History of Cinema: The Rise of National Cinemas (1913-1919)

Atlantis, 1913

"The years before World War I marked a turning point in the history of the cinema. In 1913 alone, an extraordinary array of important feature films were made in Europe: in France, Léonce Perret's L'Enfant de Paris; in Germany, Paul von Woringen's Die Landstraße and Stellan Rye's Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague); in Denmark, August Blom's Atlantis and Benjamin Christensen's Det hemmelighedsfulde X (The Mysterious X); in Sweden, Victor Sjöström's Ingeborg Holm; in Italy, Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria (released in early 1914). Also in 1913 , the serial emerged as a major film form, and labor-saving techniques were introduced into animation.

During the midteens, the feature film was becoming standardized internationally. A few directors brought Swedish cinema into a "golden age" that would last into the 1920s. Some countries saw the creation and consolidation of major firms and studios that would dominate film history for decades; most crucially, the Hollywood industry was taking shape. In other countries, problems caused the decline of major industries. The war forced both France and Italy to reduce their high levels of film production. During this period, filmmakers around the world were exploring the expressive possibilities of film style. In its first decade or so, cinema relied on the display of action for its novelty value. Then, during the nickelodeon era, filmmakers tested ways of telling stories clearly. From about 1912 on, some directors increasingly realized that distinctive lighting, editing, acting, staging, set design, and other film techniques could not only clarify the unfolding of the action but also heighten the film's impact".[2]

"In August 1914, during these important changes, World War I began. Before World War I, the cinema was largely an international affair. Technical and artistic discoveries made in one country were quickly seen and assimilated elsewhere. The war had profound effects on the international cinema, some of which are still felt today. The war effort severely curtailed filmmaking in France, Denmark, and Italy which suffered a decline from prewar levels but managed to continue and improve on prewar traditions. American companies stepped in to fill the vacuum. As of 1916, the United States became the major supplier of films to the world market, and it has held that position ever since. Much of the history of world cinema has been bound up with the struggles of various national industries to compete with Hollywood's domination. The war also limited the free flow of films and influences across borders. A few countries were partially or wholly cut off from imports, yet the demand for films remained. Hence domestic production rose in such countries, especially Sweden, Russia, and Germany. In many cases, stylistic influences could not circulate so freely across borders. For example, the singular filmmaking practice that developed in Russia during the war had virtually no impact abroad and remained almost entirely unknown in the West for over seventy years".[2] The result was the isolation of several film-producing countries, where, for the first time, distinctive national cinemas evolved.

French Cinema

"During the early 1910s, the French film industry was still thriving. Many new theaters were being built, and demand was high. Although imported American films were beginning to encroach on the market, French production remained robust. In 1913, however, the largest company, Pathé Frères , took the first of several steps that ultimately would harm the French industry. It cut back on the increasingly costly production side of the business to concentrate on the profitable areas of distribution and exhibition. In the United States, French films were being squeezed out by the growth of independent firms. Pathé dropped its membership in the Motion Picture Patents Company, forming an independent distribution firm in 1913. This firm released several widely successful serials during the 1910s, including The Perils of Pauline (1914)".[2] "As early as 1907, Pathé began releasing a comic series entitled Boireau, named after a recurring character played by André Deed. Boireau's success soon led to other comic series (especially after Deed left France to work in Italy as Cretinetti).

Two stood out above the rest. One was Rigadin, starring Charles Prince as a parodic white-collar Don Juan; Le nez de Rigadin (Rigadin's Nose, 1911), for instance, ruthlessly mocks his large upturned nose, one of the comic's singular assets. The other starred Max Linder, usually as a young bourgeois dandy, and quickly made him 'the king of the cinematograph'. Skilful, cleverly structured gags distinguish Linder's work from La petite rosse (The Little Vixen, 1909) through Max victime du quinquina (Max Takes Tonics, 1911) to Max pédicure (1914).

Max et sa belle-mère (1911)

So popular was the comic series that Éclair, Eclipse, and Lux all made them a regular part of their weekly programmes. The one variation on this strategy came from Éclair. Victorin Jasset's Nick Carter series (1908-10) drew its formula from the American detective dime novels just being translated into French and proved such a success that Éclair soon adapted others, making the male adventure series a trademark of its production." [1]

"Unlike Pathé, Gaumont expanded production in the years just before the war. Two important Gaumont directors, Léonce Perret and Louis Feuillade, did some of their best work during this period. Perret had come to fame in 1909 as a comic actor, directing his own series of "Léonce" films. During the mid-1910s, he also made some major features. L'enfant de Paris (Child of Paris, 1913) and Roman d'un mousse (Tale of a Cabin Boy, 1914) were intensely melodramatic narratives of abducted children. They were notable for their beautiful cinematography, including skillful location filming and an unusual use of backlighting. Perret also varied his camera angles considerably and broke scenes down into more shots than was then typical. He thus helped expand the cinema's expressive possibilities. Perret's style became more formulaic later on, when he worked in Hollywood in the second half of the decade and returned to France to make historical epics in the 1920s. Feuillade continued to work in a variety of genres, including comedies and a naturalistic series, La vie telle qu'elle est (Life as It Is, 1911). His main achievements, however, were in the new serial format.

