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Reentry Shock—The Dissertation

December 1, 2010

mdl-still-may-day-7-cross-currents.jpgFrom Marlen Khutsiev’s “I Am Twenty” (1961/65)

Reentry shock: Historical transition and temporal longing in the cinema of the Soviet Thaw.
By Gregory Blake Miller, Ph.D., University of Oregon, 2010, 323 pages.

Abstract: Nostalgia is the longing for a lost, and often substantially reimagined, time or place. Commonly regarded as a conservative impulse available for exploitation by hegemonic forces, nostalgia can also be a source of social questioning and creative inspiration. This dissertation examines the ways in which nostalgic longing imports images and ideas from memory into present discourse and infuses works of art with complication, contradiction, and ambiguity.

In the early 1960s, emboldened by Nikita Khrushchev’s cultural Thaw, many Soviet filmmakers engaged both personal and social memory to craft challenging reflections of and responses to their times. These filmmakers reengaged the sundered spirit of the 1920s avant-garde and reimagined the nation’s artistic and spiritual heritage; they captured the passing moments of contemporary history in a way that animated the permanent, productive, and sometimes stormy dialogue between the present and the persistent past.

Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba (1964), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1966, released 1971), and Marlen Khutsiev’s The Ilich Gate (1961, released with changes in 1965 as I Am Twenty ) were planned in the anxious years surrounding Khrushchev’s fall, and the films mark a high point of Thaw-era cinematic audacity. Each film is epic in scope; each deploys temporal longing to generate narrative ambiguity and dialogue between historical epochs. The films are haunted by ghosts; they challenge the hegemony of the “now” by insisting on the phantom presence of a thousand “thens”; they refurbish old dreams and question contemporary assumptions.

The Thaw permitted the intrusion of private memory into public history, and the past became a zone for exploration rather than justification. Easy answers became harder to come by, but the profusion of questions and suggestions created a brief silver age for Soviet cinema. For us, these films offer an extraordinary glimpse into creative life during one of the great, unsung social transitions of the 20th century and reveal the crucial contribution of individual memory in the artistic quest for formal diversity, spiritual inspiration, and ethical living.

[Dissertation available for order from UMI Dissertation Publishing/ProQuest Dissertation Express.]

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