5

Soviet Silent Cinema and the Theory of Montage,
1917-1931

THE PREREVOLUTIONARY CINEMA

5.1 Father Sergius (lakov Protazanov, 1918).

Before the Bolshevik (Communist) Revolution of October 1917, the film industry in Russia was mainly European. Agents of Lumière Frères, Pathé, Gaumont, and Danish Nordisk had established large distribution branches in several cities at the turn of the century, and the first native Russian studio was not founded until 1908. About 90 percent of all films shown in Russia between 1898 and the outbreak of World War I were imported. Between 1914 and 1916, this figure declined to 20 percent as the number of domestic film-producing firms more than doubled, from eighteen to forty-seven, in the absence of foreign competition. But most of these operations were thinly capitalized, and by mid-1917 there were only three major production companies in the entire country (Khanzhonkov, Ermoliev, and Pathé). Ninety percent of all filmmaking activity was concentrated in the major cities of Moscow and Petrograd. * All technical equipment and film stock were imported from Germany or France.

The film industry in Russia was small because the cinema had not yet become a popular form, as it had in the West. Unlike their German counterparts, the Russian working classes were too impoverished to attend the movies, and the ultraconservative ruling classes simply didn't care to. Several artists from other media took an interest in the prerevolutionary cinema. In 1913, the Futurist poet Vladimir Maiakovski (1893-1930) and his colleagues made a unique avant-garde manifesto in film entitled Drama in Futurist Cabaret 13 (Drama v futuristicheskom kabare 13). Between 1915 and 1916, the great stage director Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874-1940) adapted two famous literary works for the screen—Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (Portret Doriana Greia, 1915) and Stanislaw Przybyszewski's The Strong Man (Silnyi chelovek, 1917)—both of which show a uniquely cinematic conception of mise-en‐ scène. By far the most impressive film of the period, and the last important one made before the October Revolution, was lakov Protazanov's production of Lev Tolstoi's Father Sergius (Otets Sergii, 1918),

____________________
*
The city's more Germanic name, "St. Petersburg," had been changed to "Petrograd" when Russia entered the war against Germany in 1914. In 1924 it was renamed "Leningrad" by the Bolsheviks. "St. Petersburg" was restored in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

-130-

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