Rodchenko's Samozveri ['DIY beasts']

An animated film based on Samozveri, an unrealized book
by Sergey Tretyakov and Aleksandr Rodchenko
Idea and script: Mikhail Karasik
Animation: Taras Sgibnev
The film uses photo-cartoon illustrations by Aleksandr Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova taken from the magazine Novy LEF (No. 1, 1927)
St Petersburg, 2011

In 1927 the first issue of the magazine Novy LEF [‘New Left Front of the Arts’] printed some photographs which were intended as ‘pictures’ for a children’s photo-book with the title of Samozveri. The photos were captioned ‘Photo-cartoon illustrations’; and it was this that suggested the idea of creating an animated film. This film is not a reconstruction of the unrealized book, but merely a possible version based on work by Rodchenko and Stepanova. We made the characters in the poem out of paper and filmed each stage of each movement. In the film original shots taken by Rodchenko, tinted red as by a colour filter, separate the key scenes. The storyline differs from the content of the poem by Sergey Tretyakov. I got the idea from a photograph by Rodchenko of a round large-bellied person — in the film he represents a capitalist. The political tinting of the children’s film is not accidental given that all Soviet literature had a marked ideological character and was based on a narrative of class conflict — in the present case, the conflict between paper toys, wild animals, and little humans on the one hand and the bourgeoisie on the other.

Another idea for the cartoon came from an editorial note in the magazine Pioneer, which in 1926 published a poem by Tretyakov, but with drawings by Boris Pokrovsky: “It is possible to think up countless samozveri [‘DIY beasts’]. As you can see from the drawings, making them is quite easy”. In the 1920s and 30s there was a whole branch of publishing for children consisting of books about self-made toys.

It should be noted that in this piece of work Rodchenko and Stepanova got ahead not just of their colleagues, but of time as well. Publishers started to issue children’s film-books in the USSR only in the second half of the 30s. In 1936 Detizdat planned to publish an entire series of photo-books for pre-school children. At the same time Fotokhudozhnik publishing house commissioned Soyuzfoto to translate photographs into ‘photographic films’. Slide films and book illustrations were drawn by one and the same artists. This animated film is precisely pictures from an electric ‘magic lantern’ that have come to life.