Hidden Figures. Rewriting the History of Cinema in the Empire of All the Russias

Natascha Drubek
In recent years, analyses of the suppression of female names have shown how incomplete our conception of the founders as well as creative participation of women is, especially in the early history of audiovisual media. This also applies to the first decades of cinema in the tsarist empire. However, it is not only the names of women that have been and continue to be little known, but also the names of other film pioneers who do not fit into the national or ideologised narrative that emerged in the historiography of the Soviet era. In "Hidden Figures", I explore the significance of the non-national character of the early productions in search of those figures of the first decade who founded cinema in the Romanov Empire, yet have been neglected in the historiography. And all his was taking place before the official "year of birth", which to this day is still given as 1908. Cinema in the "Empire of All the Russias" was introduced much earlier, not only in the the use of moving-picture cameras, but also in the fierce reaction to the medium. Thus, the history of imperial film censorship starts as early as May 1896, when cameramen from the Lumière company were arrested in Moscow for their politically unwelcome film reportage about the victims on the Khodynka Field. The history of film production in Russia picks up soon after in connection with film commissions at the court of Nicholas II and elsewhere in the empire. I am interested in why these earliest films – some of which have survived to the present day – and the names of their makers, Polish subjects of the Tsar (Matuszewski, Jagielsky and others) have not been integrated into national film history. The October Revolution obviously played a role here, because many of the earlyiest pioneers were no longer in the country after 1919, and therefore were not included in Soviet accounts of early film history as emigrants, citizens of another country or enemies of the state. This raises the question of the extent to which today's accepted "Russian" film history is still marked by (post-)coloniality. This text is the first submission to a new Apparatus section, called The Book Lab. These are the introductory chapters of the first part (6 parts are planned in total) and the conclusion of the book Hidden Figures. Rewriting the History of Cinema in the Empire of All the Russias. – This text receives its own DOI and can be quoted as a pre-print. Feedback on this pre-print is welcome and can be sent to the author's address: drubek@zedat.fu-berlin.de.
Aleinikov, Bauer, Drankov, Fedecki, Khanzhonkov, Mickwitz, Matuszewski, Mundwiller, Prószyński, Jagielsky, von Hahn, Romanov, Sabiński, Shiriaev, Thiemann, Trofimov, Russian, Empire, USSR, France, colonialism, cinema history, religion, nationality, gender, intersectionality, foreigners, minorities, Cossacks, Germans, Jews, Poles, Tatars, historiography.

At the Intersection of Nationality, Religion, Class, and Gender of Imperial Cinema

On Terminologies: Local – Native – National – Foreign – International – Rossian





Suggested Citation

At the Intersection of Nationality, Religion, Class, and Gender of Imperial Cinema

Despite many inspiring and insightful books published and studies conducted in the last thirty years, the origins of cinema in the Russian Empire – spanning roughly two decades – still await thorough analysis. A contemporary perspective paying heed to current thought will reveal hidden figures and enable better understanding of the effects of empires, colonialism, and gender. This refers to dates, names, and concepts. In certain areas this new history will face uncharted territory which I would like to map as well as provide ideas for some of the ‘street names’ on this new map; and a new map we must draw – revealing names, geographical and other networks and cinematic topographies, from Warsaw to Vladivostok, names that deserve to be researched and contextualised from local, imperial, and international perspectives.

K-ino & Kinostrantsy

[…] early Russian cinema may be considered as a synthesis of Russian high culture with Western and native popular cultural traditions (Youngblood 1999, p. 15)

If I am looking back in 2021 at my book Russisches Licht. Von Der Ikone zum frühen sowjetischen Kino, I must admit that in 2012 I had not taken in account neither the imperial quality of “early Russian cinema” nor the “imperial trace” (Condee 2009) in Soviet and contemporary Russian film historiography.

In the 2000s my primary goal had been to reveal the invisible continuuum between pre- and post-revolutionary culture. I was analysing the aesthetic specifity of pre-revolutionary cinema, embedded in the traditions of a visual culture, not relying on linguistic clues or dialogue, rather continuing in the traditions of a liturgical performance. I realised how this non-verbal visuality – of great importance for all those who could not read – informed the Soviet poetics of montage. Montage cinema, again, relied not on the word but rather on a combination of images creating ínternationally intelligible semantic worlds open to all. My primary reference for cinema before 1918 was framed by the culture of fin-de-siècle decadence and its symbolism on the one hand and the audiovisual world of the Orthodox service with candles shedding a flickering light on the icons, on the other. This experience of the ‘majority’ culture was not shared by all Imperial subjects, but it should be noted that Russian Orthodoxy ­– dominant and expansive “as an imperial institution”1 – ­was open to conversion. And many did, especially those who could improve their legal status within the Empire, such as the Jews who were technically restricted to residence in the so-called Pale of Settlement. A significant area of interest has been censorship which at that time seemed defined predominantly by preoccupations of the Russian Orthodox church.

Back then the reason for my interest in non-Russian figures was not because the main protagonist of the book I was writing then, Evgenii Frantsevich Bauer, was a “second generation immigrant” whose father came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite his German surname, the director is considered “Russian” since he was born in St. Petersburg to a Russian mother and baptised in the Russian-Orthodox faith. However, already ten years ago I was amazed by the sheer variety of the names of the people who shaped the early film industry, exhibition, and distribution in this vast empire. Some of them are mentioned briefly in V.P. Mikhailov´s stimulating book Stories of Cinema in Old Moscow, such as the brothers Abramovich who from 1908 on ran the film theatres “Grand-Elektro” and “Pategraf” in the Moscow centre or the jeweler Gekhtmann who had ventured into the film exhibitor’s business. Apart from Jewish cinema owners, there was a certain L.I. Gel’gar, the “Swedish subject” D.A. Lidval' who in the end of 1907 opened the cinema “Buff”, the Bulgarian K.I. Ivanchev, the Germans Ernst, Koch, and M.N. Nissen – Nissen and Lidval’ were both women; from the Baltics came “the wife of P.E. Lotse” (Riga), the entrepreneur O.A. Rosenberg originated from Reval [Tallinn] (Mikhailov 2003, p. 42-43). There were also ‘local’ Moscow theatre owners, but the proportion of inos or non-Russians among the entrepreneurs was significant.

In my more recent studies of early cinema, I began to notice that the large number of inozemtsy (foreigners)2 and people professing different faiths, Christian (inoslavnye) or other (inovertsy) in cinema are the rule, not the exception. I had been aware that there were many religions practiced in the Empire which contained many ethnicities and nations apart from the Russians, such as the Georgians, Ukrainians, Germans, or the Poles but hardly paid attention to this fundamental trait of the Empire and its relevance for late-imperial cinema. My linguistically centered education had blinded me to most of the imperial as well as colonial aspects.3

In the Empire of All the Russias, as it was properly called, since the 19th century a complex system was installed classifying different groups not only according to religion, ethnicity, or country of origin, but also paying heed to categories related to indigenous peoples who had been colonised for centuries. There were the Finno-Ugric tuzemtsy, such as the Ingrians, Samoyeds and Mordvinians, as well as Kalmyks, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, and Kazakhs. A special ethnically oriented category described the non-European populations as “other-borns”: inorodtsy. Informally, this term referred to the non-Slavic indigenous peoples and Jews. These “others” (in the sense of religious, ethnic, and social identity were also defined by different taxation regulations.

