Brain Pickings

Animated Soviet Propaganda

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What warthogs and vultures have to do with the most critical polarization in world politics.

There hardly is a time in world history more politically polarized than the 20th century, which divided the globe in two camps — capitalism and communism — divided at the height of the divergence by the infamous Iron Curtain. The Cold War was very much a war of ideologies and each side relied heavily on the ideological unity of its people, often employing the power of the visual arts — graphic design, animation, illustration — to drive its message home. While the U.S. was producing seminal design work under various WPA programs, the U.S.S.R. was busy churning out its own brand of political propaganda art.

Animated Soviet Propaganda: From the October Revolution to Perestroika chronicles the visual legacy of 60 years of Soviet political history between 1924 and 1984. Forty-one beautifully animated black-and-white and color short films, never before available in the U.S., depict — and exploit — national stereotypes with remarkable visual eloquence that bespeaks the complicated non-relationship between the East and the West during that critical time in political history.

Ideological messaging aside, the films feature some astounding animation techniques that grace today’s trendiest cinematic vocabulary, from stop-motion to paper cutout animation to impressively intricate puppetry

The ambitious collection is divided into four parts, curated not simply by chronology but by recurring themes. American Imperialists features 7 films from the Cold War era, depicting Westerners as money-hungry industrialists who inevitably collapse under the weight of their own greed. Though mocked and derided, it’s interesting to note that Americans nonetheless remain human — which is not the case with other antagonists in Soviet propaganda, as we’ll see in just a second.

Fascist Barbarians is a 17-film reaction to the Nazi invasion in the beginning of WWII. Here, the Nazis are dehumanized and frequently portrayed as undesirable animals — pigs, vultures, warthogs.

Capitalist Sharks is a 6-film assault on the bourgeoisie, weaving sci-fi narratives to envision dystopian scenarios for capitalists’ world domination.

Onward to the Shining Future: Communism features 11 films that romanticize the state and promise a utopian future of universal well-being.

Harvested from Moscow’s iconic Soyuzmultfilm Studios, Animated Soviet Propaganda is an absolute gem of historical insight and a living hallmark of the swaying power of visual communication. With more than 6 hours of rare footage, the collection is not only a priceless political trophy but a prized possession for any design and film history nerd.

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