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A Glimpse on the History of Russian Cinema
April 27, 2006 12:12

Russian cinema industry started in 1908 with the glorious premiere of the first national feature film. It was a primitive drama entitled Ponizovaya Volnitsa or Sten'ka Razin directed by Vladimir Romashkov.

The years 1911 - 1913 saw the first moving cartoons released in Russia. They were soon followed by screen versions of literature classics.

Director Vladimir Gardin created the film 'Dvoryanskoye Gnezdo' ("Nest of the Nobility") after Turgenev's novel. He shot his next movie 'Natasha Rostova'(1915) together with Yakov Protazanov, director of the successful 'Pikovaya Dama'(Queen of Spades)(1916)and 'Otets Sergii'(Father Sergiy)(1918), with prominent actor Ivan Moszhukhin starring. The public admired 'dramas of high society' featuring famous beauties of the time, such as Vera Kholodnaya and Vera Coralli.

Private studios shot the films "Baryshnia i khuligan"(The Young Lady and the Hooligan) (1918), with the script written by poet Vladimir Mayakovsky who played the Hooligan's role in it; and 'Polikushka' (1919) after Leo Tolstoy, with Ivan Mosckvin starring.

The birth date of Soviet cinema is considered August 27, 1919, when Lenin put the art of cinema within the limits of the newly formed Soviet state with singing of a relative decree.  'The art of cinema is the most important of all arts for us today!' - the revolutionary leader proclaimed. From 1922 the sphere of cinema production fell under the total control of the state, with the establishment of Goskino, the official controlling cinema apparatus. Enormous film production industrial mechanisms set in. From this time till the late 1980s the cinema production was planned, financed, censored and controlled by special state organizations. Cinema was proclaimed a means of propagation, upbringing and education. Agitational powers of cinema were broadly realized in the Soviet period (films by Yurii Zhelyabuzhsky è Lev Kuleshov).

Outstanding film director Sergey Eisenstein unfolded an impressive panorama of hardships, tragedies and struggle of the working class in his movies 'Bronenosets Potyemkin' (Battleship Potemkin) (1925), 'Stachka' (Strike) (1925) and 'Octyabr'' (October) (1927). Those epic films hold a firm place among the world best paragons of mute cinema.

Vsevolod Pudovkin directed a number of talented feature films giving an insight to the psychology of people involved in the revolutionary events: Mat' ('Mother', 1926) after Mikhail Gorky's novel, 'Konets Sankt-Peterburga' (The End of St.-Petersburg, 1927) and 'Potomok Chingiz-khana' (Offspring of Chingiz-khan', 1929).


1921 was the year of the creation of the Manufacture of Aesthetic Actor that launched the production of exciting adventure movies. The project was initiated by Grigory Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg and Sergey Yutkevitch. This added much to the formation of the school of cinema art aspiring to cover versatile aspects of life depiction.

Among the films of the late 1920s there stand out some movies on social themes such as 'The Forty First' directed by Yakov Protazanov (1927, after Boris Lavrenev), Oblomok Imperii (The Wreckage of the Empire, 1929)by Friedrich Ermler Putevka v zhizn'(A Send-Off Into Life, 1931) by Nikolay Ekk, and Okraina (Outskirts, 1933) by Boris Barnet. Comedies of manners also enjoyed popularity; the most notable of them are Zakroishchik iz Torzhka,(The Tailor from Torzhok, 1925) by Yakov Protazanov, Kollezhsky Registrator (1925) by Zhelyabuzhsky after Pushkin's novel Station Master and Po Zakonu (By Law, 1926) directed by Lev Kuleshov after the story by Jack London.

The Stalinist period was marked by a slump in the number of produced films, the strengthening of the state control and mobilization of enormous assets for production of each movie. It made a great event of the release of any film. Movies with a powerful ideological charge were shot in this atmosphere: "Chapayev"(1934) by the Vasil'evs brothers, with Boris Babochkin starring, Efim Dzigan's film My Iz Krondshtata (We Are From Krondshtat,1936), and Deputat Baltiki (The Deputy of the Baltic, 1937), by Aleksandr Zarkih and Josef Heifitz, starring Nikolai Cherkasov. The first films about Lenin appeared in 1937 (Mikhail Romm's 'Lenin in October')and 1939 ('Lenin in 1918' with Boris Shchukin starring).

