Circus

In this film by Grigory Alexandov, a young woman named Marion Dixon (perhaps a play on the Mason Dixon line) joins a Russian circus after being forced to flee her American hometown after the townspeople discover that her son is black. She performs a daring routine called “The Flight to the Moon” which the manager of the circus, Ludvig, wishes to imitate with his own daughter, Raya. One night when Mary is performing, Ludvig shows her act to Ivan Martinov, a performance director. He feels immediately attracted to her and they fall in love. When she has to return to America, she protests, wanting to stay with him. Due to a mixup with the letter she writes for him, he believes she is in love with another man and refuses to say goodbye to her. She tells him the truth and they do the “new” act, “The Flight to the Stratosphere”. She accepts a deal with the manager to be paid in rubles and as he tells her that “in our country, we love all kids”, the audience understands that she is going to stay in the Soviet Union with her family.

One cinematic scene in the film which is meant to show the divide between the young and old in Russia is when Ivan and Mary first meet and her corrupt agent, Kneishitz, spies on them through the window. The camera cuts between Kneishitz and Ivan so the audience notes the stark differences in their faces. Ivan is young, blonde, and strong-jawed while Kneishitz is unshaven, dark, and sinister. Through this portrayal of the young and old in the performance business, Alexandrov is making the point that we should look to the young people of Russia, as the next generation is our future and hope.

Why were people so much more accepting in the USSR, given our nationalist and ethnicity readings? What would have become of Marion and her child had she chosen to return to America?

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About Smyth

My name is Kitson Smyth and I use they/them pronouns. I’m from Manhattan and The Bronx. I have four siblings and four parents, and my extended family is scattered across the U.S., Argentina, and England. I am a Spanish and English double minor. I work for the Offices of LGBTQ Services and Residence Life and Housing. I’m a Spanish TA and tutor. I love dogs, reading, and cooking at home.

One thought on “Circus

  1. In one of the final scenes, this acceptance you mention was portrayed really beautifully as each ethnicity sang in their native languages. (The role of music in this piece was beautiful!!!) But, to answer your questions, this piece of cinema could be interpreted as a Soviet Realist return to the nation-building tendencies prevalent in the 1930s. After a period of “Russification”, the late 60s and 70s provided an accepting atmosphere for the variety present in the Soviet Republics.

    But, the portrayal of young and old is not so clear as we see both young and old characters in support, and in conflict, with the protagonists. The errand boy judges Marion, but Ivan supports her. The circus director accepts the child, while the mistro uses it to control and guilt Marion. I feel that as much as each ethnicity is portrayed as accepting of this new Soviet culture, so are each demographic and age — where some are in opposition, but they are ultimately overwhelmed by the true, glorious, Soviet believers seen marching at the film’s conclusion.

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