other. In this regard, we will investigate the migration from “cinema for the masses” to the more personalized films of auteur-director Andrei Tarkovsky and then bring our analysis to Russian films which reflect and chronicle key social and political issues (for example, we will examine how the sexual revolution is dealt with in the film “Little Vera” and how Russia’s imperial legacy is critiqued in “Prisoner of the Caucasus”). Lastly, we will consider how Russian history is re-interpreted and almost “re-invented” in the post-Soviet Union as filmmakers and directors strive to find a new Russian hero in an often heroless age.
Course Requirements and Evaluation:
This course requires consistent and thorough reading of the texts, attentive viewing of the films, and responsible participation in classroom discussions as well as writings of various kinds. To ensure they are doing the reading, students will be given one to two questions after every class (based on the readings), which they must answer and bring to the following class. Students will be responsible for the presentation of one film. The writing assignments are designed to encourage students to develop their analytical skills, to strengthen their ability to form an opinion and to eloquently express it in an eloquent and logical way. Students are asked to write three responses (1 page each – two are scheduled and one they can hand in at the end of the term), one paper (6 pages) and a final paper (10 pages). The 6-page paper will be submitted first as a draft and then as a final version. The 10-page paper will be peer-reviewed. Detailed instructions on the writing assignments will be given. The final grade for the course will be determined based on the following:
Attendance, Participation, and Homework 45%
Three 1-Page Response Papers 15% (5% each)
6-Page Paper 10%
Final Paper (10 pgs) 20%
Grading Rubric:93-100 A 78-79 C+
90-92 A- 73-77 C
88-89 B+ 70-72 C-
83-87 B 68-69 D+
80-82 B- 65-67 D
64 & below = E
Class Participation and Attendance:
I assign a grade on each day of class for class participation. Most of the time, if students show up for class on time and know the material they will receive a 5 for that day. Arriving late means the highest grade a student can receive for that day will be a 4+. Also, arriving late more than 3 times equals an absence.
More than 3 absences will result in a lower grade (for example, if a student has an A, the grade will drop to the B, and maybe further if absences persist beyond 4).
The key here is advance notice. Students need to let me know in advance that they will be unable to make it to class (a day before is optimal, but half-an-hour before class is the minimum).
Required Reading: (all books are available at the bookstore).
Leyda, Jay. Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film
Giannetti, Louis Understanding Movies
Monday Introduction to course: Historical background: Russia on the Eve of
March 31 Revolution
Wednesday Read Leyda, 17-34 (“The Illusions”) 122-154 (“Peace-Bread-Land”)
April 2 Russian film just before and during the 1917 Revolution and Civil War.
Film: “Aelita, Princess of Mars” (1924 Silent)
Footage of Tsar’s Coronation - Agit-Trains
Monday Read Leyda, 170-190 (“The Youth of an Art”)
April 7 Read Giannetti 2-10 (“Realism and Formalism”), 142-146, 163-166 (“Editing”)
Documenting a Revolution is a Revolution: The Birth of Soviet Cinema: Newcomers and New Effects.
Lev Kuleshov and “The Kuleshov Effect”/ V. I. Pudovkin –Montage
Wednesday Film: “Mother”
Week Three First Response Paper Due
Monday Read Giannetti 166-178 (“Editing”)
April 14 Read Eisenstein “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” from Film Form: Essays in Film Theory (Course pack)
The Genius of Sergei Eisenstein: Revolutionary Montage
Wednesday Read Eisenstein “Methods of Montage” from Film Form: Essays in Film
April 16 Theory (Course pack)
Film: “The Battleship Potemkin” (Part I)
Week Four Film: “The Battleship Potemkin” (Part II)
Monday Differences between the techniques of Pudovkin and Eisenstein
Wednesday Read “Kino-Eye: The Embattled Documentarists” (Course pack)
April 23 Dziga Vertov and Kino-Eye
Excerpts of films “Man with a Movie Camera” and “Bed and Sofa”
Due: 6-Page Paper Draft
Monday Read “the Film Image” from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time (Course pack)
The Individual Takes Center-Stage: Tarkovsky and the Auteur-Film
Excerpts from films “The Mirror” and “Solaris”
Wednesday Read “Communism and Christianity” from The Origin of Russian
April 30 Communism by Nicolas Berdyaev (Course pack)
The Return of Religious Consciousness
Film: “Repentance” (Part I)
Monday Film “Repentance” (Part II)
Wednesday Due: 6-Page Final Paper
May 7 Read “No Glory, No Majesty, or Honor: The Russian Idea and Inverse Value” (Course pack)
Glasnost’: The Revolution in Societal Values.
Film: “Little Vera” (Part I)
Monday Film: “Little Vera” (Part II)
Wednesday Read “To Moscow!’ “To Moscow?’ The Russian Hero and the Loss of the Centre”
May 14 by Bigrit Beumers from Russia on Reels: the Russia Idea in Post-Soviet Cinema (Course pack)
Anti-Imperialism and Anti-War Films.
Monday Film: “Prisoner of the Caucasus”
Wednesday Second Response Paper Due
May 21 “National Identity, Cultural Authority, and the Post-Soviet Blockbuster:
Nikita Mikhalkov and Aleksei Balabanov” by Susan Larsen (Course pack).
Film: “Burnt by the Sun” (Part I)
Week Nine Read “Thieves’ World” from Godfathers of Russia (Course pack)
Monday Film “Brother” (Part I)
Wednesday *Final Paper Due for Peer Review
May 28 Brother” Part II
Monday Student Presentations
Wednesday Student Presentations
* You will turn in the final draft of the 10-page paper to me during final exam week.