Soviet Scifi Cinema: The Other Tolstoy in the Movies

Seen by over 20 mil­lion Rus­sians when it came out in 1965, The Hyper­boloid of Engi­neer Garin was a film based on a 1927 nov­el by Alek­sey Niko­layevich Tol­stoy, who is not to be con­fused with his famous rel­a­tive Leo Tol­stoy. This Tol­stoy is gen­er­al­ly thought of as the father of Russ­ian sci­ence fic­tion, and The Garin Death Ray was one of his most famous books (Vladimir Nabokov con­sid­ered it his best).

Hyper­boloid was writ­ten and direct­ed by Alek­san­dr Gintzburg, a high­ly gift­ed cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er who nev­er quite reached the career heights his tal­ent might have war­rant­ed, in part because of his Jew­ish ori­gins, and in part because of the nar­row range of artis­tic free­dom allowed direc­tors work­ing for the State-run cin­e­ma. Gintzburg stayed well with­in that range for this film, which leaves us with an odd­ly com­pelling mix of Sovi­et pro­pa­gan­da and 60’s pop-sci­fi.

As for the plot… we’d rather not give any­thing away. Just think of it as a beau­ti­ful­ly-lit pro­to-1984, with sub­ti­tles and laser beams, star­ring Big Broth­er as the good guy.

Sheer­ly Avni is a San Fran­cis­co-based arts and cul­ture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Week­ly, Moth­er Jones, and many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low her on twit­ter at @sheerly.

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