The beginning of the 20th Century was a very exciting time for the entertainment industry. It was a period when the making of films had gained a solid ground. People were awed by this new brand of entertainment where the actions of people could be captured on a device for them to view later. The United States, particularly Hollywood was at the forefront of this industry. It was ahead of other countries when it came to film production and, in fact, most of the first films were made in the 19th Century. However, the rest of the world was not left behind when it came to the cinema business and followed Hollywood in close heels. As the years progressed, the cinema business evolved to become larger, complex and more developed, and became widespread to other countries in the world. Russia was one of the countries where cinema caught on quite early. This business has continued to evolve throughout the years and although the cinema industry has not yet reached the standards of Hollywood, it has, however, managed to achieve quite a lot on its own. This paper aims to explore the main aspects of Russian cinema. It aims to look at what distinguishes Russian cinema from the cinema of the rest of the world, what have been the ups and down so this business and how the future looks for Russian cinema.
The history of Russian cinema can be traced back to the time of the Russian empire. The first two films shown in Russia were shown by the Lumiere brothers who played the films in the cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1896. The first Russian made film was Camille Cerf, made by one of the Lumiere cameraman who recorded the coronation of the Russian czar Nicholas II. This was then followed by the production of the first Russian film in narrative format titled “Stenka Razin” which was produced by Aleksandr Dronkov. The first animation film was made in 1910 by Ladislas Starevich. The Russian cinema industry continued growing even as the Russian Empire became the Soviet Union. The cinema industry continued developing in this era though it was under tight restrictions from the government. This was mainly because of the emergence of the state policy known as socialist realism that transcended from sculpture and painting and into the cinema business. Russian color films were first made after the Second World War. The period after World War II also saw a decrease in the restrictions of Russian cinema, particularly in the 1950’s and 60’s although censorship was still rife. Russian cinema saw even further development and advancement in the 1990’s with the emergence of new themes such as drug addiction, sexuality and alienation in the Russian society. This trend continued in the 21st Century and currently, Russian cinema continues to grow and evolve. Russian cinema continues to gain wider audience in the world and indeed a greater recognition. Several Russian films have won at awards the prestigious Academy Awards and Russian filmmakers have been widely recognized for their exemplary work. Another aspect that has brought Russian cinema into the limelight is the crossover of Russian actors and directors into Hollywood as well as collaborations between Russian cinema and the rest of the Western world. Timur Bekmambetov is one of the most famous Russian directors who have successfully made a smooth transition into the Hollywood business has directed several box office hits such as “Wanted” starring Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman and James McVoy. More collaborations re expected in the future and Russian cinema will continue growing and evolving.
One of the most distinctive aspects of any cinema business is the range of themes. In the early 20th Century, Hollywood was the leading film production center in the world. Films made in Hollywood during this period usually propelled themes and ideas that the director felt were congruent with the American nation and its citizens. The Hollywood film industry made consideration of the rest of the world and consequently, most of the themes and storylines of the films were America based. As a counter the inundation of the American cinema, other nations like Russia started developing films that exhibited nationalistic themes. One example of a Russian theme that was present during this era was of Religion particularly the representation of the Orthodox Church. Prior to the secular revolution, religion played a very big role in Russia and was, therefore, represented on film much more than was the case in Hollywood. For instance, in early Russian films produced before 1917, the Russian Orthodox church was often represented in films a peace preserver. It was depicted as a tool of enhancing society cohesion. The theme of religion continued even after the 1917 October revolution only that it took an opposite turn and the church started being represented in a negative light. The revolution resulted into the establishment of communism as the main form of governance. Naturally, the communist government was opposed to religion. In the Russian film developed after this period, the church was depicted as a foe to the flourishing and peace of people, which only the Bolsheviks rulers could bring to the nation. No longer could peace be simply brought about Church, but it could only be brought out by industrialization, radical reforms and an end to capitalistic clerical and imperialist rule. The Bolsheviks were notorious for using films to propagate these ideas. This continued throughout the existence of the Soviet Union. The communist did everything to restrict tools of cohesion such as religion and they did everything they could to restrict such vices. One of the prominent themes during this era was the spread of Nazi propaganda. The government encouraged the depiction of Nazis in films as agents of destruction and chaos who needed to be eliminated.
It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that theme of religion; particularly Russian Orthodoxy started being given a softer or sympathetic outlook by Russian filmmakers. The theme of religion started being depicted once again as a form of peace resource. From the 1920’s, Russian directors started experimenting with different themes but it was in a restricted manner mainly due to film censorship laws that were in existence.
In the modern day, Russian cinema is characterized by many themes that range from political, social and economic. The stakeholders in the Russian film industry have been given a new level of thematic freedom that was previously unimaginable to them.
In addition, Russian films have also started exploring political themes some of which may be taken to be anti-government. The reason some modern Russian directors have become so bold is due to the relaxation of censorship of films by the government. Directors have been a significantly unrestricted platform to work with. The provision of such a working environment where directors are free to explore on various themes that are at the core of the Russian society and that affect them on a daily basis will help to improve the Russian cinema industry. This industry has for a long time lagged behind in terms of content mainly due to limitations in term of the content allowed. In fact, such cinema liberalism in terms of themes and content has led to the recognition of Russian films in the international scene where they have won various awards.
