written by Oksana Bulgakowa

For the Russian script, please go here…

Part One. Locomotion

1. Straight and Bent

2. Standing

3. Framing the Body

4. Sitting

5. Lying Down

6. Walking

  • 1910s: Tango Steps

7. Walking

  • 1920s: Imitating America

8. Where to Put One’s Hands?

9. Walking

  • 1930s: Learning to March

10. Walking

  • 1960s: Liberating the Body, Releasing Tension

1. Straight and Bent

How people walk, talk, sit, and lie down differs from society to society.

The way we carry our bodies reveals not only age or temperament but also the norms of a given era. These norms change over time—even within a single cultural space.

In the early twentieth century a person’s carriage was a clear code not so much of age as of social difference. The simple contrast of a straight or bent back demonstrated relations of power and subordination.

The naturalistic painting of the Wanderers (peredvizhniki) offers a rich gallery of backs. The bent back and lowered head become a metaphor for oppression. Peasants, workers, and traders do not stand up straight. They can be humbly petitioning a superior or standing in line at the pawn-shop. They might be exhausted by heavy labor or relaxing during an amorous rendezvous or during a meeting between parents and child. These people look the same in their intimate space—the peasant hut, the bedroom—as in the public spaces of the street or boulevard. Profession, age, gender, and emotional state make no difference. Women, children, old and young men stand hunched over both in joy and in sorrow. This simple code of social difference is reproduced in films from the beginning of the century.

The straight, elongated spine and raised head are reserved for tsars, noblemen, and beautiful women. The lady turns out her shoulders and her chest, bends her waist, and throws back her head proudly like a ballerina. The maid hunches her shoulders even when flirting. Her back is rounded and her head tucked. The servant’s pose is always submissive—knees and back are bent. This sign of social difference also distinguishes the lady’s sense of the erotic appeal of her own body from the angular virtuousness of the maid.

These differences in posture define two social classes, two types of education and their ideas about grace. The grace of the privileged classes demands control over the muscles of the body. This skill is acquired by special training: back, neck, and knees have to be tensed, a sense of balance must be developed.

Persons of lower social origin never learn to follow this canon of grace. Their uncultured bodies create a comic effect. From antiquity to the eighteenth century the theater created models for the bodily carriage of masters and slaves. Vulgar servants keep their knees bent, legs spread apart, backs hunched, arms akimbo, heads lowered. After the 1917 Revolution Soviet poster art straightens the backs of workers. Soviet painting, sculpture and cinema are soon to follow. The hunched back is now reserved for the losing class, epitomized by white officers.

The new Soviet society creates its own system of differentiation: peasants still have no mastery over their bodies. Actors embody the type of the vulgar idiot in accordance with the theatrical canon of the eighteenth century. This pose is caricatured in comedies and played out pathetically in social dramas. Here and there peasants are taught to stand tall.

Workers are now endowed with straight backs and demonstrate control over their bodies: this means the proletariat has joined the civilizing process.

2. Standing

The theater teaches how to stand properly by imitating ancient statues: feet slightly apart, one knee bent, hands at the waist.

“You want to be an actor? Go to ballet school: more than anything the actor needs to be straightened out,” writes Stanislavsky in his autobiography.1

Only young girls are expected to bend their heads slightly down and to the left as a sign of gracefulness. Nestorov’s nun, Fedotov’s young widow, Vasnetsov’s fairy tale maiden and the Soviet ingénue all incline their heads in this feminine pose. “True attraction knows no straight line,” states one guide to good manners from the beginning of the century. The gentleman holds his head high and bows it only in grief, shame, or despair. In other circumstances this pose could be taken for a sign of servility or androgyny.

This is a photograph of a homosexual from Cesare Lombroso’s collection of pathological types. In the seventeenth century a high-ranked Dutch diplomat noticed that his son’s head pointed downward due to the anatomy of his neck; a dangerous operation was performed to save the son’s career.

However, photographs from the early twentieth century do reveal some nuance. Children are permitted to relax—and intellectuals allow themselves some relaxation. Their stooped figures form an intentional contrast to the upright posture of the military man. At the beginning of the century ladies stand rigidly upright. But modern art introduces a sinuous line that changes everyday movements. The new wavy line replaces the strict right angles of the back and emphasizes a woman’s curves; the female body is further liberated during the First World War, when women stop wearing corsets.

A girl’s hands should be folded at her waist. Any motion by a woman that suggests territorial ambition is perceived as provocative and aggressive: big steps, broad stance, arms akimbo—recalling a warrior carrying a sword. Only certain kinds of women rest their hands on their hips: Parisians, femmes fatales, workers and prostitutes. This rule holds true for the theater, posters, painting, and film. This pose retains its vulgarity and provocative eroticism in the Soviet cultural space.

Soviet films allow the officers to release tension but the traditional military postures (at attention and at ease) are adopted by men and women in everyday life. Hollywood is quick to parody the “militarized Soviet body.”

Only in the sixties do men and women finally look comfortable in public. Tense back muscles become a symbol of the bodily discipline from which people are being liberated.

This looseness is borrowed from Western models—there, too, young protagonists distinguish themselves from the old officer’s stance. Slouched backs and relaxed poses become signs of anti-authoritarian behavior and informal culture. Discipline retreats to the barracks, the prisons, and to the world of military men, athletes, body guards and the new rulers—the New Russians.

3. Framing the Body

When the aristocratic lady raises her hands to adjust her hair she consciously stages her body as an aesthetic and erotic object: her gesture effectively draws attention to her chest; her arms form a natural frame for her face. This is the pose of reclining Venuses, Goya’s Nude Maja, and pin-up girls. Soviet films naturalize this frame by inscribing it into domestic labor.

4. Sitting

At the beginning of the century the elegant lady does not sit. She lies or reclines slightly. This pose is read as a sign of oriental languor and brings out her flowing lines.

In private aristocrats are permitted to lean back into their chairs and lounge about. This pose was adapted from the Orient by Roman and Greek culture: it marked the effete patrician who had parted from the warrior ethos. When in society, however, aristocrats follow the rules of good manners: “Don’t slouch; don’t lean your elbow against the side of your chair or dangle your arms over the edge; don’t throw your head back to lean on the chair; don’t reach over the table with your entire body; don’t put your elbows on the table; don’t swing back and forth on your chair; don’t cross your legs; in other words, avoid all indecent poses.”2

Sitting is the most ritualized bodily technique, often distinguishing between high and low social standing. Emperors are sitting but their thrones are always elevated. In polite company women sit and men stand: this is understood to be a sign of reverence, but it also preserves a gendered hierarchy.

Sitting on the ground is the pose of greatest self-effacement, practiced by beggars and by people in grief or despair. It is hardly surprising that Soviet film reserved this place on the earth for peasants. Women also occupy the lowest position. The heroine of Pudovkin’s film Mother spends most scenes on the ground, a pose that is captured by the movie poster. In Eisenstein’s Old and New the horseless peasant Marfa Lapkina is introduced in the same humble position.

Workers sit at the table in an orderly fashion. Peasants are hunched over. The toady sits on the edge of his chair. The capitalists’ unfettered manners disgust the viewer because their bodies are fat and graceless. The same behavior seems bohemian when executed by a young girl.

Formal sitting and standing is problematic in Russian culture. Etiquette allowed for people to sit in a relaxed fashion and to lean back in their chairs as long as they occupied their private space. But in Russia even high officers and the Tsar’s family fail to comply with etiquette when posing for the camera: they rest their chins in the palms of their hands, relax their bodies, spread their knees far apart, point their toes inward.

Photographed European bodies are formal. Russians exclude themselves from this formal etiquette. Artists in 1869 and 1920. Convicts in life, on stage, in the movies. Gamblers.

Workers on vacation. Military men. The Club, a photo taken by Marx Alpert and Arkady Shaikhet in 1931, depicts many variations on the theme of relaxation. Of course, all the men are posing: one worker leans against the wall; another has his foot on a chair, two men sit sprawled over the table with their elbows spread wide apart. One of these poses often makes its way into the movies: standing with his left leg on a chair and his right hand on his hip (a military gesture), a man leans into his left leg with his whole body. In films from the nineteen twenties this stance is a mark of white officers and their lack of discipline. Now the same pose is ascribed to red officers and workers as a sign of their spontaneous and laid-back nature.

In newsreels people sit tensely; in feature films they seem relaxed. A woman curls up like a cat. This is how the new worker sits. A red commander. A coquette. The leader strikes an intimate pose—not an oppressive authoritarian one. Foreign women. Actors and candid shots—in the thirties, the sixties, the nineties. Their manner of sitting shows that they do not distinguish between private and public space. This elegant and controlled pose is staged according to the inhibited conventions of Western European etiquette. Americans are the one exception to the rule. Their way of sitting and of putting their feet on the table shocks viewers in the nineteen fifties and brings about some relaxation of European film bodies. Even today official photographs reveal differences between Europe, America, and Russia.

5. Lying Down

Soviet cinema rarely depicts lovers or married couples lying in bed. Sleep is almost entirely banned from the arena of representation. More frequently we see prone supplication or a sultry odalisque.

It is surprising how often military men are shown in this pose before going into battle.

The partisan commander Chapaev reclines in six of the seventeen scenes in which he appears. A worker-revolutionary, Aleksander Nevsky and Peter the Great are all introduced lying down. Field-marshal Kutuzov remains prostrate for an entire movie. The Soviet soldier Alyosha spends three months lying unconscious before embarking on his journey west for the Fall of Berlin. Contemporary heroes also lie around. All these protagonists seem to be modeled on the Russian folk hero Ilya Muromets who lies on the stove for thirty-three years before completing his feat of arms.

6. Walking in 1910: Tango Steps

The warlord, the child, the virtuous or fallen woman are distinguished by how they walk.

The theater teaches how to walk properly.

The Ancient Greeks considered large strides to be a sign of a great military leader.

Calm, measured steps and a proudly raised head distinguished the man of power. Only people of low social status—servants and slaves—were shown rushing about.

In 1916 master and slave still followed these codes of behavior. According to etiquette at the turn of the century, waddling signified a poor upbringing, lack of education, and inexperience in high society.

The ideal feminine walk reduced the size and determination of the stride: women were expected to take small steps (and to eat in small bites), to walk on their toes (not on the soles of their feet) and to avoid abrupt movements (they “floated”). Swinging hips which emphasizes the roundness of the female form in contrast to the angular male body, were read as a sign of loose morals even in antiquity. “Women who move in an angular fashion are most often virtuous; those who have lost their way are distinguished by seductively round movements,” Balzac commented in an 1833 essay about walking that was influenced by Lavater’s physiognomic etudes.3 This walk was filmed in 1916. The erotic lady still swings her hips.

