Kiril Tomoff, “Shostakovich et al.” and THE IRON CURTAIN: Intellectual Property and the Development of a Soviet Strategy of Cultural Confrontation, 1948–1949
On May 12, 1948, New York moviegoers picked their way through crowds o f p rotestors and counterdemonstrators to watch t he new film announced a s a “semi-documentary spy drama,” Wil l iam A. Wel lman’s The Iron Curtain. As the demonstrators outside came to blows and a few of them were hauled away by police, the film’s audience settled in to what contemporaries t rying to present an evenhanded account called a slowly moving drama, “competent enough, carefull y photographed and directed.” Based on events that took pl ace in Ottawa in 1945, much of the cloak and dagger s tory was shot on l ocation in the Canadian capital .1 It centered around the activities of Igor Gouzenko (played by Dana Andrews), a Soviet cipher clerk stationed in Ottawa who defected to Canada in 1945, taking with him a sheaf of documents that revealed Soviet espionage activities and the participation of Canadians in efforts to uncover the secret of the atom bomb.2 Observant members o f t hat f irst New York audience woul d h ave r ecognized— or woul d s oon come to r ecognize—a number o f t ropes common to North American portrayals of the Soviet Union and the cultural clash between the West and the Soviet Union. They would not have been surprised to see the seductive cal l of capital ism’s material comforts reach Gouzenko’s w ife (pl ayed by Gene Tierney) in a continuation of a theme that stretched back to one of Hollywood’s first portrayals of Soviets in the West, Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, 1939). They would see it again in a more dazzling remake, Silk Stockings (Rouben Moulian, 1957) and in countless other cold war films. Certainly the alcoholic and depressed army officer ominously recalled to Moscow would have struck familiar chords.3 And the film’s dark, shadowy, claustrophobic cinematography was fast becoming a trademark of 20th Century Fox’s crime thriller collaborations with the FBI, not to mention stock-in-trade for portrayals of the cold, bleak home of communism. Perhaps less commonplace was the film’s soundtrack. Arranged and conducted by A lfred Newman, the score consisted l argel y of music w ritten by the Soviet Union’s most internationally renowned composers: Dmitrii Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian, and Nikolai Miaskovskii. In otherwise bland reviews of the f ilm, the music stood out.5 Otherwise, the film appears to have paled in comparison to the drama of the events it docu-dramatized and the struggles over whether it could be shown to the public, first in the United States and then in the rest of the world. Immediately upon his defection, the real-life Gouzenko needed nearly forty hours to convince the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that his story— and the documents he carried with him—were authentic. His defection was the first from a Soviet embassy and the first of any sort after the war. It caused an international media sensation, resulted in twenty Canadian espionage trials and a dozen convictions, gave impetus to J. Edgar Hoover’s attack on American leftists, and this episode of defection was later credited with nothing less than starting the cold war.6 Gouzenko himself went into hiding under an assumed name near Toronto, occasionally making public appearances in a dramatic hood to conceal his appearance. By 1948, he published an account of his defection and collaborated on the film script for 20th Century Fox.7 Gouzenko’s personal story is a dramatic one in which the film The Iron Curtain plays only a small role.
The few film historians who have concentrated on The Iron Curtain have hail ed i t a s “Hollywood’s f irst C ol d War movie” a nd a “premature a nticommunist film,” arguing for fresh evaluations of its place in the history of Hollywood’s political engagement in the struggle against the Soviet Union and suggesting that the history of its overseas reception indicates the extent to which government officials in Washington sought to mold international taste according to their political agenda.8 While appreciating the role of the film in such contexts, I suggest that Soviet reactions to the film reveal just as much about Soviet strategies of cultural confrontation in the early cold war. In this chapter, I analyze one particular strategy that the Soviets devised and deployed to fight The Iron Curtain. This strategy was one among several,
but it is particularly important for our understanding of the post–cold war world because it suggests how significantly the cultural confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union shaped the development of the international economic, cultural, and legal system commonly attributed to p ost-1989 “global ization” b y r eveal ing S oviet p articipation—through competition—in the Western s ystem f rom the very beginning of the col d war.9 To wit, the echoes of The Iron Curtain affair can be heard in areas as diverse as the nascent development of jurisprudence regulating content on the Internet, the success of universal copyright conventions, and the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. The development of the Soviet strategy for cultural confrontation that was deployed against The Iron Curtain first in the United States and then in Europe reveals a surprising reliance on non-Soviet representatives abroad for the interpretation of the terms of cultural conflict, a high degree of practical f lexibility in the pursuit of ideological goals, and a hubristic willingness to engage the West in the West’s own terms. Soviet strategies of engagement were crafted largely through the agency of lowranking Soviet officials and friends from abroad, and they often proved successful in the short term and in the arena of high artistic culture, as was the case in The Iron Curtain affair. But accepting the West’s terms of conflict eventually proved fatal.