Josef Stalin’s favourite film has been given a technicolor makeover – and references to the Soviet leader restored – in a version to air on Russian television on Saint Valentine’s Day.
Channel One television has added colour to the black-and-white film at a cost of around 500,000 dollars and restored references to Stalin that were expurgated in the Khrushchev era.
The film will air in the prime time on February 14.
Shot at the height of Stalin-era purges, the film tells the story of a talented folk singer who overcomes petty bureaucrats to travel to Moscow for a music contest.
“It’s known that the film was made on Stalin’s order. He was the ‘general producer’ of all Soviet cinema,” the producer in charge of the restoration, Igor Lopatyonok, told AFP from Los Angeles.
Featuring catchy tunes and dancing, the film embodied Stalin’s famous 1935 saying that “Life has become better, comrades, life has become more fun.” Its blonde star Lyubov Orlova, was known as the Soviet Union’s Marlene Dietrich.
The film was censored after Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 speech at the 20th party congress which denounced Stalin’s excesses. Since then, Russians have watched a shortened version.
The film restores close-ups of the name of the Volga riverboat that features in many scenes: The Josef Stalin, Lopatyonok said.
The restorers also tried — unsuccessfully — to find a censored scene that showed the boat passing a giant statue of Stalin that stood at the entrance to the Moscow-Volga canal, he said.
“We couldn’t find the fragment with the statue of Stalin in the archive,” he said. “It was probably destroyed.” The 25 metre-high (82 feet) granite statue had a similar fate: it was blown up.
Stalin, who died in 1953, sent millions of people into the brutal Gulag prison system and launched a disastrous campaign to collectivise agriculture that sparked a massive famine.
He is still admired by many Russians, however, largely due to his role in leading the Soviet Union to victory against Nazi Germany.
In January, a drinks factory in the southern Russian city of Volgograd announced plans to make a lemonade featuring Stalin on the label to celebrate the anniversary of the end of World War II.
In August last year, an inscription praising Stalin was restored in a Moscow metro station, sparking outrage from liberals.
Lopatyonok denied that the film’s restoration had any aim to rehabilitate Stalin. “We simply wanted people to see the film that the director shot in 1937,” he said.
Nevertheless, he called the restoration a chance to show another side of Stalin era.
The film “has been pretty much forgotten and the young generation hasn’t seen it,” he said. “I think for them it will be somewhat of a revelation how people lived in the 1930s.”
“I’m by no means trying to justify all that (Stalin) did. It’s just I would like contemporary viewers to see not only the negative aspects,” he said. “You can’t make it black-and-white.”