The body language of actresses in the first decade of the twentieth century reveals Russian cinema’s debt to the syncopated steps of the tango. This actress glides and then freezes, imitating the movements of a cat or panther. This officer moves in the same way. He is played by Ivan Mozzhukhin, famous for his performances of decadent neurotics. He seems to be imitating the feline motions of Vaclav Nijinsky of the Diaghilev Ballet.

The expressionist actor Conrad Veidt also shows off a slinky, syncopated gait.

Unlike these aestheticized models, peasants in Russian and Soviet films do not know how to walk. They are unable to cross city streets, so in 1925 the government produces a series of educational films to show them how.

In the early 1920s the transportation system in the cities collapses. Even the socially diverse urban population walks about in sheep skins and felt boots. Under such circumstances society ladies move no differently from peasant women, no sinuous moves are possible—feet shuffle and are unwieldy. *Walter Benjamin, who comes to Moscow as a tourist in 1927, notes that he has not mastered the skill of walking on the city’s icy streets.

7. Walking in 1920: Imitating America

In the twenties sultry tango steps lose their currency. The athletic culture of America and the foxtrot—the new fashionable dance—dictate the swinging rhythm of the new motion. Quick movements are no longer a sign of low social status but become a marker of vitality. Russians are to acquire “the interrupted quick light gait of Englishmen and Americans.” The Foxtrot expresses the “intoxication of walking.” It is the “school of the mechanical step, of the gliding outturned foot, of sudden acceleration and machine-like precision, the jolting splintering of the beat,” writes Valentin Parnakh, who helped popularize the dance in Russia.4

Anna Sten demonstrates these new techniques of walking for the Russian public in The Girl with the Hat Box as she rushes and slides along icy streets. The skips in her walk (emphasized by the take’s varying speed) offer a complete counterpoint to the slowed-down gliding and rocking motion of the tango dancers. This skipping and halting motion combines athletic dynamism with the flickering of slapstick: were the actress not so childlike and graceful, her motions might create a more ambivalent impression. This is how Mary Pickford moves in her girlish roles, provoking rave reviews: “She has two left feet and is always tripping over herself. Like all adolescent girls, she has a big head, slouches, is bow-legged and playful.”5

The androgynous heroines of the twenties, flat-chested and hipless, introduce new ideas about bodily grace. In the twenties everyone moves impetuously—even military men. By the thirties only young women walk quickly. The foxtrot is soon associated with bourgeois degeneration; everyday movements are now graced by the gliding waltz. Men’s swift directness becomes an object of mockery and is reminiscent of old cultural codes.

8. Where to Put One’s Hands?

On the screen a woman’s walk becomes liberated as she increases her speed. Men also start moving less formally. All social groups begin to put their hands in their pockets, a gesture previously reserved for thieves, the lumpenproletariat, and people who have let themselves go.

In Soviet films from the thirties even officers put their hands in their pockets. Distinctions between the physical habits of criminals and of the Chekists who watch over them disappear, as documented by Nikolai Ekk in the film Road to Life and by Sergei Gerasimov in real-life Kosmomolsk. Chekists on the screen keep their hands in their pockets even when giving speeches at important meetings.

9. Walking in 1930: Learning to March

In the twenties people walking on the streets betray a lack of mastery over their bodies. Once military drill and lessons in etiquette are abolished, people lose their upright posture and measured stride. Their movements reveal no trace of either the tango or the foxtrot.

In films from the twenties about the pre-revolutionary era only the oppressors demonstrate the ability to walk and march in a well-trained manner. The synchrony and rhythm of their legs is figured as a part of the soulless machinethe soldiers on the famous Odessa steps in Battleship Potemkin, the punitive battalion in Mother. The victims and the revolutionaries move spontaneously even at demonstrations. These chaotic crowds invite comparisons to the natural elements: they are like floods or avalanches.

But in the mid-twenties a new fashion arises. Both documentary and feature films show children and pioneers learning how to march—to walk in a rhythmic and synchronous stride. By the thirties everybody marches. In documentary footage of the first parades on Red Square in 1918 the soldiers do not know how to keep formation—their arms dangle, they slouch, and there is no spring in their step. By 1945 the parade has a different look. In the 1936 feature film Circus and in the 1939 documentary Blooming Youth both professional actors and extras in the demonstration achieve the required synchrony of movement and military bearing.

Marching—a fundamental bodily technique—helps people acquire the new springy, athletic walk. Military and proletarian heroes—men and women alike—walk and stand like well-trained officers with good posture, not like strung-out neurotics. This is how they move in the shop, in the parade, on stage, and when they go on a date.

To emphasize the new “civilized” stride of the clumsy peasant woman, the director includes a long scene that shows a dark silhouette walking against a brilliant white background. This way the viewer can observe the movements of her legs—her straight toes, her tense back, the turn of her body, the position of her head.

This militarized walk is parodied in Hollywood. Ninochka’s emancipated red commissar steps out of a strict march into a waltz.

10. Walking in 1960: Liberating the Body, Releasing Tension

At the beginning of the century the decadent body seems provocatively emancipated in comparison to the strict forms of the Victorian era. In the twenties the shape of the decadent body appears artificial next to the “artless” dynamism of the adolescent body.

In the thirties Hollywood actresses spend a lot of time learning how to walk. The anthropologist Marcel Mauss noted that French girls began to walk differently under the influence of American actresses.6 In the sixties nymphets will seem provocatively “natural” compared to staged Hollywood beauty and its real-life imitators. The protagonist of Nabokov’s Lolita describes this way of walking as erotic:

“Why does the way she walks—a child, mind you, a mere child!—excite me so abominably? . . . A faint suggestion of turned in toes. A kind of wiggly looseness below the knee prolonged to the end of each footfall. The ghost of a drag. Very infantile, infinitely meretricious.”7

Brigitte Bardot walks around barefoot but places her feet like a professional ballerina. The liberation of legs and hips aids in the new dances. Soviet walking also becomes more liberated in the fifties—with the help of the chechotka, a kind of tap-dance.

Soviet youngsters copy the gait of American cowboys from coveted American films, swinging their hips like models on the catwalk. Films from the sixties register a new impetuousness. Protagonists fly up and down the stairs. Various little jumps and dance steps soften the gait of old functionaries. Movies from the sixties pay close attention to the new locomotion, even incorporating it into titles like Walking the Streets of Moscow. Nonetheless these bodies bear witness to the process of civilization—they are a result of upbringing and training: the backs are straight and balanced; people don’t waddle or shuffle their feet. Differences in posture and motion are no longer an indicator of social status; instead they reveal differences in biology, age, and profession.

The amateur actor gives his walk—that of a slouching student—to the screen hero, a demobilized soldier who works as a killer for hire. The leads in this 1966 film observe the way foreigners walk. High heels change how women walk everywhere. It is now impossible to distinguish the Soviet woman from a French actress playing an Italian.

The youth demonstrates an alternative to mass behavior; the body is free from the prescribed social standards. Even the rally on Red Square falls out of rank and loosens up.

Part Two. Everyday Rituals

1. Greeting and Farewell: The Patriarchal Village

2. Greeting and Farewell: The Civilized City

3. Greeting and Farewell: New Egalitarian Forms after 1917

4. Table Manners

1. Greeting and Farewell: The Patriarchal Village

Peasants in Russian films from the beginning of the century act as carriers of an archaic body language tinged with folklore and rich in ritualized forms of greeting. It is customary for both men and women to bow at the waist with their hands folded over their chests, bare their heads, embrace, and kiss three times.

Handshakes are often reinforced by clasping both arms. Such rituals of greeting and other pointing gestures often involve synchronous, arc-shaped and fluid movements with both arms. The right arm mirrors the motions of the left. In ancient rituals, such as kneeling before a superior and kissing his hands, doubling functions as a sign of respect. Physical contact continues to play a large role in Soviet society after the revolution. The threefold kiss carries over into Soviet rituals. An element of official greetings until the nineteen eighties, this kiss eventually earns the mockery of the younger generation.

2. Greeting and Farewell: The Civilized City

The city demands different forms. Instead of removing their caps, city dwellers only tip their hats slightly. Early films from Russia and elsewhere contain many greeting and introduction scenes. The screen teaches models of good behavior. These lessons are not intended for ladies—they already know how to behave—but for the young seamstresses who want to behave like ladies and need to learn how to hold out their hand for a handshake or a kiss.

3. Greeting and Farewell: New Egalitarian Forms after 1917

The handshake—a sign of egalitarian society—does not immediately catch on in everyday life. Films teach that kissing the hand is an outdated gesture like the deep bow of the peasant before his superior.

Utopian films propose new forms of greeting, thus paralleling the changes in greeting rituals in everyday life. The pioneer’s salute is borrowed from the arsenal of scout gestures.

The education in European forms of greeting and the rejection of old ritual forms is reenacted in historical films about Russia’s Europeanization during the reign of Peter the Great.

During this time Italian and German Fascists also search for new forms of political and everyday rituals. Soviet film promptly mocks these efforts: the rituals of the other seem worthy of caricature.

The wave goodbye looks slightly different than in Western Europe: Russians holds their palms like a little boat and make a vertical motion rather than moving the open palm from side to side.

The sign of approval—the applause—also displays the same variation of the straight versus slightly bent palm moving straight or diagonally, serving as a marker of reserve or spontaneity.

The handshake is reinforced by a typically Russian doubling and energetic shake. At the turn of the century Arthur Schnitzler labeled this type of handshake “American.” Now it is firmly associated with the Soviet body and is picked up by Hollywood in parodies of Red commissars.

In the 1989 film It, a peculiar comic-book rendition of Russian and Soviet history, an actor demonstrates all the forms of greeting that have replaced each other over three decades: the peasant’s bow, the threefold kiss, the egalitarian handclasp with the extra Soviet pump—old and new rituals.

In the thirties a little punch is used by both men and women as a form of coquettish greeting.

Hugs as an intimate gesture of farewell and greeting appear in the sixties on the Soviet screen. Their arrival is soon followed by the European-style kiss, a sign of a bohemian lifestyle.

As these changes occur, Russians remain uncertain about which forms of greeting they should use. These shifts in the codes of body language are not synchronized. Such shifts illustrate how the body’s memory can be erased when the pace of change increases, the boundaries of social groups become more flexible, and national traditions are reinterpreted. At the beginning of the twentieth century people became moviegoers and began to include films into their everyday experience, thereby crossing cultural boundaries.

4. Table Manners

Russia is a land of peasants, and films attempt to convince viewers that even the manners of the Russian elite fail to pass the test of European etiquette.

