We gave it a B-
While the news is filled with images of a disintegrating Soviet state, Inside the Soviet Union, recently released 20-cassette series presents a revelatory contrast — a Soviet-made view of socialist utopia in full flower, as presented in propaganda films from the pre-glasnost years of roughly 1960-85. Here, then, is the best possible face the Kremlin could put on Soviet communism: a celebration of the cultural enrichment of the working masses, the triumphs of the people’s athletes, and so forth into the Red sunset.
Even as propaganda, these films are uninspired and poorly produced, making Soviet life appear much more servile than they intend. Yet at their best, as in Before Gorbachev, they manage an impressive historical overview, especially of World War II as the defining moment in the Soviet national experience.
More important, however, is the message that comes through repeatedly — whether the topic is amateur dramatics (Theater of the Iron Curtain) or union-run health spas (Fun in the USSR) — as the narrators pay gushing homage to the glorious creation of one federated state out of more than 50 nations, territories, and autonomous regions and republics, representing more than 100 nationalities. According to these films, the Marxist-Leninist philosophy that fueled the Bolshevik Revolution and ignited worldwide ”liberation” movements had its greatest realization in the creation of a gargantuan bureaucratic state.
Now the state and its branches are in ruin. And among the fragments of its dismal legacy are these starry-eyed films, depicting a life that never was in a society that no longer will be. For historical value: B-