Joseph Stalin, film star: cinema and the postwar Stalin cult

Joseph Stalin, film star: cinema and the postwar Stalin cult

Monday, 29 May 2017 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm
Venue: 
Nissan Lecture Theatre
Speaker(s): 
Dr Claire Knight (Max Hayward Fellow, St Antony's)
Chair: 
Dr Oliver Ready (St Antony's)
Convenor: 
Dr Claire Knight (St Antony's)
Series: 
Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre Monday Seminar

From 1942 to 1945, Joseph Stalin disappeared from Soviet visual culture. There was, after all, an inherent risk in linking the image of Stalin with the calls to defend, protect and liberate that dominated wartime visual media, as it could imply an admission of failure on his part to have safeguarded the nation. But once victory was assured in late 1944, Stalin’s portrait swiftly reconquered the visual landscape where it came to serve as the focal point of a new phase in the personality cult—the bolder, more pervasive phase of ‘high Stalinism’ or ‘the apotheosis of Stalin’. In response to victory and the more challenging legacies of the war, the postwar Stalin cult pioneered new ways of defining the leader, while developing old images to new extremes or abandoning them altogether. This was particularly the case in cinema which, although rich in depictions of Stalin before the war, had hitherto stressed only one facet of Stalin’s character in any detail: his identification as Lenin’s heir. Cinematic portrayals of Stalin blossomed after the war, as he took the lead role in a new genre of film, the artistic documentary, and shouldered Lenin out of the limelight. This talk will explore the postwar transformation of Stalin on screen from cameo and bit player to leading man, and trace the dialogue between film and other visual media in crafting the living, breathing cinematic Stalin, particularly in Chiaureli’s epic Padenie Berlina (The Fall of Berlin, 1950). It will also consider viewer responses to this film and the version of Stalin it depicts, finding that contemporary audiences posited an altogether different definition of the leader.