Soviet soundtrack – best songs from Soviet films
Popular music and Soviet film
What kind of music do people usually listen to? Of course, Tchaikovski’s and Shostakovich’s works define Russian high culture, but it is unlikely you work out to Swan Lake (except if you’re a ballerina), and you’ll hear Viktor Tsoy’s Кукушка a lot more often in the repertoir of street musicians. The majority listens rather to popular genres, and popular music shapes our everyday lives. It is important to keep in mind that the term ‘popular music’ does not refer to pop music only. Popular music is mainly defined as music for entertainment purposes, its interpretation and distribution is easier and faster in comparison with classical music. However, popular genres are not to be looked down upon. Popular music became an important topic first when rock ‘n’ roll arose in the US and mainly in the West, as Elvis Presley and The Beatles changed popular culture and our consumption of music for good. These changes had their effect in the USSR as well, even though trends spread slower due to the iron curtain. But elements of Western popular culture found their way into Russian homes in a way one would not expect: through Soviet film. Through this list of the greatest songs from Soviet cinematography we’ll see many examples that illustrate this point.
Пять минут – Карнавальная ночь, 1956 (Five minutes – Carnival night)
Karnaval’naya noch – Carnival Night is not just a naive and light comedy, but also a very important symbol of the Thaw. The Thaw, the era after Stalin’s death was marked by looser censorship and more freedom then before. Carnival Night with its sense of humour, lots of music and dancing was an outstanding phenomenon within Soviet film, being entertaining without trying to force any ideological message onto its audience. The story follows the Cultural Centre’s staff, preparing a show for New Year’s Eve. However, trouble begins when comrade Ogurtsov, the new director wants to change the show just a few hours before New Year’s. Memebers of the staff try their best to sabotage Ogurtsov’s plans without causing confrontation. Among other songs, Пять минут – Five minutes is our favourite. Performed by Lyudmila Gurchenko, it is about the five minutes left until midnight, when the clock strikes and we all get a fresh start in life.
Где-то на белом свете (1969) – Кавказская пленница, или Новые приключения Шурика (Kidnappig, Cauciasian style or Shurik’s New Adventures)
Shurik is maybe the most famous Soviet film character from the sixties. Kidnapping Cauciasan style is the second Shurik movie – a character, defined by his benevolance and awkwardness, stumbling thruogh life’s crazy adventures. In this film, Shurik goes to the Caucisan mountains to collect folclore, where he falls in love with Nina. However, he is not the only one who has taken an interest in the young girl – and it turns out, in the Caucasus it’s tradition to kidnap the bride… It is important to note that Кавказская пленница features other songs as well, during one of them the characters learn how to dance twist – a type of western dance.
Где-то на белом свете (Somewhere in a white world) tells the story of polar bears, that rub their backs onto the North Pole, making the Earth go around quicker so that young lovers may find each other earlier. It is simply an adorable love song.
Александра – Москва слезам не верит (Aleksandra – Moscow does not believe in tears)
Moscow doesn’t believe in tears might be the most widely known Soviet film in the West. Rumors have it, that Ronald Reagan, former US president watched the movie eight times before meeting with party secretary Gorbachov in order to get a grasp of the Russian Soul. And Reagan was right. The song ‘Aleksandra’ refers to the main character’s daughter and can be heard during the opening and the closing credits of the film. As the credits roll down, our understanding of the song’s words is already different then at the beginning of the movie, as we have gotten to known the characters and their stories. Everything in this movie is somehow utterly Russian – a great intro to the Russian Soul.
Город золотой – Асса (Golden city – Assa)
Assa is a milestone in the history of both Russian rock and Soviet film. Assa is the first part of Sergei Solovyov’s artistic film trilogy. The music was composed by Boris Grebenshikov himself, lead singer of the band Akvarium. The movie features rock bands Bravo and Kino, and Viktor Tsoy, Kino’s lead singer and guitarist plays himself. Just like Карневальная ночь and Кавказская пленница this movie also has lots of great music, but with an important difference. The other two songs and style of music was supported by the state and were widely accepted into the mainstream, but Rock music in 1987 – even though it was growing more and more popular – remained to be a subculture. It still took a few more years for rock to become mainstream. Город золотой represents an important style within Russian rock as Boris Grebenshikov is one of the most well known representatives of bard music or bard rock.
Soviet film and music still have a significant influence on culture today – as we can see, they gradually embraced elements of western culture like musicals, rockabilly, and rock ‘n’ roll – but always added a typical Russian twist. Soviet films are still very popular, their epic phrases are constantly quoted and referred to (these are called крылатые фразы), their heroes and stories are known and loved by most Russians. So how can you watch them, you may ask – it is unlikely that your local movie theatre would ever play them. Good news is that you don’t even need to get out of bed – all the films listed here are legally available on YouTube – the first three movies are available with English subtitles.