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CONTEMPORARY CINEMA: IRANIAN CINEMA At turn of century, Iran relatively isolated from West Muzaff ar‑ed Din Shah visited France in 1900, saw motion pictures Mirza Ebrahim Khan, court photographer, instructed to buy cinematograph Mirza filmed Shah’s private & religious ceremonies

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At turn of century, Iran relatively isolated from West
  • Muzaff ar‑ed Din Shah visited France in 1900, saw motion pictures
    • Mirza Ebrahim Khan, court photographer, instructed to buy cinematograph
    • Mirza filmed Shah’s private & religious ceremonies
  • Film remained for a number of years a “hobby” of the royal court, who watched movies of themselves & films from Russia
popularization of cinema
Popularization of Cinema
  • 1904, 1st theater opened in Tehran by Mirza Ebrahim Khan Sahhafbashi, who bought a cinematograph in London
    • Also installed a kinetoscope
    • Spectators watched short comedies & documentaries from Russia
    • Also sold lemonade & other refreshments
    • Advocate of democracy; property confiscated & he was banished
Mehdi Russi Khan (½ British, ½ Russian)
    • 1907, bought projector, showed short films at harem of Mohammad Ali Shah
    • 1908, opened a theater; later moved it & named it “The Show House of Russi Khan & Boomer”
    • Against constitutional movement, maintained royal court connections & supported by Russians
    • Constitutionalists, supporters of monarchy attended his theater on alternate evenings
Ardashes Batmagerian (“Ardeshir the Armenian”) important in establishing movie theaters as institutions
    • Opened his 1st theater in 1912
    • Followed by others, leading to intense rivalries
  • Following revolution, Russia immigrants opened movie theaters, with or without Iranians
  • Movie going thrived, despite condemnation by clerics & difficulties obtaining & distributing prints
  • Orchestras played music during movies, before screenings & during intermissions
Ali Vakili 1st theater owner to devote shows exclusively to women
    • 1926, showed documentaries featuring female acrobats
    • Accused of having set up a “house of love”
  • Movie theaters for women became fashionable; later, mixed audiences more common, with aisle dividing men from women
The following ad appeared in newspapers in 1928:

“As a service to the public, the Grand Cinema Management has demarcated parts of its hall for the ladies and from tonight, Parts one and two of the series, The Copper Ball will be presented together so that all citizens including the ladies may enjoy the entire series: Measures will be taken with the cooperation of the honorable police officers to bar unchaste women and dissolute youth of no principle.”