Musical comedy became another leading genre performing the functions of mass culture in those years. The most noteworthy examples include the sparkling Veselye Rebyata (Jolly Fellows, distributed worldwide as Jazz Comedy, 1934) starring Leonid Utesov and Lyubov'Orlova, Circus (1936) and Volga-Volga (1938), all the three directed by Grigorii Aleksandrov and starring Lyubov'Orlova, as well as Traktoristy (Tractor Drivers, 1939) and Svinarka i Pastukh (Swineherd and Shepherd, or They Met in Moscow, 1941), both the films directed by Ivan Pyr'ev and starring Marina Ladynina.

The genre of historic epopee was also developing: Peter the First (1937-1939) by Vladimir Petrov, and Alexander Nevsky as Ivan Grozny (Ivan the Terrible) by Isenstein.

One of the best movies shot during the war, was Dva Boitsa (Two Soldiers, 1943, dir. by Leonid Lukov), a patriotic film about the power of friendship, with Mark Bernes and Boris Andreev.

The postwar repressions dealt a blow to the art of cinema. The Thaw period brought the biggest masters of cinema back to creative life; a new generation of film makers was also ripening. War became the major subject matter of cinema  in the 1960s - 1970s; Letyat Zhuravli (Cranes are Flying, 1957) by Mikhail Kalatozov, Ballada o Soldate (Ballad of a Soldier, 1959) by Grigorii Chukhrai, the work of genius Ivanovo Detstvo (Ivan's Childhood, 1962) by Andrei Tarkovsky, and A Zori Zdes Tikhie (The Dawns Here Are Quiet, 1972)directed by Stanislav Rostozkii after the same name novel by Boris Vasiliev - even today these films do not loose in their power and expressiveness, dwelling on the eternal basic issues of humanity, spiritual and moral values and life and death.

The problems of the 1960s are reflected in the dramas Chuzhaya Rodnya (Other People's Relatives, 1955) by Mikhail Shvejtser, Devyat Dney Odnogo Goda (Nine Days of One Year, 1962) by Romm and Zhivyet Takoy Paren' (There Was a Lad, 1964) by Vasilii Shukshin.

Fascinating comedies Ya Shagayu Po Moskve (I Stroll Through Moscow or Meet Me in Moscow, 1964) by Georgii Daneliya, Beregis' Avtomobilya (Watch out for the Cars, 1966) by Eldar Ryazanov touch upon various problems of life and even manage to relieve them somehow.

One cannot but mention here the epic screen versions of literature - the thrilling 'Hamlet'(1964)directed by Kozintsev and Voina I Mir (War and Peace, 1966-1967)shot by Sergey Bondarchuk.

The 1970s were highlighted by the flourishing creative work of the highly philosophical film director Andrey Tarkovsky (Andrey Rublev, Zerkalo(Mirror), and Nostalgia) and films by Georgii Daneliya (Pokayanie (Repentance)). This was also the time when the prominent directors Mark Zakharov and Eldar Ryazanov started making movies to go on in the next decade. A fascinating melodrama 'A Tune for the Two' (1980) by Aleksandr Bogolybov and Gennadii Polok continued the line of the serious cinema art in the 1980s.

Rock-culture of the 1980s got its reflection in Assa (1988), a cult film of that time shot by Sergey Solov'ev.

Fedor Khitruk è Yurii Norshtein created true masterpieces of cartoon art.

Economic convulsions of the 1980s-1990s destroyed the established system of cinema production and film release, however people still needed cinema. Brilliant film directors Leonid Gaidai, Nikita Mikhalkov, Eldar Ryazanov, Georgii Daneliya and Aleksei German Senior moved on in their creative quest in spite of the predicaments the time would interpose.

The long-desired freedom of word in the post-perestroika period prompted a torrent of second-rate movies, however by the mid 1990s already the Russian cinema started recovering and bringing ahead some talented films amid the raunchy mess of 'censure-free' movies. Among the most notable films of the 1990s one should mention the cult action movie Brat (Brother, 1997) by Aleksei Balabanov.

The 2000s delivered a number of original masterpieces of cinema, such as Progulka (A Walk, 2003) by Aleksei Uchitel', Vozvrashchenie (The Return) (2003) by Andrei Zvyagintsev and richly financed mystic blockbuster Nochnoi Dozor (Night Watch, 2004) by Timur Bekmambetov.

The history of Soviet and Russian cinema counts four Oscars taken as the best foreign films: in 1968 it was War and Peace (1967) by Sergey Bondarchuk, in 1975 - a Soviet-Japanese movie Dersu Uzala (1974) by Akira Kurosava, in 1980 - Moskva Slezam Ne Verit (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, 1979) by Vladimir Men'shov, and in 1994 - Utomlyonnie Solntsem (Burned by the Sun, 1994) by Nikita Mikhalkov.

Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian Cinema     

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