There’s a sort of idea about what a Soviet animation is. Obtuse, depressing, grim, rainy, deeply culturally specific. They’re allegorical, or nonlinear, or silent or or or… This notion is the fallout of Yuri Norstein’s monopoly on public interest in Soviet animation. And that’s a pretty small collection of folks familiar with him as it is. The YouTube channel kubricklynch – Film History has parsed the landscape of the USSR’s Animation industry and history, to put an end to such ignorance. The video covers various artists and unofficial ‘periods’ throughout its timeline, though brief, offer a welcome guide into what is clearly a powerfully creative and robust cultural body of work, among the best in animation as a whole.
Well, the idea described above does feature, though only much later on in the video. Until then, it’s interesting to see how unique the form’s visual style is compared to that of other nations, even more so than a market like Japan. By this history lesson, we can see that it would be hard to discern an especially popular look to the nation’s output (other than a unique appreciation for rotoscope).
This span means that kubricklynch’s video is clearly an incredibly robust exploration when considering the video is only around 18 minutes in length. Surely, there’s no better way to be exposed to a (unexpectedly) uniquely creative space, and digest how one may learn from it in under 20 minutes.
Another surprise: the plurality of subversive work, and, unlike most viable animated industries, a majority of films outside the genre of kids’ entertainment. Stylistic shakeups seem to strongly influence a film’s choices in story and even its degree of rebellious spirit. The more radical the animation, the more radical the artist’s statements tended to be, occasionally criticising the state from under their censorial noses. Genres are plenty as well, with psychedelia infused into everything from folk stories to sci-fi. If you think you can guess which of these genres would be harbouring political or social satire, you may find yourself surprised. Distinctions on the lines of what is an ‘appropriate’ tone, cadence, emotional intensity and visual style for something as touchy as criticising the state, or making the least commercial product feasible, seem to have been blurred in Soviet Russia.
How curious that the spirit of free, creative and ingenious animation thrived under a restrictive regime, whilst we in all our freedom today labour under significantly more stringent, self-imposed artistic stifling. Why does a single year of Soviet animated history seem to wipe the floor with the average piece of popular western animation despite all our years of technological progress and growing interest in artistic, or at least ‘sufficient’ animated features?
Kubricklynch naturally keeps his project a whistle-stop tour for the most part, but it’s always worth reflecting on how your own style (consciously chosen or a reflection of your surroundings) shapes your writing (and vice versa), and the affect you take on through it. Is it time for a change?