In his chapter “Classifying the Others,” Michael Khodarkovsky describes this taxonomy as follows:

In his 1776 treatise Prince Shcherbatov suggested that the peoples of the empire should be divided into six categories in accordance with their lifestyle, taxation, military service, and religious affiliation:

“1. Russians and all non-Christians ("inovertsy") who pay the soul tax and provide recruits,

2. Russians and non-Christians who pay taxes but do not provide recruits,

3. Christians other than Russian Orthodox,

4. All kinds of Cossacks and other military settlers,

5. Bashkirs and other savage peoples who practice Islam, and

6. Kalmyks and other nomadic idol-worshippers.” (Khodarkovsky 2001, p. 118)

Aleksandr Khanzhonkov, often called the “father of Russian cinema,” described himself as a “cornet of the 1st Don Cossack Regiment”;4 his family belonged to the fourth category, comprised of “all kinds of Cossacks”, of whom many were heterodox.5 The wooded region of the Don Cossacks constituted a retreat of raskol’niki after the church reform of 1667 (raskol), when the Old Believers were declared heretics by the Russian Orthodox Church (LeDonne 2020, p. 217, 225).

Khodarkovsky explains what it meant in imperial times to be a Russian "krest'ianin" or a “Tatar”, and that many of these identities were not set in stone; under certain circumstances they could be altered, the easiest being conversion:

It is not surprising that Prince Shcherbatov drew no clear distinction between religious, ethnic, and social identities. The overlapping of the categories that was typical of pre-modern societies, was also quite common in Russia. For example, the word "krest'ianin" in Russian parlance meant not just any peasant, but specifically a peasant of the Russian Orthodox faith. Likewise, the non-Russian pagan peoples considered Christianity a Russian faith and Islam a Tatar one. In Russian official correspondence non-Christian peoples were referred to by their specific names, such as Chuvash, Bashkir, or Tatar. Chuvash implied not only ethnicity, but the fact that a person was a tax-paying subject and a pagan. Tatar meant that a person was a tax-paying peasant and a Muslim. Those Tatars who performed a military service were known as "military service ('sluzhilye') Tatars." (Khodarkovsky 2001, p. 118)

Khodarkovsky sees a modern imperial identity established and thriving by establishing “One’s Own” (svoe) apart from the “Strange and/or Foreign” (chuzhoe) – separating “svoe” from “chuzoe”, as the Moscow-Tartu school called this binary opposition. The clearer the outlines of the Foreign are, the easier it is to establish who One’s Own is – which was difficult to discern especially in Peter the Great’s empire, where all ˙Russian beards˙ had to go.

In most modern empires, a single ‘leading’ nation is privileged; it fills One’s Own identity with its own history and culture, often emanating from linguistic hegemony – the language, however, of the empire is still a national language, at least until the middle of the 20th century. The One’s Own identity established via the language of the privileged nation is necessary for conquest, and the language is instrumental in ruling over Others in the empire. This explains the fierce battles of nations and peoples in Eastern and Central European empires for the survival of their national languages in the 19th century. It also explains how the concept of empire functions in and through Romantic literature, which best illuminates the paradoxical nature of constructed national identity. The mother of Aleksandr Pushkin, “his country’s greatest poet and the founder of modern Russian literature [...] was a granddaughter of Abram Hannibal, who, according to family tradition, was an Abyssinian princeling bought as a slave in Constantinople (Istanbul) and adopted by Peter the Great, whose comrade in arms he became.”6 Something similar applies to another ˙greatest˙ – the prose writer and dramatist Nikolai Gogol’ who was ethnically Ukrainian. Both Pushkin and Gogol’ wrote in Russian and thus created modern Russian literature, considerably strengthening the Empire – Pushkin had no other choice but Gogol’ did (his father wrote plays in Ukrainian).7 Both authors were aware that their identity is ‘different’ from the Russian identity articulated during the reign of Nicholas I, and they imbued their works with this Otherness – one by perfecting Russian verse, the other by ‘spoiling’ Russian classicist prose with Little Russian angles.8 Both are Russophone figures created by the imperial and not the national. The compounds for the legal terms describing Others in imperial times were all combined with “ino” (‘other’) as in the word inostranets, the common word for ‘foreigner’ today, currently used as a term in laws against “foreign agents” (inostrannye agenty) in Russia. Khodarkovsky (2001, p. 118) sees the

Redefining the status of the non-Christians clearly reflected a change in the self-perception of the Russian state and its evolution into an empire. The newly vanquished peoples were first attributed an extra-territorial identity ("inozemets") and considered foreigners (cf. the German "Ausländer" or the English "foreigner"). As the non-Christians became further integrated into the Russian empire, they were referred to as "inorodets" or "inoverets," that is, they became the non-Christian subjects of the Russian empire.

Almost none of the pioneers of cinema in the Empire of All the Russias were Russian, but rather, some type of ino (‘other’):9 inozemtsy, inoslavnye, inovertsy, or inorodtsy. They not only came from the margins of the Empire (Drankov, Vertov and Eisenstein were born in the colonised or conquered territories) but also created new concepts of Russian culture and nationhood ­­­– similar to the Jews from Central and Eastern European who had started creating “An Empire of Their­ Own” (Neal Gabler 1988) in the USA at about the same time, inventing the white-picket-fence America in and for Hollywood.

Herein lies a foundational moment for cinema, which was created by people we could call kinostrantsy, a word which depicts both, the people of the ‘foreign’ land of cinema (Tsivian 1991 on cinema as zagranitsa) as well as the ‘foreignness’ of the new medium and those associated with it. The ‘silent’ character of the films made by the apparatus of the cinématographe during the first decades of the medium adds to its non-national character, culminating in Vertov´s film without words, Chelovek s kinoapparatom / Man with a Movie Camera (VUFKU, 1929), later considered a “formalist” error committed by a “cosmopolitan”.

The kinostrana is not so much foreign as it is international, developing an universal ‘language’ that was later described as киноязык (kinoiazyk). Of course, this kino language was a ‘foreign’ (ino) one from the linguo-cultural perspective of Russian nationalism. It made possible communication across borders without the necessity of words in a national language, a fact that potentially posed a political threat to the ruling classes. When workers in the Empire saw the Lumière workers leaving a factory in France, who can say what they were thinking, especially given that there was no commentary through intertitles. The reception of these early films could even have been a revolutionary one.

Denise Youngblood notes that it was precisely the lack of (Russian) language in early film screenings which caused unease in certain Russian circles in the Empire:

The movies had a distinctly international flavor that displeased nativists at a time when Russian nationalism was on the rise. The chief problem for those nationalist critics was the lack of spoken language in films (which of course pleased the internationalists). For most Russians language was the very essence of Russian culture. (Youngblood 1999, p. 64)

Maksim Gor’kii was one of those who sensed the non-national, even anti-national, i.e., global character of the medium which he rejected. (I will return to the topic of Gor’kii and cinema later.)

