“The peasant is on a farm. The worker is in the industry, and the bourgeois bloodsucker in on the Black Sea.”
Shine, Shine, My Star (Gori, Gori, Moya Zvezda) a 1969 film from director Alexander Mitta is a gem of Soviet cinema which examines the role of Art in society and asks whether or not an Artist can perform and create without political consequences. A complex, subtle and highly symbolic film, Shine, Shine, My Star presents the story of a young, nimble actor, Iskremas (Oleg Tabokov), an artist who wants to bring “The Art of Revolution to the Masses.” This he intends to accomplish by driving into the countryside and offering free theatre performances to the People.
The film begins with an explanation that it’s 1920, and that the story is set in the village of Krapivnitsky. The village is basically Red, but as the story plays out, it’s under frequent assault by bandits and also a White detachment passes through on the way to join Wrangel in the Crimea. Iskremas arrives in the village of Krapivnitsky with his “People’s Experimental Theatre,” and he’s full of enthusiasm which is conveyed through his energetic performances and speeches to the villagers. He takes a young girl, a now unemployed Polish servant named Krysya (Elena Proklova) under his wing, and together they plan to put on the play Joan of Arc:
500 years ago, the bourgeois and the money bags sent to the stake the beautiful Jeanne. Jeanne from Arc.
The villagers, however, appear much more interested in the salacious silent film powered by Pashka, a man who ad-libs the narration and alters the content depending on the audience. Trouble arises for the villagers when the Whites arrive….
The film’s secondary title is Destiny of An Artist in Revolutionary Russia, and there are three artists whose fate we follow in the film. There’s the idealistic actor Iskremas who wants to bring Shakespeare to the masses and his interpretation of Julius Caesar includes telling how the Roman Emperor was “killed by Revolutionaries.” Iskremas is disgusted by Pashka’s titillating film which shows the bourgeois sporting on the Black Sea. Iskremas sees the film as low-brow “vulgarity,” and tells Pashka that “people [are] yearning for genuine Art, and you give them junk.” The third artist in the film is house-painter Fedya (Oleg Efremov) whose home is full of amazing, incredibly beautiful Avant-garde paintings and who also is responsible for painting the Revolutionary Committee in the local meeting-house.
It would be easy and erroneous to dismiss this film as Soviet propaganda, and one should bear in mind the film’s conclusion and its secondary title “Destiny of an Artist in Revolutionary Russia.” The film depicts all sides of the political spectrum using art and various art forms for their own purposes (several scenes include a maudlin theatre performance of patriotic songs for the Whites), and inevitably since artists are the vanguard of culture, they all too frequently absorb the punishing results of any shift in political ideology.
The film is full of the most astonishing Avant-garde art–Avant-garde art was initially incorporated into Bolshevik culture, but after Stalin took power Avant-garde art and those who created it were suppressed. Avant-garde art was replaced by Socialist Realism which became the officially sanctioned art form. Shine, Shine, My Star shows forbidden art through the works of Fedya and then shows them being destroyed by the Whites, but including these scenes in the 1969 film is in itself a revolutionary act on the part of the director. At least some members of the audience must have known who really destroyed Avant-garde art and killed those who produced it, and including Avant-garde art in the film is a bold stroke. The Whites are shown as a fairly erratic, cruel bunch (one of the Whites is an insane Prince who shoots up everything in sight), and while this must have pleased the censors, the scenes of this forbidden art form are breath-taking. Ultimately the film’s overall message is that the true Artist will inevitably be destroyed while Art is reduced to its lowest common denominator.