By a nation’s monsters shall we know them. Taken as single utterance, the six hours of Kino’s four-DVD package offer a funhouse trip through Soviet history. Cold War vilifications of fat, striped-pants American plutocrats pale before the ferocious wartime animations of invading Nazi bloodsucking ghouls. In Kino-Circus (1942), a Charlie Chaplin clone puts Hitler and his Axis dogs through their paces; the fanged Hitler pig of
Fascist Jackboot Shall Not Trample Our Homeland (1941) is repelled by singing Soviet tanks and anthropomorphized planes.
Don’t look for the cream of Soviet animation. (There’s no work by Alexander Ptushko or Yuri Norstein.) These 40-plus offerings are the most tendentious and perhaps the most pragmatic of Lenin-toons. Some crudely forceful agitprops anticipate Stan Vanderbeek and Dick Preston’s early ’60s underground collage animations; others, like N. Khodataev’s elaborate 1933 fantasy The Music Box, are surprisingly delicate. The father of Soviet animation, Khodataev also contributed to the satiric Interplanetary Revolution (1924) and the epic China in Flames (1925), a 37-minute educational ‘toon with a cut-and-paste aesthetic that mixes everything from Felix the Cat to Chinese scrolls.
The material is grouped in four thematic divisions: “American Imperialists,” “Fascist Barbarians,” “Capitalist Sharks,” and “Onwards to the Shining Future: Communism.” Richest with coast-of-utopian detritus, the last group is haunted by the specter of a lost modernity. The 1939
Victorious Destination, featuring the redoubtable locomotive of socialist revolution, is surprisingly constructivist, and the delirious dance of the fraternal power lines in the 1972
Plus Electrification is pure sci-fi.