A new season at the Barbican tells the story of the USSRs final generation through the lens of its pioneering film-makers
Young people are our big hope, but they spell trouble for us too. In 1965, an administrator at the Leningrad film studio, Lenfilm, summed up an enduring dilemma for Soviet official culture. How could the Young Communist League (on paper a public organisation, in practice entirely subordinate to the party leadership) mobilise the younger generation without promoting political enthusiasms of the wrong kind? Soviet cinema a young art form with particular appeal to the countrys youth was, throughout its existence, a showcase for conflicted views of young people. Its own fate, too, altered as attitudes to them changed.
In the first years after the October revolution, youth activism was strongly encouraged in life and on film. Sergei Eisenstein was just 27 when Battleship Potemkin, with its martyred young leader of a naval mutiny, made him world famous. But views of political participation by children and young people changed abruptly under Stalin. Eisensteins Bezhin Meadow, in which a tow-haired boy leads the assault on traditional village life, ran into trouble in August 1936. This came a month after a crackdown on child psychology, which was considered perverted, and at the point when patriotic values were returning to the school syllabus.
Soviet film studios altered, too, turning into showcases for mature artists: the masters. In the late 1940s, film production stalled a mere eight titles for the whole USSR were produced in 1951. Almost none of the state film school, VGIKs graduates went on to make features. They toiled away directing documentaries, public interest movies and films for schools. Most were not even allowed to shoot footage while in college. Instead, graduating students sketched proposed shots and wrote pitches for films they would never be able to make.