Mères françaises (1917)

Despite Pathé's and Gaumont's dominance of French production, they made no attempt to monopolize the industry, and smaller companies coexisted peacefully with them, staying in business by specializing in certain types of films",[2] as Film d'Art and SCAGL, companies with close ties to prestigious Paris theatres. "The general mobilization orders in early August 1914 brought all activity in the French cinema industry to an abrupt halt. Until recently, it has been customary to use the war to explain the decline of the French vis-a-vis the American cinema industry. Although there is some truth to that claim, the French position had been weakening before the war began. By 1911, for instance, under pressure from MPPC restrictions and the 'independent' companies' expansion, Pathé's portion of the total film footage released in the USA had dropped to less than 10 per cent. By the end of 1913, in both numbers of film titles and total footage in distribution, the French were losing ground to the Americans on their own home territory. The war simply accelerated a process already well under way, and its most devastating effect, other than cutting off production, was severely to restrict the export market on which the French companies so heavily depended for distributing their films".[1]

"By the end of 1914, it had become apparent that the fighting would continue for quite a while, and some theaters reopened. Although Pathé, Gaumont, Éclair, and Film d'Art all resumed production in early 1915, wartime restrictions on capital and material forced them to operate at a much reduced level and to rerelease popular pre-war films. Newsreels became more important, and all the firms made highly patriotic fiction films, such as Mères françaises (French Mothers, 1917) which posed Sarah Bernhardt at Joan of Arc's statue before the ruined Rheims cathedral.

Furthermore, they faced an 'invasion' of imported American and Italian films which quickly filled French cinemas, one of the few entertainment venues to reopen and operate on a regular basis. French intellectuals and the general public alike adored the new American stars they discovered during the war: Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, and Lillian Gish. Serial queen Pearl White was idolized in France after the release of Les mystères de New York, the French title of her second Pathé serial, The Exploits of Elaine (1914). Writer Philippe Soupault suggests how suddenly and intensely American films affected Parisian viewers:

Then one day we saw hanging on the walls great posters as long as serpents . At every street-corner a man, his face covered with a red handkerchief, leveled a revolver at the peaceful passersby. We imagined that we heard galloping hoofs, the roar of motors, explosions, and cries of death. We rushed into the cinema, and realized immediately that everything had changed. On the screen appeared the smile of Pearl White - that almost ferocious smile which announced the revolution, the beginning of a new world.

Pathé's response to the war was to focus its efforts on its American distribution wing, releasing films made by independent producers in the United States. With the huge success of The Perils of Pauline and subsequent serials, Pathé remained profitable. It was, however, no longer providing a stable leadership for French film production. Through its distribution, Pathé was also helping American films gain a greater share of the French market. During 1917, American films passed the 50-percent mark in French exhibition. Despite contributing to the onslaught of American films, as well as losing critical personnel like Max Linder to the USA, Pathé remained a major distributor of French product. Not only did the company support feature-length productions from SCAGL and Valetta, but it sought out new film-makers, notably the famous theatre director André Antoine. Pathé also provided financial backing to Film d'Art, where Henri Pouctal was joined by young Abel Gance".[2]

Les vampires (1915)

"Gaumont, by contrast, had to cut back its production schedule, especially after Perret left to work in the USA. Yet it maintained a strong presence in the industry, largely through Feuillade's popular, long-running serials as well as its circuit of cinemas (the second largest after Pathé's).

Although continuing to produce films, Éclair never fully recovered from the double blow of the war and a fire that destroyed its American studio and laboratories in April 1914. Eventually, the company reorganized into smaller components, the most important devoted to processing film stock and manufacturing camera equipment.

The French films available to spectators between 1915 and 1918 were somewhat different from before. Perhaps because it was now difficult for the French to laugh at themselves, at least as they had been accustomed to, the once prolific comic series almost disappeared. Pathé kept up the Rigadin series, but with fewer titles; Gaumont went on making Bout-de-Zan films and then concocted a series with Marcel Levesque. Production of large-scale historical films was also curtailed, unless they were conceived within a serial format, as was Film d'Art's Le comte de Monte Cristo (The Count of Monte-Cristo, 1917-18), directed by Henri Pouctal and starring Leon Mathot. Given French budget restrictions and the success of Pearl White's films, the serial became a staple of production, especially for Gaumont. There, Feuillade turned out one twelve-episode film per year, returning to the crime serial in Les vampires (The Vampires, 1915-16), then shifting to focus on a detective hero (played by Rene Creste) in Judex (1916) and La nouvelle mission de Judex (The New Mission of Judex, 1917).