Editing is one of the most important aspects of any filmmaking venture. The success of any film is hugely dependent on the final editing that is done on the film. Many questions have, however, been raised from the time of cinema’s inception about its complicated nature. Some of the potential answers to these questions have spawned even greater debates. One question that has been very persistent for instance has been the question of what essentially constitutes a film or what essentially makes a film. Some people such as Sergei Einstein, a famous Russian filmmaker who is usually referred to as the “Father of Montage” have claimed that the footage captured by cameras is simply raw material and nothing more. It is not until that raw material undergoes intensive editing that it eventually becomes a film. This is what is often referred to as the “Soviet Theory of Montage." David Griffith is often considered to be the pioneer of film editing. His editing techniques such as parallel editing techniques are what paved way for filsm with even more complicated editing that gave rise to films with better structure and sequence arrangement. Film editing in Russian has gone through various stages of evolution. The aspect of film editing in Russian can be traced back to Lev Kuleshov, a Russian director who came up with a relatively advanced brand of film editing that gained massive popularity in the film making industry. This was referred to as the “Kuleshikov Effect." Although various editing innovation for, example cross cutting were already existent in other film making industries, in the world such as Hollywood, Kuleshikov was the first director in Russia to utilize the unique technique. Kuleshikov held the belief that the unique aspect of a film that distinguishes it from any other is the brand and quality of editing that is done.He had the opinion that editing is a unique essence of the film making industry, which cannot in actual sense be duplicate on any other medium or form of entertainment. To him, the editing process of the film was similar to the construction of a building. The building (film) is erected brick by brick (in a film, shot-by-shot). He also held the view that montage could lead the audience or the viewers to adopting a particular conclusion about a certain action in the film.
Kuleshikov studied the works of editing pioneers such as Mack Sennet and David Griffith and introduced them to Russia. He explored the works of famous Hollywood directors who were renowned for their editing superiority and introduced them to Russian cinema. This is, in fact, one of the reasons why he is often referred to as the father of film editing in Russia. Kuleshikov particularly seemed to have a liking for the cross cutting effect which he tried to incorporate into his films as much as possible.
The Kuleshikov effect is still visible in some aspects of Russian cinema although it has continuously been improved and advanced with time. In a general sense, this technique involved editing a lot of scenes together with no regard to time, continuity or any special context. The Kuleshikov effect essentially propelled the idea that individual shots in a film do not need to have any meaning by themselves. The meaning of these shots results from juxtaposition with shots from other parts or settings. In more academic terms, the interframe features and characteristics take precedence over the intraframe characteristics and features. The overall implication is that editing is more vital in the creation or construction of shot or film meaning. One of the distinguishable aspects of Russian cinema that is directly attributable to the Kuleshikov effect is a slow moving narrative that emphasizes on inner turmoil. This comprises if fast pace editing involving unconnected shots, montage sequences and action shots. The Kuleshikov effect would later come on to mold even more filmmakers who found great inspiration from it.
One of these people was Sergei Eistein who developed Kuleshikov’s theory even further by identifying various ways various ways of using montage. It is, in fact, the five montage uses that characterize most of Russia’s modern cinema. The first is the metric montage. This is where the film editing follows a given number of frames and cuts to the following shot without regards to what is currently taking place in the image. This montage is used to elicit most emotional basal of reactions from the film’s viewers or audience. Next is the tonal montage that utilizes the emotional aspect or meaning of the shots to elicit an even, more complex reaction from the viewers through the manipulation of the cut’s temporal length and their rhythmical characteristics. The third montage is referred to as the overtonal or the associational montage and involves the cumulation of rhythmic, tonal and metric montage to create a more complicated and abstracted effect on the audience. The intellect montage utilizes different shots when combined bring about a very intellectual meaning. It refers to the introduction of messages into sequences are emotionally charged.
Montage editing in Russian film appears to be a contrast or an alternative to another brand of editing famous in Hollywood and that is known as “continuity editing." This editing strives or struggles to make the film editing part invisible to the audience. In this brand editing, the viewer is almost unaware of the cuts or even the camera movements. On the other hand, montage utilizes the editing part of a film to create the meaning of that piece. This effect is not only visible in individual shots but is also visible in the order or arrangement of shots. This is, in fact, on fact one of the most distinguishable aspects of Russian cinema.
Although Russian cinema has evolved throughout the years, it still lags behind other film-producing giants such as Hollywood and Bollywood. Russia presents a big opportunity for cinema but for it to chive massive potential; it must adopt a different mindset when it comes to the film making business.
One negative aspect of current Russian cinema is that the industry is mostly focused on acquiring government money. Independent productions are minimal in number. Most of them are medium companies.
The Russian cinema industry is heavily subsidized and Russian films, except for a few that manage to make the transition into the western countries, do not make any substantial money. In fact, recent statistics shows that about 42% of all films made in Russia annually do not even generate enough money to cover for official box office release. Another interesting aspect of Russian film is that about 50% of all films that are made in the country belong to the documentary genre. However, this is still not a viable option because the channels for distributing films of this genre are not well developed in Russia. There is no money in this venture as most productions are, in fact, sponsored by the state almost 100% and hence, production companies do not usually wish to share the state money provided with foreign distributors. Consequently, the films are only aired locally and do not make it into the international market. This is a destructive trend that has been there for a long time and that continues to hinder the ascension of the Russian cinema into the international market.
Another negative trait of Russian cinema is that the aspect of coproduction is not well developed. The animation industry in the nation has huge potential and is, in fact, growing but because of the heavy capital that is required in this industry, the animation business is only restricted to a few studios that can only release a few films every year. In most instances, these films are usually underdeveloped once again due to lack of enough capital investment and resource, as the studios once again have to rely on government funds.
However, it should be noted that Russia is still learning to develop a cinema that is commercially viable. The current designs in the nation are not meant to make internationally successful films and, in fact, almost of the films are consumed on the local market. The TV industry in the nation is rifer than the cinema making business and, in fact, pay TV and internet channels are the highest growing segments of visual media in the nation. If Russian cinema is to make it into the international market and have an impact, clear plans must be instituted currently to pave the way for the creation of a more advanced cinema design system that is tailored for the production of big budget and commercially viable films.
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