The ino-perspective already crops up in the very first film shot in the Empire, when Charles Moisson films the parade of the “Asian Delegates” in their non-European clothes, at the same time referencing colonial histories. After all, Nicholas II was ruling over Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod; Kazan’, Astrakhan, Poland, Siberia, Chersonese Taurian, Georgia; Pskov and Smolensk, Lithuania, Volhynia, Podolia, Finland; Estland, Livland, Courland, Semigalia, Samogitia, Belostok, Karelia, Tver, Yugra, Perm’, Viatka, Bolgar; Nizhnii Novgorod, Chernigov, Riazan’, Polotsk, Rostov, Yaroslavl’, Beloozero, Udoria, Obdoria, Kondia, Vitebsk, Mstislav, and all of the northern countries; Iberia, Kartli, and Kabardia lands and Armenian provinces; [hereditary Sovereign and ruler of] the Circassian and Mountainous Princes and of others; Turkestan.10 Some of these princes can be seen in the Kremlin in May 1896.

“Députations asiatiques. Sous la surveillance des officiers russes, défile le cortège des délégations d’Asie” (Vue Nr. 306, Catalogue Lumière) – from the film Couronnement du tsar Nicolas II à Moscou (1896)

As we can see, even the earliest films made in the Empire could be read as inherently political due to their inclination to concentrate on the exotic. The degree to which they are affected by a French orientalist perspective is a question which calls for a separate analysis.

I stumbled over another unexpected phenomenon, which could be understood better in comparison with other early cinema cultures – women as producers, uncredited directors “assistants to the director”, distributors, or theater owners. When V.P. Mikhailov studied cinema-related documents in the Moscow city archive (formerly TSIAM), he was taken aback by the high numbers of female cinema owners such as A.E. Genzel'/Hänsel (the sister of A.E. Belinskaia) who owned as early as 1907 the “Modern” cinema in the new “Metropol” building or the “noble lady A.E. Florenskaia” who in 1908 was running the “Kontinental’” (cf. ibid., 43). As useful as Mikhailov’s book is, some of his conjectures are misleading, stemming from traditionally patriarchal concepts concerning gender in the film business. Obviously baffled by the fact that most film theatres were owned or run by women – many of them foreigners or not Russian-orthodox – he explains this ‘irregularity’ away with the argument that cinema was not a “serious business”, and therefore “people with standing feared to compromise themselves” by dealing with it publicly. We will return to this suppression of women’s names from the historical record after having addressed other lamentable blind spots concerning the contribution to early cinema made by other hidden figures, the Empire’s Poles, Jews, Austrians, Italians, and Germans.

I was surprised how difficult it is to detect even the contours of women cinema pioneers in most film histories. Kino-Women’s unwritten biographies in many cases are affected not only by gender constrictions and exclusions (from the historical record as well as perpetuated today by historians), but also by factors such as religion, if they are recorded or identify as nationals of another country, with other or mixed ethnic backgrounds, or if they come from one of “the Russias” – being Tatars, Poles, Jews, Georgians, Armenians, Cabardians, Circassian, Turkestani, Finnish, Baltic, tuzemtsy (native people) of Siberia, Liflandians, Ukrainians, or Germans, Cossacks belonging to the estate of kazachestvo. Who would have thought that professing a faith different from Russian Orthodoxy would play such a role even in the Soviet historiography of the Empire’s cinema, and not only for its nationalist historians? The most obvious examples of this ‘selection’ can be seen in the Soviet focus on promoted figures like Khanzhonkov or Protazanov, who eclipsed the earlier Polish and Jewish pioneers, or ´non-Orthodox´ figures such as Elizaveta von Mickwitz, married to the Baltic German Pavel/Paul Thiemann, recently researched by Petr Bagrov and Anna Kovalova (2021):

Elizaveta Thiemann is the first credited female film director in Russia, which is a substantial accomplishment in and of itself. But she is best known for her work as a producer. Together with her husband Paul Ernst Julius (Pavel Gustavovich) Thiemann (1881-1954), she managed one of the most successful film companies in pre-revolutionary Russia, known, at different times, as Thiemann and Rheinhardt Trading House, Russian Golden Series [Russkaia zolotaia seriia], and Era. (Bagrov and Kovalova 2021, оn the website https://wfpp.columbia.edu/pioneer/)

To a certain degree this course was continued after 1991, with few exceptions. These amounted to a rehabilitation or even a cult of certain figures like that which has developed around the discovery of forgotten “titans” of Tsarist cinema.11 However, even in the reappraisals, a critical analysis of why their names were suppressed is largely missing. Whereas Drankov’s transition from inoverets to pravoslavnyi has been discussed, Bauer’s mixed ethnicity or nationality has been mostly ignored. However, let us first have a look at Khanzhonkov, a retired officer of the Don Cossack regiment.

Cossack Lore

Pegasus, the winged horse as Khanzhonkov’s logo

Born into an old but impoverished Don Cossack family in 1877, Aleksandr Khanzhonkov has been frequently recognised in the last few years as a Russian Cossack. A Rostov journalist has even established the connection between the logo of his company – the winged horse – and the horseriding tradition of the Cossacks:

From centuries past, the horse has been a faithful friend of the heroic Cossacks. Aleksandr Khanzhonkov chose the mythological horse – a winged Pegasus, rearing above the letters "A" and "X" [Kh] – as the symbol of his new field. And as if this fairy-tale horse helped him do the unbelievable: having neither a liberal arts, nor technical, nor economic education, nor experience in shooting films, Khanzhonkov in the next ten years created a cinematographic enterprise which produced about 400 films. (Surkova 2016)12

The Khanzhonkovs, who had been loyal to the tsars since the reign of Peter I, founded the settlement of ​​Khanzhonkovka near Donetsk after being rewarded the estate for military service. Aleksandr Khanzhonkov’s father, however, did not fare well after the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and left the village. Aleksandr grew up in Rostov on the Don where he also saw his first cinema performance. Since he was born in Khanzhonkova (today’s Makeevka/Makiivka), on currently rebel-held territory of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR, a self-proclaimed state in eastern Ukraine), his birthplace and Cossack heritage have been revealed and stressed by local Russian nationalist journalism.13

Ethnically, the Khanzhonkovs can be traced back to a Polovtsian Khan called Zhonkov (хан Жонков). The Polovtsians, best known today from Borodin’s Polovtsy Dances (1871), were Turkic nomads who centuries ago became part of the Empire’s Cossack population.14

Who were the Cossacks, and what do they represent in relation to the Empire, and the Russian national identity?

Photo of Aleksandr Khanzhonkov in his Don Cossack uniform

In exchange for military service, the Cossacks enjoyed a certain measure of autonomy. The Tsar employed the Cossacks as defenders of the “frontier” and later for the territorial extension of the Empire, colonising the South and the East. Ermak, coloniser of Siberia, became a hero of folk songs and lubok prints. The same applies to Stepan Razin, who raided Russian as well as Persian settlements, attacked and defeated the shah of Persia.

Why, however, is the image of the anarchic Don Cossack Razin so important in early imperial cinema and so attractive to its historians? The second title of the 1908 film Sten’ka Razin was Ponizovaia vol’nitsa, referring to Vasilii Goncharov’s drama of the same title (a vol’nitsa is a term for Cossack self-government, from the word vol’nyi - free). Nikolai Berdiaev wrote about the vol’nitsa:

The self-governing Cossack community (volnitsa) demonstrates above all the dualism, the contradictory nature of the Russian national character: on the one hand they humbly helped the Russian people build the despotic, autocratic state, but on the other hand they retreated into their self-governing communities, turning their backs on the state and stirring up rebellion against it. (Berdiaev 2006, p. 15)

Cossack society is male but its members still suffer from falling in love with foreign girls (e.g., Stepan Razin with the Persian princess, Andrii with the Polish pannochka in Gogol’s Taras Bul’ba).

