Fellow 2007-08

Lilya Kaganovsky

Comparative & World Literature


The history of the Soviet cinema’s conversion to sound has been largely bracketed by notions of the industry’s backwardness, its difficult assimilation of the new technology, and the political debates that surrounded the changes to the industry as a whole. These accounts have not taken into consideration the larger implications of the transition, the way in which the introduction of synchronized sound coincided with the shift in Soviet filmmaking away from avant-garde cinema to socialist realism.

During her Center appointment, Professor Kaganovsky will fill that research gap, working at the intersections of art and technology, of politics and policy, and art and the state. She is particularly interested in how Soviet cinema’s transition to sound reflected the period of ideological and political restructuring, and in the role cinema came to play in the transmission and dissemination of Soviet power.

The transition years (1928-32) witnessed a complete restructuring and centralization of the Soviet arts. Perhaps in no other country was the response of major filmmakers against sound technology as profound as in Soviet Russia. Sound technology restricted the freedom with which film could be edited, requiring auditory and therefore visual continuity where silent film had not. Moreover, meaning would no longer be left to the assembly and comprehension of the viewer. In 1929, the Central Committee of the Communist Party reorganized and purged the cinema cadres to create a single Soviet-wide agency that oversaw the film and photo industries. In 1930, the first Soviet sound films went into production, and by 1931, the first feature sound films appeared on the Soviet screen. Their appearance did not so much mark the end of silent film, but rather, the end of the silent film era, an era of experimentation, intellectual montage, and radical avant-garde filmmaking.

Professor Kaganovsky’s project capitalizes on current interest in these “transition years” and the lack of scholarly attention to the details of Soviet cinema’s conversion to synchronized sound, a period generally glossed over between the rich production of the 1920s–Soviet cinema’s Golden Age–and Stalinist socialist realism.