Tears and Laughter: Filmmakers in Early Russian Cinema Press

< Program > PANEL NO. 2: The Professionalization of Filmmaking

This paper is based on a corpus of texts in early Russian film periodicals (such as “Sine-Fono”, “Proektor”, etc.) that reflect the daily life of film studios (or film factories, as they were called at the time). Such texts were widely spread in the 1910s, but became relatively rare afterwards. They are always satirical and depict filmmakers as amateurish and ridiculous. In “Irochka’s Career” (“Kino-teatr”, 1918) a film director who was supposed to search for a gypsy love song exciting enough to be turned into a film, after drinking for three days and spending all his advance money at restaurants, invents a foolish story to convince the producer. The producer in “A Film Manufacturer’s Morning” (“Kine-zhurnal”, 1915) is so greedy that he refuses to purchase a toy stroller that is mentioned in the screenplay: “Here we go! Now I am supposed to consider the silly script. That’s all we needed! Some idle idiot writes rubbish, and we have to spend money!” The screenwriter in “Following the Inglorious Way” (“Kine-zhurnal”, 1915) is in reality a poor student who has to write a script for “Anna Karenina” in one day without even consulting the book.

These feuilletons as well as other satirical articles were supposed to ridicule some of the typical problems of the film factories. Most of them were written from the inside, because as a rule film journalists either worked at factories themselves or were strongly connected with those involved in the film industry. These people probably understood the main issue of unprofessionalism in cinema: not only were the filmmakers of the 1910s were by default amateurs, but they were always trying to do somebody else’s job and consequently neglect their own. Actors were rudely interfering in the make-up process, directors and producers were rewriting scripts, cinema owners acted as film editors, when they changed intertitles and rearranged whole sequences.

Individual texts of the 1910s satirize various phenomena in film factory life, but when brought together they demonstrate that the main problem of the film industry at the time was a lack of what we now call “division of labour”.

Anna Kovalova (European University of St. Peterburg)

Anna Kovalova is an associate researcher at the European University of St. Peterburg (Russia). She graduated from the Philological Faculty of St Petersburg State University in 2007 and received her PhD in philology in 2012. She is the author of Kinematograf v Peterburge 1896-1917 (with Yuri Tsivian, 2011) and Kinematograf v Peterburge 1907-1917: Kinoproizvodstvo i fil’mografia (2012) and the editor of a volume of screenplays by the Russian playwright Nikolai Erdman (2010). In 2015—2019 she taught film history and literature at Higher School of Economics (Moscow). As the head of the research team project “Early Russian Film Prose” together with a group of graduate and postgraduate students she has created the most complete electronic database of early Russian narrative film texts.