Author: Rita Safariants, Yale University

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Title: The Cinematic Kino: Viktor Tsoi and the Structure of the Soviet Rock Film

Author: Rita Safariants, Yale University

The emergence of underground rock-n-roll culture in Soviet cinema in the mid 1980s not only brought a new sound to the Soviet reel, but was responsible for introducing the Soviet viewer to a new cultural sphere—transforming the Soviet music industry while engaging with film form. One of the main functions of the importation of unofficial musical culture into Soviet film was the creation of a new Soviet screen protagonist. Directors promoted a new model of the Soviet film star—one that would bring local rock music into the mainstream.This shift, however, was not strictly a mass cultural phenomenon, nor did it exist strictly on the level of cinematic narrative. Instead, this rock-infused “new man” was engineered into the very structural fabric of these films—modulating the thematic and visual fabulas with sonic and visual motifs of Soviet rock’s biggest names. The primary role of this late-Soviet post-punk persona fell, by default, on Viktor Tsoi—one of the Soviet Union’s most revered and influential rock stars, who also happened to be its most cinematic. Regardless of his role within a film’s fictional plot, within the genre of the Soviet Rock Film, Tsoi acted as a clearly defined structural marker—the cultural iconicity of both his music and image bookend cinematic narratives in thematically poignant ways. Moreover, this same structural device has been picked up by post-Soviet directors as well by way of soundtrack choice, graphic matches, visual rhymes and plot sequences, most notably in Alexey Balabanov’s 2007 film, Cargo 200 and Sergei Loban’s 2005 Dust, as they engage with the legacy of Perestroika era rock movies. The aim of this paper is to explore the ways in which rock music contributed to the visual stylistics of late Soviet cinema and beyond by employing the rich referential capital of 1980s Perestroika underground culture.
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