New Films 






# 9, July 2005

Ian Christie (Birkbeck College, London)

"Protazanov: A Timely Case for Treatment"

Note from the Editors: The following article by Ian Christie is reprinted by permission of the author and with no changes (except in transliteration and punctuation) from Protazanov and the continuity of Russian cinema, edited Ian Christie and Julian Graffy (London: BFI/NFT, 1993), which was originally issued to accompany a retrospective of Iakov Protazanov's films at the National Film Theatre.  This publication has become a bibliographic rarity since all remaining copies of the original brochure were pulped once the retrospective was completed.


There is an intriguing reference in Aleksandr Sokurov's 1985 film Elegy to the secret government campaign of the early 1920s intended to persuade Chaliapin and other leading Russian artists to return to Soviet Russia.  Lunacharskii's crucial letter to Chaliapin, we learn, was never sent and perhaps as a result the great singer remained in voluntary exile along with many of tsarist Russia's leading cultural figures.  Some, of course, did return and, like Aleksei Tolstoi and Prokofiev, were duly welcomed into the fold.  But others—perhaps ultimately all—of these returnees remained under a shadow for the rest of their lives.  Their freedom as artists was weighed, at times explicitly, in the balance against their value according to the political priorities of the moment.


            Among the least publicly acclaimed of the contrite celebrities was Iakov Protazanov, although he would remain the only major pre-revolutionary filmmaker to make the return journey.  Not only the least acclaimed, but soon—at least within the factional world of cinema—a figure of scorn for both avant-garde and "proletarian" populists alike.  Not only a "traditionalist" at a time when tradition had been declared the enemy, nut a virtual embodiment of the New Economic Policy's compromises which so infuriated those who longed for continuing (even "permanent") revolution.  Had not Protazanov returned from self-imposed exile to spearhead Mezhrabpom-Rus's new semi-commercial strategy with the Western-style spectacular Aelita?  The coolly adopted the mantle of Leninism for the inspirational climax of His Call; and gone on to evoke sympathy for such unlikely Soviet-era heroes as the provincial tailor (The Tailor from Torzhok), the captured White officer (The Forty-First), the waiter (The Man from the Restaurant) and the tsarist provincial governor (The White Eagle)?  Surely at best an opportunist, and at worst a purveyor of the "spiritual poison" that Vertov and many of his colleagues in LEF identified with traditional entertainment cinema?


            This is how we discern him in the polemics of the late 1920s.  True there are dissenting voices—most importantly Lunacharskii, who had played an important part in establishing Mezhrabpom-Rus and, we may speculate, in arranging Protazanov's actual return.  Later, as the 1920s polemicists themselves were brought to heel, a more insidious official verdict on Protazanov would emerge.  In Vorontsov and Rachuk's ultra-conservative 1980 history, The Phenomenon of Soviet Cinema, he is identified as the godfather of realism: "Protazanov's skill in working with actors and precise feeling for realistic form in films on various themes and in various genres assured his films of constant popularity with audiences."  Like an uneasy echo of Maiakovskii's posthumous elevation by Stalin, this sounds like another nail in the coffin of Protazanov's latter-day reputation—a populist and a realist!

            And yet, considering to what extent Soviet cinema remains embalmed in mythology, there could be no better time to take stock of Protazanov's remarkable career and muddled reputation than this first year of post-Soviet Russia.  The uncertainties of the present seem almost modest compared with those he lived through—from the catastrophe of the Great War, the two revolutions of 1917, evacuation to Yalta and exile in France and Germany; then return to the cross-currents of the NEP, the bitter conflicts of the Cultural Revolution and forced conformity of the First Five Year Plan, the imposition of Socialist realism, the purges and show trials of Stalin's terror, and finally the grim struggle of the Second World War.

            It is too easy to abstract Protazanov from this epic history and portray him as an aloof sceptic (which is perhaps a politer term for a cynic), picking his way fastidiously through the ideological minefields of the 1920s and 1930s.  Or—the reverse of the same coin, adjusted for present sensibilities—as a cultivated exponent of traditional Russian liberal values amongst the propagandists and ideologues of Soviet cinema (to adapt Lunacharskii's famous description of himself as "an intellectual among Bolsheviks and a Bolshevik among intellectuals").  The truth, as far as we can begin to discern it, seems to be more complex.