Otherwise, patriotic melodramas were de rigueur, at least for the first two years of the war. Out of such melodramas developed the most advanced strategies of representation and narration in France, particularly in what Gance polemically called 'psychological' films. Some, like Gaumont's one-reel Têtes de femmes, femmes de tête (Heads... and Women Who Use Them, 1916), directed by Jacques Feyder exclusively in close shots, nearly passed unnoticed. But others were celebrated by Emile Vuillermoz in Le Temps and by Colette and Louis Delluc in a new weekly trade journal, Le Film. The most important were Gance's own Le droit à la vie (The Right to Life, 1917) and especially Mater Dolorosa (1917), both much indebted to Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat (1915) and starring Emmy Lynn. Through unusual lighting, framing, and editing strategies, Mater Dolorosa seemed to revolutionize the stylistic conventions of the domestic melodrama, perhaps most notably in the way everyday objects, such as a white window curtain or a fallen black veil, took on added significance through singular framing (or magnification) and associational editing. Both kinds of melodrama would provide the basis for some of the best French films after the war".[1]

Italy: Spectacle and Melodrama

"Italian cinema flourished in the first half of the teens. The success of exported films and the establishment of the feature film attracted talented people to the industry and led producing companies to compete energetically. Historical epics continued to have the most significant triumphs abroad. In 1913, Enrico Guazzoni's Quo Vadis? was an enormous hit and confirmed the epic as the main Italian genre. Quo Vadis? was followed in 1914 by one of the most internationally popular films of the era, Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria".[2]

Cabiria (1913)

"The majestic drama set against the background of the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage was by a wide margin the most lavish film made in that era. Pastrone, a gifted but reclusive figure, was the first producer to grasp the need for a sound managerial attitude to film production. Unlike other producers of the time, his background was modest: he had started out on a career in bookkeeping, but he came to combine his businesslike style with genuine artistic vision. He tried out new technical possibilities, such as a camera for amateurs designed to shoot four separate films using a single length of 35 mm. film divided into four segments; and 'stereoscopic' and 'natural colour' shooting which were tried, without success, for Cabiria. He acquired a fund of technical knowledge for his company by hiring an expert from Pathé whose forte was special effects, Segundo de Chom6n. He reorganized his company in 1910 with the adoption of a rigorous and efficient set of internal regulations, written out in detail and distributed to all employees. And finally, he secured a sound financial base thanks to the success of André Deed's comedies and to a number of 'sensational' films such as Tigris, by Vincenzo C. Denizot, produced in 1913 and inspired by the success of the French Fantômas series by Louis Feuillade. All these elements created for Pastrone the opportunity to develop and extend formal and expressive fields of research".[1]

One of the greatest aim of Cabiria "was to obtain the collaboration and support of the most famous intellectual figure of the era, Gabriele D'Annunzio. D'Annunzio agreed to write the intertitles for the film, and was even credited as its author. However, beyond its literary echoes and its weighty architectural apparatus, Cabiria offers stylistic and technological solutions which make it a pioneering, avant-garde work. Above all, it repeatedly uses long tracking shots which move across the scene. Although these had already been seen in earlier films, such as, among others, Le pickpocket mystifié (The Pickpocket Bewildered, 1911), Sumerki zhenskoi dushi (Twilight of a Woman's Soul, 1913) by Yevgeny Bauer, and Metempsicosi (Metempsychosis, 1913) by Giulio Antamora, the tracking shots of Cabiria perform a crucial narrative and descriptive function, and were filmed on a sophisticated system of tracks which allowed for remarkably complex camera movements".[1]

"With the emergence of the full-length feature, the Italian film industry underwent a further transformation. In order to make a profit on a smaller number of film shows, the exhibitors enlarged their halls, ticket prices went up, and so, in turn, did the directors' pretensions. From a popular spectacle, designed in large part for working-class audiences, cinema became a middle-class form of entertainment. One effect of this new situation, as in all the other major film-making countries, was the decline of the documentary and the comic short, which from this moment on became mere programme-fillers.

The outbreak of the First World War and the growing power of American cinema in the European market put an abrupt end to dreams of expansion of the Italian industry. The heavy commitment to the war effort required of the weak national economy diverted energies from other activities, and this draining of resources would only get worse in the aftermath of the disastrous defeat by the Austrians at Caporetto in 1917. A substantial part of the films which were made were dedicated to the theme of war, thus producing a brief resurgence of the documentary genre. Propaganda efforts even extended into comedy. Unlike in France, however,ltalian cinema was wholly unprepared for the demands thrown up by this new situation. The geographical and financial dispersal of production centres , the lack of any co-ordinated exhibition circuit. and the endemic disorganization of much of the production system meant that, at the first signs of difficulty, the industry was brought to its knees".[1]

One of the genres which may be seen as partly responsible for the decline had been born in the period before the war. "Several beautiful female stars became wildly popular. These were the divas ('goddesses'). They typically starred in what are sometimes known as frock-coat films-stories of passion and intrigue in upper-middle-class and aristocratic settings. The situations were unrealistic and often tragic, usually featuring eroticism and death, and were initially influenced by the importation of Asta Nielsen's German films. The diva films played up luxurious settings, fashionable costumes, and the heightened acting of the performers".[2]

Francesca Bertini and Lyda Borelli

"Ma l'amor mio non muore! (Love Everlasting, 1913), by Mario Caserini, was the signal forerunner of the genre, with its simplified and exaggerated appropriation of symbolism and decadentism. In the following decade, its influence was felt throughout Italian society. Lyda Borelli, the diva par excellence, set the standard of a style based more on the charismatic presence of the actress than on any technical or aesthetic qualities of the production. In her films the expressivity of the body was assigned a determining role. The characters played by Borelli - and by other divas such as Maria Carmi, Rina De liguoro, Maria Jacobini, Soava Gallone, Helena Makowska, Hesperia, Italia Almirante Manzini - are sensual, tormented figures, caught between frail melancholia and anxiety, expressed through mannered poses. They live in luxuriant and at times oppressively opulent surroundings, where excited glances and sharp movements mirror the excess of the costumes and scenery".[1] "Borelli's main rival was Francesca Bertini, whose 1915 Assunta Spina was a rare diva film set in a working-class milieu. Bertini went on to make a series of more luxurious films based on her star persona".[2]

