For more than a millenium, Russia has struggled with issues and ideas that have altered and shaped its culture and art. Russia’s ten centuries tell a tale of enduring ambivalence towards the West in all its manifestations: from ancient Byzantium, to autocratic Prussia, to revolutionary France, NATO, and contemporary America. From the West came religion, military prowess, radical ideas, architectural forms, art, and music. To the West Russia gave ethereal icons, beautiful art and churches, haunting music, brilliant prose and poetry, supreme athletes and dancers, and path-breaking cinema. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Communist alliance in 1991, Russia is again undergoing great changes, attempting to blend traditional ways with ideas from abroad.

The Face of Russia is a personal interpretation of Russia’s cultural history by one of America’s pre-eminent Russian scholars, James H. Billington. Viewers are taken on a remarkable journey through history—to sacred monasteries and magnificent churches that have served as monuments to Christianity since late in the tenth century; to grand palaces of St. Petersburg and the great architectural masterpieces that dot the shoreline of the Baltic Sea; and to twentieth-century Russia where new forms of music and cinema are emerging. Along the way, the series reveals how the Russian people find inspiration in the evocative art of their past—and hope in the emerging images of their future.

Expansion over the centuries made Russia an empire filled with dozens of nationalities, each with its own distinctive culture. The Face of Russia explores the dominant strains of Russian culture, essentially a tale of three cities: Kiev, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. The series draws upon the resources of Russia’s major cultural institutions and details spectacular new discoveries and restorations in architecture and archaeology. The footage, combined with recordings from rare Russian scores and the Library of Congress, provides a remarkable look at both the historical and human aspects of Russian art and culture.

Companion book

The Face of Russia, by Dr. James H. Billington

A sweeping new analysis from the U.S. Librarian of Congress and preeminent expert on Russian culture.

When the Soviet communist empire was overthrown by the Russians themselves in August 1991, the change was more clearly anticipated by humanistic students of creativity than by economic and political scientists surrounded by statistics and information. Does the Russian pattern of creativity provide any hints as to how the Russians might solve problems today? Having borrowed the democratic political model of their erstwhile American enemy, will they be able to create a distinctive Russian variant that can endure? Or will they end up destroying their own experiment at accountable, constitutional government and returning to their long tradition of authoritarianism.

The Face of Russia addresses these questions. This is a dazzling and forward-looking history of the Russian people as told through their art—from one of the world’s great experts on Russian culture. The story covers 800 years of Russian creativity, and introduces us to the new art forms that burst onto the Russian scene, and became the vehicles for expressing the creative aspirations of an age as well as the enduring Russian quest to find salvation and entertainment in art.

For bulk/institutional sales contact HarperCollins customer service at 1-800-242-7737. Individuals may purchase this volume wherever books are sold, (also, see below).


To order videos (single programs or boxed set of 3 programs) OR the companion book by Dr. Billington, call Video Finders at 1-800-343-4727, or write to: The Face of Russia, Video Finders, 425 East Colorado Blvd., Glendale, CA 91205.

Discussion Guide

For use in both formal and informal educational settings; available free of charge while supplies last from WETA, Educational Services & Outreach, 2775 South Quincy St., Arlington, VA 22206, or call 703-998-2827.

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