Podrugion the Screen and in the Audience: Viewing Women's Relations in Soviet Film of the Late 1930s

Anne Eakin Moss, Stanford University

This paper will examine images of women's interrelations in Soviet film as products of Soviet social policy and aesthetic ideology, focusing on the moment of contact between the spectator and the work of art. With examples from three films from the period of high Stalinism,Podrugi (1936),Devushka s xarakterom(1939) andSvetlyj put' (1940), I show how images of women's relations served as prescriptive models for behavior, yet also functioned on a subconscious level to seduce the viewer, male and female, in different ways. Using psychoanalytical theories of film reception and archival research into the films' production and reception, I show how the filmmaker, in negotiation with the state, carefully crafted the transmission of an ideological message through the visual and narrative representation of women as objects of desire and, for women, as objects of the desire to be desired.

These three films place in the foreground women's interrelations, as opposed to the more often depicted relations among men or between a woman and a man. In Podrugi, the bonds of women's friendship are sealed by blood, transforming the women from friends into comrades. In Devushka s xarakteromand Svetlyij put', an individual, exceptional woman is differentiated from the collective body of women, but inextricably linked to it. Each film has an ideological message to transmit to the female viewer -Devushka s xarakterom, in particular, was a part of the Soviet propaganda campaign to encourage women to move to the Far East--and at the same time, creates a generalized image of Soviet citizenship for all viewers modeled on the all-female communal body. This model is a utopian, interdependent communal group, a horizontal set of relations which at the same time enforces subordination and implies a hierarchy with a (sometimes) invisible Stalin at the apex.