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30 Years of Change: Russian Culture Since Perestroika: Film Screening: 'Assa'

Victor Tsoi in "ASSA"

Victor Tsoi in "ASSA"


The period of Perestroika, starting with Mikhail Gorbachev’s speech to the CPSU Congress in 1986 and ending with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, had a defining impact on global politics and cultural life. In our '30 Years of Change' series, created by Vlad Strukov (University of Leeds) and Anna Kan (University of Bristol), we aim to remember and reflect on the legacy of Perestroika and its relevance today, in Russia and internationally. Our fourth evening of the series will be the second of a few events dedicated to the relationship between official Soviet culture and underground culture at the time of Perestroika. 

Sergei Soloviev's "ASSA" and Alexei Uchitel's "Rock" (the two films were released virtually simultaneously, in 1988) are symbols and tokens of the music underground's breakthrough into the "wide open" of the Soviet Perestroika era. This was the case even though "ASSA" was not specifically about rock music, but about the art underground as a wider social and cultural phenomenon - and that was only one of a number of the film's story lines. It was the best known and most popular story line but probably not the most important for the director himself. The cult film (soundtrack by Boris Grebenshchikov) was credited with bringing Soviet underground rock into the mainstream.

"ASSA" bubbled with new energy and new ideas. For the wider audience it was a radical turnaround: underground artist Sergei Bugaev "Africa" in the leading role, underground rock musician Boris Grebenschikov as the film's composer, another underground rock musician Victor Tsoi and his group KINO as support actors and performers, and, last but not least, the 10-day art marathon in a Moscow theatre with concerts, exhibitions and performances. It was through "ASSA" that Victor Tsoi's song "Peremen!" acquired the status of Perestroika's anthem. 

During the Q&A we will talk about how the film appropriated and reworked cultural mythology, what it could express through the language of cinema and how rock music helped, what was important about the film then and how well has the film aged and why it is still relevant now. Or is it?

Film in Russian with English surtitles; Q&A in English. The event is in collaboration with Obskura which brings to audiences "Russian cinema beyond Eisenstein and Tarkovsky".


Alexander Kan is the BBC Russian Service Art and Culture Correspondent. He is the author of three books about the cultural underground in the Soviet Union ("Poka ne nachalsya Jazz" (2008), "Kuryokhin" (2012), "Pop-Mekhanika" (2014), as well as many articles in the Western and Russian media. He was a music critic, journalist and producer in Leningrad in the 1970s-1990s. Since 1996 he has lived in London and works as the BBC Russian Service Art and Culture Correspondent. He also continues to produce festivals and concerts in Russia and in the UK. 


Anna Kan is an historian and a Researcher at the University of Bristol, focusing on the late Soviet underground culture and its relations with the state. In the 1990s-2000s she was a press officer for rock group Aquarium, a producer and publisher, organised many big concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg and produced TV-films about Russian rock.

For each lecture in this series there are 10 free tickets available for students.

There are now no more free student tickets left for ASSA screening.