East Side Story

Director: Dana Ranga

Institute History

  • 1997 Sundance Film Festival


One of the most exciting discoveries of this year’s Festival, East Side Story is both hilarious and utterly revelatory exploration of an apparent paradox in cinematic history—the Socialist Musical! During the fifties and sixties, socialist countries of the Iron Curtain were certainly better known for their façade of bleak oppression than rollicking humor or fun-filled extravagance. With its astounding compilation of clips from musicals of the eastern bloc, East Side Story portrays the colorful flip side of socialism.

Were socialist musicals merely government propaganda to make its own ideology sexy and combat the perilous appeal of Hollywood? How was it possible to portray the ideals of socialism in a genre considered “the most flagrant offspring of the capitalistic pleasure industry”? With elaborate sets, astonishing musical numbers, and even CinemaScope and stereo sound, East Side Story unearths astonishing proof of the tremendous accomplishment of and popular enthusiasm for these “lost children” of the socialist film industry. From Tractor Drivers, an ode-to-the-joys-of-labor musical, to Hot Summer, a teen-dream tribute to Beach Blanket Bingo, socialist musicals prove as inventive and lavish as American counterparts. Following decades of opposition from both censor and studio officials for being too bourgeois and entertaining, the socialist musical was finally laid to rest in 1973. As director Dana Ranga puts it, “Who knows what might have happened to socialism had it been more fun?”

— Rebecca Yeldham

Screening Details


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