Rachel Morley identified the film’s “anonymous Persian princess” as the “first performer of Russian cinema,” discovering “a truly cinematic heroine.” In her interpretation which rejects the usual understanding of Drankov “as a hack” she points out the artistic merits of Sten’ka Razin (Morley 2017, p. 8). According to Morley (2017, p. 15) Sten’ka Razin unveils “contemporary socio-psychological, specifically the gender anxieties that unsettled early twentieth century Russian society.”

Now we might ask, why is the princess Persian, and why did Soviet historians and their contemporary heirs choose this film over others to mark the beginning of Russian national cinema?

The princess lying on the Persian rug beside Razin

It seems that the Sten’ka Razin film produced by A. Drankov addresses two topics, one is the outlaw and rebel, “a threat to the social order coming from the margins of the Empire”, the other the orientalism expressed in the very fabric of filming the foreign female dancer who has to be thrown overboard in front of the camera - after having been taken advantage of, as woman (in the story) and as cinematic spectacle. ​​​​The figure of the Cossack is ambiguous. He serves as the military outpost of the Empire, he even becomes one of the primary agents of colonisation of the “East”, at the same time, similar to a mercenary, he can choose for whom to fight, at least in theory. ​​As a Cossack leader, Razin was not a Muscovite subject, considering himself a free ally of the Tsar - and this hybris in the end led to betrayal by more settled and loyal fellow Cossacks and his execution on the Red Square as traitor and brigand.

Historically, Cossack were first and foremost brigands and pirates, but sometimes their raids became imbued with political meaning and social protest:

This “rebellion” began as maritime looting and pillaging, but inspired political insurrection in its last months. From the perspective of Moscow, whether Tsarist or Communist, Razin’s rebellion was a threat to the social order coming from the margins of the Empire. From the perspective of a World Historian I see the Rebellion as an event at the center of Eurasia. A quick look at this event which has fascinated Russians for generations reveals Imperialism and its discontents. (Eric Beckman)

Judith Deutsch Kornblatt reminds us that Lev Tolstoi thought “All Russians wish to be Cossacks”, providing in certain points of history the much needed “aggressive and colourful portrait of their past and themselves.” (Kornblatt 1992, p. 177) The Cossack as Russian provides even more, his very image exemplifies the often violent history of colonisation and imperial expansion.

Historically, these men are linked by their home on the physical and cultural edge of Russian society, and by their ambiguous role as defenders of and of and rebels against the order they presumably brought to the frontier. Yet the Cossack hero in Russian literature is homogenized into a representative of Russia, a figure at once exotic, and, of utmost significance, essentially native. (Kornblatt 1992, p. 176)

Even if Khanzhonkov was part of this ambivalent Cossack culture, the baggage he had to carrywas comparably light. After all, he was born and baptised in the Russian Orthodox faith, raised by parents who identified as Russian. Surely he was less of a kinostranets than the other “titans” of pre-revolutionary cinema.

The Viennese Factor: The Bauers Between Zither and Camera

As in several other cases of our obliterated or denounced heroes, we have not only two birthdates for Evgenii Bauer but also two places of birth: Viktor Korotkii (2009, p. 34) established that he was not born in Moscow in 1865 but on 7 January old style / 20 January new style 1867 in St. Petersburg.15 According to Korotkii (1991) he was the child of a multinational and bi-confessional marriage with seven children in a family where at least one foreign language was spoken and the significance of “German culture and Catholic religion” was tangible:

His brother Aleksandr Frantsevich wrote in his personal file under "language": "German, now speaking little". Their father was fluent in German and Russian, which is clear from his extant letters. Evgenii, being the first child in the family, was to be exposed to the influence of his father, both in German language (and, consequently, culture) and in Catholic religion. The baptism of Evgenii according to the Orthodox rite was obviously an influence of his mother.

The coexistence of religions in the family is a fact which cannot be overlooked when analysing the development of young Bauer.16

Evgenii´s mother, Mariia Dmitrievna Petukhova, was Russian, from Tula, had made sure that her offspring would be Russian-Orthodox. Her daughter Zinaida Frantsevna Bauer was born and baptised in Arkhangel´sk (Nikolaev 2011).17 Just as her sister Mariia she was a singer. Another sister, Antonina Frantsevna Bauer, was a pianist and later lived in Vilnius. With his sister Sof˙ia Frantsevna (born in 1871), Evgenii acted on provincial stages and in the theatre of F.A. Korsh. One brother, Aleksandr (1873–1939), had a career as conductor in Leningrad, another brother, cameraman Konstantin Bauer (1880–1938), during the Great Terror was persecuted and “repressed.”

According to Pavel Schukin this photo of Evgenii Bauer as director of the Shchukin garden Ermitazh, was taken by Alexander Grinberg (1885-1979), “a leading figure in Russian pictorial photography”.

A little-known image from the beginning of the XX century: the dandy with a bowler hat, on the right, smoking, is Evgenii Bauer in the garden Ermitazh

One wonders whether Evgenii, had he not died in 1917, would have suffered a similar fate as his brother Konstantin or pictorialist photographer A. D. Grinberg, who was sent to a camp in the 1930s (fig. 5 shows a photo by Grinberg which was published by Pavel Schukin).

According to Zorkaia (1997) Evgenii´s father was a “Russified Czech” who as Court musician played the zither (“в семье придворного музыканта, виртуоза игры на цитре”). In an article about the Bauers in Arkhangel´sk, we learn that he was a Roman Catholic “Austrian subject” who moved to St. Petersburg in 1851, where he played for Nicholas I and later “taught the imperial family” (Nikolaev 2011). Franz Bauer who often performed with his Russian wife, a singer and harmonium player, was a composer, pedagogue (he operated a zither school), and even published a Russo-German tutorial for self-study on the zither, published by P. Jurgenson:18

«Русско-немецкая школа для самообучения на цитре» / Russo-German school for self-study on the zither by Франц Мартынович Бауэр / Franz Martynovich Bauer

In the Soviet Musical Encylopedia, we find Franz˙s short biography, which confirms that his son must have been born in St. Petersburg:

Bauer Franz Martynovich (1829, Vienna–17 (30) XI 1914, Moscow) – Russian zitherist, teacher and composer. He was of Austrian nationality. From 1851 lived in Russia (till 1858 and in 1863–70 in Petersburg, in 1858-63 and from 1870 in Moscow). He opened a school of zither playing in Moscow. He gave concerts in the Russian provinces. In 1881–1904 he published a monthly music magazine The Russian Zitherist. The author of "School of the Zither" (M., (1884); 10th edition under the title "The Newest Russian School for the Zither, comp. F. M. Bauer", Moscow, 1899) and more than 400 works for zither.19

It also tells us that Franz was born in Vienna. Even though there is a sizable Viennese Czech population, we cannot confirm that Franz Bauer was ethnically Czech. Whereas in the German and English Wikipedia articles F. Bauer is described as “from Bohemia”, only in the Russian article he figures as a “Russified Czech”: “Евгений Бауэр родился в 1865 году в Москве в семье обрусевшего чеха музыканта Франца Бауэра и оперной певицы.”20

If he was indeed Czech, his name would have been most probably not Franz but František Bauer. This would point to a German (speaking) family from Bohemia whose first names could have a second form, as in the case of Franz Kafka who at work was known as František K. If F. Bauer was indeed Czech, he could have done the same, only the other way around, for example to please the court where German was spoken. ​​As an example for a change of religion in the preceding generation one can name the composer Ludwig Minkus (Petipa`s collaborator) who was born to Jewish parents in Vienna and came to Moscow in 1856. “His father, Theodor Minkus, was born in 1795 in Moravia, and his mother, Maria Franziska Heimann was born in 1807 in Pest, Hungary”; his “parents converted to Catholicism not long before their relocation to Vienna, and were married on the following day.”21 Despite Joseph II´s Edict of Toleration of 1781 many Jews in the Habsburg Empire converted to catholicism. Franz Bauer was born in 1829, so a similar conversion of his parents could have been the case and could be corroborated by archival research.

