All the time I spent delving into the Soviet sports machine for my hammer-throw saga got me thinking a lot more about the “Evil Empire” my youth. One of the first truly adult books I read was Hedrick Smith’s The Russians, because I as so curious about what daily life was like in the nation that (according to the politicians and entertainment moguls of the day) desired nothing more than to turn us into slaves. The book was way, way over my grade-school head, but there are certain details I still recall—like this one part about how young Soviets had to hide their affection for The 5th Dimension, since all Western music was considered decadent.
Another facet to my early fascination with the Soviet perspective was how their propaganda differed so markedly from our own—to the point that it seems nothing short of laughable, no matter how beautifully presented. The prime example here is Vladimir Tarasov‘s Shooting Range (above), a truly gorgeous animated short with a message that is basically the the polar opposite of the one conveyed by the Wendy’s Soviet fashion show. A fan of Tarasov’s artistry explains here:
No two ways about it, Shooting Range is pure unadulterated propaganda. Its story is also simple; a young man wanders the bustling metropolis desperately looking for a job, a mere innocent peasant in the hands of corporate evil and greed. So naturally, our hero eventually finds a job from a lasciviously kind tycoon, as a human target in a shooting range. Live in a capitalist world, and you are setting yourself up as a walking bullseye. It’s essentially The Most Dangerous Game for the set who found that film to be a bit too subtle. But once again, the animation is stunning to behold, a sense of movement that really does convey a level of panic in the viewer. That, and it’s hilarious. Intended effect be damned, it’s hilarious.
There’s a question here of how much a laughable message compromises our ability to appreciate the art. Everything about this film is so expertly done—as some YouTube commenters have noted, it almost makes you wish that the Russian style of animation had triumphed over Japanese anime as the go-to obsession for geeks. But as is so famously the case with Triumph of the Will, the political dimension of the film vastly complicates our ability to appreciate it.
I’d love to dig up an interview with Tarasov to see how he came to create such head-thunkingly obvious propaganda, and whether he has any regrets about taking his career in that direction. The anti-Americanism in the film seems to virulent to have simply been put there due to government marching orders; Tarasov’s heart was in this project, for better and for worse.