Watch Dziga Vertov’s Soviet Toys: The First Soviet Animated Movie Ever (1924)

Dzi­ga Ver­tov is best known for his daz­zling city sym­pho­ny A Man with a Movie Cam­era, which was ranked by Sight and Sound mag­a­zine as the 8th best movie ever made. Yet what you might not know is that Ver­tov also made the Sovi­et Union’s first ever ani­mat­ed movie, Sovi­et Toys.

Con­sist­ing large­ly of sim­ple line draw­ings, the film might lack the verve and visu­al sophis­ti­ca­tion that marked A Man with a Movie Cam­era, but Ver­tov still dis­plays his knack for mak­ing strik­ing, pun­gent images. Yet those who don’t have an inti­mate knowl­edge of Sovi­et pol­i­cy of the 1920s might find the movie — which is laden with Marx­ist alle­gories — real­ly odd.

Sovi­et Toys came out in 1924, dur­ing Lenin’s New Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy (NEP), which gave some mar­ket incen­tives to small farm­ers. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the farm­ers start­ed pro­duc­ing a lot more food than before, and soon a whole new class of mid­dle­man traders formed — the reviled “NEP­men.”

The movie opens with a NEP­man — a bloat­ed car­i­ca­ture of a Cap­i­tal­ist (who coin­ci­den­tal­ly looks vague­ly like Niki­ta Khrushchev) — devour­ing a mas­sive heap of food. He’s so stuffed that he spends much of the rest of the movie sprawled out on the floor, much in the same way one might imag­ine Jamie Dimon after Thanks­giv­ing din­ner. Then he belch­es rich­es at a woman who is can-can­ning on his dis­tend­ed bel­ly. I said this film is odd.

Lat­er, as a cou­ple of squab­bling Russ­ian Ortho­dox priests look on, a work­er tries to extract mon­ey from the NEP­man by cut­ting his gut with a huge pair of scis­sors. When that fails, the work­er and a pass­ing peas­ant fuse bod­ies to cre­ate a two-head­ed being that stomps on the Capitalist’s bel­ly, which pops open like a piña­ta filled with cash. Then mem­bers of the Red Army pile togeth­er and form a sort of human pyra­mid before turn­ing into a giant tree. They hang the Cap­i­tal­ist along with the priests. The end.

Some of the ref­er­ences in this movie are clear: The work­er’s use of scis­sors points to the “Scis­sors Cri­sis” – an attempt by the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment to cor­rect the price imbal­ance between agri­cul­ture and indus­tri­al goods. And the phys­i­cal meld­ing of the peas­antry and the pro­le­tari­at is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the nev­er quite real­ized dream of the Bol­she­viks. Oth­er images are as obscure as they are weird — the leer­ing close ups of the Cap­i­tal­ist, the NEP­man’s girl­friend who dis­ap­pears into his stom­ach, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary film­mak­er who has the eyes of a cam­era lens and the mouth of a cam­era shut­ter. They feel like some­thing out of a Marx­ist fever dream.

Sovi­et Toys can be found in the Ani­ma­tion sec­tion of our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Dzi­ga Vertov’s A Man with a Movie Cam­era, Named the 8th Best Film Ever Made

Watch the Sur­re­al­ist Glass Har­mon­i­ca, the Only Ani­mat­ed Film Ever Banned by Sovi­et Cen­sors (1968)

A Sovi­et Ani­ma­tion of Stephen King’s Short Sto­ry “Bat­tle­ground” (1986)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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