            What appears to have motivated Protazanov from the very beginning of his career, which virtually coincided with the history of filmmaking in Russia, was his ability to seize on the topical or the scandalous and intensify it to the point where it acquires a real moral significance for the audience.  There may be no single genre or style that predominates in his prolific career—compared with his contemporary Evgenii Bauer's specialisation in melodrama Protazanov made as many comedies and topical pieces as typically "Russian melodramas"—but this does not mean that he should be compared with a Hollywood journeyman, a Henry King or William Wyler.  A more telling comparison would be with Douglas Sirk, who not only moved through at least three totally different production regimes, retaining his directorial integrity, but also brought to all his varied material a consistent intelligence and quest for what could be expressed through a combination of "kitsch, craziness and trashiness."  In a well-known formulation from Sirk's 1970 interview with Jon Halliday: "one of the foremost things of picture-making… is to bend your material to your style and your purpose.  A director is really a story-bender…  A story nearly always leaves you something to express beyond plot or literary values."

            If we step back from the politics of Protazanov's career and from the complacent identification of him as an "actor's director," we find instead a director constantly responding to the conditions around him, "bending" the materials of script, actors and visual style towards something that will challenge, and thus entertain, his audience.  An opportunist, as all filmmakers must be, but no mere cynic: instead a shrewd tactician who took care to surround himself with the very best collaborators, yet to remain in unquestioned control, wielding his trademark baton as the maestro of the spectacle. 

Case Studies in "Bending"

            What evidence do we have of this engagement with his material, from a director who was notoriously reticent in commenting on his motives and whose most popular pre-1917 films have all been lost?  In fact, the earliest film to survive, The Departure of a Great Old Man (1912), turns out to be not as untypical of Protazanov's approach as anecdotes about it might suggest.  First, we learn that the idea was actually suggested by a Tolstoi expert, who undertook to create a scenario about the scandal of the great writer's flight from his wife and home in Iasnaia Poliana (this and following information from Silent Witnesses: 162).  Next, great attention was paid to ensuring that the make-up for Shaternikov made him resemble Tolstoi, while some scenes appear to have been filmed at the actual location where he died—a combination of artifice and verisimilitude which gives the film a curious authenticity (and indeed looks forward to the distinctive rhetoric of later Soviet "historical" films).  Finally, when the Tolstoi family successfully took legal action to ban the film in Russia, it seems that the producers, presumably with Protazanov's involvement, decided to go far beyond what current Russian censorship would have allowed and add an extraordinary "apotheosis" sequence in which the heretic Tolstoi is received into heaven.  Scandalous certainly, yet also highly appropriate for a writer who himself fell foul of the censor and whose idiosyncratic Christianity had made him a folk-hero while earning him the enmity of the Orthodox church.

            "Bending" of a more conventional kind, albeit in the Russian context, apparently took place in Drama by the Telephone in 1914.  Tsivian recounts how this re-make of Griffith's The Lonely Villa "had to change the ending: the husband was not in time to rescue his wife and came home to find the dead body of his wife who had been killed by burglars."  This change, apparently, was dictated by the longstanding tradition of "the Russian audience's need for tragic endings"—a need that was reconciled with wider commercial considerations by producing two endings for many films.  The actress Giatsintova  recalled how Protazanov's By a Mother's Hand (1914) had a happy end "for export," while the Russian release version had "Lidochka in her coffin."

            We know something from the memoirs of Protazanov's collaborators on The Queen of Spades (1916) about how the actor Mozzhukhin and the art director Balliuzek contributed to this film's psychological intensity and dream-like fluidity.  And even in what seems to be an incomplete surviving version—minus Slavinskii's famous tracking shot through the countess's house and, by implication, Germann's imagination—it retains a shocking force.  But it is not until Aelita in 1924 that there is further concrete evidence of Protazanov's determination to "bend" his material towards a vision that is distinctively his.  The raw material of Aelita was a science-fiction romance by Aleksei Tolstoi, written while he too was still an exile, like Protazanov, in Germany, negotiating the terms on which he would return to Russia (see my essay on Aelita in Inside the Film Factory).  Fedor Otsep (who had helped script The Queen of Spades for Protazanov while still a schoolboy) and Aleksei Faiko were employed by Mezhrabpom to adapt Aelita for the screen, and the latter recalled how Protazanov "made all sorts of demands… [he] was always searching and striving for something new and more interesting."


