Alphaville Videoteca

Early Russian Cinema, Vol. 1 & 2: Beginnings & Folklore and Legend (1908-1912)

Rusia. Cortometraje. 83 minutos
Título Original: Early Russian Cinema, Vol. 1 & 2: Beginnings & Folklore and Legend
Director: Pathé Frères, V. Romashkov, Kai Hansen, André Maître, Kai Hansen, Vladimir Siversen, Vasilii Goncharov,
Formato: DVD  Calidad: DVD
Idioma: Silente   Subtítulos: Inglés

Early Russian Cinema Volume One: Beginnings

- A FISH FACTORY IN ASTRAKHAN (Zavod rybnykh konservov v Astrakhani). Production Company: Pathé Frères (Moscow). Picturesque Russia series 1908. Restored by A. Khakimov, 1957.
A Fish Factory in Astrakhan is part of the Pathé Frères series “Picturesque Russia,” typical of their efficient documentary style. The company had established a Moscow equipment and sales office in 1904, which also rented their French-made films to Russia’s burgeoning cinema network. It was the emergence of Drankov as the first self-declared indigenous producer that prompted Pathé to start production in Russia in February 1908.

- STEN’KA RAZIN. Director: V. Romashkov. Screenplay: Vasilii Goncharov. Based on the song “From the Island to the Deep Stream.
Sten’ka Razin has the distinction of being the first Russian dramatic production — a tribute to the determination of its producer, Aleksandr Drankov. When his first seventeen actualities failed to win serious attention in early 1908, he answered the widespread call for Russian-made films with Sten’ka Razin. This account of the popular brigand leader who dallied with a captured Persian princess was adapted from a traditional ballad “From the Island to the Deep Stream” and Drankov commissioned original music to accompany his film from no less than Ippolitov-lvanov, then head of the Moscow Conservatoire. Energetic promotion ensured the film’s commercial success and launched Drankov’s career as a producer.

- PRINCESS TARAKANOVA (Kniazhna Tarakanova). Directors: Kai Hansen and André Maître. Based on the play by lppolit Shpazhinskii. Production Company: Pathé (Moscow)-Film d’Art SAPF.
Princess Tarakanova marked the arrival of the film d’art formula in Russia. By this time, the original Film d’Art company had become a subsidiary of Pathé, but its first success, The Assassination of the Duc de Guise (1908), remained a prestige model for films aimed at “cultured” audiences with their lavish attention to costume, decor and theatrical acting. This first Russian example was based on a play about the martyred Princess and boasted a cast of well-known actors.

- ROMANCE WITH DOUBLE-BASS (Roman s kontrabasom). Director: Kai Hansen. Production Company: Pathé Frères (Moscow).
“If we are not mistaken, this is the first cinema interpretation of Chekhov’s works. And one must give them their due — they have treated it with all the respect owed to the name of Anton Pavlovich. This excellently acted film is further distinguished by the striking purity and richness of the photography and the beauty of the locations in which the action takes place.’’ (Sinefono, 1911, no.2)

Russian cinema’s pioneer producer was an ambitious photographer with international connections — serving as correspondent for both The Times and the Paris L’Illustration — before he turned to cinema in 1907. After a series of newsreels on aspects of Russian life, he attempted unsuccessfully to film Pushkin’s Boris Godunov in 1907 as the first indigenous dramatic production. Undeterred, he produced Sten’ka Razin and set the tone of his subsequent career with its vigorous promotion. Competing furiously with his main competitor Khanzhonkov over the next ten years, Drankov lost no opportunity to scoop his rivals — whether securing intimate coverage of such celebrities as Tolstoy and Gorkii or rushing out “spoiler” versions of their subjects as with his Tercentenary of the House of Romanov released on the same day in 1913 as Khanzhonkov’s Accession of the House of Romanov. By 1914, he had produced about 80 films and formed a partnership with the industrialist Putilov. His output remained populist, often vulgar, with a serial Light-fingered Son’ka (1914-16) among the major successes. In 1917, he fled the Revolution and eventually reached America where, after trying to enter Hollywood, he ended his career in obscurity running a photo-finishing company in San Francisco. KAI HANSEN and ANDRÉ MAÎTRE Hansen and Maître were two of the experienced directors sent by Pathé Frères in 1909 to organize the production of Russian subjects like Princess Tarakanova in an authentic setting. They brought foreign expertise and technicians, from whom Russian filmmakers soon began to learn. While Maître apparently remained aloof from Russian culture, Hansen took local advice from Goncharov, co-directing with him The Life and Death of Peter the Great (1910) and going on to make the first film adapted from Chekhov, Romance with Double-Bass. He also collaborated on Pathé’s major commemorative coproduction with Khanzhonkov, The Year 1812 (1912)

