In general, much of the world looks back at the Soviet Union as a grey, bleak, frightening place which lacked any essence of personality and character; a place where culture didn’t grow but was oppressed and personal, expressive freedoms were not only lacked but state-controlled and shadowed by the secret police. Although all this is true, (and there is no way to condone or approve of such repressive behavior by a regime), there was a certain light in the darkness, a fresh breath in the swell of rotten air: animation.
In 2000, a 4-disc DVD collection entitled Masters of Russian Animation was released, primarily to expose the western hemisphere that there was, indeed, color in between the grey, concrete stones of Soviet oppression. This collection features Soviet-era animation (both hand drawn and stop motion) spanning from the Cold War early 1960’s to right before the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and let me assure you, it’s nothing short of superb.
Each disc features fairly short (on average about 10 minute) skits that represent the true and exquisite talents that these Soviet filmmakers had. Although one could analytically scrutinize them, the beautiful thing about these cartoons is that they are not there to beat the viewer over the head with politburo propaganda and support of the comrades, commissars, state, and revolution (with the exception of few, like ‘Passion of Spies’). They are there to evoke emotion, to make the viewer feel, and let me tell you; these animations are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Everything from the grimly animated ‘There Live Kozyavin’, to the critically acclaimed stop-motion ‘Seasons’ and ‘Ball of Wool’ – these are powerful and intriguing pieces of art that deserve a far bigger appreciation than the world chose to provide.
Once might ask as to how something like this pertains to a zine that focuses on sci-fi and horror? Well, these certainly aren’t cheery, happy, nuclear-family presentations. These shorts represent sadness, oppression, power, life, and the meaning of it, all executed beautifully through each artists talent. Were these the artist’s original intentions? To subconsciously educate the masses through subtle images? Who knows. But these definitely have a dark, melancholy, almost realistically disturbing feel to them that truly represent humanity and remind us who we are as creatures inhabiting this earth. If you are a fan of animation, a philosopher of imagery, or a virtuoso of the visual arts, this is a must have in your collection.