Chapaev is the most popular film of the Soviet era. Directed by Georgi and Sergei Vasilev, it tells of the legendary exploits of the Red Army Commander Vasili Ivavich Chapaev during the Russian Civil War. Its greatest fan was Joseph Stalin, who saw it 38 times at late-night showings in the Kremlin. It was both praised by Party ideologues for its faithfulness to the Bolshevik cause and loved by mass audiences for its adventure sequences and its tragic love story. For over seventy years, Chapaev , Furmav the Commissar, Petka and Anka have remained heroes of the Russian popular imagination. This illuminating and enjoyable companion tells the story of the real-life Chapaev, of the vel by Dmitri Furmav, and of the struggles to make the film. Julian Graffy offers a detailed analysis of the film itself and then considers Chapaev's extraordinary after-life. The film provoked poetry by Osip Mandelstam and a vel by Viktor Pelevin, operas and scabrous popular anecdotes. Graffy shows that to understand Chapaev's appeal is to understand something about what it means to be Russian.
JULIAN GRAFFY is Professor of Russian Literature and Cinema at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. He has written widely on Russian literature and film and is the author of the Kinofile Film Companion to Abram Room's film 'Bed and Sofa' (I.B.Tauris, 2001).