            The result was a multi-layered film, structured around a disguised dream, which not only defused the simplistic heroics and romance of Tolstoi's novel, but effectively ridiculed these sentiments from a standpoint more firmly rooted in the social (and psychological) reality of the NEP period.  This is the reality of refugees and ex-servicemen returning from the Civil War, of speculators and the sullen bourgeoisie recalling their lost status, and of idealistic, yet exhausted, professionals who want to build a new world, but are still rooted in the old.  None of this, however, is portrayed through "realism."  Instead Protazanov devised a complex Chinese-box construction which moves the action rapidly through different registers and plays off against each other a cross-section of actors from different theatre traditions.

            In just one production, he had managed to fulfill the ambitions of his sponsors to equal the scale of Western production, to create and to reflect more of the "new reality" than those filmmakers who had lived through it—and to create a true popular success, despite the first of many sour notices in Pravda and the barracking of avant-garde filmmakers like Kuleshov and Eisenstein.  Another dissatisfied party, it might be noted, was Aleksei Tolstoi, who complained, with some justice, that his novel had been travestied.  But whatever that work's merits, it is precisely the gap between Tolstoi's Edgar Rice Burroughs-style space opera and Protazanov's witty fantastic parable of thwarted idealism that defines the latter's transforming art.

            Another example of Protazanov's shrewd choice of material is Tommy (1931).  When faced with the challenge of synchronized sound in 1930, a challenge which traumatised many of the avant-garde directors, Protazanov unerringly selected a work which had already proved its popularity, but also offered unusual scope for developing the new syntax of sound and image.  Vsevolod Ivanov's Armoured Train 14-69 was first published as a novella of the Civil War in 1922, when it joined a considerable body of experimental prose being published by fellow-members of the Serapion Brotherhood and such as Pilniak, Olesha, Platonov and Zoshchenko.  Ivanov's early prose has been described as "cinematic" because of its terse, elliptical style, making use of snapshot images, songs and snatches of "factual" material.  By the late 1920s, however, it can be assumed that the story was best known from Stanislavskii's adaptation for the Moscow Arts Theatre (a photograph from this appears in Wollen's Signs and Meaning in the Cinema: 24-5).  Yet in choosing it for his sound debut, Protazanov was perhaps harking back to the story's original texture; and his actual treatment—notably the mimed scene in which Red partisans explain their allegiance to a captured British "Tommy"—makes a contribution to the first phase of sound production scarcely less original than the calculated "asynchrony" of Pudovkin's Deserter (1933). 

Protazanov and the "Studio System"

            That Protazanov started his career as, effectively, a studio contract director is not surprising: this was the only working structure available in the Russian, as in other, film industries of the time.  What is more surprising is that he resumed this relationship after returning from exile in 1923 and thus became the only major studio-based director of the Soviet era. 

            Soon after his return from France in 1907, presumably having wanted to avoid the turmoil which followed the abortive revolution of 1905, Protazanov joined one of the new Moscow production companies that were springing up in the wake of Drankov's pioneering production of Stenka Razin, the "first" Russian non-fiction film.  From the Gloria company, he soon moved to the more ambitious Thiemann and Reinhardt, where he scored the first successes that would rapidly mark him out as a leading figure in the infant Russian cinema.  The Convict's Song proved a popular success; while we may guess that Anfisa, adapted from a play by the immensely popular contemporary writer Leonid Andreev, carried considerable prestige.  It was perhaps this first direct experience of cinema that prompted Andreev's ecstatic "Letter on Cinema" of 1911 (translated in The Film Factory): "The miraculous Cinema!… If the highest and most sacred aim of art is to instigate contact between people and their individual souls, then what an enormous, unimaginable socio-psychological role is destined to be played by this artistic Apache of the present!" 

            The Departure of a Great Old Man, co-directed with Thiemann's sister, presumably raised the company's profile through the publicity surrounding its banning (and perhaps its profits from foreign sales?).  At any rate, after the unprecedented success of The Keys to Happiness in 1913, Protazanov was clearly the main directorial asset of the company.  And the anecdotes surrounding the "battle" between rival producers of War and Peace in 1915 again underline how central he had become to Thiemann's entrepreneurial resources.

