The Birth of Cinema in the Russian Empire and Film Censorship

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Abstract

The article analyses two closely interrelated research topics: the nature of pre-revolutionary film censorship and the question of the beginnings of cinema in Russia. Early film censorship cannot be studied without considering the arrival of cinema, and, vice versa, since the birth of cinema in the Russian Empire is related to the first cases of censorship. The author argues that the widely accepted date of 1907/8 as the starting point needs to be revised. Even before large-scale commercial production and distribution of feature films such as Sten’ka Razin, in different parts of the Russian Empire ample evidence of growing enthusiasm for the recording of movement can be found. Engineers, inventors, photographers, and showmen became fledgling filmmakers. The author bases her argumentation on the birth of cinema in Russia mainly on examples dating back to the 19th century. During the festivities of Nicholas’ II coronation in May 1896 the French cinema apparatus clashed with the Imperial Police in Moscow. After Russian screenings of Lumières films containing a selection of moving images of the Emperor, the Russian court took matters in their hands and started producing their own Royal films - both private ‘home movies’ and those chosen for public screenings. This is the moment when a relatively stable, yet not public form of film production was established inside Russia continuing for two decades: the Tsar and his family being filmed by the court photographers Matuszewski, and later Jagielski. Some of these court film chronicles were also shown in cinema-theatres. The article also treats the reasons for the later suppression of these early Royal film production in Soviet historiography. While establishing a tight bond between Lenin and the film medium, Soviet film historians had to bury the pivotal role the Imperial court played in cinema’s beginning in Russia. After having been the first object of foreign actualities in Russia, Nicholas II became not only a patron of Imperial film productions; moreover, the interference of Court censorship, overseen by the Ministry of the Interior, made clear that films shown and produced in Russia would have to deal with several censorship institutions protecting the representation of the sacred and regulating the free flow of information. The earliest example is the police confiscating a camera with film material shot by Lumières film reporters in Khodynka in May 1896. At this very early stage a procedure is set for the rise to a development of practices of film censorship.

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 Abstract: The article analyses two closely interrelated research topics: the nature of pre-revolutionary film censorship and the question of the beginnings of cinema in Russia. Early film censorship cannot be studied without considering the arrival of cinema, and, vice versa, since the birth of cinema in the Russian Empire is related to the first cases of censorship. The author argues that the widely accepted date of 1907/8 as the starting point needs to be revised. Even before large-scale commercial production and distribution of feature films such as Sten’ka Razin, in different parts of the Russian Empire ample evidence of growing enthusiasm for the recording of movement can be found. Engineers, inventors, photographers, and showmen became fledgling filmmakers.

The author bases her argumentation on the birth of cinema in Russia mainly on examples dating back to the 19th century. During the festivities of Nicholas’ II coronation in May 1896, the French cinema apparatus clashed with the Imperial Police in Moscow. After Russian screenings of Lumi.re’s films containing a selection of moving images of the Emperor, the Russian court took matters in their hands and started producing their own Royal films — both private ‘home movies’ and those chosen for public screenings. This is the moment when a relatively stable, yet not public form of film production was established inside Russia continuing for two decades: the Tsar and his family being filmed by the court photographers Matuszewski, and later Jagielski.

Some of these court film chronicles were also shown in cinema-theatres. The article also treats the reasons for the later suppression of these early Royal film production in Soviet historiography. While establishing a tight bond between Lenin and the film medium, Soviet film historians had to bury the pivotal role the Imperial court played in cinema’s beginning in Russia. After having been the first object of foreign actualities in Russia, Nicholas II became not only a patron of Imperial film productions; moreover, the interference of Court censorship, overseen by the Ministry of the Interior, made clear that films shown and produced in Russia would have to deal with several censorship institutions protecting the representation of the sacred and regulating the free flow of information. The earliest example is the police confiscating a camera with film material shot by Lumi.re’s film reporters in Khodynka in May 1896. At this very early stage, a procedure is set for the rise to a development of practices of film censorship.

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About the authors

Natascha Drubek

Peter Szondi-Institut, Freie Universität Berlin, chief-editor journal Apparatus: Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe

Author for correspondence.
Email: editor@vestnik-vgik.com

Doctor of Philology, Associate Professor, Peter Szondi-Institut, Freie Universität Berlin, editor-in-chief, “Apparatus” journal: Film, Media and Digital Culture in Central and Eastern Europe

, Germany

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Copyright (c) 2017 Drubek N.L.

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