Russian Cinema Before the Revolution Part III

By | February 23, 2022

According to allcountrylist, the outbreak of the First World War paradoxically had a positive impact on Russian cinema; the brake imposed on the importation of foreign films by the closing of the borders gave a new impetus to the national industry, which resulted in hundreds of war newsreels produced by new production companies. Many small firms came together under the monopoly of large shareholders such as the aforementioned Chanžonkov & Co. and Thiemann & Reinhardt, to which were added Ermol′ev, Perskij, Mintus, and so on. The quantity of films produced grew from year to year from 23 films in 1913 to 500 in 1916, up to 250 films produced in the first two months of 1917. Naturally, the quality of the technical equipment also increased, allowing for an increase in film footage, the improvement of scenographic system, lighting, composition of the shot and the same conditions of projection of the films. From the point of view of genres, the psychological cinedrama of a bourgeois environment or a social background, often permeated with the mysticism, vampirism, eroticism and sensualism typical of the then fashionable appendix literature, prevailed. Some titles are sufficient to give an idea: V ob′jatjach d′javola (1914, In the arms of the devil), Aromat grecha (1914, The smell of sin), Palomničestvo ljubvi (1914, The peregrinations of love), and so on. Of course, there was no shortage of propaganda films inspired by the most insidious anti-German nationalism and unbridled chauvinism. In those dramatic years, however, some famous series of adventure such as the French Fantômas and some Russian crime series such as Derevo smerti ili krovavaja Susanna (1914, The tree of death or Susanna la sanguinaria), Smert ′ millionera (1914, Death of a millionaire), Son′ka zolotaja ručka (1914- 15, Son′ka, golden hand). The science film, on the other hand, which had had a certain popularity until then, suffered from a lack of funding during the war, while the production of children’s films was completely stopped. But, above all, the formation of the future cadres of the Soviet film industry dates back to those years, for example. professional operators such as Aleksandr A. Levickij, Evgenij I. Slavinskij, Grigorij M. Lemberg and many others. The first professional directors of Russian cinema also established themselves, taking over from the primitive artisans of the cinema. After the cinema of the producers and that of the stars, there was now a directing cinema, which had among its pioneers, in addition to Protazanov and Gardin (to whom the foundation of the first school in Moscow shortly thereafter in 1919 of world cinema, the VGIK), prominent figures such as Pëtr I. Čardynin (over 200 films) and, above all, Evgenij F. Bauer (82 films). Bauer occupies a prominent place among the masters of bourgeois and worldly melodrama; in his best films, Žizn ′ v smerti (1914, Life in death), based on a screenplay by Valerij Brjusov, Nemye svideteli (1914, Silent Witnesses), Žizn ′ za žizn ′ (1916, A life for life) his masterpiece, and Za sčast′em (1917, For happiness), proved to be an author of great originality, sensitivity and intelligence, the best that Russian pre-revolutionary cinema can boast. His films, imbued with the decadent fin de siècle poetics, they reveal an unprecedented care for the scenography – purposely built to replace the painted backdrops in use until then – which constitutes an integral part of the dramaturgical development of his films. Exemplary in Bauer was also the direction of the actors who, although considered secondary by the director, gave masterful interpretations absolutely immune from any residual theatricality. Bauer was one of the first Russian directors to realize that film acting required the actor an expressiveness that was profoundly different from the theatrical one, a more restrained gesture, an expressive mimic made of gazes, of barely perceptible vibrations. In addition to the pictorial perfection of his shots, Bauer developed the depth of field, revolutionized the lighting system, he introduced the expressive use of the foreground and treated the editing with particular care. It is no coincidence that he was the teacher of one of the undisputed fathers of Soviet cinema, Lev V. Kulešov. Bauer’s death in 1917 therefore takes on a symbolic meaning: with him disappeared an era of Russian cinema destined for decades of removal by Soviet and foreign critics. However, it would be wrong to think that with 1917 a production as important as the pre-revolutionary one suddenly stopped; bourgeois cinema survived for a few more years, approximately until August 1919, when Lenin issued the decree of nationalization of Soviet cinema. Until that date, private companies continued to produce films in the old way and according to the canons of the previous cinema. Some masterpieces date back to that period such as Otec Sergij (1918, Father Sergio) by Protazanov, Polikuška (1919, but released in 1922) by Aleksandr A. Sanin and Jurij A. Željabužskij, Proekt inženera Prajta (1918, The project by engineer Pright) by Kulešov, Molči, grust ′, molči (1918, Taci, tristezza, taci) directed by Čardynin and a few others who distinguished themselves from the mass of private production of the period. Otec Sergij and Polikuška represented a trend destined to have a wide development in the course of the subsequent history of Soviet cinema, oriented towards the realism of the noble Russian theatrical, pictorial and literary tradition. For its part, Proekt inženera Prajta sanctioned the launch of the Soviet editing cinema, while Molči, grust ′, molči represented the last bastion of psychological parlor drama.

Russian Cinema Before the Revolution 3