Stalin's Trophy Films, 1946-56: A Resource (revised and updated)

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Abstract

One need not spend much time in the world of Stalin-era cinema before encountering the unusual case of post-war trophy films. These works, known as trofeinye fil’my (captured, “trophy” films), consist primarily of Hollywood and Nazi productions from 1930-1944 that were reprocessed according to Soviet censorial strictures and released in cinemas across the USSR from mid-1946 until 1956.[1] To date, scholarship has concentrated on two key questions in relation to these films. The first question is why these films were permitted to be screened. This issue is particularly relevant given the challenges faced by Soviet-made productions at the time in navigating censorship and securing release, which resulted in a period of malokartin'e (or film famine) from 1947-52. Early discussions by Maya Turovskaya, Peter Kenez, and Richard Taylor make a clear connection between the two post-war phenomena—trophy films and malokartin'e—pointing out that the dearth of Soviet features no doubt motivated the release of foreign pictures to supplement the domestic industry’s meager offerings. This supplementary function only added to their value as escapist fare for an audience enduring the hardships of post-war recovery (Kenez 1992, 213–214; Taylor 1998, 48–49; Turovskaya 1993, 51). More recently, earlier supposition as to the financial benefits of screening unlicensed foreign films has also been confirmed through the archival investigations of Natacha Laurent into the economics of censorship, and underlined by Kristin Roth-Ey in her holistic study of Soviet media (Laurent 2000, 234–239; Roth-Ey 2011, 39–43).

The second central question in the scholarship boasts greater implications beyond cinema history, and as such, has been pursued by scholars outside of film studies. This is because this second theme pertains to reception: how did Soviet audiences respond to trophy films? To this end, film historian Sergei Kapterev not only uses comparative film analysis to trace the influence of Hollywood trophy films on Soviet cinema, but also assesses official attitudes toward America in light of the motivations and manipulations of the Soviet attempt to negotiate a film trade agreement with the US after the war (which was not successful until 1958) (Kapterev, 2009). Further, historians of post-war youth culture and Soviet identity analyze anecdotal accounts of trophy film viewing drawn from memoirs and the Harvard Émigré Interview Project in order to identify the nuances and range of attitudes towards America during the early Cold War (Edele 2002, 53–56; Fürst 2010, 205–209, 237; Johnston 2011, 191–198, 206; White 2015).[2] Finally, although trophy films have yet to be explored fully in their Cold War context, several Cold War cultural historians nevertheless identify cinema and the Soviet use of Western cultural production as fruitful topics for future research (Kachurin and Glants 2002, 4; Starck 2010, 4).

Despite the growing interest in trophy film, much of the data fundamental to defining the phenomenon—numbers and titles of films, genres, release rates and distribution patterns, viewership statistics—has hitherto been fractured across various studies or lacking altogether from the scholarship. This resource seeks to begin to redress this deficiency by providing as comprehensive an accounting as possible of the trophy films released under Stalin between 1947 and 1952, the most intensive period of trophy screening. To this end, Table 1 identifies the 122 titles for which Soviet release during this period is certain, having been confirmed by cross-referencing archived directives for the processing of specific films, accounts of film purchases during the short-lived wartime exchange between the Allies, and secondary sources identifying foreign films that were shown. This cross-checking has enabled the identification of which films were actually screened, and which were captured and screened illegally (trophies) as opposed to purchased and licensed for distribution.[3] Subsequent tables break down this list of titles in terms of release rates (Table 2), genre (Table 3), and country of origin (Table 4). Finally, Table 5 enumerates those films that were excluded from release following initial approval.

When this resource was first compiled two years ago, it included a number of potential trophies and unidentified films in Table 5, along with a note as to the need for future updates as additional trophy films were confirmed. The recent publication by Richard Taylor of the Ministry of Culture’s 1955 “Catalogue of Foreign Sound Films Released on the Soviet Screen, 1927–1954” (Taylor 2016) has made the first such update possible, and removed lingering doubts regarding over a dozen films while shedding light on a handful more. I have also gone back over earlier sources to expand the list to include trophies screened after the death of Stalin (something originally beyond the scope of my research). The result is an additional thirty-six confirmed trophy titles. As ever, this resource remains a work in progress.
Original languageEnglish
JournalKinoKultura
Issue number56
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017

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