The male equivalent of the diva was the strongman. The characters of Ursus in Quo Vadis? and of the slave Maciste in Cabiria started this trend. Maciste was played by a muscular dockworker, Bartolomeo Pagano. His character so fascinated audiences that Pagano went on to star in a series of Maciste films that lasted into the 1920s. Unlike Cabiria, these and other strongman films were set in the present rather than the historical past. This genre declined temporarily after 1923, as Italian filmmaking sank into crisis. The peplum film, or the heroic historical epic, often involving brawny heroes, resurfaced decades later with such films as Hercules (1958).

After the war, Italy tried to regain its place on world markets but could not make inroads against American films. In 1919, a large new firm called the Unione Cinematografica Italiana (UCI) attempted to revive Italian production. Its dependence on formulaic filmmaking, however, exacerbated the industry's decline during the 1920s".[2]

British Cinema: Competition from America

"In England, the key film genres rapidly codified themselves into the colonial romance, parody films, melodramas, and domestic comedies. Following Cecil M. Hepworth’s success with Rescued by Rover (1905), the English film industry rapidly sought to emulate the American production-line method, with generally unsatisfactory results".[3] "The rise to dominance of the multi-reel film shortly afterwards, and the distribution practices of American film companies. would leave the British trailing behind. The home industry suffered from the way a number of American companies 'tied in' British exhibitors. For example, the Gaumont Weekly of 28 August 1913 complained, 'Many theatres have exclusive contracts with the American manufacturers - a cheap way of supplying the theatre'. Almost coincident with the shift to multireel films as the industrial norm was the emergence of a star system in America. This was not the case in Britain, where even in the 1920s the only actresses who could be called British film stars were Chrissie White and Alma Taylor (particularly through their work with Hepworth) and Betty Balfour. Stars in general and male film stars in particular were significantly lacking, in a period when they were so central to the rise to dominance of the American film.

Despite the low esteem in which most British film productions were held, particularly in the international market-place, optimism remained high in the immediate post-war years in the British trade press, though the idea of a protection system, for example by the imposition of import quotas, was beginning to gain ground. But it was not only American distribution practices and lack of capitalization or a star system which hampered the potential success of the British film. At a time when American films were clearly beginning to exhibit the dynamic traits associated with continuity editing, British films were often marked by narrational uncertainty and the inability to construct a unified spatio-temporal narrative logic (the hallmarks of what we now call the classical Hollywood style).

Thus it was not only under-capitalization, or the lack of a star system, but also aspects of film form that made British films so uncompetitive with those of the United States. Reference to British films in the American trade press as 'soporific' can in large part be linked to issues of film form-lack of scene dissection and degrees of narrational uncertainty".[1] "Such productions were no match for American competition, and it was not until the late 1920s and the ascent of Alfred Hitchcock that the English film would truly begin to establish a national identity".[3]

Germany: The Wilhelmine Years and the WWI

Albert Basserman and Nelly Ridon in Der Andere (1913)

"Before 1912, the German film industry was relatively insignificant. Its films were not widely exported, and imports dominated its domestic market. The cinema also had a low reputation in Germany. During the early 1910s, reformers and censors attacked film as immoral. Theatrical and arts journals portrayed it as a lowbrow form of entertainment, primarily because competition from films had caused theater attendance to decline. In May 1912, organizations of playwrights, directors, and actors went so far as to boycott the cinema.

By late 1912, however, the boycott was broken, as film producers competed to sign those same playwrights, directors, and actors to exclusive contracts. Similarly, film firms sought to adapt prestigious literary works and to have established authors write original screenplays. During 1913 there arose the Autorenfilm, or 'authors' film'. The term author did not mean then what auteur means today - the director of the film. Rather, the Autorenfilm was publicized largely on the basis of a famous writer who had written the script or the original literary work from which the film was adapted. The director of the film was seldom mentioned. The Autorenfilm was, in effect, Germany's equivalent of the film d'art in France and other attempts at creating an artistic cinema. Similarly, stage stars were hired and featured prominently in the publicity for such films".[2] A few leading theatrical directors, most notably Max Reinhardt, worked briefly in the cinema directing two films, Die Insel der Seligen (The Island of the Blessed, 1913) and Eine venezianische Nacht (A Venetian Night, 1914), full of mythological and fairy-tale motifs which were liberally borrowed from Shakespeare's comedies and German fin-de-siécle plays.

