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Librettos of Russian Films 1908-1917

The principles of constructing the database and its structure

Translated by Julian Graffy

The materials published here are the fullest collection of pre-Revolutionary cinema librettos ever gathered together. Librettos – short descriptions of the plots of films – were written for even the earliest Russian films. Thus a libretto is extant for the 1908 film «Sten´ka Razin» («Brigands from the Lower Reaches»), which is conventionally described as the first Russian film. In the period from 1907 to 1918 the film press regularly published librettos. And this collection, which reflects a significant part of the early history of film literature in Russia, was compiled primarily on the basis of the first Russian film journals. Currently it contains 886 librettos, but the collection will be added to.

The electronic database is divided into sections marking specific years of the history of pre-Revolutionary Russian cinema. Within each section are chapters, each of which is devoted to one film libretto.

The structure of the chapters is as follows. First there is a filmographic heading containing all the known titles of the film for which the libretto was written (in the epoch of early cinema films often had several titles). If a libretto refers to only one reel of the film, then the number of that reel is denoted in square brackets. If there are several variants of the libretto of the same film (as is the case, for example, with the film «The Brothers Karamazov» 1915), they are numbered conventionally and those numbers are supplied in circular brackets. After the filmographic heading comes the heading of the libretto, in inverted commas; in many cases the texts of these two headings are not the same. Then comes the libretto itself; the texts are published according to the norms of contemporary orthography and punctuation with the correction of obvious misprints. After this there is a reference to the source of the text. If it has been possible to establish that one and the same text of a libretto was published in various journals, then the relevant references are listed in a section entitled ‘Other sources for the libretto’. Each chapter concludes with filmographic information, taken from the fullest filmography existing to this date, Veniamin Vishnevskii’s «Khudozhestvennye fil´my dorevoliutsionnoi Rossii» («The Feature Films of Pre-Revolutionary Russia»), Moscow, Goskinoizdat, 1945.

The general principles of the construction of the database can be formulated thus: the members of the Research Group looked at all the issues of the major pre-Revolutionary journals and also at periodicals on the periphery of early Russian film journalism. While the list of journals used in the research cannot be called exhaustive, it is fully representative (it is given here in Russian alphabetical order):

Vestnik zhivoi fotografii [The Herald of Living Photography] St Petersburg, 1909

Vestnik kinematografii [The Herald of Cinematography] Moscow, 1911-1917

Vestnik kinematografov v Sankt-Peterburge [The Herald of Cinematographs in St Petersburg] St Petersburg, 1908

Zhivoi ekran [The Living Screen] Rostov on Don, 1912-1917

Kine-zhurnal [Cine-Journal] Moscow, 1910-1917

Kinema-omnium St Petersburg, 1913-1914

Kinematograf [The Cinematograph] Rostov on Don, 1914-1915

Kinematograf [The Cinematograph] St Petersburg, 1915-1916

Kinematograficheskii teatr [The Cinematograph Theatre] St Petersburg, 1910-1911

Kinemo [Cinemo] Moscow, 1909-1910

Kino, Riga, 1915

Kino [supplement to the journal Svetopis´ [Writing in Light] Moscow, 1907-1908

Kino-kur´er [Cine-Courier] St Petersburg, 1913-1914

Kur´er sinematografii [The Cinematography Courier] Revel´ [now Tallinn], 1913

Nasha nedelia [Our Week] Moscow, 1911-1917

Proektor [Projector] Moscow, 1915-1918

Sinema (also known as Kinema) [Cinema] Rostov on Don, 1913-1916

Sine-Fono [Cine-Phono] Moscow, 1907-1918 (missing No 15-16, 1917)

Ekran i stsena [Screen and Stage] Rostov on Don, 1910

Ekran Rossii [The Russian Screen] Moscow, 1916

Iuzhanin [The Southerner] Khar´kov, 1915-1916

A full list of the librettos published in it was compiled for each issue of a journal. Then, with the help of Veniamin Vishnevskii’s filmography, all the entries from these lists were checked, and thus the descriptions of foreign films could be distinguished from those of Russian ones, which were deciphered and entered into the database.

If the libretto for a film was published in a number of journals without any changes or with insignificant changes (subdivision into paragraphs or failure to do so, the omission of individual words or sentences) then the version used as the basic one in the database was the one published in the most important (most widely circulated) film journal and the other versions were noted as additional (in the section ‘Other sources of the libretto’). While we understand that the concepts of importance or wide dissemination are relative ones, we have, with the aim of taking a more systematised approach to the material, compiled an order of pre-Revolutionary film journals in which the first places are occupied by the longest-lived Moscow journals as the publications which had the greatest influence on the film process. Thus our list is as follows: Sine-Fono [Cine-Phono] Moscow, 1907-1918; Kine-zhurnal [Cine-Journal] Moscow, 1910-1917; Vestnik kinematografii [The Herald of Cinematography] Moscow, 1911-1917; Proektor [Projector] Moscow, 1915-1918; Zhivoi ekran [The Living Screen] Rostov on Don, 1912-1917; Sinema (also known as Kinema) [Cinema] Rostov on Don, 1913-1916. We did not consider it necessary to include in this hierarchy journals which were published for less than three years since the librettos published in them were either unique (making it impossible to compare them with other variants) or had been encountered in at least one of the “major” journals and thus were automatically entered in the “additional list”.

The filmographic information, as indicated earlier, is given according to Vishnevskii’s filmography.

Much of the data in that work needs to be checked and corrected, but that major enterprise was not a part of this project’s aim, so we have, for now, had to refrain from scholarly editing and correction of the filmographic materials. With the aim of maintaining a consistent approach this information is reproduced exactly as in Vishnevskii’s catalogue, even when individual remarks by Vishnevskii are refuted by the texts of the librettos. Thus the note on the 1914 film «When the strings of the heart sound» («Kogda zvuchat struny serdtsa») ends with the following remark: ‘The first creative work of the collective of artists of the studio of the Moscow Arts Theatre; the plot of the production, the camera operator and the base where the film was made have not been established.’ Of course the libretto published in the relevant chapter gives a sense of the plot of the film.

The collection of librettos gathered here is of value, in the first place, as a source of information about lost films: no more than 15% of the pre-Revolutionary film heritage has been preserved. Unfortunately it has not been possible to find librettos for all the lost films, but the database does cover a significant part of it. The librettos for the films that have been preserved are also of scholarly interest. It turns out that far from all of them are reproduced in the catalogue «Velikii kinemo». «Katalog sokhranivshikhsia igrovykh fil´mov Rossii 1908-1918» [The Great Kinemo. A Catalogue of the Extant Russian Feature Films 1908-1918], Moscow, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2002, which contains materials of fundamental importance about the films that have been preserved. Thus, for example, in the course of our research we noted librettos for the extant films «Mazepa» (1909) and «Pan Twardowski» (1917) that are not mentioned in «Velikii kinemo». These and other newly rediscovered texts can be used as material for the reconstruction of the relevant films.



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