            It seems to have been precisely the challenge of an even more ambitious entrepreneur that persuaded Protazanov to forgo his plans for an independent venture with Gardin and instead join Ermolev's new studio in 1915.  Ermolev had worked for Pathé's Russian subsidiary, from which he had bought their studio. In return, he granted all foreign distribution rights on his productions to Pathé.  The result, Maryline Fellous argues, was that Ermolev and his leading director Protazanov were encouraged to keep in view the wider international market.  Ermolev had also won over Protazanov by luring the greatest Russian star of the period, Mozzhukhin, away from Khanzhonkov.  With the versatile Mozzhukhin, and under Ermolev's enlightened supervision, Protazanov was able to continue working in the variety o genres that had distinguished his work from that of Bauer.  One particular feature, possibly encouraged by the Pathé connection, was a series of major literary adaptations, which began with Nikolai Stavrogin, adapted from Dostoevskii's The Devils by an important future collaborator, Moisei Aleinikov.

            When the February Revolution of 1917 relaxed censorship, the company was quick to seize the opportunity to film Tolstoi's "blasphemous" story Father Sergius, as well as turning in several films on "revolutionary" themes (as did Bauer for their rival Khanzhonkov).  Protazanov stayed loyal to Ermolev through the next five years, following him first to Yalta, then to Paris and finally to Berlin―where he was still working for him when Aleinikov arrived with an invitation to join the newly-launched Mezhrabpom-Rus studio, formed from the Rus Collective of ex-Ermolev employees who had weathered the Civil War and early years of reconstruction, managing to produce Polikushka in conditions of incredible privation.

            Protazanov's agreement to return to Soviet Russia set the seal on Mezhrabpom-Rus as a unique experiment born of the pragmatic semi-commercialism of the New Economic Policy.  For it was this studio which most visibly represented a bridge between the past of pre-revolutionary Russian cinema and the aspirations of a nationalised―though still largely unachieved―Soviet cinema.  And yet, despite being led by Ermolev's former aide, Aleinikov, and employing a number of his former staff, it was no mere enclave of "bourgeois specialists."  For among the new recruits were several of Kuleshov's experimental group, including Pudovkin and Barnet, and from 1929 it provided a base for the embattled Kuleshov himself.  Actors and technical personnel clearly moved between "avant-garde" and "traditional" productions with such regularity that we may doubt whether this deeply-etched distinction―the very basis of definition for much of early Soviet production―had much meaning within the walls of Mezhrabpom.  Indeed, as Bernard Eisenschitz has noted, it was this studio of all Soviet film institutions which most clearly fulfilled both domestic and foreign political aims throughout the 1920s and early 1930s―making propaganda themes truly effective as entertainment and embodying internationalism in subject and personnel as a reality.  Seen in this perspective, Pudovkin's and Shpikovskii's 1925 short Chess Fever takes on an emblematic quality as a poignant combination of the old and the new.  Visiting chess champions are "magically" (courtesy of Kuleshov's celebrated "effect") conscripted into a topical comedy of contemporary Soviet-Russian life, played by both Kuleshov graduates like Fogel and future Protazanov regulars, such as Ktorov and Zharov.  We may also see it as something of a studio "home-movie" which, fittingly, provides the only surviving film image of Protazanov himself, appearing with his then assistant Iulii Raizman (who would carry many of Protazanov's values and virtues into the future, through his own long career as director, talent spotter and executive producer).

            Unsurprisingly, however, Mezhrabpom-Rus continued to attract both professional and political resentment throughout the 1920s; and much of this remained focused on the figure of Protazanov himself, who was apparently allowed to have a substantial private share-holding in the joint-venture.  Doubtless this formed part of the deal approved (maybe proposed?) by Lunacharskii which enabled him to return from exile in the first place.  As the Cultural Revolution of 1928-30 presaged future central control of what had remained relatively autonomous matters of culture throughout the 1920s, so it was inevitable that even the cautious Protazanov would attract more serious criticism.  And when Lunacharskii fell from power at the end of the decade, he lost his only highly placed protector.  The early 1930s was a time of violent polemics and banned films, despite the new controls over scripts and production plans instituted in 1929.

