Hipsters. They sing, they dance and they’re just raunchy enough to make a musical about! No, I’m not talking about the current American trend of skinny jeans and v-neck-clad kids who listen to music you’ve never even heard of, I’m speaking of the recent Russian musical by the same name.
Directed by Valery Todorovsky and released December 2008, Hipsters (known by the Russians as Stilyagi) is about the subculture of jazz and swing dancing that erupted in the youth of the Soviet Union during the 1950’s. Check out this website for a review of the movie. According to this article from Variety, it’s the first musical to come out of Russia since before the Iron Curtain, and I think it’s been well worth the wait. It features phenomenal dance scenes, big band music numbers, vividly bright costumes and a scandalous love story.
This musical proves my belief that any musical about some subcultural, convention-breaking trend is bound to be popular. Americans have been banking on this theme for years with such movies as Footloose, Sid and Nancy and Hairspray. I mean, have you ever seen a musical about rich bankers having a board meeting? It’d just be boring. A musical about teens dancing to rock music that their parents disapprove of is far more interesting, in my opinion.
What interested me most about this musical, aside from the song and dance, was that it was actually centered around real events. Although I’ve long been a fan of American jazz, I never knew the Soviets had their own version of it. In the book The Development of Jazz in the Former Soviet Union: An Interview With Victor Lebedev talks with Lebedev, a Russian composer and jazz musician, about the subculture’s history. He quotes, “At the beginning of the 1950’s for people who tried to play jazz, and any student could even be expelled and teachers fired from the conservatories if they did it. Jazz was regarded as an agent for the enemy’s ideology.”
The musical will be a part of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival this year that will tour throughout Australia. It also just recently appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival. As of now, I haven’t been able to find any showings in America, but I wish I could. I spent nearly half an hour YouTubing videos of the dance scenes and am determined to see this film ASAP. Although I don’t speak Russian and didn’t understand many of the songs, music is a universal language and I think this film could definitely speak to Americans if it were to come stateside. Check out some of the videos and see what you think!