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Hidden Door Festival: KinoKlub @ Leith Theatre, Edinburgh 26th May 2017
The Hidden Door Festival is an annual non-profit multi-arts festival in Edinburgh, now in its fourth year. This year it is taking place from 26th May to 4th June in the long-derelict old Leith Theatre, a venue currently undergoing restoration. For more details visit the website: http://hiddendoorblog.org.
During last night’s KinoKlub event, I caught the first three of six Soviet-era animated propaganda films, presented by Morvern Cunningham and Malgorzata Bugaj.
Shooting Range (1979)
Directed by Vladimir Tarasov, Shooting Range follows a penniless young man whose old jalopy breaks down in New York. He pushes it down the road, and eventually comes across an indoor shooting range. A top-hatted fat capitalist offers him a job working there - as a human target. Shooting Range is a little bit strange. Well… OK… it’s very strange indeed. As an anti-capitalist tract it’s simultaneously both incredibly abstract and incredibly heavy-handed, and looks like it has been aimed at pot-smoking students. Imagine watching a Ralph Bakshi cartoon on Kool Aid laced with a sizeable dose of brown acid. As such, while the animation is basic, the art is quite fantastic. Everything is caricaturish and overdone to an almost absurd degree, the colours fascinatingly off-kilter in a felt pen sort of way, and the scenes so full of cute pop-art touches (even some Disney characters pop up at certain points) that it becomes a joint-fuelled visual feast.
Forward March, Time! (1977)
It’s another Vladimir Tarasov animation. It’s a homage to the poet/playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky - a person whom admittedly I wasn’t familiar with prior to reading up on him this morning. I am, however, fully aware of the Russian Revolution of 1917, of which Mayakovsky was a torchbearer. It’s an even more bizarre and randomly image-heavy piece of propaganda than Shooting Range, taking a whistle-stop tour of various historical events (including said revolution), then forward to a future of vast, glass skyscrapers standing behind a statue of Mayakovsky, and flying saucers breaking (literal) clay fat cats then scattering the money within across the Earth. The message is again both so obvious and presented in such abstract terms that it exists completely outside any accepted definitions of reality. Once more, however, the surreal pop art imagery is beautiful to look at, and the animation is a tad better than in Shooting Range. Where else can you see a singing gramophone funnel?
Passion of Spies (1967)
This B & W offering from Yefim Gamburg is a parody on spy movies. I didn’t find the plot to be the easiest to follow, but a glance at Wikipedia reveals that it revolves around a Western spy’s attempt to steal a dentist’s chair from the Soviet Union. Never mind… the plot comes secondary to a string of surreal touches and Warner Bros. cartoon-style setpieces. Expect to see spies typing out morse code on their teeth (which then goes through radio transmitters attached to their heads) a rolled-paper message passed through one ear of a sleeping tramp and then out the other, a spy dog disguised as a cat, and a spy hanging onto a fighter plane in mid-air who causes it to crash by cutting out its engine with a handily-concealed hacksaw. There’s a touch of propaganda here (the Soviet authorities are shown in a far more benevolent and forgiving than they were documented as being in real life), but mostly Passion of Spies is a piece of straightforward levity in its own WTF way.
At the interlude I walked away, suitably baffled and wondering whether I had awoken from an incredibly vivid dream, to take in some of the festival’s musical offerings.