Soviet cinema of the 30's produced many masterpieces, but not only the
classics well known in the West. A great body of amusing and
entertaining popular genres were ordered to be made by Stalin to uplift
the spirits of workers and peasants and mobilizing them to build a
bright Communist future. The man responsible for creating Stalin's
musical extravaganza movies, those to replicate Hollywood, was Grigoriy Aleksandrov.
A young film director/script writer who after co-directing "October"
with Sergey Eisenstein was sent to Hollywood for three years to study
and work, Aleksandrov returned to Moscow but found himself under the
spell of Hollywood. One of Aleksandrov's deepest secrets was his
passion and fascination with Greta Garbo. Stalin and history gave the
director an unmistakable chance to recreate Hollywood and even his
beloved Greta Garbo by finding Lubov Orlova, the most glamorous actress
of Soviet cinema at that time, which he not only made her his leading
lady but later his wife.
Lubov Orlova possessed incredibly bright eyes, shining white teeth, blond hair and high cheekbones, just like Garbo. She had the perfect figure of the professional dancer and she also could sing. Her smile was irresistible and her charisma unsurpassed. The actress captivated the entire country, attaining popularity and breaking all boxoffice records toward the end of the 1930s, but first she captivated Stalin himself by becoming a shining star of "Red Hollywood".
"Originally fashioned after Marion Davies (as seen in Going Hollywood [Raoul Walsh, 1933]), Orlova can be best described to Western audiences as a cross between Mary Pickford (who had been particularly popular in the Soviet Union during the 20s) and Ginger Rogers," says Dina Iordanova.
Starring in her husband's musical comedies, such as The Jolly Fellows (1934), The Circus (1936), Volga-Volga (1938) and The Shining Path (1940), dancing and singing Lubov Orlova typically represents a girl of humble origins who rises to the heights in Soviet society by obtaining the right combination of talent, hard work, charm, politically correct ideas, and an unshakable faith in a great and bright future.
Aleksandrov's films - often made out of Cinderella story with the inevitable happy ending - always gave Orlova the opportunity to shine. Her stunningly fashionable wardrobe had an unlimited budget, her makeup and wigs were custom made and shipped directly from Hollywood's Max Factor, and her musical numbers were influenced by the elaborate lavish choreography of Mervyn LeRoy and Leo McCarey whom her husband admired.
Escapist in nature but also heavily ideological, Aleksandrov's musicals allowed Lubov Orlova's characters to shed their proletarian rags and triumph in all their unprecedented glamour on a brightly lit stage to celebrate beauty, youth, elegance and unmistakably dazzling entertainment, Hollywood style.
- Alla Verlotsky
Curated by Richard Pena, produced by Alla Verlotsky.
Special thanks to Karen Shakhnazarov.