On The Film ‘The Great Life’

J.V. Stalin

Speech by Comrade Stalin at the Meeting of the Organising Bureau of the Central Committee, All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks).

9. VIII-1946.

We have seen this film, seen also its first part. The first part is better, even though it calls for criticism. I am now, through associations, collating this film with the film ‘Ivan Grozni’ by Eisenstein, the second part, and with Pudovkin’s film ‘Admiral Nakhimov’ One gets a general impression that the Producers and Directors worked little over the subject matter, they want to demonstrate that they relate light-heartedly towards their duties. I would even say that sometimes this light-heartedness can be a crime. People do not study the subject, they write scripts and do not comprehend the matter, they do not study it. This is not an honest attitude.

Let’s take some good Producers, Directors, let us take that same American Charlie Chaplin. For two, three years he is silent, works hard, conscientiously studies technique and other details of his art, because no work without details can be studied in depth and one cannot make a good film without details. One has to study the details. And good Producers, Directors, work for years – 2, 3, 4 years because they relate to their work very punctiliously and conscientiously. And we have here poets, who can finish two poems in a month. And let's take Goethe, he worked for thirty years on ‘Faust’; how sincere and conscientious he was about his work. This casual attitude of authors of certain works becomes a flaw which forces the Directors and Producers to make such films. Take for example the film ‘Admiral Nakhimov’. Pudovkin is a talented Director and Producer, knows his work, but this time he did not get around, as is required, to study his subject. He decided: I am Pudovkin, everyone knows me, I will write and the public will swallow any film, they will see my films, and read any story. The people are starved, there is a lot of curiosity and inquisitiveness and of course they will watch any film. But now people’s taste has become more refined and they are not ready to swallow every product. They have started differentiating the bad from the good and are making new demands. And if this business continues further, and we, Bolsheviks are going to try and develop the audience’s taste, I am afraid some of these Script-Writers, Producers and Directors will have served their time.

The film ‘Nakhimov’ also has elements of the producer's dishonest approach to their subject, which they wanted to show. They try to win on trivial details, they showed two, three paper ships, the rest is dances, various meetings, all kinds of episodes to engage the audience. This, strictly speaking, is not a film about Nakhimov but a film about anything else, with a few episodes about Nakhimov. We sent the film back and told Pudovkin that he has not studied his subject matter, he does not know history, does not know that the Russians were present in Sinop and had established their power. This work has been portrayed in such a manner as if the Russians were not there. The Russians took an entire bunch of Turkish Generals into prison but this has not been conveyed in the film. Why? One doesn't know. Maybe, because this demands hard work, whereas it is easier to show dances. In one word, this is a callous attitude to the work, which this fellow took upon himself, which will be shown all over the world. If this person has any self-respect he would not have done this. He would have presented this film differently. But Pudovkin is not interested in social opinion or the viewers’ response.

Or take another film of Eisenstein – ‘Ivan Grozni’ Part II. I do not know if anybody saw it. I saw it. Loathsome piece! The person has completely diverged from history. He has portrayed the oprichnina (bodyguards of tsar Ivan IV- ed.) as the lowest wretches, degenerates, something like the American Ku-Klux-Klan. Eisenstein did not understand that the oprichnina forces were progressive, upon whom Ivan Grozni (Ivan the Terrible) relied to unite Russia into one centralized state against the feudal princes who wanted to break up and weaken him. He, Eisenstein, has an outdated opinion about the oprichnina. The view of the old historians on the oprichnina was extremely negative because they regarded Grozni’s repressions to be like the repressions of Nicholas II and completely deviated from the historical circumstances in which this took place. In our time there is a different view-point on the oprichnina. Russia, broken up into feudal principalities, i.e. into several states, needed to be unified if it did not want to come under the yoke of the Tatars for the second time. This is clear for everyone and should have been understood by Eisenstein as well. Eisenstein cannot but know this because there is a corresponding literature, but he portrayed some kind of degenerates. Ivan Grozni was a man with a strong will and character but for Eisenstein he is some kind of a spineless Hamlet. This is only pure form. What do we have to do with formalism, you have to give us historical truth. Studying a subject demands patience and some producers do not have sufficient patience and that is why they join everything into one and present us with a film: as if to say here, swallow it, more so, because it has on it the stamp of Eisenstein. How can one teach people to have a conscientious attitude towards their obligations, their own worth and towards the interests of the audience and the state? For we want to bring up our youth on truth and not on what can be twisted as truth.

