The most iconic television miniseries of the 1970s, and allegedly Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favorite film, Seventeen Moments of Spring (dir. Tatiana Lioznova, 1973) remains an important cultural touchstone in contemporary Russia, continuing to serve as a way of talking about, for example, Russia’s conflict with Ukraine and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Drawing on internal discussions in the Gorky Studio during the film’s production and articles in the press, as well as the miniseries itself, this talk will contextualize “Seventeen Moments” in debates during the Soviet 1970s about the role of mass media in shaping political beliefs and offer a fresh interpretation of the film’s politics and reception, which continue to shape the present. Seventeen Moments of Spring generated public conversations about moral complexity, the need for new, post-Stalin heroes who could repair the damage of the Stalin cult, and the role of television in making visible the superiority of the Soviet system and its people. Together with the film itself, these conversations outlined a new deal between state and public, based on shared patriotic values, the acceptance of police and bureaucratic authority, and the promotion of new heroes like the film’s protagonist, Soviet spy Maxim Isaev. In the second decade of Putin’s promotion of a very similar deal and set of patriotic values organized around the memory of Soviet heroism during WWII and renewed imperial expansion, Seventeen Moments of Spring deserves continued attention.
Christine Evans is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee. Her work focuses on the role of popular culture, play, and mass media in Russian and Soviet history. Her first book, Between Truth and Time: A History of Soviet Central Television, was published by Yale University Press in August 2016.