Zirk / Der Zirkus
by Grigori Alexandrov (1936)
Running time: 89 minutes
Grigori Alexandrov’s second musical comedy film Zirk was released in 1936, the year when the new Stalin Constitution was adopted in the USSR. The film tells of the voyage of discovery that an American trapeze artiste called Marion Dixon (played by Alexandrov’s wife, Liubov Orlova) makes towards the realisation that the Soviet system is morally and practically superior to the capitalist system prevailing in the West.
The film opens in the USA. Dixon is fleeing a lynch mob, which has discovered her ‘dark secret’, namely that she has an illegitimate black baby. She clambers on to a train to escape the mob and encounters a German entrepreneur, Franz von Kneischitz (made up to look like Hitler), who eventually becomes her employment agent and takes her to Moscow on tour. There she performs in an act where she is shot out of a gun, the ‘Flight to the Moon’, and also meets Martynov, a Soviet circus artiste. The struggle between von Kneischitz and Martynov for Dixon’s heart parallels the political battle for her mind and soul. After many tribulations and sub-plots, Dixon volunteers to perform in a Soviet circus act with Martynov, the ‘Flight to the Stratosphere’, in which they are both propelled into the air. The Soviet act is a triumph and demonstrates the superiority of the Soviet way of life. In a last desperate attempt to win the day, von Kneischitz reveals Dixon’s ‘secret’. Both mother and child are accepted by the Soviet circus audience in a moving multi-lingual lullaby sequence, and Dixon and Martynov march past Stalin on the Lenin Mausoleum as he reviews the May Day parade through Moscow’s Red Square.
Introduction to the film by Richard Taylor
In collaboraton with
Hitler, Stalin a já (Hitler, Stalin and I)
by Helena Třeštiková (2001)
Czech documentary with English subtitles
Running time: 56 minutes
Directed by Helena Třeštiková, in coordination with Czech Television, Hitler, Stalin a já depicts the torments of totalitarianism within the personal narrative of Hedy Margolius-Kovaly, a Czech woman born into a Jewish family in Prague. The documentary emphasizes the comprehensive ways in which emotional and familial spheres are constantly suffused with political reality, a fact which the very nature of totalitarianism makes bare. Hedy’s life spans the brutalities of the European twentieth century: from the Łódź ghetto to the Auschwitz concentration camp, from slave-labor facilities to the Death March, from collusion with the Communist Party to the assassination of her first husband and the humiliation, shame, and exile which followed. Hitler, Stalin a já is the story of how cruelty and fanatacism dissolve, not only countries and cities, but also families and the most intimate of communities.