Film studios of pre-revolutionary Russia: “The first cinematographic studio in Russia”
At the end of the 19th century, the Sevastopol photographer Alexander Drankov moved to St. Petersburg and founded his own studio there. By the mid-1900s, he had over 50 ateliers. Drankov became one of the most popular photographers in Russia and even received the title of “Supplier of the Court of His Imperial Majesty” for his portraits of Nicholas II.
In 1907 Alexander Drankov visited France and Great Britain. Abroad, he attended film shows, and after returning to Russia, he decided to found “the first cinematographic studio in Russia”, which was named “Drankov’s Trading House”.
The studio’s first films were documentaries. Drankov hired cameramen who chronicled the First Russian Revolution of 1905–1907.
In 1907, the studio began to shoot the first feature film the tragedy “Boris Godunov” based on the book by Alexander Pushkin. However, it was not completed. The creators of the tape did not yet understand how to properly arrange the scenery, and the actors how to behave in the frame.
In cinemas “Boris Godunov” was shown. The film was released in unfinished form under the title “Scenes from Boyar Life”.
The very next year Drankov shot the film “The Laughing Freedom” (“Stenka Razin”). The tape is considered the first short film of the Russian Empire. Because of the picture, a dispute over copyright arose: initially Drankov created film illustrations for the play directed by Vasily Goncharov, and then made a film from these frames. After the premiere of the picture, Goncharov filed a lawsuit against Drankov. However, according to the legislation of those times, scripts were not considered a literary work, so the court did not satisfy Goncharov’s claim.
Drankov also created the first detective series in Russia a film of eight episodes “The Adventures of the Famous Adventurer Sofia Bluestein”. To promote this and his other tapes, he began to print postcards with frames from paintings.
The world’s first cartoon
The second Russian film studio was founded by Alexander Khanzhonkov, a retired military man. In 1906, he visited the cinema for the first time, and after that he decided on his retirement to open the A. Khanzhonkov and Co. For several years, the company’s employees have been buying foreign feature films abroad and translating them into Russian. And in the very studio of Khanzhonkov, they produced short films about Russian nature. The first feature film of the trading house was released in 1909. In the short film “Drama in the Gypsies Camp near Moscow,” Khanzhonkov starred the actors for the first time.
Since 1909, Vasily Goncharov began to cooperate with Alexander Khanzhonkov. For the trading house, he created the films “Song of the merchant Kalashnikov” and “The Enchantress”. While working on the painting “Russian Wedding of the 16th Century,” Goncharov demanded that each episode be filmed for a certain amount of time he walked around the set with a stopwatch. The actors did not have time to prepare for new scenes.
Then Khanzhonkov came up with a new position: for the first time in the history of Russian cinema, Goncharov had an assistant director. He supervised the filming process. In 1911, Goncharov proposed to shoot the first feature-length film in Russia, Defense of Sevastopol, at the studio. Khanzhonkov did not want to invest his own funds in the picture, so the director went to St. Petersburg to see the emperor. Nicholas II allocated money for filming. By his order, regular units of the Russian army participated in the battle scenes of the tape.
The following year, the studio released the world’s first puppet cartoon “The Beautiful Lucanida, or the War of the Barbel with the Stag”. In it, the director Vladislav Starevich parodied the then popular historical pictures about the life of aristocrats. All cartoon characters are insects. Starevich himself made their dolls from the dried bodies of beetles, plasticine and wire. The director used a time-lapse technique. He thought out in advance all the movements of the dolls, divided them into several phases, each of which he filmed separately.
Due to Starevich’s unusual technique, the cartoon has become popular both in Russia and abroad.
First news releases and adaptation of classic literature
In 1909, Paul Timan, a descendant of a wealthy German family from Yuriev (now Tartu, Estonia), founded another Russian film company.
In the early 1900s he lived in Paris and worked for the French film studio Gaumont. Two years later, Timan moved to Moscow and became an employee of the Russian branch of the same company. He filmed the first news almanacs short videos about important events in the Russian Empire.
The money for the creation of his own film company Timan was allocated by the tobacco manufacturer Friedrich Reinhardt, so the studio was named “Trading House P. Timan and F. Reinhardt”. In 1909, the factory released its first film, The Death of Ivan the Terrible, based on the plays by Alexei Konstantinovich Tolstoy. In this picture, the actor Yakov Protazanov made his debut, and the shooting was supervised by the cameraman Antonio Serrano invited from Italy. However, due to his mistake, the whole film turned out to be blurry. The operator incorrectly adjusted the camera, and the film was developed only a few months after the end of filming.
Joseph Ermoliev’s partnership: new camera techniques
In 1915, another film studio appeared in Russia “I. Ermoliev’s Partnership”. It was founded by the lawyer Joseph Ermoliev. In 1916, he lured Yakov Protazanov into his studio for a large salary 12 thousand rubles a year. Soon the actor Ivan Mozzhukhin passed from Khanzhonkov to Ermoliev.
In 1916, Protazanov filmed the novel by Alexander Pushkin “The Queen of Spades”. The main role in the film was played by Ivan Mozzhukhin. For the first time in the film they used new angles for the cinema of those years: “subjective camera” a view from the side of the character, a top view. In the same film, for the first time, a street scene was filmed in a pavilion, and not on location. The painting became one of the most popular in the 1910s.
Until 1918, Protazanov shot several more famous films at Yermoliev’s studio, including “The Prosecutor”, “Father Sergius” and “Satan Jubilant.” Ivan Mozzhukhin played the main role in all the director’s films.
In the early 1920s, Joseph Ermoliev emigrated. He settled in France, where he organized the Ermolieff-Cinéma company. It was used to translate Russian films for foreign distribution.
In 1936, for his services in the field of the French film industry, Ermoliev was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor. A year later, he moved to the United States, where he produced films in Hollywood for the rest of his life.
The first social dramas
Another film studio, Trading House Rus, was founded in 1915 by engineer Moisey Aleinikov and merchant Mikhail Trofimov.
In the first few years, the studio filmed classic literature. The films were shot by theater directors, including Leopold Sulerzhitsky and Alexander Sanin, and the roles were played by actors from the Moscow Art Theater.
The film company also created social dramas about the life of the poor. For the paintings, provocative subjects were often chosen, their heroes committed crimes, joined underground organizations and sects. In order to attract viewers, erotic scenes were even shown in the films.
In 1915, the trading house released the film “The Daughter of Tortured Poland” about the fate of a raped woman. The film is based on the short story “Mademoiselle Fifi” by Guy de Maupassant. Critics wrote negative reviews about the film: it was considered too dark.
In 1919, Alexander Sanin filmed the film “Polikushka” at the studio. It was based on Leo Tolstoy’s story of the same name about a peasant who lost his lady’s money. Actors Ivan Moskvin and Varvara Massalitinova performed their first roles in the film.
In 1920, the Mezhrabpom-Rus film company was created on the basis of the Rus trading house. In 1928, after the end of the New Economic Policy, the company was nationalized. Later it was transformed into the Film Studio. M. Gorky.