A movie review of “Elektro Moskva”: This documentary, about an underground for secretly built electronic music instruments, is a fascinating window onto Soviet Union history. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
The ideals of communism never really took hold in the Soviet Union, says the introspective, engagingly off-the-wall documentary “Elektro Moskva.” Instead, the Marxist-Leninist state became something between “an electrified prison and a giant factory.”
Without going into specific history of the U.S.S.R., filmmakers Dominik Spritzendorfer and Elena Tikhonova are largely referring to the obsessive ramping up of industry, technology, defense and scientific innovation (Leon Theremin’s 1920s television signals; Sputnik, the first satellite) that began under Stalin and lasted for generations.
That prolonged effort took its toll on Russia’s economy and people, but “Elektro Moskva” drolly tells us of a quirky subculture that speaks to a spirit of defiance. Though some of the nation’s engineers and inventors were tasked with designing and building rockets, computers and surveillance devices, behind the scenes they were using spare parts from those machines to create electronic music instruments.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Elektro Moskva,’ a documentary written and directed by Dominik Spritzendorfer and Elena Tikhonova. 90 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In English and Russian, with English subtitles. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.
Synthesizers, keyboards with various sounds and functions, rhythm machines, microphones — an underground in tech-based new music arose, essentially the offspring of Theremin’s own eerie-sounding instrument (named after him) from 1928.
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“Elektro Moskva” is both a history of this movement and a group portrait of its creators and artists.
One of the film’s most interesting discoveries is that the market for these now-vintage instruments has never died. Spritzendorfer and Tikhonova spend time (a little too much, actually) with several obsessive types scouring flea markets and buying old gear from one another.
One fellow, laughing nervously at the memory, recalls purchasing component parts stolen by KGB agents from their own official inventory. It seems everyone found a way around the system.