            In 1935, Protazanov experienced his first (and, it may be said last) "shelving" when Love's Strangeness was banned amid public condemnation.  Mezhrabpom's eager espousal of Comintern-style internationalism, which had brought such leading Western communists as Piscator and Ivens to work at the studio, was perceived to be out of step with Stalin's new line.  In desperation, the studio directors appealed to Protazanov to go straight from work on Love's Strangeness to an adaptation of Ostrovskii's Without a Dowry.  Yet this proved insufficient to forestall Mezhrabpom's "liquidation" under Boris Shumiatskii's strong-arm cinema administration: when the film eventually emerged, it was technically under the short-lived banner of the "Red Front Studio," making it probably the last film from the remarkable and still undervalued institution that was Mezhrabpom.  ("Rus" had long since been dropped as an embarrassing reminder of its origins).


            Even in the final phase of his career, Protazanov remained a loyal studio director.  He joined the newly-organized Soiuzdetfilm, led by Iutkevich and charged with making films intended primarily for young people (later known as the Gorkii Studio).  Taking this brief more seriously than most, he made the school story Class Seven, followed by two stylish period pieces, Salavat Iulaev and Nasreddin in Bukhara, both of remarkable integrity and resonance for the period.

The Myth of an "Actors' Director"

Protazanov has entered received cinema history as an "actors' director," with the clear implication that this is opposed to the montage school's view of actors as, ideally, either "models" (Kuleshov) or "types" (Eisenstein).  Both terms of the opposition, unsurprisingly, need substantial reconsideration.

            Thanks to recent research on early Russian cinema, we now know much more about the context and origins of this much-maligned school and specifically about the place of acting in it.  Tsivian has guided us idiomatically through the matrix of a deliberately stylised acting which emphasized the "fullness" of the actor's gesture, the ancestry of tragic "Russian endings" and the "logocentrism" which governed relations between intertitles and images.  And Iampolskii has offered further insights into how the rhythmic movement and gesture studies of Dalcroze and Delsarte were synthesised in Russia by Prince Volkonskii in the period after 1910―precisely when Russian cinema was acquiring its distinctive style―to create a "new anthropology of the actor" (both in Inside the Film Factory).

            It would be implausible to claim that this theory produced the acting style of a vernacular art like cinema, but it could also hardly fail to be applied to a medium which reduced acting to a monochrome two-dimensional pantomime and subordinated it to new dimensions of rhythm and framing.  In the anecdotes that have come down to us about Protazanov's and Gardin's attempt to "conduct" the rhythm of their actors' performances and to create deliberate pauses (no doubt under the influence of Art Theatre and Symbolist traditions), as well as in the actors' own concern that their stately rhythms should not be accelerated by the mechanism of cinema―in all these we can perhaps trace the legitimation of acting as a part-scientific (and also part-mystical) means of representing emotion and other inner states.  Later, these ideas would undergo a materialist transformation to become the basis of Kuleshov's Constructivist theory of the "model" within montage theory of filmic meaning; and still later they would resume some of their earlier "magical" associations as they continued to haunt Eisenstein's theoretical study of expression.

            Although most of Protazanov's early films are lost, the few that survive and descriptions of others suggest that he was an early explorer in fields similar to those that Kuleshov would later immortalize in his 1921 "experiments."  Consider, for instance, The Face of War, a short film of 1914, described as a "psychological study," with only one actor listed.  Could this be an attempt to portray the horrors of war as "written" on the face of a single actor, anticipating Kuleshov's later montage chain of an actor's face "associated" with the emotional content of the images preceding it?  We will never know.  But we can surely interpret the surviving Moment Musical of 1913 and a number of dance and song-based items in Protazanov's filmography as evidence of his sharing a widely held belief of the time in the essentially musical and rhythmic foundation of film as an art.

            What underpinned the stylistic features of the "Russian style" in cinema (as it was already known by 1913) was a shared commitment to exploring psychological depth, which Russian directors considered best done by renouncing American-style dynamism in favour of duration and the choreographing of a near-static intensity.  Another vital factor in achieving this intensity was control of the actors' looks―and in this respect Protazanov's partnership with Mozzhukhin developed one of Russian cinema's most formidable effects: the "Mozzhukhin gaze."  A contemporary review of Little Ellie (1918), in which Mozzhukhin plays the town mayor who is also a child murderer, refers to him coping "admirably, as always, with the character's displays of nervous derangement.  He is helped greatly in this by his own peculiar and severe stare."

