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Screened Sexuality:
Desire in Russian, Soviet, and Post-Soviet Cinema
Columbia Society of Fellows in the Humanities
Harriman Institute

International Conference, Columbia University, New York
October 10-11, 2008

501 Schermerhorn Hall, Columbia University
Click Here for directions to Schermerhorn Hall.


Andrey Shcherbenok, Columbia University, Society of Fellows


The close association between cinema and sexual desire has been established since the inception of cinematography. Set at the juncture of secrecy and exhibitionism, cinema provides a powerful medium for both the orchestration of spectatorial desire and reflection on human sexuality, which, at least since the works of Christian Metz and The Screen theorists, have become a subject of sustained scholarly analysis. Studies of individual film genres have shed light on the staging of sexual desire in topoi ranging from thriller plots to melodramatic mise-en-scene, while, starting with the works of Linda Williams, the study of the cinematic representation of the sexual act has also become firmly entrenched in cinema studies.

At the same time, studies of sexual desire in a given cinematic tradition cutting across the boundaries of genres and theories remain scarce, and the field of Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet cinema is not an exception. Although there are a number of works on the representation of femininity, masculinity and gender politics in this cinematic tradition, few scholars of the subject address sexual desire per se. Even when desire is addressed, existing studies tend to put the stress upon the ways (apparently "natural") sexuality is repressed, "perverted" or appropriated, mainly for political purposes, rather than upon the cinematic mechanisms that create a sexual dynamic between diegetic characters or the spectator and the screen.

This conference aims to explore the ways sexual desire is articulated in and constituted by cinema. While realizing that sexuality is implicated in a potentially unlimited number of phenomena, many of which find their reflection in films, we solicit papers that focus specifically on sexual desire and address it in medium-specific and theoretically sophisticated ways. The boundaries of the cinematic material to be discussed, on the contrary, will be left open within the broad expanse of Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet space: we encourage papers that juxtapose cinematic desires from that space with those of other cinematic traditions, papers that combine close readings of individual films with reflections on the limits of Western theories of cinematic sexuality, and papers that trace the continuities and discontinuities in the way cinematic desire is represented, aroused, and transformed across time and space in the region.

For more information about the conference, please contact Andrey Shcherbenok,

Funding generously provided by the Society of Fellows in the Humanities and the Harriman Institute

Conference Program

October 10, 2008

14:00 – 14:20
Opening Remarks
Cathy Nepomnyashchy (Harriman Institute, Columbia U) Andrey Shcherbenok (Society of Fellows, Columbia U)

14:20 – 16:40
Chair: Richard Pena (Columbia U)
Discussant: Rebecca Stanton (Columbia U)

Masha Salazkina (Colgate U) "Desire and Dialectical Montage: a Reconsideration"

Nancy Condee (U of Pittsburgh), "Rape and Camera Work (Cranes Are Flying)"

Kristi McKim (Hendrix College), "Cinematic Desire as Overwhelming Gravity: Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris and the Contingency of Weight, Time, Space, and Sexuality"

16:40 – 17:00 COFFEE BREAK

17:00 – 19:10
Chair: Cathy Nepomnyashchy (Columbia U)
Discussant: Joan Neuberger (U of Texas)

Louise McReynolds (U of North Carolina CH), "Cinematic Desire and the Search for Social Stability in the Films of Evgenni Bauer, 1907-1917"

Volha Isakava (U of Alberta), "Sex, Crime and Videotape: Sexuality in the Cinema of Perestroika"

Gregory Carleton (Tufts U), "From First to Worst. Sex and the Afghan Syndrome in Little Vera, Ninth Company and Cargo 200"

19:10 – 19:30

19:30 – 21:00
PRESENTATION: Factory of Gestures (DVD) by Oksana Bulgakowa (Internationale Filmschule Köln)

October 11, 2008

10:00 – 13:00
Chair: Anthony Anemone (The New School U)
Discussant: Dawn Seckler (U of Pittsburgh)

Irina Novikova (U of Latvia) "Couching Desire in Stalin’s Daughters"

Anne Eakin Moss (Johns Hopkins U) "Stalin's Harem: The Spectator's Dilemma in 1930s Soviet Film"

Anna Toropova (University College, London), "Desire and Jouissance in Stalinist 'Cult of Personality' Films"

Julia Cassiday (Williams College), "Eroticism, Adultery, and Espionage in Engineer Kochin’s Mistake"

13:00 – 14:20

14:20 – 16:10
Chair: Greta Slobin (Wesleyan U)
Discussant: Serguei Oushakine (Princeton U)

Oksana Bulgakowa (Internationale Filmschule Köln), “The New Masculinity of the 50s: How to Eroticize the Film Body of Soviet Man?”

Lilya Kaganovsky (U of Illinois U-S) "Desire, Stagnation, and the Cultural Logic of Late Socialism"

16:10 – 16:30

16:30 – 18:20
Chair: Katerina Clark (Yale U)
Discussant: James Steffen (Emory U)

Yulia Ladygina (UC Sand Diego) "The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. Vertov in the Land of Beauty and Desire"

Dan Healey (Swansea U) "Erections that Prove the Rule: Nationality and Identity in Russian Gay Men’s Pornography"

Click below to view the event posters
Poster 1 Poster 2 Poster 3

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