A reader writes, "Someone was nice enough to scan the pages of a Cyrillic alphabet book from the 1930's. The book encouraged adult literacy through erotic drawings of figures in various acts of copulation. Note: flying penises, lesbian acts and cloven hoofed demons appear. Male homosexual acts, do not."
These images are obviously NSFK (not safe for Kremlin). The artist was Sergei Merkurov, who went on to become a People’s Artist of the USSR. As the accompanying text notes, it's a fascinating look at the libertine sexuality of the pre-Stalinist period.
Ross Wolfe comments, "There actually are a couple male homosexual acts in the Soviet erotic alphabet. Specifically, these occur in the letters Й and З, though you have to pay close attention. And the latter is potentially even more scandalous, with a small satyr fucking what looks to be either a young boy or dwarf from behind. No penis is actually shown, but the short hair and lack of tits suggest its masculinity."
Soviet-era erotic alphabet book from 1931 [Советская эротическая азбука 1931 года]
Norman sez, "When the space race raged in the 1950s, fantastical visions of the future of travel were everywhere. Magazines like Popular Mechanics ran speculative articles about the rockets and space stations that would take civilization to the stars, and the accompanying artwork blurred the line between fiction and plausible reality. This art had a real affect on the space race in both the United States and Soviet Union; where Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, and Disney's Tomorrowland set the tone for the US space program, the Soviet Union's most influential art may have come from the magazine Tekhnika Molodezhi."
They've collected more than 200 covers, some of them absolutely stonking. If this is your sort of thing, try our archive of sovkitsch posts, and including a couple space-themed ones.
The Incredible Space Art of Russian Magazine Tekhnika Molodezhi
Here's a beautiful, super-hi-rez, freely usable photo of a 1969 Russian Polar Expedition watch -- an absolutely droolworthy bit of horological sweetness. (Click to embiggen)
Russian Polar Expedition watch from 1969 - produced by Raketa [Sosoev/Wikimedia Commons]
Charlie made a disturbing video backed by Kurtz's "Everything Burns Alike," featuring footage from Experiments in the Revival of Organisms, a 1940 documentary on the horrific experiments of Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko at the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy, Voronezh, U.S.S.R. Charlie explains: "In Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko's lab, he drained all the blood from dogs until they were dead for a full 10 minutes. He then pumped blood back in to revive the dogs back to their normal selves. The full documentary is horrifying, but fascinating. In the experiment, they also pumped blood through a decapitated dog head and it licked its mouth, reacted to sounds, etc."
Experiments in the Revival of Organisms: A Trailer
On IO9, Vincze Miklos rounds up some of the finest sovkitsch futuristic imagery from three 1970s issues of the Soviet YA technology magazine Youth Technics (1, 2, 3) and other sources, presenting a gallery of streamlined jetpack socialism.
Some of the most famous images of Soviet futurism come out of the 1920s and 30s, when the Revolution was young and propaganda posters were like stark works of realist art. But the nation continued to produce works of incredible futurism throughout its reign — including during the trippy period before the Iron Curtain fell in the late twentieth century. Here are some visions of tomorrow, from the USSR in the 1970s.
The groovy socialist world of 1970s Soviet futurism
Here's 53 minutes' worth of Soviet commercials from the 1970s and 1980s, produced by what's billed as the USSR's sole advertising agency:
In 1967, Estonia was founded the creative association "Reklamfilm Estonian / Eesti reklaamfilm" - the only one at that time in the Soviet Union studio, specialized in production kinoteleradioreklamy and "representational" commercials on the orders of the enterprises of trade, industry, services and amenities, colleges, vocational schools , traffic police and other organizations in the Soviet Union, this company for the production of television commercials was the work of a new and at that time quite bold. But among Estonian documentary was a very energetic person - Eedu Ojamaa. It was he who was able to implement such a complex idea in the USSR State Committee for Cinematography. "Estonian Reklamfilm" soon became the largest advertising company of the Soviet Union. He released a year nearly 350 commercials, and also created a lot of documentaries. The company has been amended in Leningrad and Moscow and Riga branch of executed orders for the Union. Among the customers were and Finnish companies. Until 1992, the "Estonian Reklamfilm" took more than 6,000 commercials and movies.
It is clear that under socialism, the absence of private ownership and competition television advertising had a slightly different look and pursued a very different purpose. The director, advertisers still did not have the strict limits and constraints, which are now exhibited customers promotional TV program. So they used all their creativity to create a bright memorable quality product.
For objective reasons, most subjectively and commercials, produced by the company, did not survive. This anthology - a collection of the private collection of Harry Egipta - a former director and screenwriter "Estonian Reklamfilma", called his colleagues "Norshtein advertising" for unusual associative moments in his work similar to the work of the author of "Hedgehog in the Fog". Credo Egipta in television commercials - catchy individual style fast in those days "video clip" assembly, original music and songs, and of course, beautiful women!
SOVIET ESTONIAN COMMERCIAL
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Dark Roasted Blend has a beautiful gallery of Spreepark PlanterWald (originally called Kulturpark Planterwald) a Soviet-era abandoned themepark in central Berlin, which is gracefully rotting away. This is a Boing Boing/Cory Doctorow trifecta: abandoned themeparks, Soviet kitsch, and urban exploration. Yes, please!