            Mozzhukhin had joined Ermolev's company after a disagreement with Khanzhonkov, and he soon formed a close relationship with Protazanov.  The parts he specialised in were, according to Svetlana Skovorodnikova, "neurasthenics, demonic characters, people with secret passions or facing spiritual discord, caught between duty and passion."  He brought to the portrayal of these characters a fully-fledged philosophy and technique of screen acting, possibly the first of its kind anywhere.  His account of this approach is a virtual compendium of the developed "Russian style" as practised in Protazanov's films of 1916-18:

The main technical principle in cinematography is absolute silence on the screen and creation is built on internal expression, on your partner's hypnosis, on the pause, on disturbing allusions, on psychological innuendos…  The time is near when scripts will be written on this principle without any words at all and the psychological drama of man will unfold through the body, the face and the eye of the actor.

            The "Mozzhukhin gaze" seems to function in quite a different way from the "looks" that structure inter-character and character-audience relations in American and Western European cinema of the silent period.  Essentially this intense stare works in reverse, offering a window into the protagonist's (usually) tortured psyche, rather than signifying their external relation to another.  It is as if the conventional trope of a close-up on an actor as a prelude to their memory flash-back were extended, so that the audience is invited to imagine what has gone before and within—a sign of subjectivity.

            For all the intensity of his major films with Mozzhukhin—The Queen of Spades, Satan Triumphant, The Public Procurator, Father Sergius—Protazanov refused to specialize in tragic melodrama alone.  Comedy remained a constant strand in his career, from first to last; and in many ways his distinctive form was precisely the unsettling comedy-drama.  Satan Triumphant found grim humour in the devil's antics amid devout Christians; but it was the challenge of making L'Angoissante aventure en route from Yalta to Paris that produced a form Protazanov would repeat on at least two occasions.  In the 1920 film, he embeds a typically Russian tale of doomed love and social degradation within an equally typical French framing story of aristocrats "managing" their sexual needs.  This allowed Mozzhukhin to create a bridge between his established Russian persona and the new role he would play out in France as Mosjoukine, bringing Slav intensity and (in his own words) "a sadistically refined sensitivity" to his subsequent work within the French avant-garde of the 1920s.

            Back in Soviet Russia and faced with the conventional heroics of Aelita as written, Protazanov's approach was to fragment the original into a number of levels, each signified by quite different acting styles.  This the traditional neurasthenic hero of pre-revolutionary Russian cinema, the engineer Los and his alter ego the seducible "bad" engineer are played by a leading figure from the Symbolist Tairov theatre, Nikolai Tsereteli; the sturdy Red Army man and the glamorous Martian princess, both important identification figures for Protazanov's reworking of the material, are both played by non-professional newcomers, Batalov and Solntseva; and the comic detective is played by a skilled member of Meierkhold's "biomechanical" troupe, Igor' Ilinskii.


            Significantly, Protazanov's sensitivity to casting and acting style led him to sever links with the likes of Tsereteli and create in Ktorov a new, more neutral leading man (the "gentleman criminal" of The Three Million Trial and The Feast of St. Jorgen); while in Ilinskii he found a perfect emblem of the new era of the "common man" and the key actor whose physical virtuosity would define his Soviet silent work just as Mozzhukhin's haunted gaze had dominated his late tsarist period.  And still, he continued to experiment with mixing actors from different schools: Kachalov, Moskvin and Mikhail Chekhov, all from the Arts Theatre tradition; Meierkhold himself in The White Eagle (his only surviving film performance) and several of his leading actors, up to Lev Sverdlin in Nasreddin in Bukhara.  There was an intriguing period of "distanciation" in the early sound films, followed by the most coherently classical of all Protazanov's films—largely because of its impeccable ensemble acting—Without a Dowry.


Piecing Protazanov Together

The little we know of Protazanov, beyond what can be inferred from the surviving films, comes from two quite different traditions—the pre-revolutionary Russian film press and Soviet film literature.  Broadly speaking, the former lacks distance and takes much for granted; while the latter is heavy with hindsight and highly selective in its portrayal of the "progressive Protazanov."  Between these two scant sources, and in the absence of any revealing interviews or writings by Protazanov, there remain a number of lacunae and puzzles.

            What, for instance, are we to make of the stylised allegorical passages which appear in a number of his films, from the celestial apotheosis of The Departure of a Great Old Man and the grinning portrait in Satan Triumphant to the hammer and sickle forging episode at the end of Aelita and the "ship of state" visual allegory in His Call?  These hint at a very different sensibility from the psychological realism which is perhaps the common denominator of Protazanov's career.