"The Autorenfilm was established with Der Andere (The Other One, 1913), adapted from a drama by playwright Paul Lindau and starring a major theatrical performer, Albert Bassermann. Der Andere was reviewed favorably by theater journals. Another important Autorenfilm was Die Landstraße (The Country Road, 1913)".[2]

Cameraman Guido Seeber

"The most militant advocate of the author's film was the cinema owner and novelist Hanns Heinz Ewers, who with Paul Wegener and Stellan Rye made Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague, 1913), which, because of the motif of the double, has often been compared to Der Andere.[1] "For decades, Wegener was to remain a major force in German filmmaking. The Student of Prague is a Faust-like story of a student who gives his mirror image to a demonic character in exchange for wealth. The image dogs the hero and finally provokes a fatal duel. Aided by the great cameraman Guido Seeber, Rye and Wegener used special effects to create scenes of the student and his double confronting each other. The fantasy elements of this film would become a prominent trait of German cinema, culminating in the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s.

The Autorenfilm lent respectability to the cinema, but most of the films were not successful with the public, and the notion of basing films on works by famous authors declined during 1914. During the same period, however, the German industry was expanding. Domestic films were gaining popular success, largely due to the rise of the star system. Two very different female stars became widely known. The blonde Henny Porten was the ideal of German womanhood. Her films were soon export successes, and she was on the verge of becoming internationally famous as the war began. Her worldwide fame would finally come during the 1920s. The Danish actress Asta Nielsen had quickly caught on in Germany after moving there in 1911 and she had a great influence on acting styles in other countries. During the early years of the war, Germany continued to import films, especially from Denmark. Officials soon concluded, however, that the anti-German content of some of these films was hurting the war effort. In 1916, Germany banned film imports".[2]

Paul Wegener in Der Student von Prag

"With an import embargo in force, some firms suffered substantial losses before they were able to organize new sources of film supply. But there were also winners for whom the confiscation of property from the foreign firms operating in Germany, and the soaring demands for films, signalled a unique opportunity. A new generation of producers and producer-directors made their breakthrough, after the government had lifted the initial ban on cinema-going. Erich Pommer, a young sales representative for the French firms Gaumont and Éclair, seized his chance and formed Decla ('Deutsche Eclair'), which was to become the key producer of German quality cinema after the war. Among the new firms which flourished was that of producer-director Joe May, soon the market leader in detective serials and highly successful with his 'Mia May films', melodramas featuring his wife. In his case, too, it was the war years which laid the foundation of his post-war fame as Germany's chief producer of epics and spectaculars. Similarly, the director-producer Richard Oswald, one of the most competent professional film-makers of the 1910s, was later epitomized as 'war profiteer', when after the abolition of censorship in 1918 he spotted a niche for his highly successful 'enlightenment films' (moralizing sex melodramas). To give an indication of the scale on which the German film industry expanded during the war: in 1914, 25 German firms competed with 47 foreign ones; by 1918, the relation was 130 to 10.

The quality of German films from the war years has rarely been assessed impartially. Some featuring the war, and often dismissed as patriotic propaganda films or fieldgrey kitsch, turn out to be major surprises. An unusual blend of melodrama and lyricism can be found in Wenn Völker streiten (When Nations Quarrel, 1915) as well as several other films which take the war as subject (such as Alfred Halm's Ihr Unteroffizier (Their Non-commissioned Officer, 1915). Among the melodramas, the most extraordinary is Das Tagebuch des Dr. Hart (The Diary of Dr. Hart, 1916), directed by Paul Leni and funded by BUFA, the government-owned film propaganda unit. The story of two families with split political loyalties and crossed love interests, Das Tagebuch is an anti-tsarist propaganda film in the guise of championing Polish nationalism. But it also makes a strongly pacifist statement through the realistic battle scenes, the depiction of the wounded in field hospitals, and images of rural devastation.

However, films on war subjects were the exception. Directors like Joe May, Richard Oswald, Max Mack, and Otto Rippert would make an average of six to eight films a year, moving effortlessly between popular films (Sensationsfilme) and art films (Autorenfilme). Rippert's six-part Homunculus (1916), starring yet another Danish import, Olaf Fons, was the super-hit of 1916, and Oswald's Hoffmanns Erzählungen (Hoffmann's Tales, 1916), an adaptation of three E. T. A. Hoffmann stories, used outdoor locations most spectacularly. Both films have been seen as forerunners of that prototypical art cinema genre, the fantastic or 'expressionist' film, but they belong more properly to the multi-episode Sensationsfilme, not so different from Joe May's Veritas vincit (1919), which was Italian-inspired, and later parodied by Ernst Lubitsch, who himself acted in and directed about two dozen comedies, before he had his first international success with Madame DuBarry in 1919".[1]


"The First World War, which closed so many borders to film imports, was the golden age of the Russian film industry. Never before or since have Russian productions so dominated the Russian film market. During 1914-16 an introverted, slow manner was consciously cultivated by Russian directors and formulated by the trade press as a national aesthetic credo. The style was crystallized at Yermoliev's studio, which developed typical characters, the femme fatale, the victimized woman, the neurotic man - and a typical mise-en-scène - the motionless tableau with each character deep in thought. The tableau image became more important than the development of the plot. 'Psychological' mannerisms and slow action became obsolete in the radical change Russian film-making style was to undergo after 1917. In tune with the more general process of cultural reorientation taking place in Soviet Russia, the notion of a well-made plot (syuzhet) and rapid narrative became important in literature and film. The age of Lev Kuleshov with his accelerated editing and obsessive action was heralded by Proekt inzhenera Prayta (Engineer Prait's Project, 1918) - a film reflecting not so much changes in Russian society as filmmakers' reaction to the past decade of film production.

