Although Soviet cinema has long been celebrated, little-known gems continue to emerge from Russia’s film archives. These include not only works by the great auteurs but musical comedies that were among the Soviet Union’s greatest box office triumphs. Riding the crest of this musical wave in the ’30s and ’40s was Lyubov Orlova, the pert, blonde-haired First Lady of the Soviet Screen. From her eye-catching performance in Jolly Fellows to a string of musical vehicles created for the superstar by husband and former Eisenstein collaborator Grigori Aleksandrov, she captivated Soviet audiences with her spunk, energy, and a girl-next-door persona modeled on Mary Pickford and Ginger Rogers (Orlova even received regular deliveries of Max Factor cosmetics and custom-made wigs via diplomatic pouch from the States). Uniting the Orlova-Aleksandrov musicals is an intoxicating belief in the bright future of the Soviet Union: Obstacles and adversities come and go, but faith in the future always remains. As with Hollywood’s depression-era films, their aggressive cheer masks a far darker reality, with a worsening economy, widespread purges, and war looming on the horizon. But works such as Circus, Volga Volga, The Shining Past, and Spring are fascinating and hugely entertaining cultural products, documents of both an era and an ideology.
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Co-presented by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Seagull Films in association with Mosfilm Studio. Curated by Richard Peña. Produced by Alla Verlotsky. Special Thanks to Karen Shakhnazarov.