            No doubt much more evidence of his motives and influences remains to be found, once this shamefully neglected filmmaker is deemed a suitable case for further research.  Freed from the need to defend him from partisan attacks by the young Soviet avant-garde, it may well be possible to illuminate his aesthetic by reference to such figures as Andreev and indeed Ostrovskii.  For although Protazanov produced some of the most "loyal" films of the Soviet epoch, he demands above all to be seen in a full Russian context.  Just as Eisenstein, Kuleshov and Pudovkin, not to mention FEKS, stand in urgent need of reinterpretation from a less embattled standpoint than history has yet allowed, so Protazanov must join Bauer and the neglected figures of the Soviet era—Barnet, Room and Ermler—before Russian film history can properly be reclaimed from the distortions and debris that still obscure it.



Iakov Protazanov: Filmography

This filmography is based on Arlazorov's, which in turn is taken largely from the 1957 edition of Aleinikov's collection.  Several obvious errors and omissions have been corrected, but only limited cross-checking with other primary sources has been possible. [* indicates films of which no extant copy is known]

A. Films on which Protazanov collaborated:


*The Fountain of Bakhchisarai (director: Vasilii Goncharov; script: Protazanov; Gloria).

* The Death of Ivan the Terrible (director: Vasilii Goncharov; cast: Protazanov; Gloria).



* A May Night, or the Drowned Girl (director: V. Krivtsov; script: Protazanov; Gloria).



*The First Distiller (director: V. Krivtsov; script: Protazanov; Thiemann and Reinhardt).



* Rogneda (Destruction of Polotsk) (director: V. Krivtsov; cast: Protazanov; Thiemann and Reinhardt).



Chess Fever (directors: Vsevolod Pudovkin and Nikolai Shpikovskii; cast: Protazanov; Mezhrabpom-Rus).


B. Films directed by Protazanov:


* The Convict's Song (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* The Song of the Prophet Oleg (Thiemann and Reinhardt).



* Anfisa (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

The Departure of a Great Old Man (co-directed with Elizaveta Thiemann; Thiemann and Reinhardt).


* Nailed Down (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* For the Honour of the Russian Flag (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* How the Child's Soul Sobbed (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* The Bought Husband (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* The Executioner's Son (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* The Broken Vase (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* A Chopin Nocturne (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* How Fine, How Fresh Were the Roses (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* The Keys to Happiness (co-directed with Vladimir Gardin; Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* What the Violin Lamented (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* The Brand of Pleasures Past (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

Moment Musical (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* One Had Fun, Another Paid (Thiemann and Reinhardt).



* Do Your Duty (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

By a Mother's Hand (Thiemann and Reinhardt).

* If a Woman Wants, She Can Fool the Devil

* Tango

* Passing Life By

* The Observer of Morality

* The Dance of the Vampire

* A Work of Art

* The Arena of Vengeance

* The Devil

* Amor, Arthur and Co.

* The Face of War

* The Anger of Dionysus

* The Monkey Saved Them

* Dance Among the Swords

* The Christmas Tree

* Drama by the Telephone

* The Living Mannequin

* Christmas in the Trenches



* Wisdom Tooth

* War and Peace (co-directed with Vladimir Gardin)

The Plebian

* The Deputy

* The Seagull (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Nikolai Stavrogin (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* My Conscience and I (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* On the Outskirts of Moscow (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Natasha Proskurina (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Don't Go Asking Her Questions (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Sashka the Seminarian (I. Ermol'ev Company).



* The Dance of Death (I. Ermol'ev Company).

Give Her Something, For the Sake of Christ!

* I'll Hitch Up a Troika of Swift Dark Brown Horses (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* God's Judgement (I. Ermol'ev Company).

The Queen of Spades (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* The Woman With a Dagger (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* The Song Remained Unfinished (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Family Happines (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Tasia (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Covet Not Thy Neighbour's Wife (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* She Wanted Happiness So Madly, So Passionately (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Sin (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Down Mother Volga (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Miss Mary (I. Ermol'ev Company).



* In the Power of Sin (co-directed with Georgii Azagarov; I. Ermol'ev Company).

* The Public Procurator (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Andrei Kozhukov (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* No Bloodshed! (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* The Road to Calvary (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* Those Damned Millions (I. Ermol'ev Company).

