Reading Group: Timothy Phillips on ‘When British Intelligence saw Battleship Potemkin’

Timothy PhillipsThe Anglo-Russian Research Network will be holding its autumn reading group at 5:30 on Friday 1 December at Pushkin House, Bloomsbury (www.pushkinhouse.org). This session will look at the way in which early Soviet cinema first entered the UK, most famously Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, but also other works by the celebrated cinematographer and the work of Vsevolod Pudovkin.

The discussion will be led by Dr Timothy Phillips, author of The Secret Twenties: British Intelligence, the Russians and the Jazz Age, which was published by Granta in September.

The British Government was extremely nervous when it learned in the mid-1920s that reels of Soviet films were circulating on the international market. These films, it was thought, had been created explicitly for propaganda purposes and with the aim of fomenting world revolution. In the UK, it fell to the British Board of Film Censorship (forerunner of today’s BBFC) to decide whether Soviet films could be shown. But the BBFC felt nervous about reaching this decision alone and, on a number of occasions, invited Whitehall mandarins and officers from MI5 and police Special Branch to attend secret Soho screenings in order to help it come to a view. These screenings resulted in confidential write-ups, in which attendees critiqued Soviet films and gave their views about what to censor. The write-ups have now been declassified and Timothy Phillips has studied them as part of his research for his new book.

In addition to reading a selection from these unique documents, and the associated correspondence, we will also look at the other side of early British reactions to the first Soviet feature films, in particular the role played by the Film Society, under whose auspices Potemkin eventually received its first (private) British screening in 1929. The early Soviet contribution to world culture is often thought to have been strongest in the field of cinema, something that many intellectuals, in Britain and elsewhere, already argued at the time. But the specific geopolitical context in which these films came into existence, and the intentions of their makers and funders, have always meant that aesthetic and ideological appraisals have had to compete for attention.

Biography: Timothy Phillips is the author of The Secret Twenties: British Intelligence, the Russians and the Jazz Age (Granta Books, September 2017). He holds a doctorate from Oxford University, where his thesis was on the development of leisure resorts in 19th-century Russia. His first book was Beslan: The Tragedy of School No. 1 (Granta Books, 2007).

The Anglo-Russian Research Network organises termly reading groups for those interested in the interactions between British and Russian culture and politics in the period 1880-1950. These are informal events with plenty of discussion and wine, and are open to all. You can read more about the reading group and listen to podcasts https://anglorussiannetwork.wordpress.com/reading-groups/]. If you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could let Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) know. The discussion will finish at 7, and anyone available is very welcome to join us for dinner nearby.

Readings for 1 December can be found here.

Call for papers – III Annual Conference for Emerging Scholars: ‘Russian Literature in Comparative Perspective “Literary Canon in Times of Great Change”‘

The School of Philology at the Faculty of Humanities, Higher School of Economics, National Research University, Moscow, is calling for papers for its 3rd Annual Conference for Emerging Scholars.

The conference itself takes place in Moscow 24-5th November.

More information can be found here.

Revolution!: Ireland and Russia in the wake of 1917 Maynooth University, Ireland, Friday 28 April 2017

Maynooth University, Ireland, is hosting a symposium on Ireland and Russia ‘in the wake of 19117’:

One hundred years after the Russian Revolution of 1917, this event explores its effects on Irish political and cultural history. How did those at opposite ends of Europe view their contemporary revolutionary periods? What political lessons and strategies did the Irish Left take from the events of 1917 during subsequent years? How were new ideas, styles and techniques in writing and art, generated during the early, hopeful, years of Soviet society, absorbed into Irish literary and visual culture? What traffic in ideas and people occurred between these two societies in their revolutionary periods and during the grim interwar decades?

Speakers from universities and institutions in Ireland, Britain and Europe will address the effect of the Russian Revolution on revolutionary politics, literary culture, and on film and the visual arts in Ireland.

Plenary speaker: Dr Ben Levitas (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Speakers: Maurice Casey (University of Oxford); Dr Barbara Dawson (Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane); Paul O’Brien (biographer of Sean O’Casey); Dr Eimear O’Connor (Trinity College Dublin); Dr Donal Ó Drisceoil (University College Cork); Barra Ó Séaghdha (Dublin City University); Dr Stephanie Schwerter (Université de Valenciennes); Professor Helena Sheehan (Dublin City University)

Organising Committee: Dr Michael G. Cronin, Dr Conor McCarthy, Dr Guy Woodward

Venue: An Foras Feasa Seminar Room, 2nd Floor, Iontas Building, Maynooth University

FREE EVENT: ALL WELCOME

Register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/revolution-ireland-and-russia-in-the-wake-of-1917-tickets-33490898178

Conference blog: https://irelandand1917.wordpress.com/

Reading Group: What Did Cultural Diplomacy Ever Do For Us – and Them?

Pauline Fairclough: What Did Cultural Diplomacy Ever Do For Us—and Them? Performing the Musical State in Britain and Russia

The Anglo-Russian Research Network will be holding its spring reading group at 5:30 on Friday 12 May at Pushkin House, Bloomsbury (www.pushkinhouse.org). We will be reading about and discussing the role of music in Anglo-Russian cultural understanding.

The discussion will be led by Dr Pauline Fairclough of the University of Bristol. The readings can be downloaded here.

At first glance, the mutual showcasing of national musical cultures looks like a diplomatic strategy that cannot fail. As the most superficially ‘harmless’ of the arts, music’s role as a neutral pacifier and conduit for bland cultural admiration has been exploited many times over; yet this apparent innocence has masked many a more dubious strategy, as recent Cold War studies of music exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union have demonstrated. And during the Soviet period, political undercurrents can be found at every level of a composer’s reception, as the case of Shostakovich in Britain makes abundantly clear. Yet Russian and British musical exchanges were well underway before the Bolshevik Revolution, and even in less ideologically fraught times, critical receptions of music within both Russia and Britain reveal ways in which the two cultures regarded each other, at times with condescension, at times with admiration, and at other times with mutual incomprehension. Pauline’s talk will touch on all these issues, looking at pre-revolutionary and Soviet eras to ponder the nature of music’s role in facilitating, or even obscuring, processes of cultural understanding.

Pauline Fairclough is Reader in Music at the University of Bristol. She is a cultural historian specialising in Soviet musical history, and has published widely on Shostakovich and music of the Stalinist era. Her last book, Classics for the Masses. Shaping Soviet Musical Identity Under Lenin and Stalin (Yale, 2016) looked at how Soviet symphony orchestras made the transition from pre-revolutionary bourgeois concert culture to a tightly scrutinised Stalinist administration, yet in many respects consciously preserved the ‘bourgeois’ identity of musical life. Her current project is a century-long look at Anglo-Russian musical connections, focusing on the importance of personal relationships in shaping exchanges and critical reception.

If you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could let Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) know. The discussion will finish at 7, and anyone available is very welcome to join us for dinner nearby.