The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

East Central Europe Before the Second World War



The beginnings and subsequent development of cinematography in the countries of east central Europe share a number of common features. In what are now the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, and Poland (then partitioned between Austria, Prussia, and Russia) the first Lumière film shows took place in 1896, in keen competition with entrepreneurs using the apparatus of Thomas Alva Edison. 'Edison's men' arrived in Prague five days before Eugène Dupont, the representative of the Lumière brothers. The Lumière Cinématographe was first exhibited in Belgrade in May 1896, and in the Austrian sector of Poland in November of that year, though other Polish cities such as Poznaó, Warsaw, and Lvov were already familiar with the idea of animated photographs thanks to displays of Edison's Vitascope.

There were many pioneers working on the idea of animated photography in east central Europe, the most important being the Czech Jan Krizenecý, and the Poles Jan Lebiedzifiski, Kazimierz Prószyński, and Jan Szczepanik. This initial period of film development also saw the first theoretical works of Boleslaw Matuszewski, the Polish photographer and film operator resident in Paris: 'Une nouvelle source de l'histoire (création d'un dépôt de cinématographie historique)', and 'La photographie animée, ce qu'elle est et ce qu'elle doit être', published in March and August 1898 respectively. Emphasizing the significance of motion picture photography, its historical value and vast cognitive potential, Matuszewski was the first to postulate the need to create a comprehensive film archive, comprising every kind of film documentation.

In the countries of east central Europe, the first generation of people who worked with film were mainly stage actors, theatrical directors, journalists, professional photographers, and authors of popular literature. Pioneers of film production in Hungary included Mihály Kertész, an actor at the National Theatre, and the journalist Sándor Korda. After a decade and a half of film-making in Hungary (their film output between 1912 and 1919 comprised thirty-nine and twenty-four items respectively), they went on to work with distinction in film industries abroad; Kertész in America, under the name Michael Curtiz, and Korda in England, as Alexander Korda.

The first full-length feature films in east central Europe were created after 1910, at the same time as in Italy and France. In 1911, with the participation of artists from the Variety Theatre in Warsaw (then in the Russian sector) where he was both actor and director, Antoni Bednarczyk made the first Polish feature film entitled The History of Sin, based on the scandalous and highly popular novel by Stefan Z+́eromski. A further ten feature films were made in the same year, including three in Yiddish. By the outbreak of the First World War, over 50 full-length feature films, and some 350 shorts (fiction, news films, documentaries) had been produced by the three sectors of partitioned Poland.

In Hungary, the first 'artistic film drama' was directed in 1912 by Mihály Kertész from a screenplay by Ivan Siklosi and Imre Roboz, and entitled Ma es holnap ('Today and tomorrow'). The main roles were played by Artur Somlay and Ilona Aczel, actors from the National Theatre, and Mihály Kertész himself (from the Hungarian Theatre). The film's première, on 14 October 1912, is generally considered to be the birth of Hungarian cinema. The greatest success of Czech feature production was the screening of Bedr+̌ich Smetana's opera The Bartered Bride, directed by Oldrich Kminak ( 1913). In Belgrade, the first feature film involving the participation of actors was produced in 1910. Entitled Karadjordje, it was directed by a Serb, I. Stojadinović, the camera operator being Jules Berrie, a Frenchman from the firm of Pathé.

The period before the First World War also saw the founding of the first indigenous film production companies, most notably Antonin Pech's Kinofa ( 1907-12) and Max Urban's Fotokinema (later ASUM) in Prague, and Aleksander Hertz's Sfinks in Warsaw. A cinema network was well developed, especially in the big cities, where films were the most popular and accessible form of entertainment. Before 1914, over 300 permanent cinemas were in operation on Polish territory. One hundred and fourteen cinemas were opened in Budapest in 1913 alone. Film magazines soon began to appear: A kinematograf ( 1907), Mozgofenykep hirado ( 1908), and the film periodicals published by Korda, Pesti mozi ( 1912), Mozi ( 1913), and Mozihet ( 1915-19) in Hungary; the Polish Kino-teatr i sport ('Cinematheatre and sport', 1914) and Scena i ekran ('Stage and screen', 1913). Like the films of the time, they show the mutual penetration of élite and mass culture.


The advent of the First World War influenced the development of these national cinemas to an uneven extent. Both Serbia and Croatia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) mainly produced films reporting on military


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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823


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