East Side Story


1h 17m 1997

Brief Synopsis

A comical documentary about a part of history unknown in the West--the socialist movie musicals made behind the Iron Curtain during the height of the Communist rule. Eastern Bloc countries were not known for their joie de vivre, but in their ongoing effort to save their audience, the state-sponsored

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
1997
Production Company
Filmboard Berlin Brandenburg; StudioCanal; Westdeutscher Rundfunk (Wdr)
Distribution Company
Kino International; Kino International; Kino Video

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 17m

Synopsis

A comical documentary about a part of history unknown in the West--the socialist movie musicals made behind the Iron Curtain during the height of the Communist rule. Eastern Bloc countries were not known for their joie de vivre, but in their ongoing effort to save their audience, the state-sponsored film studios made a few films that tried to interpret Western-style escapism in socialist terms. The films had everything that Western musical had - elaborate sets, unbelievable plots, extravagant musical numbers - but in place of fancy gowns and the dream of a rich life, they substituted overalls, factory settings, and earthy working-class values. These Communist musicals were the unholy offspring of socialist propaganda and capitalistic depravity, doomed to a truncated existence and future ridicule.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
1997
Production Company
Filmboard Berlin Brandenburg; StudioCanal; Westdeutscher Rundfunk (Wdr)
Distribution Company
Kino International; Kino International; Kino Video

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 17m

Articles

East Side Story


When most people envision old-school Eastern Block countries, they see grim peasants dutifully bringing in the wheat, or babushka-wearing housewives standing in line for their monthly allowance of toilet paper. But Dana Ranga's surreal documentary, East Side Story, a Kino DVD release, proves that some citizens behind the Iron Curtain were actually encouraged to sing and dance. Ranga presents clips from a wide range of movie musicals that look like the bastard children of Karl Marx and Busby Berkeley. Think Fred Astaire driving a tractor, or Judy Garland belting out a tune centered on meeting production quotas...if you can.

You'll want to laugh at the proletariat message of these numbers, which come from such countries as Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Bulgaria. But interviews with film historians and the movies' creators prove that they definitely weren't comedies. Besides, when you get right down to it, what's so funny about a government regimenting creative impulses? Watching a graceful person sing and dance about being forced to work a menial job from sun-up to sundown is so forcefully incongruent, it repeatedly flip-flops between hilarious and depressing.

You'd have to figure that not every film coming out of Russia was The Battleship Potemkin or Alexander Nevsky. But who knew about this?! Western Musicals, of course, aren't typically centered on staying on your toes while you work the assembly line, so the backs-to-the-grindstone urgency of these things make them look like grand-scale SCTV skits. It's hard to determine how you feel about them. You simply don't have a compartment in your head for this genre of film.

Sergei Eisenstein, the granddaddy of Russian Cinema, was partially responsible for these films catching on. After a less than fruitful 1931 trip to Hollywood, he and his assistant, Grigori Alexandrov, returned to Russia. Alexandrov was so taken with American musicals during their sojourn, he started making his own. His 1934 release, The Jolly Fellows, was actually banned by the government for being too positive (!), but its popularity was enough to convince Josef Stalin to order up more "constructive" song-and-dance pictures from Alexandrov. Stalin so enjoyed 1938's Volga Volga, he reportedly watched it over 100 times and even sent a print to Franklin Roosevelt. It must not have occurred to him that Roosevelt already had the real thing available.

Ranga, who was born in Romania, includes a slew remarkable clips, although, again, you have to decide for yourself exactly why they're remarkable. There's even an entry from the 1960s called Hot Summer that seems like an East German variation on a Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello beach picture. It's hard to imagine a more unrecognized movement in world cinema than this one. If you're the slightest bit intrigued, you should absolutely see East Side Story.

There aren't any extras on Kino's release, and the sound and picture quality of the clips isn't the greatest, as you can well imagine. Many of these films had never been seen outside of their home countries before Ranga got a hold of them. This is more of an historical artifact, and, in that respect, it meets all requirements.

