Jan 26, 2008

The Art Of The Stenberg Brothers

You've most likely never heard of Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg, but fortunately, an astonishing amount of their work survives to to this day,

especially amazing when you consider the fact that the Stenbergs created movie posters printed on low quality print paper. This post is about the fantastic images created by the Stenbergs, before their style was swept away by Josef Stalin in the 1930s.
The Eleventh - 1928. A documentary on the advances made during the eleven years of Bolshevik rule

Between the Soviet Bolshevik Revolution, in 1917, and Josef Stalin's purges which began in 1934, artists played a large role in helping to create a new Soviet society. The Stenbergs were very active during this period, producing sculpture, designs for theatrical sets, womens' footwear, even railway cars. Their most noteworthy achievements, however, were in graphic design, targeted at a new form of entertainment in Russia: the cinema. Since many Soviet citizens were illiterate, movies were crucial in steering public opinion, and stirring unrest, when desired. The Stenbergs created posters which were striking, abstract and unique, even to this day, from 1923 until Georgii's death in 1933.

In 1934, Josef Stalin announced an abrupt end to all experimental art, and announced that socialist realism was now the official style of the Soviet Union. Socialist realism is a style that portrays people and events with as much realism as possible, in at attempt to advance a specific political or ideological agenda. Below are two examples of socialist realism, one from the Soviet Union, the other from Communist China.

On October 15, 1933, Georgii Stenberg was struck and killed by a truck while riding his motorcycle. His brother Vladimir remained convinced until his death in 1982 that the KGB was responsible. Vladimir continued to produce movie posters with his son Sten, but these later works lacked the bold originality of his and his brother's earlier work.

And now, comrade, without further delay...

(click on each one for larger view)

ABOVE LEFT: General - 1927. A farce about a young railroad engineer who liberates the passengers (including his fiancee) aboard a train held by Union troops during the American civil war
ABOVE RIGHT: The Screw From Another Machine - date unknown, plot unknown. The words on the poster describe the film as a "tragicomedy in 20 days"

ABOVE LEFT: Countess Shirvanskaya's Crime - 1926. The third in a series of sequels to the Little Red Devils (1923), a film about three Red Army Soldiers fighting against enemies
ABOVE RIGHT: Sneaky Operators - 1924. A man injured during an attempted robbery is reported dead. Having lost his memory, he is hired to impersonate himself in a scheme to rob his wife

ABOVE LEFT: Daddy's Boy - Date unknown, plot unknown
ABOVE RIGHT: Fragment of an Empire - 1929. A man loses his memory during the Bolshevik uprising, and after he regains it, is shocked by the changes wrought by the revolution

ABOVE LEFT: The Traitor - 1926. About the exposure of a Tsarist police provocateur responsible for the deaths of Bolshevik sailors before the revolution
ABOVE RIGHT: Symphony of a Big City - 1927. A day in the life of Berlin, as seen from the eye of a camera

ABOVE LEFT and RIGHT: The Man With The Movie Camera - 1929. A documentary about an average day in Moscow

SEP - 1929. A documentary about a training course (SEP) for army personnel, produced by the Soviet Army's film department
ABOVE RIGHT: October - 1928. A film about the October Revolution, mixing photography and newsreel reconstructions

Jimmy Higgins - 1929. A propaganda film based on Upton Sinclair's novel about the American Intervention during the revolution of 1917, in which a U.S. soldier is slowly drawn to the Bolshevik side

ABOVE LEFT: High Society Wager - 1927. A story about a social climbing couple who fall victim to gambling
ABOVE RIGHT: The Pounded Cutlet (original title: The Yokel) - 1927. A short film about a man who travels to the city and becomes a boxer

ABOVE LEFT: The Pencil - 1928. Plot unknown
ABOVE RIGHT: Turksib - 1929. A documentary about the building of the Turkestan-Siberia Railway

Miss Mead - 1927. The story of an American girl's unlikely involvement in an international conspiracy, inspired by a series of adventure novels by Jim Dollar

BELOW: Moscow Chamber Theater - 1923. Display poster for the Moscow Chamber Theater

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