When it opened in 1969 as Kulturpark Planterwald, it was the "only constant entertainment park in the GDR, and the only such park in either East or West Berlin". However, the Berlin Senate did not seem to have provided for enough parking space... which is quite silly, all things considered. Plus, the forest around the park was deemed to be doomed from the impact of visiting crowds. In any case, the socialist and then private owners were left with a bunch of debt and the place got suspended in limbo... But the story does not end there (read on).
Surreal Abandoned Amusement Park in Berlin [Avi Abrams/Dark Roasted Blend]
"Soviet Christmas card" sounds like a mere kitschy improbability, but what if I told you that they were space-race-themed Soviet Christmas cards? It's a Christmas miracle, dude.
Old Soviet Christmas card collection
(via Richard Kadrey)
The Vintage Ads LJ group's challenge this week is to find great fake ads. As always, Man Writing Slash comes through with a great compilation post, this one featuring some classics from MAD Magazine. I always liked the Stalin one here.
Mad Magazine "Ads"
On Retronaut, Viktor Bulla's "Pioneers defense drill, Leningrad." It dates from 1937, four years before the Siege of Leningrad, and that makes the weirdness vivid and poignant. So many of the children here would have died in the Siege, or lived through it in the civil defense force, eating wallpaper paste and digging trenches. How brave and ready they must have felt in 1937, though.
Pioneers defense drill, Leningrad
On the Vintage Ads LJ group, the always-great Man Writing Slash has posted a marvellous collection of East German advertisements that combine propaganda and sales-pitches and appear to have dropped out of a parallel universe.
East German Ads, 1950s/1960s
The German bank Sparkasse Chemnitz asked its readers to choose from among 10 designs for its next MasterCard issue. The overwhelming winner was this Karl Marx card. Priceless.
It's not just cheap irony, either. As Reuters reports, "A 2008 survey found 52 percent of eastern Germans believed the free market economy was 'unsuitable' and 43 percent said they wanted socialism back."
The Karl Marx MasterCard Is Here. It Needs A Tagline.
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Update BlueGirl sez, "saw your piece on the Karl Marx Mastercard and laughed that I photoshopped just such a thing back in 2010, along with a Che Guevara Visa and a Emma Goldman Mugshot Discover Card -- the card with payback."
Rasputin's Bastards is David Nickle's latest book, an epic novel from one of horror's weirdest voices. During the cold war, the Soviets established City 512, a secret breeding experiment intended to create a race of psychic supermen. It worked far, far too well. The dreamwalkers of City 512 may have given lip-service to their masters, but in truth, they were occupied with their dreaming, the sleeper agents whom they could ride like loas, the succesive generations of dreamwalkers, each more powerful than the last, and their own power-struggles.
Now the cold war is long past, and the final act is upon the world. The Babushka, one of the great powers of City 512, has established a stronghold in a fishing village in the remotest northern reaches of Labrador. Her enemies are legion, and some of them don't even know what side they're on. The dreamwalkers have always had the power to trap their enemies in false identities and false memories, and the main characters of Rasputin's Bastards are never quite sure who they are, what has happened to them, what is real, and what is poisonous illusion.
Nickle's book is an enormous tale, bewilderingly complex, but with lots of twists and turns that reward close attention. It is grotesque, violent, and exciting, with a supernatural tinge that is his hallmark.
Your moment of Commie Zen for the day: a big-band lounge-style cover of "L'Internationale," the hymn of the Communist Second International. Assuming that's not to your taste, how about a trance remix industrial dance version.
Tony Babino - L'Internationale
(via Making Light)
Tor.com has just posted an excerpt from Ian Tregillis's The Coldest War, a sequel to his smashing debut Nazi X-men vs English warlocks alternate history, Bitter Seeds. I've got a review queued up for Coldest War (which is a captured-Nazi-Soviet-Xmen-Ninjas v English warlocks novel), and I just loved it. Tregillis is one of the most exciting new writers in the field today, with a gift for history, storytelling, and action rarely matched. Coldest War is out on July 17, which gives you plenty of time to read Bitter Seeds.
Warlocks do not age gracefully.
Viktor Sokolov had drawn this conclusion after meeting several warlocks. Now he watched a fourth man from afar, and what he saw supported his conclusion. Age and ruin lay heavy over the figure who emerged from the dilapidated cottage in the distant clearing. The old man hobbled toward a hand pump, an empty pail hanging from the crook of his shriveled arm. Viktor adjusted the focus on his binoculars.
No. Not gracefully at all. Viktor had met one fellow whose skin was riddled by pockmarks; yet another had burn scars across half his face. The least disfigured had lost an ear, and the eye on that side was a sunken, rheumy marble. These men had paid a steep price for the wicked knowledge they carried. Paid it willingly.
This new fellow fit the pattern. But Viktor wouldn’t know for certain if he had found the right person until he could get a closer look at the old man’s hands. Better to do that in private. He slid the binoculars back into the leather case at his waist, careful not to rustle the mound of bluebells that concealed him.
The clearing was quiet except for the squeaking of rusted metal as the old man labored at the pump, a narrow pipe caked in flaking blue paint. But that noise felt muted somehow, as though suffocated by a thick silence. Viktor hadn’t heard or seen a single bird in the hours he’d lain here; even sunrise had come and gone without a peep of birdsong. A breeze drifted across his hiding spot in the underbrush, carrying with it the earthy scents of the forest and the latrine stink of the old man’s privy. But the breeze dissipated, as though reluctant to linger among the gnarled oaks.
Ian was one of my Clarion writing workshop students, and was, even then, a remarkable writer.
The Coldest War (Excerpt)