And, lastly, the third film 'The Great Life'. That, which has been depicted, is obviously not the great life. All that has been done is to engage the interest of an undemanding audience. Someone likes the accordion with gypsy songs. So this is there. Another one likes songs sung in a restaurant. That is there. A third person likes discussions on various topics. That is also there. The fourth likes drinking and in this film there is a worker who cannot wake up without the smell of vodka or the sound of clinking glasses. Then he jumps up quickly. And this is there. Scenes of lovers strolling along are also there. Because the taste of the audience is varied. There is a little bit about restoration as well. Although this is a film about the restoration of Donbass, the restoration process occupies only one eighth of the film and that also in a playful laughable form. It is simply painful to watch; can it be really true that these people living amongst these golden people, amidst heroes, cannot portray them as is necessary, and should tarnish them. What the heck! We have good workers, they have proved themselves in war, they returned from the war and so must show themselves during restoration. This film is outdated when instead of an engineer they show an unskilled worker, and he says we workers are going to be guided by ourselves, and that we do not need engineers. The engineer is pushed aside, a simple worker is put up and he will lead. In the same way, in this film an old worker is put up as a professor. The workers did have this kind of a mood in the first years of Soviet power, when the working class first took power and saw that power is in the hands of educated people and decided: down with the educated. This happened, but this was not right. A lot of time has passed since then. The country has risen to unprecedented heights with the help of mechanisation, we are producing coal 7 to 8 times more than before. Why? Because the entire work is mechanized, because coal-cutting machines carry out all the work. All these appliances together comprise the system of mechanisation. If there was no mechanisation we would simply have perished. All this has been achieved with the help of machines.

But what is this restoration that has been shown, where a single machine does not figure in the film. Everything shown is as the old way. These people simply did not study the subject matter, they do not know what is the meaning of restoration in our conditions. They have muddled up what took place after the civil war in 1918-1919 with that which takes place, say, in 1945-46. They have mixed up one with the other.

And now they say that the film needs to be corrected. I do not know how to do this, if this is possible technically, this must be done, but what will remain there? The gypsy scene should be thrown out. That eight girls, appearing accidentally, changed everything in Donbass is a fairy tale, is an unthinkable thing. This also has to be corrected. People living in terrible conditions, almost under the sky, the engineer does not know the Director of the mine, not knowing where to sleep – all this has to be eliminated. This, perhaps, may be taking place in some areas, but this is not typical. We have built whole cities, a whole ‘state’ of cities in Donbass, all this was not shown. If this film is to be called the first attempt towards restoration then the interest is lost, but this, in any case is not the great life after the Second World War. If we want to call this film ‘The Great Life’ it will have to be altered drastically. Then what will remain? You will need to get some more new artists along with these ones (though these artists act quite well). This entire partisan spirit that we do not need the educated, do not need engineers – this is stupid, this has to be thrown out. So, what will remain? Try and if it is possible, correct it. But the film cannot be released in this version. 4,700 thousand roubles have been wasted.

Lukov: Allow me to correct it. There are some mistakes.

Stalin: There are not mistakes. We understand things differently.

Lukov: Even then, allow me to correct it. I made the first part. I am, myself, from Donbass. I confused the times, now everything is clear. Allow me to correct it.

Stalin: Tell me, are you capable of correcting it. If it is possible, then correct it, please. But this will be very difficult. You will need to change everything. This, in fact, will be a new film. You know, we suggested to Pudovkin to correct the film 'Admiral Nakhimov'. He demanded 6 months but he will not manage it because he will need to change everything. He approached this big problem rather lightly and now the film is not yet ready. In fact, he is re-doing it. You will also need to turn everything around. You can try, you may be successful. How does the Arts Council look at it; can we correct it?

Pirev: I think we can, but with the condition that we will need to take a lot of new material. We need to make a film about the restoration of Donbass.

Stalin: What will remain from this film?

Pirev: I think the people must remain because the audience knows and loves these artists from the first part. If they remain then they should be shown in a different way.

Stalin: The people should be shown is a different way. I don't think that Andreev and Alyeinikov are capable only of drinking, they were forced, pushed to alcohol. Give them another role and they may not drink. One has to think about this.

RGASPI F. 71 Op. 10 D. 140 ll. 9-14. This journal is grateful to the authorities of the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History for permission to reproduce this document.

Translated from the Russian by Neelakshi Suryanarayan.

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