- 1 Defense of the Border and Socialist Construction (1920s1940s)
- 2 Socialist Construction: Youth and Modernity
- 3 Crossings and Blurrings of Frontiers and Spaces: Sergei Eizenshteins East-West Dialogue
- 4 Post Colonialist Dream Factories
- 5 Siberia as a Stalinist Hell: Labor Camps and War
- 6 SiberiaRussias Wild East in East Asian films
- 7 Western Wild East Films on Siberia
- 8 Some Characteristics of Russian and Western Wild East Films
In her definitive study on the history of Russian and Soviet film Christine Engel has correctly pointed out that film is not only fashioned by history, moreover film shapes historical consciousness.  Nevertheless the author only slightly touches the meaning of spaces in the
Defense of the Border and Socialist Construction (1920s1940s)
Against the background of political tensions in the Far East (Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931) heroes were often border guards or NKVD officials defending rodina against the outer and inner enemy. Soviet film producers here alluded to xenophobic attitudes deeply rooted in Siberian population since the
Aerograd (1935) produced by David Marian resumes the topic of the eastern frontier as defense line against Yellow Hordes. Aerograd represents not only a Soviet outpost on the Pacific Ocean, but also the scenery where inner struggles take place. Like the real Magnitogorsk, a steel town at the Ural, the fictitious Aerograd symbolizes industrialization and modernity. Producer Aleksandr Dovshenko were hiking for several months through the Russian Far East where he got fascinated by the landscape the inspirations for his film. An old hunter stands in the core of the action who of course does not jeopardize the forceful transformation of the wildernis, his natural living space, instead he discovers a plot of his friend who collaborates with the Japanese enemy in sabotage of Stalins industrialization campaign in the Far East.
Wild East films of the 1930s are teeming with spies and saboteurs who are regarded as outlaws like their counterpartsthe gangsters who are increasingly appearing in the Western of the 1930s. In his innovative study on Western Georg Seeslen has elaborated the background of these constructions of the imaginary enemy. In the 1930s, the era between the moral desintegration of the Great Depression and World War II, the repulse of the gangster produced the spectators flight from an identity crisis a strong argument that can be applied to Wild East films. Collectivization and forced industrialization resulted in an atomization of the Siberian frontier society. The discovery of spies and saboteurs gave the spectator a new identity. In the last episode of Aerograd the hunter kills his friend who has betrayed socialism. It is
In the 1930s and 1940s the border became also a popular theme in Japan. Since the occupation of Manchuria adjacent to Siberia the Japanese installed a respectable film industry. The cultivation of enemy images was a leitmotiv of Soviet and Japanese films at that time. Siberia and the East AsianPacific Rim became a battlefield where film producers were leading mental fights by order of a
Socialist Construction: Youth and Modernity
In Semero smelykh (by Sergei Gerasimov 1936) the Komsomolskaia Pravda calls on juveniles from all over the Soviet Union to erect a weather station in the Siberian Arctic. More than 400 young people arrive at the shores of the Polar Sea and experience the roughness and beauty of the Siberian tundra. The film reflects the euphoria so typical for the period of industrialization and technological advance on the Siberian frontier. In 1938 Sergei Gerasimov produced a film with a similar theme. In Komsomolsk young Soviet people are again pioneering. Komsomoltsy from all parts of the country are cutting down the Siberian taiga in order to build Komsomol
Crossings and Blurrings of Frontiers and Spaces: Sergei Eizenshteins