Evgenii was the oldest son and in 1882 at art school registered as a subject of the Austrian Empire (avstriiskii poddannyi), of Orthodox faith:

Documents of a pupil of the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture

Bauer Evgenii Frantsevich, of Orthodox Christianity, an Austrian national. Residence: Stoleshnikov lane, Nikiforov house, apt. 2.22

This means that unlike his Catholic father who was inostranets and inoslavnyi­ Evgenii Bauer was inostranets but pravoslavnyi.

In the 1990s, Neiia Zorkaia explained that in Soviet times there was nobody who would want to remember Bauer or appreciate his role in shaping film art in the pre-Soviet era, and how a rivalling contemporary director accused him of dealing in “trivialities” (fintifliushki):

There was no one in the new establishment to stand up for Bauer. On the contrary, it was tempting to declare him, an experimenter, a poet of his own, special, specific beauty of the screen, which he called the "art of writing with light", a vicious decadent and formalist.Especially since such accusations have been heard before, from rivals (Protazanov, in particular, said that Bauer busied himself with "trifles").23

Zorkaia even mentions that the “magician of the Khanzhonkov studio” Bauer in a Soviet high school syllabus represented the “most shameful decade of the history of the Russian intelligentsia”, “now appreciated as the Silver Age”.24

Zorkaia concludes that after the war Bauer was attacked posthumously in the context of “the anti-cosmopolitanism campaign” because of his “non-Russian” name. A typical kinostranets?

I would assume that E. Bauer claimed Czech (Slavic) ethnicity on his father˙s side to avoid the odium of the German name during World War I. At that time he also used the last name of his wife, Lina Ancharova, to avoid “Bauer” as surname.25

When I published my first book on late imperial cinema (Drubek 2012), I was not yet familiar with the eye-opening publication by Valérie Pozner and Natacha Laurent, Kinojudaica: L’image des juifs dans le cinéma russe et soviétique (Toulouse, 2012). Valérie Pozner’s article “Cinéma et judéité dans les frontières de l'Empire russe entre 1910 et 1918” would have been of special interest to me, opening a whole different galaxy in the universe of early film studies. Pozner drew attention to the fact that “Jewish cinema” (evreiskoe kino) was closely connected to the development of Russian cinema:

Ce cinéma est toutefois produit et/ou distribué dans les frontières de l'empire. Á ce titre li est inséparable du cinéma russe et de son évolution. (Pozner 2012, p. 25)26

I would go further and suggest that – if there had been only “people with standing” (i.e., ethnically Russian men professing Orthodoxy) involved in cinema in the Russian Empire, its beginnings as well as its film heritage would likely have looked different. It probably would have started later, been much poorer, less internationally oriented, and, therefore, less well prepared to compete with “foreign” films, a topic that has been debated by some Russian historians, even though the earliest development of cinema did not take place in an environment of fierce competition (that played a role a decade later). Indeed, defining what foreign films are – or what they are not in the context of the Empire of All the Russias will be important to my analysis.

Cinema – No Place for “People with Standing”?

It is true that a negative evaluation of the medium of cinema at its arrival was shared by certain circles and institutions (such as the Russian Orthodox church), as well as by some intellectuals and writers who were critical of technical innovation. However, it was a minority, among them Maksim Gor’kii whose anti-cinema rants, published under names different from his usual pseudonym meaning ‘the Bitter One’ – had a minimal influence on the artistic cinema-inspired discourse of the time or the intellectual discussion of the medium, even if later frequently quoted, mainly because Gor’kii had become a Soviet literary lion.

I have already alluded to the group of people whom Mikhailov considers as “people with standing in society”, or rather, those who do not belong to this category. However, his argument does not hold up when he describes how the Russian noblewoman Florenskaia (running the cinema “Kontinental’”) would not fear to “lose her standing”, Jewish Mrs. Rosenval’d from Riga could own “Moscow’s most elegant enterprise”, the “Odeon” (the earlier “Kinofon”) in the Solodovnikov passage, offering a programme “specifically for the intelligentsia and for families” (Mikhailov 2003, p. 44). Even scholars like Mikhailov who avoid the traditional Soviet perspective on cinema’s early years apparently are not aware of women’s social history, i.e., what women at that time could accomplish or aspire to. As we will see, the occupations of ladies of means and noblewomen were not limited to traditional charity – a must for the society lady, as shown in Bauer’s 1913 film Sumerki zhenskoi dushi / Twilight of a Woman’s Soul, where the heroine is raped by a working-class man whom she patronises. Others fought for, or were at least influenced by, women’s movements for universal suffrage and education.

The boundaries between philanthropy and feminism were fluid: social welfare and higher education advocacy in some cases could go hand in hand, as we can see in the aspirations of the aristocrat Anna Filosofova who devoted her attention to the disadvantaged in Russian society. Interestingly, she lobbied the emperor to fund courses for women and co-founded the Russian Women's Mutual Philanthropic Society which organised the All-Women's Congress of 1908 – parallel to commercial cinema’s start in Russia; between 1907 and 1917, the League for Women's Equal Rights pursued the non-trivial goal of gaining equal rights for women. As a result, in 1917 (before the October Revolution) Russia granted women the right to vote, long before many other ‘developed’ nations.

In addition, as we will see in connection with A. Drankov, women’s associations could play a role in film production in the Russian Empire, an aspect which has been omitted in previous histories of early cinema.

If we intend to embark on a new assessment of the early cinema industry and film culture in Russia, we must constantly reassess entrenched stereotypes of imperial Russia as ‘backward’. In many respects – and this applies until today – Russian life was much less regimented and standardised by comparison to the Western countries that have attracted most interest among historians of early film. Here I am not talking only about the (cultural) elites, the intelligentsia, but also about the anarchic spirit, the lawlessness that reigned in many areas, including the fact that film censorship was piecemeal and ad hoc, and police could be bribed, etc.

Rules in Russia always seemed made only to be broken, or circumvented, as it was in the case of Jewish subjects and their right to live in a metropolitan area outside the Pale of Settlement. Jews in many cases had to convert to Russian Orthodoxy if they wanted to study or live in St. Petersburg. This newly acquired Orthodoxy at times was valid only on paper and had hardly any effect on the religious or cultural identity of the so-called convert. Cameraman Aleksandr Lemberg recounted a story of this kind, describing his life as a Jewish teenager in the capital who had to choose between deportation, baptism, or bribery (around 1911). After a period of having to regularly bribe a police officer, he “got fed up” and decided to become an Orthodox Christian – on paper. Documents of this kind, as well as birth certificates (and the years documented in them) were pliable material and did not always mean a genuine attempt at assimilation.

