Stilyagi, Color, and the Conception of TIme

Just today I came across an article on the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty featuring a few dozen photographs of the people and places in the Soviet Union in 1963. Nothing is known about the person who took the photographs or those who are captured in them, but they are immediately captivating sue to the fact that they are in brilliant color. For some reason I always find it surprising to see photos from this period that are not black and white. I think this is partly because the color puts into perspective just how recently the events in the pictures took place. Another set of photos from 100 years ago are even more disorienting. Using a special camera that takes successive photos with different colored filters, the photographs have almost digital quality, but the subjects are undoubtedly from another century.

I also see color playing this sort of disorienting role in the film Stilyagi (or Hipsters in English). The film takes place in the mid-fifties, and against the drab khaki colored background of Soviet mass production, the brightly dressed hipsters look like they are from a different planet. Not only are the colors bright, but they do not match at all, representing how the Stilyagi clash with the what is expected of them. At the end of the movie, the two leads are making their way through a crowd of contemporary young people, and they fit in more than they did at any other point in the movie. One of my Russian professors used to talk about the limited spectrum of Soviet colors, everything was the same shades of yellow, or blue, or red, and there there was not any variation. Her favorite color was none of these, but tsvet morskoi volny, or sea waves, which is how teal is called in Russian. This poetic name does not seem like it belongs in the Soviet Union, which I guess is also partly why I am so surprised when I see color photographs.

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