Sergei Eizenshteins fascination for the exotic East (Japan, China) and the American West is relatively unknown in film historiography. During Russian Civil war, Japanese intervention in Siberia and the establishment of the Far Eastern Republic Eizenshtein began to study Japanese language at the academy of the General Staff in Moscow and he became also interested in kabuki theater. In the same period Eizenshtein was inspired by the Mexican, a novel by Wild West writer Jack Landon that he brought on stage.  In 1930s Eizenshtein traveled to New York and Hollywood, the dream factory of the great Westerns, where he negotiated with Paramount on writing a script for Sutters Gold, the story of the German captain Sutter who takes part in the legendary Californian goldrush. But Eizenshtein breaks with the stereotype of the American Wild West and its heroes. His attempt to subject Americas great national myth of the West to criticism of social conditions on the frontier was condemned by Hollywood and Eizenshtein lost his engagement for Sutters Gold. The US press condemned Eizenshtein as Red dog, dangerous Jewish spy etc. The case of Sergei Eizenshteins Sutters Gold demonstrates that film factories were a stage on which national vanities were produced. Nevertheless, Sergei Eizenshtein did not give up his dedication to the theme of spaces and frontiers. In 1938in view of the tensions in Europe (Treaty of Munich) and the armed
Post Colonialist Dream Factories
In half a century, from the 1950s to 2000 Siberia became a place of imagination among Russian and Western film producers. From Zolotoi Eselon (by Ilia Gurin 1959) to Sibirskii tsirjulnik (by Nikita Mikhalkov) the Siberian frontier appeals to Russian national feeling, at least of that of imperial greatness. In Zolotoi Eselon the White armies transfer the gold reserve of the Tsars via the Transsiberian Railroad to the regions east of the Urals. The Whites want to hand over the precious metal to the foreign interventionist troops in order to receive support for their war against the Bolsheviks. But on the way the Red are attacking the Transsib and seizing the gold. The film is very thrilling and revives the myth of Tsarist gold in Soviet
Siberia as a Stalinist Hell: Labor Camps and War
The image of Siberia in Russian and Western Wild East films is very ambivalent. One one side the region represents the magnificence of the Tsarist and Soviet empire (a land plenty of mental vigor and natural resources), but on the other hand horror and human humiliation in the shape of Stalinist labor camps. In Vokzal dlia dvoikh (produced by Eldar Riazanov 1982) a pianist got instead of his wife in a Siberian labor camp. On the run from harsh reality he remembers his love affair with a waitress on a station before his deportation. When the labor camp administration informs him of the arrival of his wife, instead of the spouse, the waitress comes. In this tragicomedy film producer Eldar Riazanov introduces the spectator into the pianists world of dreams.
SiberiaRussias Wild East in East Asian films
A legend among Wild East films is Dersu Uzala (Derusu Uzala, SU/Japan produced by Akira Kurosawa). Indigenous hunter Dersu Uzala is a hero that symbolizes the harmony between man and nature. According to Akira Kurosawa, nature is a vigor that endows man to exercise charity in society. Less known is the impact of Siberia on mental landscape in Japanese
Western Wild East Films on Siberia
An outstanding example for Western monumental films that develops the theme of prostor is the legendary Doctor Zhivago produced in 1965 by David Lean with Geraldine Chaplin (Tonia), Julie Christie (Lara) and Omar Sharif (Jurii) playing the main part. Before a grandiose landscape east of the imaginery Urals (the film was actually shooted in the Canadian prairies) the individual destiny of physician and poet Jurii Zhivago became blurred with the political and military events of October Revolution and Civil War. Before the scenery of the West Siberian steppes the plot (which is well known and therefore needs no repetition here) gains its dramatic turn. David Lean who became famed for his other films like Lawrence of Arabia, was awarded for this monumental production with five Oscars. Until the 1980s the film nets worldwide nearly 200 million US dollars. Aside from the monumental staging of human destiny thrown into a vast landscape, the film has not a great deal in common with the novel by Boris Pasternak.  Soweit die Fuesse tragen (The Great Escape, Germany 1959 produced by Fritz Umgelter) shows that the Gulag theme also provides good material for monumental films. In fall 1945 3,000 German war prisoners, among them Clemens Forell, are deported to a labor camp near Cape Dezhnev. The plot describes his successful escape of a man who demonstrates a tremendous love of freedom. Over thousand of miles he is roaming the Siberian landscape in winter and summer alike. Producer Fritz Umgelter does not give the natural beauty so much emphasis, instead mans encounter with nature, the prisoners survival training in the wilderness which symbolizes a frontier under a