Early Russian Cinema Volume Two: FOLKLORE AND LEGEND

- DRAMA IN A GYPSY CAMP NEAR MOSCOW (Drama v tabore podmoskovnykh tsygan). Director/Screenplay/Photography: Vladimir Siversen. Production Company: Khanzhonkov & E. Osh.

- THE BRIGAND BROTHERS (Brat’ia razboiniki). Director/Screenplay: Vasilii Goncharov. Based on Pushkin’s poem. Production Company: Khanzhonkov. Unreleased

- A 16TH-CENTURY RUSSIAN WEDDING (Russkaia svad’ba XVI stoletiia). Director/Screenplay: Vasilii Goncharov. Based on the play by P. Sukhotin. Production Company: Khanzhonkov.

- RUSALKA. Director/Screenplay: Vasilii Goncharov. Based on the play by Pushkin. Production Company: Khanzhonkov.

1908 saw the belated start of Russian film production. Up to this point, imported films from France, America, Britain, and the other main European producers had satisfied a rapidly expanding exhibition market. But there was also growing demand for truly Russian pictures — one which the entrepreneurial Drankov first tapped with his Sten’ka Razin, launched with a fanfare in October 1908. The producer who was to become his only real rival over the next ten years did not manage to release his first film until two months later and then it proved a commercial failure — “thus the dream of releasing Russia’s first picture on an everyday theme,” Khanzhonkov recalled in 1937, “failed to materialize.” Today, however, this simple gypsy tale has a plein air freshness and authenticity (it used real gypsies) which Sten’ka Razin lacks.

But this ex-cavalry officer was undaunted. Recruiting the determined Goncharov as his director, Khanzhonkov backed a group of three historical scenarios, of which Russian Wedding was one. Accounts of the filming reveal how little experience was available, but Goncharov’s attention to setting and costume — and his assistant Chardynin’s help with the actors — resulted in films that had immediate appeal, not least for nationalistic reasons.

Rusalka, based on Pushkin’s play about a prince and a mermaid, followed in Goncharov’s resolutely ornate style, with Fester once again creating a decor based on the popular narrative painting of the time. The film’s trick effects and surreal underwater set are less typical of Russian production and may reflect the popularity of Pathé’s trick films at this time. By 1911, when the unreleased Brigand Brothers was started, Goncharov’s pantomime style seemed dated. Yet with the future star Mozzhukhin already showing his quality, and superb locations around the Moscow River, he managed one of the most expressive of all early classic adaptations — in this case Pushkin’s epic poem.

Early Russian cinema’s foremost producer was a retired cavalry officer who moved from film distribution to production in the breakthrough year of 1908 — but delays in completing Drama in a Gypsy Camp prevented this from being Russia’s first dramatic film. Highly cultivated and well-connected — though soon locked in fierce competition with his rival Drankov — he continued with mainly folklore subjects and classic adaptations, having recruited Goncharov as his main director. Encouraged by the latter, he embarked on ambitious productions like The Defense of Sebastopol (1911) and The Year 1812, which established the pre-eminence of his company and allowed it to support Starewicz’s puppet animation and a scientific-educational department. From 1914, when Bauer became his leading director, the company was identified with sophistication and high production values. Khanzhonkov published a journal Pegas which promoted cinema’s place among the other arts. Abroad from 1918-23, he returned from exile as a consultant to Rus’-film and later suffered persecution before being awarded a state pension in 1934.

A civil servant until 1905, when he tried to enter literary circles, Goncharov was first attracted to literary and arthistorical aspects of cinema. He scripted Drankov’s Sten’ka Razin (1908) before joining Thiemann’s company, and then moving on to work with Khanzhonkov, who shared his cultural enthusiasm. But it was during brief spells with Pathé and Gaumont that he improved his directorial skills — The Dashing Merchant (1910) was considered a landmark historical film before he returned once again to Khanzhonkov for the commemorative spectaculars which were his final achievements: The Defense of Sebastopol, The Year 1812 (1912) and Accession of the House of Romanov (1913)