Satan Triumphant (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* The Stormy Sea Drew Her (I. Ermol'ev Company).



Little Ellie (I. Ermol'ev Company).

A Knight of the Spirit (I. Ermol'ev Company).

Father Sergius (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* The Man at the Railing (I. Ermol'ev Company).

Jenny the Maid (I. Ermol'ev Company).



* The Dumb Watchman (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* The Black Flock (I. Ermol'ev Company).

* The Queen's Secret (I. Ermol'ev Company; Moscow and Yalta).

* Now Hope, Now Blind Jealousy (I. Ermol'ev Company; Yalta).

* A Woman's Golgotha (Ermol'ev Studio).



A Narrow Escape [L'Angoissante aventure] (Ermolieff-Cinéma; Paris).



* For a Night of Love [Pour une nuit d'amour] (Production T Paris [Paul Thiemann]).

* Justice Above All [Justice d'abord] (Ermolieff-Cinéma; Paris).

* The Meaning of Death [Le Sens de la mort] (Production T Paris [Paul Thiemann]).



* The Shadow of Sin [L'Ombre du péché] (Ermolieff-Cinéma).



* Pilgrimage of Love [Der Liebe Pielgefahrt] (UFA; Bewrlin Tempelhof).



Aelita (Mezhrabpom-Rus').



His Call (Mezhrabpom-Rus').

The Tailor from Torzhok (Mezhrabpom-Rus').



The Three Million Trial (Mezhrabpom-Rus').

The Forty-First (Mezhrabpom-Rus').



The Man from the Restaurant (Mezhrabpom-Rus').

Don Diego and Pelageia (Mezhrabpom-Rus').



The White Eagle (Mezhrabpom-fil'm).

Ranks and People (Mezhrabpom-fil'm).



The Feast of St. Jorgen (Mezhrabpom-fil'm).



Tommy (Mezhrabpom-fil'm).



Marionettes (Mezhrabpom-fil'm).

Love's Strangeness (Mezhrabpom-fil'm).



Without a Dowry (Rot-Front Studio).



Class Seven (Soiuzdetfil'm).



Salavat Iulaev (Soiuzdetfil'm).



Nasreddin in Bukhara (Tashkent Film Studio).


C. Unfilmed projects:

Taras Bulba (the project was announced as Protazanov's first film to be directed upon his return to the Soviet Union in 1923; abandoned for Aelita).

Stenka Razin (a 1927 project that was supposed to mark the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution).

War and Peace (a 1927 project that was to be a collaboration between Protazanov and Nemirovich-Danchenko; revived in 1928 with a script by Lunacharskii and Protazanov).

Wolves and Sheep (at the time of his final illness and death, Protazanov was planning to do a screen adaptation of Ostrovskii's 1875 play).


Works Cited

Aleinikov, Moisei, ed.  Iakov Protazanov: O tvorcheskom puti rezhissera.  Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1957. 

Arlazorov, Mikail.  Protazanov.  Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1973.

Christie, Ian.  "Down to earth: Aelita relocated."  Inside the Film Factory: New Approaches to Russian and Soviet Cinema.  Ed. Richard Taylor and Ian Christie.  London and NY: Routledge, 1991.  80-102.

Fellous, Maryline.  "Iakov Protazanov."  Le Cinéma russe avant la revolution.  Paris: Ramsay, 62-71.

Taylor, Richard and Ian Christie, eds.  The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents, 1896-1939.  London and Cambridge, MA: Routledge/Harvard UP, 1988.

—, eds.  Inside the Film Factory: New Approaches to Russian and Soviet Cinema.  London and NY: Routledge, 1991.

Tsivian, Iurii, et al.  Silent Witnesses: Russian Films 1908-1919.  Pordenone and London: BFI, 1989.

Vorontsov, Iurii and Igor' Rachuk.  The Phenomenon of Soviet Cinema.  Moscow: Raduga, 1980.

Wollen, Peter.  Signs and Meaning in the Cinema.  3rd ed. London: Secker and Warburg, 1972.

Yampolsky, Mikhail.  "Kuleshov and the New Anthropology of the Actor."  Inside the Film  Factory: New Approaches to Russian and Soviet Cinema.  Ed. Richard Taylor and Ian Christie.  London and NY: Routledge, 1991.  31-50.