Nonetheless, one of the most common ways to make a character seem repulsive is to show him eating: a member of the “Black Hundred” at the table.

People who don’t follow the rules of polite society are frequently compared to animals. These juvenile delinquents in the film Road to Life, who have stolen some spoons, eat like animals.

Directors avoid scenes of eating when showing noble characters. The physiological details of chewing and lip smacking only come into play in the depiction of low class or vulgar figures. When the relative from the country comes to visit the city, he eats in the kitchen, belches, and spits on the floor.

Food draws attention to the mouth. On screen it often foreshadows or substitutes for erotic scenes. In pre-revolutionary films restaurant scenes anticipate seduction.

The seamstress Manya, “a Child of the Big City,” eats greedily with both hands, grabbing food from several plates at once. The bored aristocrat, fatigued by the affected girls of high society, perceives her manners as “unspoiled nature.” He may hope to discover a similarly unfettered sexuality. This same uncultured immediacy in their manner of eating distinguishes Natasha Rostova, Eliza Doolittle, and Clara Bow’s character in It. Once these girls become ladies, they stop eating on screen. Their sexuality is redirected into its proper cultural frame: the carefully choreographed kiss.

The gentleman invites his housemaid to drink wine with him. She takes the glass in both hands, underscoring her peasant roots. (In Russian rituals, this doubling of a gesture was a sign of special respect.) Her gesture is also infantilizing: it is as if she were incapable of holding a cup in one hand. In Pathé’s documentary reels female workers use only one hand.

Peasants and workers eat with their hands. These are not actors. Now we see actors playing workers: their manner of chewing is extremely cultured.

Tea is drunk from a glass or the saucer. Only “others” (foreigners, aristocrats, or affected intellectual ladies in Soviet films) drink their tea out of a cup. The American Mister West defamiliarizes the act of drinking tea from the saucer and shows how difficult this national technique really is.

In the twenties the old everyday culture is deritualized. As in the revolutions that came before, etiquette is simplified. Only actors and diplomats are taught proper manners. On the Soviet screen all social groups display horrendous table manners.

Nepmen and bureaucrats stuff their cheeks and lick their lips as they chew. The most debauched and repulsive orgies of food and drink are staged by the bourgeoisie, in other words by people who might potentially have cultivated table manners. Directors often give them food to suck on: lemons, grapes, oysters, thereby realizing the metaphor of the bourgeois vampire.

Neither workers, nor peasants nor the intelligentsiia use knives: they all eat with spoons and forks. Nobody has heard of a napkin. In both feature and documentary films workers in a model factory cafeteria wipe their mouths on their sleeves. Before biting into an apple, the city woman wipes it off on her sleeve country-style. An intellectual uses a napkin, but spits on the floor, adopting techniques previously restricted to comic servants.

The proletarian’s lack of good manners makes him a child of nature. His uncultured behavior is viewed positively as a sign of his unbridled sensual temperament. Workers, endowed with lean, muscular bodies, do not eat on screen. But they drink out of bottles, pails, and pitchers in a very physical way. They spill water all over themselves and burn themselves with hot milk, which can be read as a sign of both their infantile nature and their vitality. Loud smacking, belching and snorting all illustrate the infectious energy of the new hero.

In the thirties, good table manners return as part of the creation and training of a new elite. In Hectic Days young soldiers still wipe their mouths on their shirt-sleeves, but meals in their mess tent are served on white tablecloths with knives and forks. The protagonists chew as they walk, drink noisily, smack on their watermelon, and spit out the seeds. But these simple mannerisms are presented in a comedic and stylized fashion. At the end of the film, the young men “outgrow” their bad manners. This “education of manners” is softened by the comedic genre, but the desired result is clear. The civilizing process requires greater control over bodily functions. The first man in the state also demonstrates this result. He drinks quietly and does not sniff his bread before he eats it.

In the 1920s a series of educational films instructed viewers in proper personal hygiene, teaching them how to wash and use the shower. These films, which paralleled industrial films about how to hold a hammer, included Do Not Spit on the Floor! from 1930. In Solzhenitsyn’s story One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a peasant who arrives at the camp at the end of the war comments that Russians have forgotten how to make the sign of the cross, but that they already know better than to spit on the floor. The historian Norbert Elias has observed that it took 200 years to introduce the handkerchief in Western Europe. 8 In comparison, the twenty years it took to teach the population not to spit is a record in speed.

In the thirties eating gradually disappears from the repertoire of positive heroes and returns to its place as a repulsive physiological characteristic. Films show the new American-style restaurant culture.

In the fifties all protagonists, be they engineers or workers, suddenly know how to use a knife, an implement that has been absent from the screen for nearly twenty years. They begin to drink out of glasses instead of bottles. When they wipe their mouths with their hands, they use one finger instead of the entire palm.

But just at this moment people begin to relax. The taste for “youth” culture—informal, spontaneous, and anarchical—returns the idea of “naturalness” to the screen. The physiological gestures are softened by the extremely young bodies of teenage actors that perform them.

Since everyone already knows how to eat with a knife and fork, young people start licking their knives and eating straight from the pot. These informal table manners are encoded as “freedom from adult rituals.”

In the nineties table manners become a way to distinguish “self” and “other.” The opposition of “Russia” vs. “The West” becomes acute again and provokes a revaluation of physiological gestures. In the nineteen-tens, uncouth manners were a sign of decadence; in the twenties they illustrated “vitality,” in the thirties they defined the lower social classes, and by the fifties they revealed a distinct lack of culture. Now these gestures are considered to be “national” in opposition to the civilized and restrained mannerisms of New Russians, who are perceived as foreigners in Russian society.

Filmic representations of New Russians differ greatly from their treatment in the press. In the media they are likened to “barbarians” who do not know how to wield fork and knife. It is precisely at this moment, as the stereotype of the uncultured New Russian is taking shape, that books on good manners become immensely popular—including reprints of pre-revolutionary guides to high society and etiquette.

Part Three. The Utopian Project. The Film Factory of Gestures

1. Modeling a New Type

2. The caricature of the past

3. Nature vs. Culture: Down with Manners!

4. Violence and Hysteria

5. Laughter

6. Raw Material for the New Man

7. Theatrical Laboratory of the New Body

8. Cinema Instruction: Learning to Wash

9. Cinema Instruction: Learning to March

10. Cinema Instruction: The Machine-Body

11. Pedagogical Epics of Modernization

12. Abolishing Boundaries

1. Modeling a New Type

The socialist program includes reshaping human nature: “Man,” writes Trotsky, “will become incomparably stronger, smarter, sharper. His body will become more harmonious, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The average human type will be elevated to the level of Aristotle, Goethe, Marx. Science will aid in the creation of this higher, social-biological type, this superman—if you like. And the arts will give this process a sublime form.”9

The film’s protagonist measures himself against a statue; the average person against the protagonist.

Under socialism art becomes part of an every-day social experiment in modeling this new social-biological type. The body must be filled with new meaning and master new techniques. The first step towards the new ideal is…

2. The caricature of the past

The bodies of the past (aristocrats, bourgeois, priests, belles dames) are revealed to be in a state of decay: they are depraved and addicted to sex, gluttony, and debauchery. They are riddled with physical anomalies and signs of degeneration; they suffer from abnormal motor function. A peculiar exchange of bodily costumes takes place that resembles the carnival exchange of garments between the king and the slave. In the past servants would fuss about, now the former masters do. The bodies of the privileged classes are represented as hysterics with twitchy and convulsive movements or as living corpses: frozen statues, headless coats.

The belles dames of the salon are parodied even more harshly. The body language and gestures of young, elegant actresses are transposed onto the awkward bodies of fat women. A lady is presented in the typical feminine pose of the Silver Age—half-reclining. But the immobility and erotic slow motion of the femme fatale is interrupted by the paroxysm of a hysterical fit. A languid stroll ends in a clown-like fall. Montage destroys this decadent coquette. An effective display of her half-revealed leg—a traditional fetishistic object—is followed by a close-up of an asymmetrical hideous face, ruining the erotic appeal of her body. The vamp’s languor is translated into the chaotic motion of slapstick. Her flirtatious gesture—wrist turned out gracefully—is parodied by a fat comedian.

The girl who dreams of becoming an actress gives a dilettante’s rendition of the sinuous motions of Vera Kholodnaia. This scene parodies not only the girl’s lack of talent, but also the decadent gesticulations themselves. Old flirting techniques don’t work anymore. Once a vamp smoking a cigarette would have produced a great effect, but now the cigarette is in the mouth of a comic old hag. The old type is inadequate for negotiating the new space of communication. The bureaucrat in The Old and The New turns out to be a dilettantish imitator. When the copied pose of the leader comes to life, the galvanized corpse begins to shake slightly, resisting the picturesque “form.”

3. Nature vs. Culture: Down with Manners!

The refined bodily techniques of the old elite are now represented as vulgar and ridiculous. This new image is an inverted display of the old social asymmetry.

Russians are children of nature untrammeled by culture and civilization. Uncouth behavior is affirmed as a way to identify the new class and the new norms of a more democratic society, dealing yet another blow to good manners.

Peasants spit, belch cough up phlegm, wipe their noses on their hands and sleeves as they please. They are free from the constraints of civilization.

Handkerchiefs disappear. Male and female protagonists scratch their ears, pick their noses and adjust their pants or shirts. They knee each other in the rear and poke each other in the stomach. Vulgar manners and vulgar speech are also adopted by the intellectuals in power. In the thirties these physiological gestures are often performed by actresses of aristocratic descent, a detail that adds an element of coquette stylization.

Gradually, however, the constant spitting again became a mark of vulgarity. In 1937 these actors, who are playing sailors, show restraint as they peel sunflower seeds in the Bolshoi Theater. The action remains a mark of social origin but no longer demands the physiological performance of the twenties.

By the sixties the physiological gestures have softened considerably. In the nineties these gestures gain new currency as an affirmation of the national Russian character—in opposition to “foreign” mannerisms. These uncultured behaviors are read as a sign of strength and sexual potency, revisiting the idea of the vitality of the Russian hero—the child of nature untrammeled by culture and civilization.

4. Nature vs. Culture: Violence and Hysteria

The affirmation of the natural, elemental, physiological, and deritualized body on the screen is placed into the context of violence, another frame for the abolition of manners. Ritual, etiquette, and manners were understood by society as forces regulating the social chaos that might ensue from the open display of affect.

The revolution uses violence as a means of organizing communication and interaction. Violence is represented as dramatic, pathetic, and comic.

The camera examines violence, wounds, death. The lack of distance and the naturalistic close-ups bring the style of this cinematographic theater of cruelty close to the medical anatomical theater.

