food in the arts

PYR´EV, Ivan Kubanskie kazaki [Kuban Cossacks]/ FOOD FILMS/ FILM MAIN
Mosfil´m, 1949; released 27.2.1950/ Scrn: N. Pogodin/ Phot: Valentin Pavlov/ Music: Isaak Dunaevskii/ Song lyrics: M. Isakovskii and M. Vol´pin
After World War Two, with hunger and hardship still rife, the kolkhoz fantasy of abundance returned in such films as KUBAN COSSACKS and THE CAVALIER OF THE GOLDEN STAR (1951), which Kruschev singled out for denunciation in his 1956 'secret speech'. Stalin, he claimed, had consistently used cinema for self-serving myth-making, and nowhere had this been more evident than in the spectacle of plentiful food that had occupied Soviet screens through the hungriest decades. An unusual instance of the politics of food imagery, which has more often related to scarcity and famine, but a reminder of how potent the theme remains, especially in Third World cinema and the social documentary tradition.

"Myths can often come to grips with life but they are always the eternal winners. Following the release of this typical propaganda film, many viewers believed that they were the exception, not the film with its portrayal of such Soviet affluence. 

"In any case, a myth is something we are very happy to listen to. There can be no negative myths, for otherwise they would be rejected by public opinion. That is why we adore overt mythmakers who openly shoot films or stage plays for us, as well as covert mythmakers who, for example, generate news for the mass media, with everything so flawless and correct in their creations, be it a film or news story."

 Heorhy Pochepstov

Professor Heorhy Pochepstov
In his 1956 Secret Speech, Nikita Khrushchev singled out Soviet filmmakers for their role in supporting Josif Stalin's personality cult and in varnishing reality through their depiction of Soviet agriculture and life on the kolkhoz. Ivan Pyr'ev's film The KUBAN COSSACKS has been generally associated with these remarks, and this has prevented a nuanced assessment of Pyr'ev's contribution to Soviet cinema. Richard Taylor attempts to redress the balance by examining, in the context of the doctrine of socialist realism and the demand for a "cinema for the millions," the development of the kolkhoz musical, a genre that Pyr'ev made his own. Four films are examined in detail: THE WEALTHY BRIDE, THE TRACTOR DRIVERS, THE SWINEHERDESS AND THE SHEPHERD, and THE KUBAN COSSAKS. Summarizing Pyr'ev's distinctive contribution to Soviet cinema, Taylor concludes that the kolkhoz musical was an act of faith in which audiences were willing to collaborate and that cinema was indeed, in Stalin's words, an illusion that dictated its laws to life itself.

(Richard Taylor, "Singing on the Steppes for Stalin: Ivan Pyr'ev and the Kolkhoz Musical in Soviet Cinema")

Ian Christie, Heorhy Pochepstov


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