Love in the time of the USSR
Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatlesâ classic single All You Need Is Love. This blog, however, isnât about the Beatles, but it is about love with a little socialist industrialism thrown in. Iâve recently been working on Module II Newsreels & Cinemagazines of Adam Matthewâs Socialism on Film: The Cold War and International Propaganda resource, and thought Iâd share one of my favourite clips (so far)!
The clip is taken from a 1966 instalment of cinemagazine Around the Soviet Union, a series which was produced by the USSR roughly from the 1940s through to the 1980s as a means to reveal, extol, and promote the Soviet way of life. Each instalment of Around the Soviet Union typically includes four or more short features showcasing the industrial, technological and social progress taking place in Soviet countries from Georgia to Kazakhstan. All offer visual examples of the seeming success of socialism, as can be seen in the clip below:
Offering a view into the lives of the female workforce at Minskâs Luch watch factory, this feature is just one example of hundreds of fascinating vignettes which address everything from developments in diplomatic relations to militarism, ballet, space exploration, vocational training, neuroscience, agriculture, trade unions, and film festivals. In the words of British Communist Stanley Forman, the founder of the ETV-Plato Films collection from which this clip is taken, they truly allow the viewer to âsee the other half of the worldâ during a period in which an iron curtain blocked out most of that view.
Whilst these cinemagazines are laced with an undeniable rose-tinted idealism, their purpose to display and promote means that their subject matter is generally informative, serious, and direct. For this reason, I was extremely surprised to find a brief yet charming romantic sketch tacked on to the end of the Luch watch factory feature.
The sketch swaps scenes of assembly lines for the interior of the refined Luch watch store, with sales staff as glamorous as the products that theyâre selling. Having fallen prey to this glamour, a young man exchanges longing glances with the sales assistant across the counter as he makes his purchase. It seems that he now finds himself with not only a fancy new watch, but a new love interest to bootâŠthat is, until the object of his affections walks straight into the arms of another man! Now outside the shop, out of pocket and out of luck in love, the young man throws his new watch to the ground in heartbroken anguish. As he walks away, however, he turns, surprised to find that the watch is still ticking. As he straps it back onto his wrist, he sees a vision of the pretty sales assistants in the watch face. You can watch this adorable clip below:
The sketchâs purpose is pretty clear: to showcase the talents of a young, highly skilled, female workforce that produces and sells beautiful, sturdy and reliable watches - a gleaming symbol of socialist industrial and economic progress. I like to think, however, that it also holds another message â a message suggesting that, for the young man, there is all the time in the world to find love, and plenty more watch sales assistants in the sea. But then, Iâve always been a romantic at heart.
Socialism on Film: The Cold War and International Propaganda is a collection of documentaries, newsreels and features that reveals the world as seen by Soviet, Chinese, Vietnamese, East European, British and Latin American film makers. This project makes available Stanley Forman's ETV/Plato Films archive which is held at the BFI National Film Archive.
Module II Newsreels and Cinemagazines publishes in 2018.