Violence and lack of manners bring representations of proletarians close to the decadent

hysterical body. Workers are often depicted as hysterical: they clench their fists convulsively, shred their clothes, hurt themselves, tear out their hair. Proletarian orators often resemble neurotics.

This temperament thrills Western European critics: “Restraint is a sign of a higher cultural level. But in cinema there is a difference between discipline and authenticity. Between education and the primeval (des Urhaften). In Russian films instinct stands above order. Asia above Europe,” writes Alfred Kerr, one of the Weimar Republic’s most influential critics.10

One of the characteristics of this vital hysteria is laughter.

5. Laughter

After the invention of toothpaste in tubes (“Colgate” in 1896; “Pepsodent” in 1920) and aggressive advertising campaigns by these companies, wide smiles showing rows of white teeth become a desirable image in many cultures.

At the beginning of the century, however, laughter is still an attribute of a grotesque, physiological, and Satanic body. In books on manners loud laughter is considered a sign of insanity and hysteriaof an emotional person who cannot hold himself in check.

After the revolution the cult of informality grows and these prohibitions go away.

The movie actor laughs and screams.

Loud laughter with an open mouth and a full display of gums becomes a wide-spread expression of optimism among both men and women on the silver screen, posters, and advertisements. Towards the end of the twenties wide smiles and loud laughter begin to disappear. Movie posters from the thirties, forties, and fifties show tight-lipped heroes and heroines.

6. Raw Material for the New Man

The human raw material necessary to create the New Man is damaged. A syphilitic village. Alcoholism. Degeneration. People who have no control over their bodies.

7. Theatrical Laboratory of the New Body

The theater develops a radical program of utopian transformation and modernization of body language that defines itself as the “laboratory of the new gesture.” This body language was to be tested experimentally in the theater and then carried over from the stage into everyday life. Vsevolod Meyerhold insists that his new system for training actors is a science and calls it biomechanics.

The film director Lev Kuleshov opens a studio, the factory of the new gesture. Meyerhold and Kuleshov recognize the widespread national inability to utilize legs and arms both in art and in everyday life. The solution to this problem is the modernization of gesture. They instruct actors in American dynamism—the opposite of Russian sluggishness—and adopt the lessons of industrial labor to the theater. The work of the actor is the work of a mechanism. Its virtues are precision, conciseness, repetition, and synchronism. Meyerhold and Kuleshov’s programs are both oriented towards a precise rhythm dictated not by the biological body, but by the mechanism. With special training this rhythm helps the actor master his own body as a machine. The human body should compete with the machine in terms of speed and precision.

The utopian human being of the new machine civilization appears in science fiction films. Malevich’s costumes for the Futurist opera Victory over the Sun are a major source of inspiration for film designers. Stiff cardboard cubes shackle the body and separate the extremities from the torso. They don’t allow for sinuous or arc-like movements: the actor can only bend his arms at a right angle. This creates a geometrical stylization of human motion adapted to machine movement. To achieve an even greater effect, bodies are fit out with mechanical prostheses. “The proletariat is bringing about his rule and will bring it about in a moment of great technical perfection of the human organs—ears, eyes, legs, arms,” announces Kazimir Malevich.11 The camera replaces the eye; the radio the ear; the wheel the legs. These objects see, hear, and move better and faster than our imperfect natural organs.

These forms do not make their way into everyday life. Around the mid-twenties they also cease to exist on the stage. Utopian theatrical projects and unwritten books on the new manners are replaced by films that become the school of “correct” bodily techniques, a film factory of gestures.

The cinema understands the scope of the experiment “to create a higher, social-biological type of superman” and to “hasten its birth using the great might of the screen to infect, excite, and influence people.”12

8. Cinema Instruction: Learning to Wash

As the old everyday rituals and symbols of bodily communication and hierarchy are recoded, the body has to be returned to nature. Instructions on “what is good and what is bad” often refer to biological techniques. How to wash. How to take a shower. How to brush one’s teeth. Cinema instructs people in the elementary techniques of intimate hygiene.

In the past these techniques were beyond the limits of representation. But in the twenties heroes wash themselves joyously, exercise, dress and undress in front of the camera and in public.

Dziga Vertov films the body as an object of medical observation. Adult bodies are defective: they are damaged by tuberculosis, syphilis, exhaustion, alcoholism, degeneration. There is a limited choice of healthy heroes: children, pioneers who learn the new bodily techniques of hygiene and sports. His Kino-Eye shows how to jump properly.

In the late thirties movie stars look as magnificent as the statues and athletes of antiquity.

A woman painting her lips is a sign of the West. The Soviet woman does not use cosmetics. Her beauty is natural.

Washing, exercise and bath scenes are demoted to the realm of historical canvases and gradually disappear from the screen.

In 1962, when the protagonist of the “youth” film Colleagues is caught doing gymnastics, he shamefacedly hides behind a chair.

In the 1920s, the utopian idea that sports and hygiene will create the perfect body is also expressed the program of eugenics. In the thirties eugenics is replaced by a new discourse. Now the screen focuses on another elementary technique—proper walking.

9. Cinema Instruction: Learning to March

Some films teach viewers how to take a shower; others instruct them how to cross the street. The population does not know how to walk. Marching is the simplest walking technique, and children learn it easily. Gradually adults acquire this skill, too.

10. Cinema Instruction: The Machine-Body

In the thirties Soviet society modernizes and becomes more urban, but the population of this agrarian country is not ready. Disciplined military drill and factory work replace the utopian theatrical laboratories of the twenties. They are intended to transform the disorderly body language of the clumsy peasant into the precise, differentiated movements of a skilled worker. These drills are meant to avert the chaos created by the clash of body and machine that is depicted in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.

Work at the bench becomes a form of practical instruction in the new body language. The machine works in the same double time as the march.

The Institute of Labor develops a system of production gymnastics. Films show collective labor as athletic exercise. Marching and industrial labor approximate each other in the precision of their execution. The difference between military and civilian spheres is blurred as in the new walking. Machines know no fatigue or interruptions in their rhythm. Their rhythmic movement shapes the gestures of the woman worker who is capable of minding the machine precisely and without tiring.

The body is chopped into metonymic parts. Its motor functions are reduced to minimal movements, repeated gestures that are doubled in the identical, repetitive movements of the machine: up, down, turn.

With the help of montage Vertov creates the “electric” cinema person who is more perfect than Adam: “I take the hands from one person—the strongest and most agile ones—and from another I take the legs—the fastest and most shapely ones.”13

Cinema functions as a pedagogical tool that helps transform the “children of nature” into “Taylorized” workers. The action of a criminal (cutting a fur coat) is turned into the precise gesture of the furrier.

11. Pedagogical Epics of Modernization

Modernization changes the body language of peasants who are resettled onto factory construction sites by the first Five-Year Plans. Peasants don’t know how to move in the modern city and have not mastered the bodily techniques necessary to survive in the industrial society that Soviet Russia envisions itself to be. The pedagogy of gesture is a crucial component in this transformation. They must discard their archaic bodily techniques, such as bowing or making the sign of the cross. These gestures have become a sign of backwardness and lack of education. Films illustrate the training and disciplining of the “archaic peasant body” in the process of urban civilization, and democratic “socialization.”

The Soviet musical and Cinderella story The Radiant Path shows the magical transformation of a rough, clumsy peasant woman who shuffles her feet, wipes her nose with her sleeve, and picks her nose and ears. By mastering proper bodily techniques—the precise movements of the modern worker—the hideous “physiological monster” turns into a graceful beauty. Her “Pygmalion” is factory labor. At the beginning of the century Bernard Shaw interpreted the same story by focusing on language. When a girl learns how to speak properly, then her manners and emotional make-up change. The Soviet Pygmalion emphasizes proper movements. The film’s director Grigory Alexandrov implements the program of Soviet Constructivism by creating a new “mechanical person” who conquers the national inability to use hands and feet and subordinates her vulgar physiological body to the precise rhythm of the machine.

The new walk introduces athletic military sharpness and the measured synchrony of the march. At the end of the film the heroine collides with her previous self in a mirror.

12. Abolishing Boundaries

The abolition of borders between the organic and the mechanical, between intimate and public spheres, also leads to the blurring of other boundaries: military and civilian, child and adult, male and female. The bodily techniques of industrial and political leaders, proletarians, intellectuals and military gradually soften. These different spheres are subordinated to a single body language.

The boundaries between civilian and military spheres blur, which leads to a “bureaucratization” of military gestures and a “militarization” of civilian body language.

Miners carry their picks like weapons and march in formation as if in a parade.

Soviet generals open folders and hold up papers for signatures. Coquettes learn how to stand in a military manner. The director of a fur store teaches young saleswomen to swing their hips as they walk, but he also makes them line up before him as if on a military parade-ground.

Women use male gestures freely. Civilians greet each other military-style

Infantile gestures are adopted by adults. Informal gestures carry over into the public sphere. In a restaurant a waitress holds a client around the shoulders as she shows him his table. She breaks the professional etiquette of “not touching” the client, but she also remains within the Russian code of interaction and turns the social sphere into an intimate one. Private interactions (declarations of love, confidential conversations among friends) incorporate gestures from the podium—the rhythmic aggressive gestures of public speakers move into the bedroom.

Part Four. Public Speakers

1. The Eloquent Hand

2. Professionals

3. Amateurs

4. A Pictorial Neurotic

5. Constructivist Imagery

6. School of Gestures: Angry Fists

7. Orator in the Bedroom, Ingénue on the Podium

8. Horizontal and Vertical

9. Right and Left

10. Motion and Immobility: Model and Life

1. The Eloquent Hand

Classical rhetorical gestures are not taken from everyday life and follow a set of conventions. The orator must stand in a calm pose, with relaxed shoulders, and an immobile face. He moves only his right hand. But he may not raise it higher than eye level or drop it below the chest. He must also avoid making a fist—this gesture reveals lack of mastery over his affect and suggests anger or aggression.

The speaker may not shake his head, shrug his shoulders, move his nose or stretch his arms—these are all affective and comic gestures. He should not make repetitive movements with his arms such as waving or pounding the podium with his fist; this is a sign of an untrained speaker. By lifting his arms he commands silence. Arms raised to the heavens invoke holy vows. This code shapes the public person whose behavior reveals no traces of the “raw” nature and is subordinated to the norms of the Beautiful, the Sublime, the Ugly, and the Comic.

The orator’s movements correspond with a general symbolic spatial organization.

Up and down: moral rise and fall. Back and front: past and future. Right and left: good and evil. Vertical and horizontal: divine and mundane. These traditional associations also explain why only the right hand initiates these gestures. Raised hands appeal to a divine power. Hands stretched outward and forward have more earthly points of reference, symbolically appropriating time (the future) or space. Both hands may be used to intensify the effect of the gesture. By folding his hands over his chest he calls to meditation.