the arrival of talkies
The Arrival of Talkies
  • Palace Cinema in Teheran 1st theater to show sound movies, 1930
  • Movies shown with subtitles until mid-1940s
    • Interpreter would walk along the aisle, reading out subtitles
    • Competed with people audience & nut vendors
Beginning in 1945, films were dubbed
    • Initially in Turkey & Italy
    • Then in Iran, as Hollywood studios hired locals to dub movies
      • Paid little, used amateurs
    • Local managers changed lines to make movies more interesting to Iranian audiences, changed stories to make movies politically & morally acceptable
development of feature films
Development of Feature Films
  • 1st narrative feature film Aabi and Raabi, made in 1930 by Oganes Oganians, Russian Armenian
    • Silent, imitation of popular Danish comedies
    • Enthusiastic reception from public; regarded as Iranian (cast & director of photography, financed by Iranians, although the director was not Iranian)
Oganians set up Persfilm Company; 2nd silent feature in 1933, Hajji Agha, the Film Actor
    • Felt comedies best to attract audiences & earn a profit
    • Hoped to overcome Muslim objections to film
      • Protagonist is against movies
      • Daughter & son‑in‑law (film students) film him w/o him knowing it
      • When he sees the result, he loves movies
1st sound film, A Lor Girl or Iran, Yesterday and Today, produced in India in 1932 at Imperial Film Company (Bombay), owned by Ardeshir Irani
    • Instantaneous success
    • Story supposed to take place in Iran; costumes, props brought from Iran
    • Also 1st Iranian film seen abroad; foreign critics more enthusiastic than were Iranian critics
    • Led to more Iranian films being made in India
  • Despite efforts, no film studios established until 1954, due to government hostility
post war iranian cinema
Post-War Iranian Cinema
  • Period of freedom with abdication of Reza Shah after WW II
    • Restrictions eased for artists & political groups
    • Filmmakers established relationships, planned for a future Iranian cinema
  • But political & economic conditions soon prohibited establishment of film studios
  • Until 1954, most Iranian films produced in Turkey by Iranians
1953, CIA‑engineered coup provided stability
  • Government encouraged entertaining films that avoided social & political themes
  • Led to establishment of “Filmfarsi”
    • Soap operas, low comedy & sexual innuendo
    • Music with or without narrative justification
    • Mostly copied from Indian movies
      • Young couple romping over hills, holding hands, whirling round each other & playing hide‑and‑seek
    • Sometimes songs sad and sentimental, stories of forlorn maidens, orphans & unrequited love
    • Expensive scenes cut from foreign films & inserted into Iranian films
Due to censorship & economic realities, little hope for serious Iranian cinema
  • Some intellectuals encouraged film critics to make movies
    • Some of the worst Iranian films
    • Example is Dr. Houshang Kavoosi
      • PhD in film theory & history
      • Coined the term “Filmfarsi”
      • 1956, Seventeen Days to Execution
        • Based on a detective story
        • Omitted songs, dances, sex & violence, even suspense
1959, industry began to establish “superstars”
  • 1st Iranian superstar Mohammad‑Ali Fardin, member of national wrestling team
    • Starred in Spring of Life (Siamak Yasami, 1959)
    • Very popular; photographs appeared in magazines & tea shops
    • Became highest paid actor in Iran (US$50,000 per film)
time for the intellectuals
Time for the Intellectuals
  • 1st film regarded as “serious” was Farrokh Ghaffari's Night of the Hunchback (1964)
    • Version of a tale from One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights)
    • Not well received by public, but praised by critics, declared it “the birth of Iranian cinema”
  • Brick and Mirror made by Ebrahim Golestan in 1964
    • “A distressed and bewildered existence…told with an effective sincerity and bitter satire”
    • About daily lives of ordinary people, influenced by Neorealism
The Cow & Ghaissar, 1969, forerunners of 2 divergent trends
    • Ghaissar, directed by Massoud Kimiaee
      • In revenge of murder of his brother & suicide of his sister, who had been raped, Ghaissar kills perpetrators, gunned down by police
      • Seen as overly influenced by American films, but admired for production values
    • The Cow, directed by Dariush Mehrjui
      • Well received by public
      • International Critics Prize, 1970 Venice Film Festival
      • Set in rural area, about owner of only cow in village
      • He loves his cow, his only source of income
      • Cow dies, & he psychologically & literally replaces it: lives in stable, eats fodder & moos
      • Villagers take him to hospital, but he dies on the way
By 1973, foreign competition forced many producers out of business
  • Most films shot-by-shot copies of foreign films; public preferred originals
  • A few “artistic” films still made, but commercial cinema was in trouble
  • Iranian cinema attacked as un-Islamic, sinful, decadent, etc.
    • 1979 demonstrators set fire to movie theaters
    • In Tehran, ¼ of theaters were burned
    • In Abadan, 400 people burned to death when a theater was set fire after doors locked
    • Some blamed Savak; Shah accused opposition
1979 islamic revolution
1979 Islamic Revolution
  • Pretty much ended Iranian commercial film
  • During war with Iraq, Islamic government felt it was time to pay attention to culture & art, & to encourage investment
  • 1983, Minister of Culture & Islamic Guidance banned video clubs
Farabi Cinema Foundation established as executive branch of cinema department of Ministry of Culture & Islamic Guidance
    • "Supervision, Guidance, Support“
    • Distributed equipment among production groups
    • Plan was primarily to get movies made, to increase production, leading to increased professionalism & higher quality films
Policy of “tolerance and de-vulgarization”
    • FCF hoped to avoid sleaziness of earlier movies
    • Some approved simply to help stimulate industry
  • 2 major developments in early 1984
    • All copies of old Iranian & imported movies seized, giving FCF monopoly on importing movies
    • 15 % reduction in taxes on Iranian films, bringing it down to 5 %, increased tax on imported films from 20 to 25 %
  • Later in 1984, equipment imported by Ministry of Culture & Islamic Guidance exempted from customs duties
the 1990s
The 1990s
  • By early 1990s, policies began to pay off
  • International audiences once again aware of existence of Iranian cinema, & some of the stigma of Iranian government began to wear off
Battles among various groups reached peaked at 9th Fajr International Film Festival (1991) when 2 films by Mohsen Makhmalbaf were shown
    • The Time of Love
      • Married woman having extramarital affair, narrated in 3 stories
      • Some felt it promoted corruption & fornication
    • The Nights of Zayandehrood
      • How different people reacted to revolution, didn’t present any as necessarily good or bad
      • Many found it offensive & insulting to families of martyrs
  • Led to resignation of Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Minister of Culture
Result is emergence of cinema of ambiguity, to avoid offending conservative groups
  • Also effort to attract Western audiences?
  • Abbas Kiarostami: And Life Goes On (1993), Under the Olive Trees (1994), Taste of Cherry (1997)
  • Mohsen Makhmalbaf: Salaam Cinema (1995), Gabbeh (1996), A Moment of Innocence (1996)