The Animated Bath.

Animation Obsessive (no author given) writes about a 1962 animated version of Mayakovsky’s 1930 play Баня (The Bath):

The Bath shocked us when we first ran into it online. It’s an experimental feature whose artistic ambitions rival anything in animation at the time — and not just in the USSR. It’s also the harshest satire of Soviet bureaucracy we’ve seen animated. It’s a firebomb lobbed at its own bosses. It’s pure audacity, and we love that about it.

Yet it’s obscure. The Bath has had English subtitles for years, but we found them hard to parse and struggled to learn more about the film. So, we spent part of our vacation studying and translating it. We’ve produced a new English version, based on several older ones (see the notes), which we feel makes The Bath more accessible than it’s ever been.

They talk about how popular Mayakovsky was in his lifetime and how he “hated bureaucracy and tried to destroy it” with the play, and continue:

The people who adapted The Bath into animated form, working at Soyuzmultfilm in Moscow, counted themselves among his fans. The film’s co-director, Anatoly Karanovich, wrote that Mayakovksy’s name:

… was not only the name of our favorite poet. It was like it served as a watershed, with your friends on one side and your enemies on the other. It is inextricably linked to the youth of my generation, who entered into independent life in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s.

The animated Bath is a love letter to Mayakovsky. It’s based on the play, but also on his other work. Snippets of his essays and personal notes turn up as dialogue. Posters he made in the ‘20s appear in the background. Co-director Sergei Yutkevich noted that a few moments from Mayakovsky’s play The Bedbug (1929) even show up toward the start, in a market sequence that “introduce[s] the viewer into that amazing, now historical, atmosphere” of the post-revolution. […]

Both directors felt it was necessary to “strike at today’s bureaucrats who are hindering the forward movement of our country,” as Karanovich put it. To strike at the USSR’s powerful philistines, its social climbers, its careerists and bootlickers. The Bath was the perfect story to do it, as long as it was adapted to the new era. […] Not long before August 1960, when The Bath began at Soyuzmultfilm, these ideas would’ve been unthinkable. Karanovich wrote that Mayakovsky hadn’t been animated since the anti-racist cartoon Black and White (1932). Now, these ideas were very thinkable — The Bath was among Soyuzmultfilm’s several new Mayakovsky projects. […]

Adapting Mayakovsky to the screen proved to be “infinitely difficult,” according to Karanovich. The Bath is a wordy play, and almost all of the film’s script is a hyper-condensed version of the original. Yutkevich called dialogue the biggest challenge of the production, writing that they “parted with pain” with reams of Mayakovsky’s writing. […]

This all makes it easy to forget that Soviet animation as openly defiant as The Bath, like the Khrushchev Thaw itself, would not live long. Just a few years later, when Khitruk did The Man in the Frame, the state was unamused and barely distributed it. In 1968, animator Andrei Khrzhanovsky went down in history for Glass Harmonica, one of the rare Soviet animated films to be banned outright. He served two years of forced military duty as punishment.

The Bath couldn’t have been made in 1968, or in 1958. It climbed through a tiny window in the moment when it could. In many ways, it’s an anomaly. But it’s an anomaly that’s very much deserving of another look, more than half a century later.

Go to the link for more details and the film itself; I never knew about any of this. Thanks, Nick!


  1. Modernism strikes back! And Raykin as a heir to Mayakovsky looks like … something.

  2. what a treat!

    (and i’m glad to know we only have to deal with the current nightmare for seven more years!)

  3. Bureaucracy, by the way, was a standard label for the USSR government among my parents’ Trotskyist friends.

  4. All the Bolshevik leaders, from Lenin on down, hated bureaucracy and kept trying to eliminate it, but their efforts just created more of it. C. Northcote Parkinson could have explained it to them.

  5. Honestly, “inventors are many and CHOCOLOPS is one” means they need more CHOCOLOPSes connected in parallel, not in series.

  6. hated bureaucracy and kept trying to eliminate it, but their efforts just created more of it

    {waves a hand in the general direction of Seeing Like a State and All That Is Solid Melts Into Air; sadly pats the cover of Memoirs of a Revolutionary; goes back to reading laura antoniou}

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