Ivan Mozzhukhin in Otets Sergiy (1919)

The best years of private production in Russia (1914-19) were marked by the increasing role of film fandom. Initially promoted as local counterparts of foreign stars ('our Psilander' Vladimir Maximov, or Vera Kholodnaya as 'Bertini of the North'), Russian names were soon found to be winning over the public. This led to fresh strategies in studio competition: some new studios emerged (like Kharitonov's) built entirely around enticing stars with established reputations. Alongside the trade journals, fan magazines started to appear. One titled Pegas, shaped like the 'thick' literary magazines, regularly offered aesthetic discussions of cinema as art and the contribution of individual film-makers. Thus the concept of a 'film director' with his or her individual career was formed. Yakov Protazanov was acclaimed for Pikovaya dama (The Queen of Spades, 1916), whose elaborate costumes and set design imitated Alexander Benois's drawings; his reputation as 'high art director' was confirmed by the success of Otets Sergiy (Father Sergius, 1919). Though less known among the general public, the 'wizard' of animated insects Ladislas Starewitch was the film-maker most in demand by the studios. However, among Russian directors he was the only one who managed to preserve partial independence; he had a small studio of his own and a free hand in his choice of subjects. In the eyes of their Soviet successors their pre-revolutionary reputations turned directors into 'bourgeois specialists' (spetsy). With the notable exception of the protean Protazanov, not one of them was able to make a comparable career in the new Russia".[1]


"Danish cinema had a profound and lasting influence on film production on an international scale. On a general level, their most significant contribution was in the development away from short-length narrative films to films of three, four, or even more reels - August Blom's Atlantis (1913), with a huge budget, ran to 2,280 metres of film, excluding intertitles - and in the cultural legitimization of cinema, which was encouraged by the appearance of established actors and actresses from classical theatre".[1] Blind Justice (1916), with director Benjamin Christensen playing Strongman John One of the most original and eccentric directors of the silent cinema also began working in the Danish industry. Benjamin Christensen started as an actor at the small Dansk-Biograf Kompagnie in 1911 and soon became president of the firm. The first film he directed Det hemmelighedsfulde X (The Mysterious X, 1914), was one of the most astonishing directorial debuts in film history; although a routine spy melodrama, the camerawork, cutting and art direction were revolutionary for the period using stark sidelighting and backlighting which created silhouette effects. Christensen himself played the main role, as he did in his second film, Hævnens nat (Night of Revenge, or 'Blind Justice', 1916). Once again, Christensen portrayed a man wrongly accused of murder, and the artistic quality of his sophomore effort was equal to his first, adding tracking shots that intensify the suspense. Despite the success of his first two films, Christensen did not find acceptance within the Danish film industry, and after Blind Justice he returned to the stage. Between 1918 and 1921, Christensen researched the history of necromancy as background for his next and greatest film, the Swedish produced Häxan (The Witches, or 'Witchcraft Through the Ages', 1922), filmed in Denmark and one of film history's most original works; it was a mixture of cultural history slide show and historical reconstruction of the history of witchcraft from the Middle Ages to the present. Carl Theodor Dreyer once described Christensen as 'a man who knew exactly what he wanted and who pursued his goal with uncompromising stubbornness'. After many decades of relative obscurity, Christensen is now recognized as the second most important Danish silent film director after Dreyer himself.

World War I had a mixed effect on the Danish cinema. "Initially Denmark benefited, since, as a neutral northern country, it was in a unique position to furnish films to markets like Germany and Russia, which were cut off from their normal suppliers. The period of greatness for Ole Olsen’s company was waning, but it was only after 1916 that the disaster became a reality. Still, in 1915, 143 films were released. But in 1916 Germany banned film imports. In 1917, the Russian Revolution eliminated that market, and the United States cut back on its imports from Denmark. During the 1910s, many top Danish directors and actors were also lured away, mainly to Germany and Sweden".[2] "Danish film historians cite artistic as well as structural reasons for the decline. Ole Olsen exploited successful concepts to the extent that they became stereotyped. The market potential was simultaneously shrinking, among other things as a result of the foundation of the state-owned UFA in Germany. In 1917 film production was discontinued, and when it resumed after the peace of 1918 it began from nothing. Denmark was never to regain her position on the international market".[4]


"In 1912 Sweden began producing a string of innovative, distinctive films. Remarkably, most of these were made by only three directors: Georg af Klercker, Mauritz Stiller, and Victor Sjöström. Moreover, the Swedish cinema initially had little impact abroad, and so its filmmakers were working without the larger budgets made possible by export. Sweden was among the first countries to create a major cinema by drawing deliberately on the particular traits of its national culture. Main gate of Svensk Filminstustri's Filmstaden studio Swedish films were characterized by their dependence on northern landscapes and by their use of local literature, costumes, customs, and the like. After the war's end, their specifically Swedish qualities made these films novel and popular in other countries.