For more information about East Side Story, visit Kino International. To order East Side Story, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Tatara

East Side Story

East Side Story

When most people envision old-school Eastern Block countries, they see grim peasants dutifully bringing in the wheat, or babushka-wearing housewives standing in line for their monthly allowance of toilet paper. But Dana Ranga's surreal documentary, East Side Story, a Kino DVD release, proves that some citizens behind the Iron Curtain were actually encouraged to sing and dance. Ranga presents clips from a wide range of movie musicals that look like the bastard children of Karl Marx and Busby Berkeley. Think Fred Astaire driving a tractor, or Judy Garland belting out a tune centered on meeting production quotas...if you can. You'll want to laugh at the proletariat message of these numbers, which come from such countries as Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Bulgaria. But interviews with film historians and the movies' creators prove that they definitely weren't comedies. Besides, when you get right down to it, what's so funny about a government regimenting creative impulses? Watching a graceful person sing and dance about being forced to work a menial job from sun-up to sundown is so forcefully incongruent, it repeatedly flip-flops between hilarious and depressing. You'd have to figure that not every film coming out of Russia was The Battleship Potemkin or Alexander Nevsky. But who knew about this?! Western Musicals, of course, aren't typically centered on staying on your toes while you work the assembly line, so the backs-to-the-grindstone urgency of these things make them look like grand-scale SCTV skits. It's hard to determine how you feel about them. You simply don't have a compartment in your head for this genre of film. Sergei Eisenstein, the granddaddy of Russian Cinema, was partially responsible for these films catching on. After a less than fruitful 1931 trip to Hollywood, he and his assistant, Grigori Alexandrov, returned to Russia. Alexandrov was so taken with American musicals during their sojourn, he started making his own. His 1934 release, The Jolly Fellows, was actually banned by the government for being too positive (!), but its popularity was enough to convince Josef Stalin to order up more "constructive" song-and-dance pictures from Alexandrov. Stalin so enjoyed 1938's Volga Volga, he reportedly watched it over 100 times and even sent a print to Franklin Roosevelt. It must not have occurred to him that Roosevelt already had the real thing available. Ranga, who was born in Romania, includes a slew remarkable clips, although, again, you have to decide for yourself exactly why they're remarkable. There's even an entry from the 1960s called Hot Summer that seems like an East German variation on a Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello beach picture. It's hard to imagine a more unrecognized movement in world cinema than this one. If you're the slightest bit intrigued, you should absolutely see East Side Story. There aren't any extras on Kino's release, and the sound and picture quality of the clips isn't the greatest, as you can well imagine. Many of these films had never been seen outside of their home countries before Ranga got a hold of them. This is more of an historical artifact, and, in that respect, it meets all requirements. For more information about East Side Story, visit Kino International. To order East Side Story, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Tatara

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer June 25, 1997

Released in United States August 29, 1997

Released in United States on Video August 30, 2000

Released in United States January 1997

Released in United States February 1997

Released in United States September 1997

Released in United States November 1997

Released in United States January 1998

Shown at Berlin International Film Festival (new German pix) February 13-24, 1997.

Shown at Athens International Film Festival (Documentary) September 19-25, 1997.

Shown at Tokyo International Film Festival (Cinema on Cinema) November 1-10, 1997.

Shown at Nortel Palm Springs International Film Festival in Palm Springs, California January 8-19, 1998.

Released in United States Summer June 25, 1997

Released in United States August 29, 1997 (Nu Art; Los Angeles)

Released in United States on Video August 30, 2000

Released in United States January 1997 (Shown at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema) in Park City, Utah January 16-26, 1997.)

Released in United States February 1997 (Shown at Berlin International Film Festival (new German pix) February 13-24, 1997.)

Released in United States September 1997 (Shown at Athens International Film Festival (Documentary) September 19-25, 1997.)

Released in United States November 1997 (Shown at Tokyo International Film Festival (Cinema on Cinema) November 1-10, 1997.)

Released in United States January 1998 (Shown at Nortel Palm Springs International Film Festival in Palm Springs, California January 8-19, 1998.)