2. Professionals

Soviet orators take their gestures from rhetorical handbooks.

Lenin frequently employs horizontal rhythmic motions. Trotsky and Vyshinsky use rhythmic vertical—phallic—gestures. Lunacharsky moves his hand in a wave-like motion in the tradition of the early twentieth-century Russian intelligentsiia. Eisenstein is reading this text for the radio, which determines his own peculiar gesticulation. Stalin remains extremely ascetic in his use of gestures. He stands immobile like a monument. He moves only when making a joke. Khrushchev gestures more freely but also copies Stalin, turning Stalin’s joke into aggression. Brezhnev stands still, but he lacks Stalin’s monumental serenity. His lack of gesticulation comes from having his hands clenched around the text of his speech. The poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko creates his own expansive rhythmic gestures of a liberated artist.

3. Amateurs

Untrained speakers from the twenties, such as sailors and peasants, break all the rules of the art of oration. They move their hands up and down in repetitive rhythmic motions, make fists, and lift their hands to eye level, covering their faces.

In Battleship Potemkin the actor Alexander Antonov, who was trained in Eisenstein’s studio, uses his clenched fists as a rhythmical instrument, shaking them in rage and as a threat. He only plays the role of a revolutionary sailor, but the unprofessional actors who give speeches at a rally in the same film make similar gestures. So does the real Potemkin sailor Konstantin Feldman, whom Eisenstein also cast in the movie. Mayakovsky uses these gestures, too. This rhythmical gesture is reminiscent of the trajectory of a hammer. It becomes the signature of the unskillful, but temperamental and strong simple hero, with whom the viewer—who is equally uneducated in the rules of rhetoric—can identify.

4. A Pictorial Neurotic

The oratorical gestures of Kerensky, head of the bourgeois government, have a broad scope and pictorial significance. He places his hand on his heart and then extends his arm to its full length as in the ballet pose of effacé. He lifts his right hand, reaching for the sky. This choreography was not thought up by some film director. We need only to look at Ilya Repin’s painting The Manifesto of October 17, 1905 to find another speaker who opens his arms into a wide arch and leans back with his head and body. This oratorical pose is struck by the Romantic hero when he delivers his pathetic speech—on Mars.

Roman rhetorical handbooks advise speakers not to turn out their arms completely since the gesture displays too much affect. But these gestures were used in the French Revolution by public speakers who broke the strict rules of the rhetorical code.

By the beginning of the twentieth century theater directors dismiss such gestures as “operatic” and doctors call them “hysterical.”

Charcot’s assistant Paul Richter studied representations of hysteria in art. He noted that this particular pose artificially combined two states of being that were incompatible from a medical standpoint: convulsions and trance. The body is tense and thrown backward, legs extended, suggesting the muscle spasms of a hysteric. But the wide-open arms speak of relaxation and contradict the medical understanding of a hysterical attack, which usually involves clenched fists. In painting it is precisely this pose that becomes the template for expressing the ecstasy of receiving God’s grace or the Holy Spirit.14

Soviet cinema reserves this pose for bourgeois orators. They are a parody of “social outsiders” and fall into the same category as baroque ecstatic saints, hysterics, and operatic tenors.

5. Constructivist Imagery

The imperial power used traditional gestures of knighting, blessings, oaths.

The symbolic significance of these pictorial gestures is parodied in the new deritualized post-revolutionary space.

We find unexpected solutions in the attempt to invigorate body language. One profane innovation is the speaker as traffic controller. Kliment Redko’s painting The Uprising (1924) shows Lenin in a strange pose, somewhere between a march and a dance step.

Eisenstein represents Lenin according to the old iconography.

Here we have the orator as goalkeeper. Or as conductor.

In the twenties directors need to distinguish proletarian leaders from the hysterical operatic style of the “bourgeois,” and from untrained speakers, so they reduce the bodily expressions of Bolshevik orators to one basic gesture: the perfectly straight raised right hand. This gesture demands silence, threatens, and calls to attention.

The Constructivists find visual equivalents to this gesture in construction cranes, radio towers, and raised bridges. They transform the speaker into the master of levers, machines, and steering wheels.

Women and men employ the same staccato body language. The “proletarian” speaker’s gesture is neither rounded in a ballet-like movement nor arced in ecstasy.

The creators of the new proletarian semiotics of gesture were savvy in preferring vertical over horizontal line and right angles over wavy lines. A vertically raised arm is a phallic symbol of strength and conveys a blessing. Vertical lines invoke both the divine and masculine; horizontal lines the worldly and feminine. When theses lines intersect, they often create erotic meaning, but this figure is not used by Soviet orators either in life or on the screen. Often the raised hand is lengthened by a weapon, which gives the gesture added significance.

6. School of Gestures: Angry Fists

Gestures that were previously considered vulgar or threatening are suddenly awarded an elevated symbolic meaning.

The fist—once seen in the medical world as a symptom of hysterical convulsion and in theatrical semiotics as a vulgar threat—now gains currency. A clenched fist becomes the universal sign of most any emotion: it can signify anger, joy, or sorrow and functions as a demonstration of liberated vital energy. Eisenstein uses montage to transform this expression of social rage into a series of explosions.

In The Radiant Path Elena Tiapkina points out the origin of her own gesture when she holds a newspaper depicting Sergo Orzhonikidze with one fist raised threateningly.

The woman reproduces this masculine gesture and carries it from the All-Union podium into her office. The following frame demonstrates that the gesture can be a sign of creation. The strikes of the hammer replicate the movements of Tiapkina’s hands: they tear down a wall as they rebuild an old factory.

7. Orator in the Bedroom, Ingénue on the Podium

Fists make their appearance both in public space and in personal conversations. Private conversations such as declarations of love or heart-to-heart chats between friends incorporate the rhythmic gestures of the podium: hammering and shaking fists. This transfer of the public gesture into private space is a defining feature of the socialist hero’s bodily expression. The public speaker intrudes on the bedroom, and the ingénue makes her way onto the podium.

Tatiana Okunevskaia gives the country girl the mannerisms of a city coquette and

uses the these vertical rhythmic gestures when having a witty conversation with her girlfriend or flirting with an officer.

This commander talks to a girl using the same gestures with which he leads the troops.

In A Girl with Character Valentina Serova shows the audience that not only Potemkin‘s sailors get to make rhythmic and aggressive motions with their fists. The same gestures can also be used when talking to your boss or your girlfriends. When the ingénue instructs her timid bridegroom how to propose, she hammers in the same way. A young woman gives a speech before her colleagues about raising their professional qualifications. As she rehearses her speech at home before the imagined beloved she makes the same rhythmic motion with her clenched fist! Not until the Thaw do films start forgetting these gesture of public speakers and show people engaged in more intimate table talk. In the sixties the clenched fist is medicalized again as a sign of a hysteric fit.

This professional speaker, who practices at home in his kitchen, has already forgotten the gesture.

8. Horizontal and Vertical

In the thirties hysterical figures who bang the table with their fists fade into the background. High-ranking personages now share a different ideal body language: their movements are paced, they show restraint in the expression of emotion and make minimal gestures.

The rhetorical culture is revived with the establishment of a Soviet elite. The rhythmic vertical movements are supplanted by horizontal gestures: the arm extends and points out the direction (ahead? into the future?); the convulsive fist is unclenched.

Photographs of Lenin exude a private unofficial character. Brodsky’s portrait from 1921, which is based on a photograph, shows Lenin standing hunched over, hands in his pockets. This is not the stance of a state leader, especially not of a military dictator.

In films Lenin is therefore frequently represented as a comic, rather than a powerful orator. His gesticulations include vulgar gestures: he puts his hands on his hips, slapping his thighs.

In contrast, Iurii Annenkov’s 1924 portrait of Trotsky shows him raising his right arm in the traditional pose of a commander. Klutsis’s poster combines the recognizable domestic Lenin photograph and the commander’s arm. Statue and film representations of Lenin from the late thirties repeat this pose. The palm of his outstretched hand faces downward. According to traditional semiotics this is the posture of a tyrant, while the classical orator turns his palms upward.

On this poster from 1957, People and Party are One (by Viktor Ivanov) , Lenin still points forward, but his elbow is slightly bent, thus softening the hand gesture. The palm of his hand reaches towards the viewer, a detail that turns the commanding gesture into an invitation.

This 1967 poster, Lenin lives, Lenin lived, Lenin will live for ever (by Viktor Ivanov), shows a lowered arm, palm to the ground: this was a common pose for popular singers at the time.

If the hand of the Lenin statue shows the way (its horizontal orientation is coded as feminine and earthly), then Stalin’s hand points upward. This vertical line suggests and masculinity and godliness.

On this 1952 poster Under the Great Stalin’s Leadership (by Boris Berezovskij and Mikhail Solov’ev) Stalin uses the old iconographic gesture of “Deus,” pointing with his index finger towards a higher power (Lenin?). This symbolism develops only gradually—early representations are void of such signs.

In this 1928 painting by Isaak Brodsky, Stalin leans against the table with both his arms in an almost insecure pose. Though he is wearing a military-style service jacket, his posture is not that of a military man—even the direct gaze is missing.

In posters from the thirties Stalin is represented as a helmsman at the tiller, The Captain of the Land (Boris Efimov, 1931). He can also be depicted as Napoleon, with his hand under the breast of his coat (Viktor Deni, 1931).

During the Eighth All-Union Congress in 1936 the real Stalin did not use one single rhythmic gesture.

Feature films copy the bodily asceticism of the “real” actor from documentary reels. The cinematic Stalin barely moves, only occasionally making affirmative gestures or giving directions with his hand or finger. His hands are either shackled by blueprints or holding a pipe, a pointer, a pencil. The pencil replaces the scepter. Knobs and buttons—the orb.

In The Fall of Berlin Hitler’s eccentric, syncopated, convulsive gesticulations contrast with Stalin’s calm restraint.

Mikhail Chiaureli, the artist and sculptor-turned-film director, is responsible for much of the filmic imagery of the Stalin-cult. He added the ritual gesture of taking an oath at Lenin’s dead body to the repertoire of Stalin’s expressivity.

Several codes meet in the figure of Stalin. He alone appeals to divine power and masters the imperial immobility of a sovereign. His body recalls Buddhist reflection and opposes the Western overproduction of motion. He embodies Tolstoy’s ideal of the Russian military leader as described in War and Peace.

9. Right and Left

The tradition of oratorical gestures is realized on the screen in a gallery of new heroes—commanders, tsars, leaders. Directors make subtle use of the oppositions vertical and horizontal, right and left.