The reality of the Empire of All the Russias was, in many respects, marked by something we now would call ‘cultural diversity’, a plurality of the organically grown type, resulting from the sheer size of the Empire inhabited by many different nations and ethnicities. This might have eventually led to a different level of cultural and religious tolerance, like the kind apparent in 1915, when the ethnic Russian Mikhail Trofimov, merchant from Kostroma, founded the film company “Rus’” (later Mezhrabpom-Rus’ and Gor’kii studio) with Jewish film expert Moisei Aleinikov who previously had been an editor in a leading film journal27 – both were invested in the ambitious artistic and pedagogical goals of cinema, not so different from Ukraine based inventors Freidenberg and Timchenko who presented their invention at a scientific conference.28 I doubt that we could find many similar cases in other early cinema cultures at that time, except for the USA. Or, when two Jewish women founded a studio called Variag (“Viking”), which produced scenes from “Jewish life” as well as an adaptation of Chekhov’s Palata Nr. 6 (1912) with Russian operator Ivan Frolov, who in the 1940s would document concentration camps in liberated Poland as a frontline cameraman. They all were part of a universe which was hardly recorded and only rarely studied due to the physical, mental, and political disruptions of the October Revolution, followed by emigration and civil war, as well as persecutions and censorship in the Soviet period which make objective historiography difficult. Producers who returned to the USSR after emigration, like A. Khanzonkov (and his second wife Vera) as well as Trofimov, were stripped of their civil rights (lishentsy), and persecuted. We do not even seem to know for sure where and when Trofimov died.

M. Aleinikov, co/founder of the studio Rus’. Screenshot of the website of Dom kino 2020 (Moscow)

Another paradox of the last decades of the Romanov Empire lies in the imperial family’s considerable interest in the film medium. This circumstance ­– not hidden from the public – surely must have improved the reputation of the new medium.

Nicholas II was, of course, an autocrat who loathed true reforms, accepted poor advice most of the time, and embraced a fervent Orthodoxy. On the one hand he was responsible for state-sponsored anti-semitism that led to horrific pogroms, while at the same time preferring photo and film services from foreigners, Catholics and so-called vykhrests (converts from Judaism), to those of Eastern Christians such as Khanzhonkov, or Trofimov (even if he was, as an Old Believer, a ‘heterodox’ Christian).

Let us return to Mikhailov’s thesis about “people with standing in society.” We understand now that this category applies to Russian Orthodox men who, indeed, were in the minority since most of the pioneers as well as early producers, and, probably, also investors seem to have been inozemtsy, inorodtsy and/or inovertsy, at best inoslavnye, that is, men and women who were foreigners, or of “non-European stock” (“alien”), or not Russian Orthodox, or if they were, only recently converted, that is, “Russian” in the first or second generation, often having slavicised their names or received (added) a new name with baptism (from Libken to Libkin, from Abram to Aleksandr).

Not all converted, many of them – being Poles, (Baltic) Germans, Swedes, French, Jews – were born or remained Catholic, Lutheran, or Jewish. I have already mentioned that not all the inovertsy were also inorodtsy (such as Jews who were subjects of the Tsar but had a different religion) or they had a denomination different from from the Orthodox majority, like the producer Trofimov. Was this a reason why this Old Believer was among the few Russians who dared to found a film company, or did not think it was beneath him? At the same time, it seems to have been more acceptable for the noble lady Florenskaia – we must assume she was a woman “with standing” – to own a cinema than a petty-bourgeois woman who might have feared to be considered ‘improper’.

For the period Mikhailov focuses on, 1907-8, his argument does not hold for several reasons. Firstly, it was the time when the “electric theatre” was establishing itself as a place and space of culture both for the bourgeoisie as well the intelligentsia as confirmed by Belyi’s panegyric writings of this season on the mystic as well as democratic spirit of cinema. Secondly, from a business perspective, the cinema was no longer a “minor deal” (“pustiachnoe delo”, Mikhailov 2003, p. 43). Many cinemas held hundreds of seats. Building new cinema halls or even the conversion of existing urban buildings into “electric theatres” required significant investment and careful planning. An economic history of cinema that would work with genuine data instead of conjectures about the ownership of film studios, and the financial aspects of owning and running of film theatres still must be written. Here it seems important to study archives related to the company (including court and police files), its finances, the names or signatures of those who negotiated or who appeared in court.

Have we – for example – really tried to understand what it meant for a bride to bring a significant dowry into a marriage, subsequently used to produce a film? According the 2021 video lecture29 of Petr Bagrov and Anna Kovalova the von Mickwitzs invested time, effort, as well as money into the Thiemann business. They remind us that the film Smertʹ Ioanna Groznogo / The Death of Ioann Groznyi (Torgovyi dom Gloriia) was made with the help of Elisabeth von Mickwitz / Elizaveta Thiemann’s dowry, 5000 rubles which is the same sum Khanzhonkov had at his disposal when he started his enterprise with his officer's discharge package.

Should she, therefore, be credited today as its (co-)producer? She clearly had a significant stake in the company. Ivan Kavaleridze wrote that the

company belonged to Pavel Gustavovich Thiemann, a German born in Moscow, on Kuznetskii Most. At the age of twenty-eight, he married Elizaveta Grigorievna [sic] von Mickwitz; he used to work under the supervision of her father at some enterprise and proved himself a man of business. The daughter received five thousand rubles as a dowry. The sensible and practical newlyweds decided to invest this money into a film. Death of Ivan the Terrible, the first film of their studio, was scandalous but commercially successful. (Kavaleridze 1988, p. 47)30

What exactly does “belong” mean, though, in the legal sense, if it refers to her property rights? Finances from the bride’s family side could also mean that there was a dower (cf. the German wittum) which would have been extractable from other marital assets if the husband died or the marriage failed (which indeed was the case with Elizaveta and Pavel, after their emigration).

The most recent filmographic entry for Smertʹ Ioanna Groznogo only mentioned “the owners of Gloriia, Pavel Thiemann and Friedrich Reinhardt, the future creators of the famous Russian Golden Series”, and that “The Death of Ivan the Terrible was the first film to be released by their trading house”31 – at the occasion of a screening of the Moscow International Archival Film Festival (the successor of the Belye Stolby Festival),32 in November 2021. Neither the E. Thiemann entry in the Women Film Pioneers Project nor the lecture of Bagrov and Kovalova which was published in April 2021 had an impact on a rethinking of filmographic data which in this case would also require an understanding of property and marriage law in the Empire when it comes to women’s investments.

