In the opening titles of his 1968 animated short Glass Harmonica, Russian director Andrei Khrzhanovsky claims to present a cautionary against “boundless greed, police terror, [and] the isolation and brutalization of humans in modern bourgeois society.” Of course, it was more complex than that.
At the time Khrzhanovsky made the film, Russian animation had experienced a creative renaissance that spanned most of the ‘60s, fuelled by the Soviet Union’s post-Stalinist liberalization policy best known as the Krushchev Thaw. Although that period yielded cutesy and colorful satires like Fyodor Khitruk’s 1962 short Story of a Crime, Glass Harmonica—which posits music to symbolize beauty repressed by avarice—stands apart.
Amid desolate modern landscapes, Khyrzhanovsky and his dozen animators tell the tale with some industrial age and Renaissance visual elements, along with some zany zoomorphic caricatures of paranoia and envy. Buoyed sonically by Alfred Schnittke’s Quasi una sonata and drawing from Breugel, Dali and George Dunning (the director of Yellow Submarine), Glass Harmonica reaches even proto-Python-esque heights towards the end.
Despite its semi-socialist utopian resolution, Glass Harmonica comes off as surprisingly quaint and archaic, even for Kruschev’s less ideologically rigid era.
Hat-tip to Edan, the Humble Magnificent