Some Characteristics of Russian and Western Wild East Films
Common to Russian and Western Wild East films is the intrinsic myth of the conquest of Siberia and Eurasia by the Russians, thereby conveying the glamor of the Russian empire. Geographical vastness becomes associated with national greatness. Like the legendary Western did help to create a white imagery, a white mythology of the Indians, we also find in the Wild East film (Ermak, Mikhail Strogoff) the (Asian) Tatar who fills Russian settlers with fear. In contrast to this clash of civilizations Dersu Uzala represents the noble savage who is
These Wild East films do not only generate the myth of fighting men of different cultures on the frontier, it is more revealing to explore this film genre under the aspect of gender that blurres with the ethnic category. Like the Indian or the Mexican woman in the American West the Tatar woman (in Ermak, Michael Strogoff) presents with her dark hair and skin an (alien) erotic symbol for the white, Russian man. The whole plot of these both films are aiming at conquest of the foreign landscape and seduction of the alien, indigenous woman. The Russian woman in Wild East films is often a blond beauty like Ermaks wife who in the film Ermak is caught in the harem of Khan Kuchum and gives birth there to two sons and seem to be martyr of Russian rodina. Like in the legendary Western the Wild East films show the typical erotic relationship: white man and indigenous woman (Indian, Mexican, Tatar) and white woman and indigenous man. The genre conveys patriarchal images of the woman on the frontiers. Especially the Tatar and Indian/Mexican woman are symbolizing the womanly wildness that is colonized like the wild landscape.
We can also make out some similarities in the plot of Western and Wild East Films: the hero has often to liberate someone from captivity (like in Michael Strogoff) or he himself like Jurii Zhivago is captured by Red partisans or bandits. Another important feature of this genre is the hunt on an enemy, bandit etc. The horse here often symbolizes freedom and unruliness (Ermak, Michail Strogoff, Doktor Zhivago). Additionally there is a main catalogue of characteristics that describes the male heroes in the film: honor, friendship, autonomy (typical virtues on rough frontier). Not only the encounters with the indigenous population (Indians, Tatars) form the type of tough man, but also the rough landscape, the vast and weird space like Death Valley in summer or the Siberian tundra/taiga in winter are symbolizing a doomed destiny that the heroes have to overcome. These spaces/frontiers are not untouched, bandits and fugitives leave their footprints and strains have left their deep marks in the heros face (Doktor Zhivago, The Great Escape). Here nature is not a passive element, moreover it enters into an inexorable dialogue with man.
The genre of Western and Wild East films often use horror as a stylistic mean, i.e. to make a parody of the romantic plot. In Pánico en el Transsiberiano (Panic on the Transsib, Spain 1972) a revived monster ape is wolfing down a complete cossack unit on the Transsiberian Railroad, a similar plot we find in Killing Box (USA 1993, produced by George Hickenlooper): an African zombie terrorizes the US troops during American Civil War. Here frontiers become a place of a produced nightmare, a surrealistic presentation where the Siberian and American frontiers are vanishing in abstraction and nebula. Whereas the legendary Western has passed its best time, the Wild East Film experiences with the new production of Michail Strogoff (1999), Sibirskii Tsiriulnik (1999), The Great Escape (2000) as a national epos of Russia a new boom after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Wild East films as work in progress seem to be the mainstream in the West and
- Quoted from Christine Engel (Ed.) Geschichte des sowjetischen und russischen Films (History of the Soviet and Russian Film), StuttgartWien 1999, p. XII.
- Georg Seeslen Geschichte und Mythologie des Westernfilms (History and Mythology of the Western), Marburg 1995, p. 68.