As far as I know, the dowry as a means of financing a film has not yet been discussed in production studies despite the fact that many women invested in cinema in the early decades, whether financially, by a real estate enterprise (as in the case of Solomon Violet Melnotte-Wyatt’s £3,000 Duke of York's Picture House in Brighton,33 the first purpose-built cinema in Great Britain) or their talents.34 As early as 1999, Denise Youngblood had pointed out that Thiemann’s wife had not only “played key roles in casting, script supervision, and occasional directing from the beginning” but also “ran the firm alone” during her husband’s exile (Youngblood 1999, p. 29). Petr Bagrov and Anna Kovalova (2021) were, however, the first to discuss the question of Elizaveta’s disappearing “billing”:

The Passing of the Great Old Man is the only official directorial credit in Elizaveta’s filmography, whereas Protazanov enjoyed thirty plus years of a distinguished film career in Russia, France, and Germany. It is no wonder that at some point this early motion picture became associated with Protazanov alone, while Thiemann’s contribution is usually overlooked or misrepresented. For instance, Mikhail Arlazorov, the author of an essential biography of Protazanov, notes that Thiemann was “assisting” Protazanov (Arlazorov 165). If he had any evidence for this assumption, he did not cite it in his book. [...] as the aforementioned critic wrote: “We cannot help expressing our amazement and admiration for Mrs. Thiemann and Mr. Protazanov who directed the film. One should have enormous love and self-hearted devotion to the cinema to direct a film in the way they did it. Hats off to them!” (“40.000 za negativ”). Additionally, portraits of Thiemann and Protazanov were published next to each other. One may argue that Elizaveta received equal billing because the producer wanted to promote his wife, but, in pre-1914 Russia, directors were neither mentioned in the credits nor on posters, and their names were rarely discussed outside of the trade press. (Bagrov and Kovalova 2021)

Elizaveta seemed to be interested in contemporary art as well as politics. This is confirmed by her later projects, such as the involvement in the Tolstoi film of 1912 – as revealed by Kovalova and Bagrov, made by Protazanov jointly with Elizaveta Thiemann. According to Kovalova and Bagrov (2021) she was no less than “the first credited female film director in Russia”, co-directing Ukhod velikogo startsa (1912).35

There is more: In her husband’s absence Elizaveta contacted “the director Vsevolod Meyerhold, a key figure in the history of twentieth-century theater. The outcome of these negotiations was the film Portret Doriana Greiia / The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1915), based on Oscar Wilde’s novel, which not only helped to save the company, but also became one of the most significant films in the history of pre-revolutionary Russian cinema.” Both E. Thiemann and V. Meyerhold seem to have been of German as well as of Jewish extraction.

Although the Thiemanns were foreigners or of foreign extraction, they were respected in the Empire of All the Russias. Elizaveta’s father Vladimir von Mi(n)ckwitz was a baron, as established by Bagrov and Kovalova (2021) who write:

Paul was employed by the Russian office of Gaumont (“Za piat’ let”), whereas Vladimir Mickwitz made a career as an engineer and, for his services in that field, was granted a barony. Later, however, Vladimir was actively engaged in the family film business and even became the director of his son-in-law’s trading house (“Khronika” [May 31, 1916]). Cinematographer Alexander Levitskii recollects the Thiemanns very favorably, writing that, “Thiemann was set apart [from other producers] due to his high level of culture as well as decency. His wife Elizaveta Vladimirovna was also a great admirer and expert of art. Their house was often packed with Moscow writers, artists, and actors” (Levitskii 67, Levitskii, Aleksandr. Rasskazy o kinematografe/Stories About Cinema. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1964).

If we, however, decide to accept Mikhailov’s claim that “people with standing” would not venture into film business, we can say that many of those who contributed to the early cinema business in Russia were characterised by what we would now call “intersectionality” – it would be quite logical that we find among them women and men of a different faith, nationality, colour, non-Orthodox pioneers who were from a lower class, encumbered not only by lack of capital but by genuine poverty. Many of the Jews did not have permission to live outside the Pale of Settlement, and – as orphans, as was the case with Drankov – had hardly any financial means to start a business but eventually became star reporters and purveyors to the Imperial Court. Disadvantages also applied to German producers (or people with German-sounding names) who during World War I were categorised as enemy aliens or had moved South after 1917.

It is also worth noting that in the persona of Sonia Bliuvstein / Bluwsztein in Drankov´s series Son'ka Zolotaia Ruchka / Son’ka – the Golden Hand we even find a striking cinematic role model for a quirky heroine with a non-Slavic surname who does not shy away from applying criminal means to reach her goal by claiming to be a lady “with standing”...

How "Foreign" were the French Productions in the Empire?

...fraught with misapprehensions and internal contradictions, Russia’s “national cinema” is a kind of antitopic. (Condee 2009, p. 6)

Theodore R. Weeks (2012) observed that in the discipline of Eastern European history the so-called “imperial turn” had already occurred decades ago:

Not so very long ago, Russian history tended to be taught as the history of the Russian people. Over the past generation or so, in particular since the collapse of communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this conception has been quite thoroughly discredited. Russia, whether as the Russian Empire of the nineteenth century or the USSR of the 1930s or the Russian Federation since 1992, was not and is not a nation-state. Depending on the exact date and definition of “Russian”, between the 1860s and 1960s [...], Russians made up between one half and two-thirds of the population of the Russian state. [...] The “imperial turn” could be defined in a number of ways. It aims to avoid a national teleology in which Russians play the leading (or only) role in the historical narrative, to emphasize the presence and significance of non-Russians in “Russian” (rossiiskaia) history, and to view the Russian Empire and USSR not as would-be nation-states but as empires, a different kind of polity. The imperial turn also wants to problematize the very definition of “Russian,” whether meant in an ethnic (russkii) or political-geographical (rossiiskii) sense. (Weeks 2012)

In the field of cinema studies Nancy Condee´s book of 2009 is the most significant work analysing the paradoxical absence of a clear concept of a nation, revealing “Russia’s paradoxical status as both greater than and less than familiar Western categories of national culture, laying claim to the potential for supranational status through an acceptance of the radical contingency, even spiritual unsuitability, of national cohesion.” (Condee 2009, referring to Hosking). Condee also reminds us of the linguistic distinction “between two Russian words for ˙Russian,˙ rossiiskii and russkii.” 36

Despite Condee´s significant contribution the “imperial turn” has had little impact on film historians up to the present who still speak of “Russian” cinema, forgetting or downplaying the significance and perseverance of the Empire’s national, cultural, and ethnic identities and classifications. This may be explained in part by the traditions of a historiography that in many respects does not acknowledge its being (post)Soviet. One of the reasons for this situation is that in the Russian Federation itself there was no critical discussion – de-sovietisation – of the historiography of ‘tsarist’ era of cinema to the same extent as was the case with Soviet film history and theory which was thoroughly re-evaluated with a new canon emerging. Interestingly, major contributions on early cinema emerged in the 1990s,37 Iurii Tsivian’s Istoricheskaia retseptsiia kino. Kinematograf v Rossii 1896-1930 (Riga 1991) was published in one of the Soviet republics, at the end of the Soviet era. This work on early cinema in the Empire in the West became an authoritative work in its translation into English under the title Early Cinema in Russia and its Cultural Reception. However, Tsivian has not undertaken this effort either; to be fair, it lies outside of the author’s field of interest to question the political and ideological underpinnings of his predecessors. This means that Soviet narratives are not challenged, new names are not revealed, their suppression not explained, figures not rehabilitated.

The Soviet perspective on ‘early Russian cinema’ is inextricable from the time when the first authoritative Soviet film history appeared, which contained a chapter on its origins in the tsarist empire.

Nikolai Lebedev’s 1947 survey of early cinema in Russia contains expressions typical for its time, e.g., labeling productions “exclusively foreign” (Lebedev 1965, p. 12). This terminology was conditioned by the political climate of the times, as he was writing his Ocherki istorii kino SSSR. Nemoe kino (1918-1934) / Essays on the History of Cinema in the USSR. Silent Cinema: (1918-1934) in the context of the burgeoning Great Russian nationalism that became part of Soviet propaganda during and after World War II. Such terminology remained unchanged in the second, 1965, edition, from which I am quoting here. Lebedev’s use of “foreign” seems to be in opposition to “Russian”, that is, Russkii, not Rossiiskii. „Rossiiskii“ (which I will in some cases translate as “Rossian” for greater clarity) describes a state and its citizens (or empire and subjects), „Russkii“ refers to ethnicity and/or language which often became conflated as a description of nationality.38

Lebedev stresses that the 1907/8 Pathé Russian chronicles (“vidovye” films) like were not “national productions” (“all these films had a foreign brand on them and were filmed by foreign operators” Lebedev 1965, p. 17). Lebedev provides a typical ex-post facto evaluation at a time when “foreign” and “Russian” had a meaning which was different from the later negative connotation that “foreign” had acquired by the 1930s when many innocent citizens were arrested as “foreign spies.”