In Alexander Nevsky Eisenstein must distinguish between “us” and “them” using a limited repertoire of permissible gestures. The boyar gesticulates indiscriminately with right and left hands. The Slavic warriors use both hands in the synchronized, doubled gestures of Russian peasant rituals. The traitorous monk never rises to his full height. His figure lacks vertical lines and hugs the ground like a snake. Only the true leader Alexander Nevsky gestures solely with his right hand using vertical motions.

In Chapaev, the anarchist beats his chest with his fist, spreads his arms out wide, and waves his left arm around. The partisan leader gestures alternately with his left and right arms: he is on his way from savagery to culture.

In Knight of the Golden Star leaders of different generations at different levels of the party hierarchy create nuance within a very limited repertoire of gestures. The higher someone is, the fewer gestures he makes. The older conservative waves his fists around like a hysterical man from the twenties. The self-loving egotist makes expansive operatic gestures. The popular leader uses the doubled gestures of peasants before Soviet modernization. The noble orator Sergei uses his right hand according to the rules—he does not lift his hand above chest level, does not hammer with his fists and organizes his speech with horizontal movements of his hands.

The trained orator finishes his speech in accordance with the rules of rhetoric—with a horizontal wave of his arm.

10. Motion and Immobility: Model and Life

The oratorical culture developed by the cinema in the thirties fades by the fifties. This young woman doesn’t even make the acceptable rhetorical gestures. Her hands are clenched—her asceticism imitates the style of the top orator of the country, to whom she addresses her own speech.

Krushchev brings vulgar and aggressive gestures into his mannerisms—these, too, are imitated by the public.

The leaders that follow—Brezhnev and Gorbachev—become immobile again.

These gestures by Soviet citizens of different generations, caught by a reporter’s camera, reveal various rhetorical models.

We can see the screen orator from the thirties in the gestures of the people who were active viewers at that time. Here we see the style of the political leaders of the fifties

… and of youth idols from the sixties.

Part Five. Bodily Communication

1. Doubled Gestures Archaic Peasant Rituals

2. The Expressive Hand: A Mark of Education

3. The Aggressive Elbow

4. Legs and Hands

5. Expansive and Restrained Gestures: Shoulder vs. Finger

6. Touching

7. Flirting and Kissing

8. Declarations of Love

9. Tenderness

1. Doubled Gestures: Archaic Peasant Rituals

In pre-revolutionary Russian films peasants are represented as carriers of an archaic ritual culture. Their gestures are expansive: the actor extends his arm to its full length. The peasant moves his arms in a broad arc, creating the impression of roundness and fluidity. (The wide sleeves help hide the angular elbows.) Pointing and affirmative gestures, greetings and farewells are expressed by symmetrical movements of both arms.

In situations where these doubled gestures are optional (giving a visitor directions, for example), the parallel motion adds extra significance and emphasizes the archaic nature of peasant culture.

Actors in the roles of peasants adopt this “bodily costume” as a conventional social and national trait.

Stanislavsky’s naturalistic theater rejects this tradition of representing the Slavic folk hero (bogatyr) as a cliché.15

His actors turn to intensely physiological gestures when playing peasants. They scratch themselves and others, spit, cough, belch, chew, and wink.

The Soviet screen preserves the doubled gestures as a sign of the folkloric and simple hero both in stylizations of peasant life and in comedies and operettas.

2. The Expressive Hand: A Mark of Education

The upper social classes do not resort to sweeping or physiological gestures.

Aristocrats and intellectuals make nuanced movements of their wrists to create fluid, elegant, and differentiated gestures.

The aristocratic lady does not fuss about like the peasant woman or the maid. Instead she expresses herself with her flexible wrists. When she offers her hand to be kissed without bending her elbow, she executes ballet’s second position. She may also artfully frame her face with her arm. Sinuous flexibility of the joints becomes the mark of the decadent body. The woman of the early modernist style is likened to a stream or a vine: her body flows, her arms move like tree branches.

The actress Glebova-Sudeikina is said to have had a unique way of offering her hand to be kissed: instead of simply raising her hand she would move her shoulder forward and made a wave-like motion with her entire body.

Flexibility of the arms is an important aspect of decadence. Hands and arms are more able to convey wave-like motions than legs are. Mikhail Fokin choreographed a famous dance for Anna Pavlova in which he shifted the emphasis from the ballerina’s legs to her sinuous arms.

3. The Aggressive Elbow

The peasant woman’s active elbow is angular, inflexible, and aggressive.

4. Legs and Hands

Women’s bodies are divided into active and passive parts according to their social status. The peasant woman’s hands are hidden in the long, wide sleeves of her dress. Her covered elbows and hands lack all expression. Her motion is expansive—she uses her whole arm—and resembles the masculine “Slavic” gesture. Her peasant dress, called a sarafan, hides her waist, hips, and legs. Her body is immobile and hard to eroticize according to the accepted codes of representation, where legs and feet function as fetishistic objects.

The tighter dresses of aristocratic ladies call attention to swinging hips, the curve of the waist, back, and legs. All of these features are sexually enticing.

This aristocrat draws attention to her legs by asking the maid take off her boots. The camera, following the movement of the maid, travels down to the lady’s ankles.

Men’s legs are also erotically charged. Stanislavsky recalls that he dressed in tight riding breeches—no matter what role he was playing.

Boris Barnet uses the male leg as an erotic object, but his comic situations destroy its fetishistic allure. The camera frames the legs, which are used as awkward, but flirtatious bodily elements throughout the comedy.

The shorter skirts of the twenties came as a shock.

But people still flirt by letting their feet touch under the table.

5. Expansive and Restrained Gestures: Shoulder vs. Finger

Peasants on the Soviet screen are shown in the old code, using archaic body language and doubled gestures.

Proletarian heroes retain their expansive gesturing and angular well-defined elbows. This expansiveness moves from the screen into life.

After the revolution expressive wrists and fingers are parodied as mannerisms of the old class or they fulfill a comedic function.

These gestures change when the population learns to write. The process of reading and writing separates sound and sense and changes the articulation of the body. Writing develops the muscles of the fingers and makes them capable of producing differentiated gestures. Young peasants change their bodily techniques and learn to make delicate gestures using only one hand. Men acquire this new body language in the army; women at the bench in the factory.

Expressive hands return to the screen in the sixties when Soviet intellectuals replace peasants and proletarians as the favored protagonists.

The wrist regains its flexiblity and attention is paid to manicured hands and nervous fingers.

6. Touching

Writing leads to the disappearance of unmediated bodily communication. But the screen still puts great emphasis on bodily contact as a sign of Russia’s warm culture.

Peasant society is unthinkable without physical contact. Peasants touch each other with their hands, pat each other on the back and shoulders, lean into each other with their whole bodies.

Lower class men and women are marked by their fussy gestures: they adjust their shirts, belts, dresses and touch all the areas of their bodyhands, face, legs, thighs, torso.

Comic servants touch their bodies aggressively and push and shove each other around.

There is bodily contact among aristocrats, too, but members of different classes don’t touch each other.

After the 1917 Revolution the democratizing society abolishes these asymmetrical patterns of interaction. Citizens are forced into involuntarily close physical contact in public, professional, and private spheres. They are in forced proximity when using public transportation, standing in line, living in communal apartments and working in offices.

The bourgeoisie can no longer hide from the “physiological body” of the lower classes.

This man in a Caucasian fur hat uses his whole body to push apart two colleagues.

This encounter stands in stark contrast to the “colonial tableau.” Here, an Englishman accepts a document without touching or even looking at his Indian subordinate.

Regular physical contact is the only bodily technique that Soviet democratized manners take straight from the old patriarchal society.

Bosses, friends and lovers all pat each other on the shoulders, poke each other in the stomach and confidentially touch each other’s bodies during conversation.

This constant touching adds an almost homosexual tinge to Soviet culture.

In comparison, the Soviet flirt lacks all eroticism and follows codes of chivalry.

7. Flirting and Kissing

This flirtation takes place at a distance via a mediating object that substitutes for actual physical contact.

Flirtation emphasizes the hands.

… or the mouth—here with the help of food. Champagne and chocolate are the food of choice among the higher classes. Gumdrops and sunflower seeds do the trick among the simple people. Drinking is the gateway to kissing.

Films avoid showing overtly erotic scenes, but hugs and kisses are elaborately staged.

Russian cinema develops a distinctly ballet-like choreography of the kiss.

This tradition comes from the Italian silent film stars, who enjoyed popularity in Russia. Francesca Bertini also uses tango steps to draw lovers into her embrace.

When lovers embrace, they are meant to convey the sense that they are dancing.

At first Soviet cinema parodies these forms of ballet-like flirtation.

Soviet flirtation is inscribed in housework, an activity previously reserved for servants.

The erotics of flirtation are muted by infantile gestures. Flirtation might include hitting your partner in jest.

Flirtation scenes frequently follow the traditions of the farce, where servants parody the refined manners of their masters in a grotesque brawl: a man grabs a woman, she knocks him in the stomach and gives him a slap in the face. Soviet films forget the aesthetic origins of this body language and adopt these grotesque flirtation techniques in “realistic” films as a fact of everyday behavior.

The love plot in Chapaev moves from aggressively staking a claim on a woman to extreme restraint. At first the protagonist grabs the girl by the chest, earning a slap in the face. Appropriate contact is limited to a handshake. The girl transfers her energy onto a cleaning rag—she cannot quite bring herself to embrace her beloved before he leaves on a dangerous mission.

The cover of this film magazine in Bed and Sofa refers to techniques of erotic tenderness that were rarely shown on the Soviet screen.

Lighting a cigarette (literally “sparking” someone’s interest) is a common flirtation device in Western films. In Soviet cinema men and women do not light each other’s cigarettes. However, this scene often takes place between men.

8. Declarations of Love

Embodiments of love emerge from the pose of the child trying to reach his mother. The theater translates this pose into the common tableau of the young man kneeling before the beloved. This staging comes from the chivalrous courtly culture of the Middle Ages: the fair lady sits in the tower, the poet down below. This scene is softened when Romeo declares his love below Juliet’s balcony and is simplified again when Hamlet kneels at Ophelia’s feet.

In 1927 Osip Brik surmised that “dramatists and directors have always had plenty of models for staging romantic declarations of love, envy, and betrayal, but they didn’t know how to stage the line, ‘I declare the meeting of the Plant and Factory Commission to be opened’ or ‘I call a vote.’”16

By the thirties films have still not developed a new body language for declarations of love. They continue to follow the choreography of chivalrous culture.

However, the fall to the knees is given some trivial external motivation.

