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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