Monday, January 5, 2009

Soviet: The Glass Harmonica (1968, Andrey Khrzhanovskiy)

The Glass Harmonica (1968)
Soviet Union, 19 min
Written by: Gennadi Shpalikov

Andrey Khrzhanovskiy's The Glass Harmonica (1968) is a very political piece of animation, and I know too little about the history of the Soviet Union to make any accurate interpretations of the film's meaning. However, I'm going to have a go at it, anyway. The craftsman of the glass harmonica arrives in a town whose citizens have become corrupted by and obsessed with the lure of money (symbolised by a single gold coin held in the hand of a shifty-looking bureaucrat). The love of wealth has transformed these people into grotesque and disgusting beasts, who roam throughout the streets thinking only of money. This, I'd imagine, would be a critique of capitalism, certainly something that one would expect from the Soviet Union in the late 1960s. When the craftsman returns to the town with his harmonica, the melodious tune of his instrument brings back the humanity of its inhabitants. They break out of their beastly cocoons, becoming beautiful human beings once again; one person offers his coat and hat to a homeless man.

Together, the townsfolk restore their clock-tower to its former glory, perhaps symbolising the rejuvenation and preservation of Russia's culture and history (once money became the town's chief concern, the clock-tower was the first monument to be stripped and defaced, presumably for monetary gain). All this seems like a perfectly acceptable message for Soyuzmultfilm studio under the Soviet Union. However, my research is telling me that The Glass Harmonica suffered strict censorship and was initially withheld from release. There must be a more subtle subtext that I'm missing. Perhaps the film's depiction of a cold totalitarian society struck the censors as being far too familiar for comfort; what was supposedly a critique of the Bourgeois was instead an attack on the oppressive Soviet government. Whatever the politics, Khrzhanovskiy's film nonetheless deserves to be watched for its unique and surreal visuals and stirring classical score. The people are animated as rather sterile painted portraits that only exhibit fractured movements, though they take on a more realistic and romantic appearance after hearing the music of the glass harmonica.


  1. I'm not sure where you got this short, but if you don't know about it you should check out the box set of Animated Soviet Propaganda.

  2. YouTube was my source, as it usually is. I'd love to get my hands on DVD of Soviet animation, but I'm not particularly willing to pay large prices for them (and certainly not at the current exchange rate!).

    Do you know who released this particular box-set? I might check if my uni has it.

  3. Here is a link to the set on Amazon so you know what you are looking for:

  4. Thanks for pointing me to this short. It was really good. The only downside was that the people escaped the yellow devil. The best stuff is when they don't really escape. Like Shooting Range, make sure to check it out.

    Here are the links to it on YouTube:


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