Directors usually prevent lovers from touching each other—limiting their physical contact to a handshake. Husbands and wives don’t even hug each other after a long separation. Workers share ascetic signs of tenderness: one hand caresses another.

Soviet culture retains physical contact in the work sphere, but avoids the lovers’ touch. This reinforces the traditional bodily techniques of the peasants.

Socialist Realist novels sketch out only inhibited contact between lovers, using verbal phrases like “he took her by the arm” or “he half embraced her.”

As two characters in The Fall of Berlin declare their love for each other, they not only fail to touch, they don’t even look at each other. After the declaration, Natasha closes her eyes and pretends to lean up against Alyosha’s chest. But she stands at some distance from Alyosha. Alyosha takes a few steps back and takes pleasure at Natasha’s expression from a safe distance.

Instead of kisses and hugs, the director lets the actor grab the girl by the hand and turn her in euphoric circles. This gesture is reminiscent of the folkloric game of gorelki (a game of tag), where the young man chases the girl. All ends with a hug and—presumably—with an off-screen kiss.

In The Radiant Path the statues around the lovers show more excitement than the lovers themselves. As in Victorian painting, the erotic charge is transferred onto the lovers’ surroundings. The protagonists freeze; the camera pans upward and settles on the stature of the male worker and the female collective farm worker, who have frozen in an ecstatic surge. The soaring union of the steel figures replaces the traditional kiss.

9. Tenderness

Woman—as child, mother, sister.

Even in the sixties Soviet cinema does not lose its innocence. Erotic gestures remain cautious and subordinated to male culture.

The nineties aggressively explode this inheritance. The new eroticism is inscribed in relations of violence and submission.

Part Six. The Rhetoric of Emotion

1. Theater Schools

2. Sublime Vertical (Admiration, Supplication, Oath)

3. Horizontal Symmetry (Summoning, Ecstasy)

4. Aggressive Tension (Rage)

5. Dissymmetry (Horror, Fear, Despair)

6. Relaxed Muscles ( Melancholy)

7. Paroxysm of Motion (Joy)

8. Inclination ( Attraction)

9. Up and Down

10. Open and Closed

11. Pictorial Gestures vs. Expressive Bodies

1. Theater Schools

In the theater of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the expression of affect (sorrow, anger, joy, fear) was standardized. Gestures that had often originated as a part of ritual—beating the breast, folding hands, covering eyes with one’s hands—became signs of despair, supplication, and shame. The semiotics of theatrical gestures crossed cultural borders not because physical expressions of emotion are universal, but because the arts had elaborated a limited set of signs. These signs were regulated by specific rules of representation and were passed on from culture to culture in translations of works by renowned pedagogues of the theater. The work of Munich Jesuit Franziskus Lang, which was written in Latin, served as a study guide for Russian actors of the eighteenth century. The Berlin pedagogue Johann Jakob Engel wrote a theatrical handbook that was adapted for the French stage by Pierre Gratiolet in 1785 and for the English stage by Henry Siddon in 1822. The method of François Delsarte, a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, was popular among Americans and Russians at the turn of the twentieth century.

The authors of the first acting manuals were trained in rhetoric and adapted its rules to the stage. They did not use everyday recognizable gestures as their point of reference. Instead, they oriented themselves toward a norm that corresponded to the categories of the Beautiful and the Ugly, the Sublime and the Base, the Tragic and the Comic. In addition, the theatrical manuals were regulated by a code of acceptable manners.

“In order to play any piece of music, we need only a defined, limited range of notes. On the basis of this sound system you can construct any musical work. By the same principle we can create a single system of human motion that can be used as a foundation for building any kind of structure,” Lev Kuleshov.17

The movements of different body parts were reduced to a limited number of expressive gestures that were often taken from the visual arts. Inasmuch as the actor’s body was understood to have two referentsthe body itself and a certain abstract norm—the symbolic significance always managed to overshadow physiology.

These gestures and poses were taught in schools, produced by actors, and repeated by the audience, who carried them into everyday life.

In the accepted way of staging a play, the actor strikes a pose that is pregnant with “significance” and freezes giving the audience time to read the meaning of the gesture. The alternation between “flowing” asemantic movements and the frozen “significant” poses or tableaux created a specific dynamic of performance.

The hero’s conduct demands calm, measured gestures that are read as a sign of authority. Slaves, servants or comic double always bustle about the stage.

In the eighteenth century Lang declared that it was impossible to depict irregular motions on the stage, such as rolling about on the ground. But by the early nineteenth century, Siddon allowed a suffering person to roll about the stage, throw himself on the ground, tear at his hair or clothes, and beat his breast.

This theatrical inheritance not only created a set of gestures but also revealed in this “significant” body language a semiotics of spatial relations widespread in European culture: vertical and horizontal, right and left, top and bottom, symmetry and asymmetry, open and closed, movement towards and away from oneself, muscle tension and relaxation.

Each gesture is legible according to these symbolic conventions. Motion upward points to God and eternity; motion downward gestures to the earth. The past lies behind, the future ahead. Beauty is associated with symmetry and clear proportions. These, in turn, express noble feelings of admiration, supplication, command.

2. Sublime Vertical

Admiration, Supplication, Oath

The expression of admiration and the establishment of rulership both require that muscles be tensed and reach upward: the body is stretched, shoulders are lifted, the muscles of neck, back, hands and legs contract.

Arms are thrown up vertically—and usually symmetrically—to call upon the divine. This is the pose of supplication, prayer, or plea.

The traditional gesture of adoration—to lift up one’s hands—originated in prayer.

Here the muscular tension is taken to an extreme. The thrown-back head, along with the stretched legs and back exceed the norm and display vanity and arrogance.

The raised right hand is an expression of reproach. It points to a higher judge and blatantly represents the rod of punishment.

But the same gesture can also express awesome triumph.

3. Horizontal Symmetry

Summoning, Ecstasy

Horizontal gestures appeal to the earth.

Arms are spread wide in declaration and summoning.

Arms fully extended at shoulder level signify agitation and emotional outbursts.

Movement towards the body indicates attraction.

Movement away from the body expresses repulsion.

4. Aggressive Tension


Rage is marked by the energetic downward movement of a hand or a foot (a strike or a kick) while all other muscles remain tense.

A clenched fist or a stomping foot express rage and aggression.

5. Dissymmetry

Horror, Fear, Despair

The expression of negative affect such as horror, fear or despair is built on contrasts, disproportionality, and dissonance. The body turns in one direction, but the hands point in another. Like a protective shield, these hands seem to be repulsing a hated object. Re-vulsion, a-version is literally represented as turning away.

These multidirectional movements express ambivalence. The hands are raised asymmetrically.

6. Relaxed Muscles


Affect (passion, agitation, rage) provokes a greater range of motion: arms are thrust outward. All other emotions are marked by a measured pace and by gestures that turn inward toward the body. Arms folded over the chest signify concentration, obedience, or lack of will. Arms folded behind the back signify the ultimate retreat: phlegmatism.

Grief or contemplation are depicted with relaxed muscles. Head, shoulders, arms, knees all sink lower in a gesture of defeat. If the actor is moving, he must stop. If he is sitting, he lowers his head – a traditional gesture in the iconography of melancholy.

Covered faces and closed eyes express various levels of estrangement from this world. Hands hide the face to represent shame or grief.

Physiological detail is absent from the representation of death. Death is a pantomime of falling and of muscles relaxing.

7. Paroxysm of Motion


The torso moves up and down to express despair and weakness; movement from side to side signifies lightheartedness and capriciousness, rotating spiral movements stand for childish impatience and chaos. Joy is expressed by a paroxysm of motion: clapping hands, dancing, hugging, jumping, skipping.

8. Inclination


In poses of submission the body or head bends down. In poses of revulsion the body turns away. To express sympathy and attention the body bends towards the love object. The embodiment of love has its origins in the body language of a child trying to reach his mother: he tenses his body, reaches his arms upward, and throws his head back. This becomes the traditional pose for lovers on stage: Romeo below Juliet’s balcony, Hamlet at Ophelia’s feet.

9. Up and Down

The body is traditionally divided into three significant zones: the animal, physiological gut; the heart—the seat of emotion; and the head, where intellect and spirit reside. This division gives meaning to the position of the hand. When a hand clutches the chest, this is a sign of emotional agitation; a hand placed upon the belly is a sign of base passions; a hand touching the head suggests reflection and contemplation.

The same divisions are reproduced on the face: the forehead is the mind or spirit; the mouth expresses sensibility; the nose—will. How the hands move across these zones marks the nature of a given desire.

10. Open and Closed

Opened and closed palms carry significant nuances of meaning. A closed fist is associated with danger. An open hand appeals to the world, signifying trust or a question; the palm facing away from the body suggests rejection, palms facing the body are a sign of invitation and welcome.

The teacher moves his hands up and down with his palms facing his listeners. Lords make the same motion with their palms turned inward. The tyrant raises his hand with the palm facing the ground; the saint’s palm points up to heaven; the orator speaks with open palms.

Though these systems are incompatible with ballet, the semiotics of direction coincide in acting and ballet, as well as in other systems of representation. Movement upward expresses joy, movement downward—sadness, movement backward—fear, movement forward—joy and attention. The head held upright leaning towards an objects expresses sympathy; when leaning away from the object—mistrust; lowered to the chest—contemplation; thrown back—conceit.

Effacé—the position in which both arms are turned out, and the chest is straight—becomes classical ballet’s sign of courage, honesty, and openness. Extended arms are read as an invitation, a palm facing outward as revulsion and repulsion. Croisé, on the other hand, is read as a sign of being closed off.

11 Pictorial Gestures vs. Expressive Bodies

Following in the footsteps of theatrical melodrama, early cinema imprinted precisely this system of body language onto the screen. But a rupture occurred between 1908 and 1913, following the emergence of the naturalistic school of theater.

Naturalistic theater developed a system of opaque acting, rejecting the system of significant gestures in favor of the uninterrupted flow of movement.

The body was now to be read without the help of language. Emotions were to be expressed in gestures that did not have a fixed meaning.

Directors who are interested in expressiveness rather than beauty turn to the common man, the child, the hysteric, the savage—to people outside of culture with its restraints —to study affect.

Hands, legs and lips now lived their own lives in close-up. Any gesture and any part of the body were now free to express any emotion. An actor might blow up his stomach to express rage, aggression and menace.