However, the reality of imperial cinema in the 1890s and 1900s was far less national-minded or nationally conscious than Lebedev claims. Even if Lumière, Pathé, and Gaumont dominated the Rossian (Rossiiskii) film industry and exhibition for more than a decade, one cannot label their productions “French” – or use them as a part of a polemical attack on ‘foreign capital’ without being anachronistic, esp. when we are referring to the first decade of commercial productions.

These French companies not only exported their French-made products to Russia they also produced in Russia for local as well as for international audiences and established several branches in the tsarist empire. Would we not categorise films shot in Russia today as co-productions if they were made on Rossian territory, some primarily for local consumption?

Lebedev’s claim that the repertoire was “exclusively foreign”, is therefore paradoxical, given that at the same time he admits the existence of films showing the emperor, made in Russia (Lebedev 1965, p. 12). Perhaps he hoped the readers would assume that all the Court films were made by French companies. Since the tsar personally ordered films to be made of himself and his family we can start from here. Nicholas II was – like all rulers since 1721 – called “Император Всероссийский”. There are several ways to translate his title: I used the term Emperor of All the Russias above, but now I would like to be even bolder and stress the difference between Russian and Rossian. Nicholas – strictly speaking – was not the “Russian Emperor,” but rather, the All-Rossian Emperor or Emperor of All the Russias. If we called him Russian Emperor it would be tantamount to calling Victoria the “English Queen” instead of Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, as her official title requires.

The films we are discussing here were not made in “Russia” but rather in the “Rossian Empire”, the Rossiiskaia imperiia (“Россійская имперія”, if we use the old orthography) or the "All-Rossian Empire” (“Всероссийская империя”).

Most early films are, therefore, neither “Russian” nor “foreign” – as Lebedev’s binary opposition stipulates. Some are Rossian and foreign in the sense that they were made or financed by inozemtsy or inovertsy (Jews, Muslims), inoslavnye (the non-orthodox). Others can more legitimately be called Russian since they are intrinsically part of Russian culture (if they are based on Russian literature, for example), while others still will prove to be part of Ukrainian, Polish, or Jewish culture (not necessarily because they were made by Ukrainians, Poles, or Jews). A Jewish theme was often picked up by film companies whose owners were French, Russian, or even Cossack, chosen because of excellent Yiddish speaking performers and their audiences in the Pale of Settlement as well as abroad, not for national reasons. The historical figure of the Don Cossack Razin, on the other hand, was introduced by a Jewish producer.

“Russia” in early films was often represented, or (mis)understood, in the West as either Cossack (Pathé in 1907 produced the international success The Don Cossacks)39 or Jewish – similar to borscht and kasha sold as “Jewish” dishes to New Yorkers.

On Terminologies: Local – Native – National – Foreign – International – Rossian

There is, therefore, a considerable problem with the term “Early Russian Cinema,” which I myself have used in many publications, rather uncritically. The further West we go the more common it is – even in serious scholarship – to use “Russian”/”Russisch” as a synonym for “Rossian”/”Russländisch” or “Soviet”. This leads to misunderstandings since, for example, Dovzhenko or Paradzhanov might be considered part of Soviet Russian film culture, even though they are not ethnic “Russians”, and one even cannot call their oeuvres “Russian.”40

Likewise, most of the early films produced on Rossian soil cannot be called “Russian” because they draw on non-Russian folkloristic, literary, or theatrical sources, and/or were neither made by Russians nor specifically for Russian audiences. My analysis of a Yiddish melodrama in the next chapter will show how misleading the label “Early Russian Cinema” is; I argue that it should be replaced by “Early Cinema produced in the Russian Empire” or “Early Rossian Cinema”. This renamed category will include films which have status similar to orientalist art in the West, featuring “Gypsy romances” or Cossack horse acrobatics. Even though they were devised and filmed by French, Jewish or Rossian filmmakers, these films could be considered as part of the Roma or Cossack film heritage.

“Russian Cinema” can strictly speaking apply only to films that are part of Russian culture, which does not necessarily coincide with the Russophone worlds. More difficult is the question of how to categorize Russian language films. Language as a differentiating element embedded in the fabric of the film becomes fully relevant only in the era of sound cinema in the 1930s whereas in silent cinema intertitles could be easily translated or even altered which in many cases can account for films surviving only in an ‘improbable’ language version. Some films made in the Russian Empire had Polish or Yiddish intertitles. Calling them “Russian” does not make any sense, however, so if we want to identify them with one adjective, that must be “Rossian.”

Even if Russian culture, the Russian Orthodox church, and the Russian language were dominant in the Empire, it nevertheless had many different cultures and languages written in many alphabets, despite concerted attempts at Russification in the 19th century, which forbade the use of native languages such as in Ukrainian and Polish in schools, publishing, etc. Therefore, when we speak of cinema in the Romanov era, we must remember that it started with French equipment, reporters, and cameramen, working with local resources and crews.

To Denise Youngblood I owe the term of the “local history” and “native producers” (Youngblood 1999, xi) which in some cases saves writing “productions taking place in the All Rossian Empire.” In several instances, Valérie Pozner uses the word “authochthone” (native), implying a focus on territory (Χθών – ‘earth’), which is in common usage today when a film is identified by its country of origin, rather than by its language or the nationality/ethnicity of the creative team and crew.

In Russian, these words roughly correspond to the terms “otechestvennyi” or “Rossiiskii”, thus including participants who, although not ethnic Russians, were nevertheless an intrinsic part of Imperial film history, some of them even shaping what “Rossian” meant in the Rossiiskii film business and the so-called “Russian style” of films, or, better yet, Russian film styles, since by the end of the era there was more than one. Those responsible for developing “Russian styles” included people like the French born cameraman Louis Forestier as much as the theatre owners “Moscow meshchane Abram Borukh and Lazar´ Gekhtman”,41 the Baltic German O.A. Rosenberg from Reval in Estonia, and other ‘foreigners’ or inovertsy: producer and director couple Pavel and Elizaveta Thiemann, Semen Frenkel’ from Kiev, Mmes Elizarian and Stern who founded the studio Variag in 1911,42 Robert Perskii, studio owner and publisher of Kine-Zhurnal, or director Evgenii Bauer and his wife Lina Ancharova, an actress and singer.

A Typical “Foreigner”? Mundwiller/Meyer: Antoś pierwszy raz w Warszawie (1908), Film Instructor at the Court, and L’Khaim (1910)

Title card of L’Khaim, listing as producer Br. PATE (Mosk. Otd.) 1910 / Pathé Bros. (Moscow office), 1910

Let us look at the internationally acclaimed film L’Khaim / To Life (1910), directed by a Frenchman, [Maurice-]André Maître, and a Dane, Kai Hansen, with film set by a Pole, Czesław Sabiński.