“To Catch Up and Overtake”

Watching Aleksandrov’s “Circus” it’s certainly hard to not notice the main message of the film, propaganda of national equality and tolerance among the soviet people. However, the plot itself is based on another interesting idea.

“To catch up and overtake [capitalists/America/etc]” is the slogan used¬†for a really long time to explain the motivation of soviet people to work hard to reach the level of the Western countries and to be better then they are in everything. How the country without industry and proper level of economic and social development could be able to do it? The first idea, widely spread among “developing” countries during, probably, the last two centuries, is to try to copy the practice which are considered to be successful from Europe and, later on, from America. And here we can see a great illustrations to this slogan.

First of all, the whole story starts in the Moscow Circus, where the guest performer comes with a successful, popular in the entire world show “The flight to the Moon”. Watching it, the Circus’ director decides to, literally, copy it. He changes decorations, call it a different name, but the outline of the performance is absolutely the same. And the idea is that he’s taking the work and ideas of this Western artists, but has no longer to pay a huge compensation to these guest performers, because soviet people can do it themselves (and, probably, not care that much about the monetary stimuli).

Besides, one of the main characters, Marion Dickson is in many ways copied from German Marlene ¬†Dietrich. It is seen not only in the appearance of Lyobov Orlova, but also in her dance while performing “The flight to the Moon”, which to a certain extent resembles Marlene’s scenes from “The Blue Angel”. Looking more broad at Aleksandrov and Orlova’s filmography, we can find some other analogies. So, in some way this film, as well as “Jolly Fellows”, is a try to build a “local”, soviet star of the level comparable to Dietrich’s in the world.

And it’s very surprising how both anti-western campaign and showing the “capitalistic” output which the country would be happy to copy are combined here so that it doesn’t create a dissonance in the mind of soviet people who are watching it. Does’t it resemble Orwell’s “doublethink” to the certain extent?

3 thoughts on ““To Catch Up and Overtake”

  1. You make very good connections to other films and broader ideas within the Soviet Union during this time. The idea of “catch up and overtake” is very clearly present in the film, as you discuss. However, reading Lincoln’s chapter, “Seeking New Visions,” also introduces another aspect of Soviet society that “Circus” reflects. The idea of Soviet Realism clearly shines through in “Circus” as the filmmaker is attempting to perpetuate the notion of social equality and unity throughout the Soviet Union. The ending scene most definitively showcases this as circus audience openly accepts Marion’s bi-racial son.

  2. This entire movie can be dismissed as Soviet propaganda, designed to raise support for the government and its Marxist policies. However, there is a clear emphasis on the supposed racial equality found in the Soviet Union. Another point that I would like to make is that in today’s world, everything is basically a copy of something else; even the Star Wars series takes a lot of ideas and concepts from other books, so the Soviets aren’t alone in copying characters from other works that have already been completed.

  3. Although it does seem that Circus is just a copy of multiple other films, it does have its certain significance. The film was used solely for the purpose of the Soviet Union and its promotion of its Marxist ideas. It was used to show the public that the Soviet Union has a sense of collectiveness and it welcomes all races with open arms, where everyone is presented equally and respectfully.

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