The success of Nordisk in Denmark had been one inspiration for the formation of a small Swedish firm, the Svenska Biografteatern, in 1907. It eventually would form the basis of the leading Swedish film firm, still in existence. Located in the small provincial city of Kristianstad, the firm was initially a theater chain".[2] "The founders’ concept was to supply their own theatres with films made by the company. In 1909, Charles Magnusson took over its management and built it into the country's main production company. That summer three short features were made: Värmänningarne (The People of Värmland), Bröllopet på Ulfåsa (The Wedding at Ulfasa) and Fänrik Ståls sägner (Tales of Ensign Stahl). The first two films were the kind of rural melodramas often performed by the travelling theatre companies and the amateur theatrical societies. The attempts at lavish scenes which the film displays are embryos of the ambition that would characterize the later work of Svenska Bio.

Charles Magnusson realized that an important condition for expansion in the film industry was to move to the capital, which he did in 1911. After moving to Stockholm, Svenska Bio built Sweden’s first real film studio on Lidingö, one of the islands surrounding the capital. Magnusson separated production and administration by personally managing the business from his office on Kungsgatan 24, while directors employed for this purpose were put in charge of production".[4] "The first director hired was Georg af Klercker, who became head of production. That same year, actors Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjöström were hired to boost Svenska's production. All three directed, wrote scripts, and acted making many short films with modest budgets during the next few years".[2]

"The outbreak of war created favourable conditions for the company in a country that succeeded in staying out of any military interventions. The war caused a scarcity of film in the countries involved: they not only encountered problems with production personnel and facilities, but they also ran out of raw materials. The Swedes were also favoured politically by the fact that their competitor Denmark’s previously popular films were rejected by the Allies: Denmark had close business connections with Germany and this was not approved of by France and Britain.

Georg af Klercker

When the market ran into difficulties shortly after the end of the war, the resources and professional know-how of Svenska Bio were such that the step into a new phase was possible. The film industry was quick to disassociate itself from melodramas which took place in upper-class settings and ventured into new thematic territories: copying from Danish companies was no longer of interest, but the ambition was to break new ground not only on a narrative level but - as would become apparent - stylistically as well. A successful formula was to be found in topics that would appear familiar to the domestic audience, but which were conceived as exotic by the international audience. Domestically, recognition was an important part of the experience, while abroad there was an apparent need for confirmation of foreigners’ ‘otherness’. This strategy partly involved the filming of a number of known and appreciated literary works written by Nordic authors: among them August Strindberg’s popular play Hemsöborna (The People of Hemsö, 1919), Sången om den eldröda blomman (Mauritz Stiller, 1919) - based on the Finnish sensationalist novel by Johannes Linnankoski - and many others".[4]

"The first director at Svenska Bio, Georg af Klercker, did not get on well with Magnusson and quit in 1913. He then worked at smaller production firms, primarily Hasselbladfilm (founded in 1915). There he was the undisputed leader, directing most of the firm's output. Af Klercker made comedies, crime thrillers, war films, and melodramas, usually with fairly conventional stories. In all of them, however, he displays a distinctive eye for landscape, light, and a variety of framing within scenes. His films contain some of the most beautiful sets of this period, defined by simple lines but richly furnished with details. From 1918 to 1919, Hasselblad went through mergers that made it a part of Svenska Bio, which then became Svensk Filmindustri (the name it has kept ever since). At that point af Klercker gave up filmmaking to go into business.

Sir Arne's Treasure final scene

Af Klercker's more famous colleagues, Stiller and Sjöström, both stayed at Svenska, directing, acting, and writing scripts. They were extremely prolific until both went to Hollywood, Sjöström in 1923 , Stiller in 1925. Unfortunately, however, most of the negatives of the films made by Svenska were destroyed in a fire in 1941. This disaster, one of the most tragic losses among many nitrate fires, means that few of Svenska's early films have survived. Most existing prints of Stiller and Sjöström films have been copied from early positive release prints; hence their visual quality is often mediocre. Still, even such prints indicate the films' high artistic merits.

So many of Mauritz Stiller's early films are lost that it is difficult to judge his career before the mid-1910s. He is mainly remembered for the urbane wit of several films he made between 1916 and 1920, as well as for his adaptations of the works of Nobel prize-winning Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf. Stiller's most famous film, a tragedy set in Renaissance-period Sweden, Herr Arnes pengar (Sir Arne's Treasure, 1919) was adapted from a Lagerlöf story. Stiller made both comedies and dramas. In 1920, he directed Erotikon, often credited as the first sophisticated sex comedy. Erotikon may well have influenced German director Ernst Lubitsch, who later became famous for clever sexual innuendo in his films in Hollywood in the 1920s. Stiller also adapted another Lagerlöf novel in his two-part epic, Gösta Berlings saga (The Story of Gosta Berling, 1924) which contains several remarkable scenes and performances; among these is the first major role of the young Greta Garbo. She was discovered by Stiller, and they both soon went to Hollywood, where her career was more successful than his.

Young Greta Garbo in Gösta Berlings saga

Victor Sjöström was one of the most important directors of the entire silent era. His style was austere and naturalistic. He used restrained acting and staged scenes in considerable depth, both in location shots and in sets. His narratives frequently traced in great detail the grim consequences of a single action. Sjöström's early masterpiece, Ingeborg Holm (1913), for example, begins with a happy middle-class family; the father suddenly falls ill and dies, and the plot follows the wife 's descent into poverty and madness as she struggles vainly to keep her children. The film consists primarily of lengthy shots that hold on a series of actions that unfold within deep spaces. The slow, steady pace conveys a remarkable impression of the heroine's decades of misfortune, despite the fact that Ingeborg Holm lasts only about seventy minutes.