Part Seven. Faces and Bodies

1. 1910: Movie Divas and Decadent Beauties

2. 1920: Anti-Stars

3. Beauties in Exiles

4. Beauties as Caricature

5. 1930: Wholesome Beauty

6. Comic and Demonic Doubles

7. 1950: Peroxide Blondes and the Folks Next Door

8. 1960: Adolescents and Nymphets

1. 1910: Decadent Beauties

The feminine ideal of the Russian screen in the nineteen-tens is a fragile beauty with smooth, matt skin and a delicate profile like on a piece of cameo jewelry. Dark shadows make her eyes look enormous; soft curls frame her pale, narrow face.

In contrast to Hollywood’s Victorian adolescents, Russian actresses combine traits of the femme fatale and the endangered virgin.

They are endowed with accessories traditionally associated with eroticism: furs and feathers, translucent fabric, oriental clothes.

The male love interests also look feminine.

2. 1920: Anti-Stars

After the revolution a different kind of beauty takes to the screen. This change is precipitated in part by the emigration of many famous film actresses and the death of Russia’s biggest star, Vera Kholodnaia, in 1919. But there is another reason for this shift: peasant and working women previously assigned the role of comic soubrette are now required to play the heroine.

The Soviet avant-garde turns the ugly and misshapen women into the star or anti-star. She is a sign of reality beyond the screen. She is found in crowded streets, not in the corps de ballet. Her face is expressive, but asymmetrical. Her nose is either bulbous or hollowed out by syphilis, like Marfa Lapkina’s in The General Line. Critics are shocked by the degenerate and pathological image of this new heroine.

The new cinema rejects the previous era’s matt-finished portraits of smooth, made-up, powdered faces. Faces are presented without make-up, revealing large pores, scars and wrinkles that are enhanced by the course grain of the high-contrast film. The anti-star’s hair is hidden beneath a headscarf. Her body remains invisible under her rough, formless dress. Her narrative is not a love story, but a tale of emancipation. Usually she frees herself from a man who embodies the repressive structures of society.

Actresses and actors are not afraid to show themselves lying in puddles, their faces covered in mud, their hair greasy and disheveled.

The old type of beauty is criticized sharply:

“Why do these generic beauties not disappear from our screens? Is it not because the population of male moviegoers demand a woman with velvety skin, dainty little feet, aristocratic hands, delicate bone structure, a noble profile, a mouth with pedigree? And does this set of attributes not express perfectly the old feudal view of woman as a piece of bed-time property? For what is she—this small-footed, narrow-boned woman with delicate hands? Is she a worker, an activist, a comrade? She is exactly that ‘delicate creature’ to whom men run when they want to get away from their own rough, tired, hook-nosed, slant-eyed woman with strong cheekbones. This type of beauty was created by the cinema so that people might escape from reality into an exotic mirage. This is a social narcotic. We must dethrone the old beauty in the name of our big-boned women with strong cheekbones” (Sergei Tretiakov, 1927).18

3. Beauties in Exile

In the meantime a new type appears in the West: the modern American woman. The screen is filled by the androgynous adolescent of the jazz age who mocks the refined eroticism of Decadence.

Some beauties of the Soviet screen, such as Vera Malinovskaia, Ol’ga Zhizneva, Iuliia Solntseva, Anna Sten, Anel’ Sudakevich, come close to this type. But they find shelter only in the past—in historical costume dramas, on Mars, or in the decadent West.

The beautiful woman has no place in Soviet everyday life. She appears only as a destructive, alien element, distracting commissars from their duties and luring them into the “intoxication of NEP.” But her transformed face could be used in a Soviet advertisement.

4. Beauties as Caricature

Though these beauties may seduce the commissar, they don’t dupe the audience. On the screen they are presented as mere caricatures alongside the well-dressed suitors of yesteryear. These women are meant to provoke class hatred. They are symbols of the old way of life or of the bourgeois West. Their bodies are shapeless, their faces asymmetrical. A former decadent beauty is now a vulgar prostitute.

5. 1930: Wholesome Beauty

In the thirties the state recognizes that the cinema is a suitable medium for instilling in citizens desired models of behavior. To this end, the audience must be able to identify with the characters on the screen.

“The new leadership of cinematography has advanced the demand that it be imperative to show the beautiful person of our class. This measure counteracts the false notion that Bolsheviks, proletarians and peasants must necessarily be represented in film as vulgar Ivans and Marias and that beauty and sharp intellect are attributes of the enemy classes” (Boris Shumiatsky, minister of cinematography, 1935).19

Parallel to the doctrine of building socialism within a single country, Soviet cinema searches for a particular “socialist” type of beauty. Beauty is understood to be a construction that can be staged and brought about in real life. It is created on the screen, and can then be distributed in journals, postcards, posters, and advertisements.

Some features of the proletarian face of the 1920s remain, but they are softened and idealized. The faces of screen actresses and actors of the thirties are proportional and symmetrical. All signs of degeneration, pathology, disease, and deformity have disappeared. Men are clean-cut and clean-shaven. Women’s hair is carefully coiffed, dyed and curled. Make-up returns to the face: lips are painted in subdued colors, false eyelashes reappear, and eyebrows are plucked. The make-up is meant to be imperceptible: the curls are to look like natural waves, the beauty is supposed to seem completely authentic. Woman is a part of untouched nature.

The leading man is now a masculine Slavic folk hero and a Red Army officer.

This notion of beauty is determined by a new focus on the healthy bodies needed for reproduction. Eugenics and sociology join forces. Though the aristocrat may be attracted to fragile pallor, the peasant desires the strong woman worker. Soviet screen beauties are not thin. Their physical prowess is underscored by their athletic bodies.

This ideal is shaped by the type of Slavic beauty, a “Russian Venus” transposed onto the muscular bodies of Aleksandr Deineka’s swimmers. The new outline of the female body no longer fits into a figure eight. Instead, it is basically rectangular: shoulders and hips form a line, hiding the waist.

Soviet movie stars do not wear elegant gowns when they appear on screen. Instead, they show up in unisex work clothes, hair tucked under a helmet or in a braid, feet clad in felt or leather boots. If they do wear an evening dress in the final scene, it shows no skin: arms, backs, and shoulders are never bared.

The private and official photographs of Liubov Orlova, the biggest Soviet movie star of the thirties, reveal two separate worlds. An elegant lady dressed in furs and a broad-brimmed hat looks out of the first picture. But on official photographs we find either a happy Komsomol girl in a colorful little dress and white anklets or a strict matron with impeccable posture buttoned up in a jacket covered in Soviet decorations.

6. Comic and Demonic Doubles

Deviations from this type come in comic, pathological, or demonic inflections.

7. 1950: Peroxide Blondes and the Folks Next Door

The modernization of Soviet society that began with Stalin’s expedited industrialization is completed. In the twenties the documentary footage and the pages of the magazine Woman Worker (Rabotnitsa) and Peasant Woman (Krestianka) were dominated by woman in thick quilted jackets and headscarves and were void of any mention of current fashion. By the forties almost all of the women depicted in magazine photos have their hair permed and wear city suits. Advice columns appear with tips from cosmetologists and discussions of surgical wrinkle removal.

As in Hollywood, the silhouette of the peroxide blonde with a wasp’s waist, a prominent chest and voluptuous hips is reserved for movie stars. But the screen also makes room for young people who have no resemblance to stars. This is the type of the unremarkable good guy, the Folks Next Door.

8. 1960: Adolescents and Nymphets

The late 1950s marks the appearance in both Soviet and Western cinema of young male heroes who revolt against their parents. They dress in jeans, T-shirts, and leather jackets, and have skinny nymphets on their arms. We see naive childish features, big bangs, unruly manes of hair and full lips in the style of Brigitte Bardot. Actors and especially actresses start making movies at the young age of 18 or even 15.

The Soviet intellectual makes his first appearance as a positive hero on the Soviet screen. The same actor may now be cast both as a prince and as a tractor driver.

The iron curtain becomes transparent: Western cinema and Western fashion determine the image of Soviet movie stars.

The era of eternal youth has begun: even fifty-year-olds are supposed to stay eighteen forever.

In the nineties a hybrid emerges on the Russian screen: the Hollywood action hero acquires the Russian features of Ivan the Fool. He is both a loser and the most successful guy around; he is slow, but quicker than all the rest.

1 Konstantin Stanislavskii. „Moia zhizn v iskusstve.“ Sobranie sochinenii v 8 tomach. Tom 1 (Мoscow: Iskusstvo, 1954), 65.

2 Pravila svetskoi zhizni i etiketa. Choroshii ton. Sbornik sovetov i nastavlenii. (1889, Reprint Moscow: Ripol, 1991), 219.

3 Honoré de Balzaс. „Theorie de la démarche“ (1833). Oeuvres complets. Vol. 19. Dirigée par Jean-A. Ducourneau (Paris : Les Bibliophiles de l’originale, 1965), 210-251.

4 Valentin Parnakh. „Novye tantsy.“ Veshch – Objet – Gegenstand, 1-2 (1922), 25.

5 Sergei Iutkevich. „Meri Pikford i ee okrestnosti. “ Sovetskii ekran 28 (38) (1925)sipgate Click2Dial, 13.

6 Marcel Mauss. „Les techniques du corps“ (1934/1936). Sociologie et anthropologie. (Paris : Presses universitaires de France, 1966), 365–80.

7 Vladimir Nabokov. The Annotated Lolita. Ed. Alfred Appel, Jr., rev. ed. (New York: Vintage, 1991), 41.

8 Norbert Elias. Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation. Band 2 (Bern – München: Franke Verlag, 1969), 194-208.

9 Lev Trotskii. Literatura i revolutsiia (Moscow: GIZ, 124, 2. Ed.), 193-194.

10 Al­fred Kerr. Russische Film­kunst (Berlin, Charlottenburg: Ernst Pollak Verlag ,1927), 19.

11 Kazimir Malevich. The White Rectangle. Writings on Film (Berlin, San Francisco: PotemkinPress 2002), 39.

12 Trotskii. Literatura i revolutsiia, 194.

13 Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov. Ed. Annette Michelson, trans. Kevin O’Brien (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1984), 11.

14 Jean Martin Charcot, Paul Richter. Les démoniaques dans les arts (Paris : Delahaye et Lecrosnier, 1887), 10-165.

15 Stanislavskii. Moia zhizn v iskusstve, 128.

16 Osip Brik. „Uchit’ pisatelei. “ Novyi lef 10 (1927), 36.

17 Lev Kuleshov. „Iskusstvo kino. Moi opyt.“ Teoriia. Kritika. Praktika. Sobranie sochinenii v trekh tomakh. Tom 1 (Moscow:. Iskusstvo 1987) , 181.

18 Sergei Tretiakov. „Khoroshii ton.“ Novyi lef 5 (1927), 29.

19 Boris Shumiatskii. Kinematograf millionov (Moscow: Kinofotoizdat, 1935), 117.