Stalin’s “Loss of Sensation”: Subversive Impulses in Soviet Science-Fiction of the Great Terror

David Christopher

Abstract


Stalin’s rise to power was largely concomitant with the rise of cinema. The history of the nascent field of cinema art is dominated by names like Eisenstein, Kuleshov, and Aleksandrov, alongside Western icons like Edison, Meliés, Keaton, Chaplin, Griffith, and others. In these earlier stages of the industrial era, it is no surprise that early Soviet filmmakers experimented with science-fiction as much as their Western counterparts. However, a cursory survey reveals that early Soviet science-fiction, aesthetically similar to both Meliés’ works and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (although predating the latter by a few years), was all but quashed by censorship under Stalin’s nascent regime. Astonishingly, however, even during the height of the Great Purge, at least two Soviet science-fiction films emerged that seem to have eluded the censor. Gibel sensatsii (Loss of Sensation, 1935) and Kosmicheskiy reys: Fantasticheskaya novella (Cosmic Voyage, 1936) both seem to have found modest audiences in the Soviet Union without suffering the demise of immediate censorship. While both Loss of Sensation and Cosmic Voyage are distinctly science-fiction, they remain generic anomalies, sui generis in their own right, for their otherwise unconventional content. This paper proffers a comparison of the two films to elucidate the political, historical, and ideological context which gave rise to these films and to explore the films for evidence of dissent or subversion in their science-fiction narratives that appears to uphold conservative Soviet ideology but that, by virtue of the already subversive generic conventions of science-fiction, contain criticisms of Stalinist ideology.


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