In Terje Vigen (A Man There Was, 1917) the narrative traces out again the long-term results of an event, suggesting an implacable fate guiding the characters. It also demonstrates Sjöström's mastery of landscape as an expressive element in the action".[2] "This film also established the term ‘literary cinema’ in Sweden. By connecting the feature film with appreciated works of fiction, it was obviously the intention to raise the low status of the medium".[4]

The Phantom Chariot (1921)

"Landscapes were also prominent in Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru (The Outlaw and His Wife, 1918). The war had restricted exports of Swedish films, and The Outlaw and His Wife was the first to burst onto the international scene. Even more successful was Sjöström's 1921 film Körkarlen (The Phantom Chariot), again adapted from Lagerlöf. It uses remarkably complex means to tell the story of a drunken lout who nearly dies in a cemetery at midnight on New Year's Eve. He is given a chance to ride a ghostly carriage driven by death and witness how his behavior has ruined the lives of two women who love him. The ghostly superimpositions (accomplished entirely in the camera during filming) were some of the most elaborate yet attempted. Similarly, the story was told in an intricately interwoven set of flashbacks that became highly influential in European cinema of the 1920s. The Phantom Chariot quickly came to be considered a classic and was often revived.

Ironically, the very success of the Swedish cinema abroad contributed to its decline. After about 1920, Svenska concentrated on expensive prestige pictures designed for export. Only a few of these, like The Story of Gosta Berling, were artistic successes. Sjöström's and Stiller's growing reputations led Hollywood firms to lure them away from Svensk Filmindustri. Moreover, other countries were entering the international marketplace, and the small Swedish cinema could not compete. After 1921, film production in Sweden fell precipitously".[2]


In 1912 Japanese cinema was actively engaged in producing and exhibiting films for an increasingly voracious audience. Larger theaters, uniformed usherettes, higher admission prices, and the establishment of a trust organization that merged four top production companies, leading to the formation of Nikkatsu Studios - set the tone for the monopolistic practices that helped the Japanese cinema grow and develop along organized Fordist models of mass production, economies of scale, and contract labor. Nikkatsu produced both scores of shinpa (New School) or gendai-geki (modern drama) films and kyuha (Old School) or jidai-geki (period drama) films. The New School films dealt with contemporary subjects, often adapted from newspaper serials or foreign fiction in a melodramatic style. The Old School was constituted in most cases, by sword-play films in which people in historical costume appeared, set in the periods before the Meiji restoration. The Old School was always based around a superstar; with stars like Matsunosuke Onoue in the 1910s and, even more importantly, Denjirô Ô kôchi (1898–1962) under the direction of Daisuke Ito (1898–1981) at Nikkatsu and Tsumasaburo Bando (b. 1950) working for Shozo Makino (1878–1929) and his son Masahiro Makino (1908–1993), the jidai-geki became a foundational genre for the Japanese cinema - a status it would retain well into the 1970s.

Daisuke Ito in 1928

"As soon as Nikkatsu was established, several anti-trust companies were also formed. Among them, Tenkatsu, established in March 1914, became the most competitive rival to Nikkatsu. Tenkatsu, who imitated Nikkatsu by making both Old School and New School films, also produced rensa-geki, or 'chain drama', a combination of stage play and cinema using films for the scenes that were difficult to represent live on the stage. The live action and filmic images alternated in a 'chain' fashion. After one scene was played by actors on the stage, the screen descended and the next scene was projected on to it for several minutes, and then the actors played on the stage again. Tenkatsu was unusual in employing actresses for these films as early as 1914".[1]

If the reliance on rensa-geki was short-lived as films got a bit longer and audiences became more willing to experience film for its own sake, the benshi became virtually institutionalized. Some argue that the relative lateness of sound's arrival in the Japanese cinema (1931) and audiences' willingness to continue to patronize so-called silent cinema was owed to the popularity of the benshi, as well as to their numerical strength. In 1927 there were, for example, over seventy-five hundred registered film narrators - testimony to both their popularity and clout. For commentators as otherwise different as Nöel Burch and Joseph L. Anderson, the benshi is in many ways the primary reason that the Japanese cinema developed unique storytelling procedures, shooting styles, and pacing. Certainly, it endowed the Japanese cinema with an available tradition where psychological realism and tightly controlled plotting give way to a series of intense scenes and revealing moments; of narrative ellipsis; flat staging; and, for all that, longer films that reproduce the pacing and techniques of Kabuki and Bunraku. Naturally, there are other traditions of Japanese art and culture from which the cinema has drawn, including the novel and painting, but some might argue that a good deal of Japanese cinema's uniqueness stems from this theatrical orientation.

But it was in the realm of the gendai-geki and its numerous subgenres, such as the tendency film (or keiko eiga, which depicts contemporary social problems and issues treated from a generally leftist perspective), the nansensu (nonsense) comedies, and especially the shomin-geki (stories of the lower-middle class), that the Japanese cinema truly flourished, for it was here that most of the great actors, actresses, writers, and directors of the day made their mark on world cinema history.

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