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Russian films in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany in Twenties and Thirties


There was no film distribution company specialized on Russian films in the 20ies, as there was in Germany. Several distribution companies, especially „Lyrafilm“, „Merkurfilm“ and „Wetebfilm“, distributed Russian films on the Czechoslovak film market. Some films were also screened unofficially. This concerns the film screenings for the guests of the Soviet embassy in Prague (Ustyanovicová 1951).

The above-mentioned state of film import was changed in the 30ies. Relations between Czechoslovakia and Russia changed significantly in this period. After the normalisation of diplomatic relations in 1934 a film distribution company "Praha - Paríž" was established. This company started to concentrate on importing Russian films - not only feature films but also newsreels and documentaries. Worth of mentioning in this context is the Czechoslovak - Soviet Treaty which was signed on 16th May 1935 (Klimek/Kubu 1996).

As mentioned in the film censorship in Czechoslovakia 1919 – 1940 [The film censorship in Czechoslovakia], film censorship belonged to the jurisdiction of Ministerstvo vnitra (Ministry of the Interior). In 1919, the ministry of interior started to issue the “Vestník ministerstva vnitra republiky ceskoslovenské” (Bulletin of the ministry of interior of the Czechoslovak Republic) where statements, rules, news etc. were published. Since 1921 the results of film censorship were also published there – monthly in a chapter “Filmová hlídka” (The Film Watch). This is a very important source for mapping the relations between state authorities and film system, offering irreplaceable information about the film market in Czechoslovakia. This source becomes more important because the archive collection of the censorship documents between 1919 and 1928 is not complete.

The Censor Advisory Board issued an expert statement about the hypothetical impact of the films for cinemagoers. This expert statement frequently influenced the final qualifications for public screening. Interdiction of the film was usually suggested if the depicted scenes could provoke offence, endanger public order or contravene to decency. The ideological importance of film to the Soviet regime is well known. And it should not be kept as a secret – most of the Russian films were shaped by "sympathy" for the regime. Russian movies served – more or less – as an opportunity for censorship action.

During the 20ies and 30ies, more than 250 Russian movies of different genres were screened for the Censor Advisory Board. Except the "Potemkin case" [BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in the Czechoslovak Republic], another complicated and discussed case occurred. Speaking about most famous Russian films it is not possible to omit MATJ (1926, directed by V. Pudovkin), which was completely interdicted. There was a lively discussion between the members of the Censor Advisory Board. Famous painter Rudolf Kremlicka, representative of “Spolek výtvarných umelcu Mánes” (The Society of Creative Artists Mánes), openly protested against the interdiction, being removed from the Censor Advisory Board soon thereafter (Hepner, 1959: 15). A similar story as POTEMKIN had the famous film ARSENAL (1929) by A. Dovzenko. This film was interdicted twice although it was already cut by 170 m after the first rejection. Members of the Censor Advisory Board criticised "huge amounts of brutal and cynic scenes, jeer of national feelings, and disintegration of moral values”. The ministry of defence repeatedly argued the negative impact for the trust in the army. According to its statement, undesirable effect was supposed to be evoked by the depiction of captives killed by Bolshevik soldiers. But finally the film was qualified for public screening after the third censorship hearing and celebrated by the communist daily press Rudé právo (5.5.1931). A reviewer of this journal emphasized “the power of this excellent work still glorifying the revolution in spite of the rough shortages". Similar pro-revolutionary films were completely interdicted – KONEC SANKT PETERBURGA (1927) by V. Pudovkin, OKTJABR (1928) by S.M. Eisenstein, PRIVIDENIJE, KOTOROJE NE VOZVRASCAJETSJA (1929) by A. Room.

Other reasons also served as an occasion for interdiction: biased depiction of historical events in GOLUBOJ EXPRESS (1929) by I. Trauberg, instigation for mutiny in PUTJ V DAMASK by L.Scheffer and resistance against state authorities in BELYJ OREL (1928) by J. Protazanov. It should be mentioned that most Russian films were banned in the break of the 20ies and 30ies, at the beginning of the world economic crisis. The censors’ fear of potential riots is more comprehensible from this point of view.

The situation in the 30ies was changed not only with regard to film import but also to attitudes of the censors. An impact of "controversial movies" was not as powerful as supposed and did not produce any kind of riots or other disturbances of public order. So the censorship authorities were not as strict as in the 20ies. And the relations with the USSR were also different (see above). Only three titles were interdicted in the 30ies. But many previously permitted films were banned as a consequence of the complete turnover in the political climate after the Munich Treaty in September 1938. The next wave of interdictions came after the occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia by Nazi troops.


Source Edition urrogat Production Introduction Censorship Regulations Battleship Potemkin Horror Films Conclusion Bibliography Germany Introduction Czechoslovakia Austria Synopsis Local vs. central film assessment Potemkin abroad Russian films top back next