Linn (City): a well-meaning if dated moral tale about industrialisation

Reino Raamat, “Linn / City” (1988)

Earnest and well-meaning, Raamat”s “Linn” is a moral tale of what happens when a town is overcome by industrialisation and the warped, mechanised culture and soulless values that follow in its wake and the town citizens are worn down by the sheer enormous scale of the changes and their seductive embrace. In the context of its time, the animation short might be seen as a nationalistic protest against the Sovietisation of Estonia and  how it reduces everyone to the lowest common denominator, robbing people of their ethnic, religious and other identities as well as their individuality. The short begins in a nameless town, already stacked with cardboard-like anonymous high-rise buildings in which people are living like rats anyway, cultivating their dreams and indulging their love in their children (obvious symbols of the future), which is invaded by huge black blocks that crowd the existing buildings together. Outraged, the citizens of the town form a movement, symbolised by a huge figure, to push back the block. For a short time they succeed but the black block sends out rays of gold money and infiltrate the buildings with lubricious ladies of the night and the men of the town are quickly entranced and enthralled by these gifts. While some stalwarts put up a strong resistance, in the end their efforts come to nought as the women are forced to cradle mini-blocks and the whole town is swallowed up in the miasma of mass industrial society and culture.

The black-and-white animation shows the issue in all its brutal starkness and scenes of mass assembly manufacture verge on Konstruktivist abstraction. There’s a fair amount of female nudity and tastefully portrayed sexual intercourse so the short clearly isn’t intended for children. Characters are representative of various social strata and adhere to traditional gender stereotypes. Women are portrayed either as Madonnas or whores and men as either noble and heroic or weak and easily corrupted. Music varies according to the needs of the narrative with electronic music representing the onslaught of mass industry and its filthy insinuations into people’s lives.

Though the animation is very good, the theme and thus the narrative and characterisation are dated, even for the period portrayed. Workers and capitalists can’t simply be portrayed as good against evil any more: in modern societies now, be they capitalist, corporate fascist, socialist or other, ideologies valuing economic rationality and progress, technocracy, human control of nature, debt-based finance and belief in economic competition and nationalism still hold sway and can be just as destructive of human happiness and life as  Communism was in Estonia from 1945 to 1991.

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