A few months after its first appearance at the Grand Café in Paris, the Lumière brothers’ cinema made its entrance into the capital of the Russian Empire, sowing the same amazed bewilderment it had produced in the French city. It was May 4, 1896, and with the živye kartiny (living pictures) the opening of the summer season of the Aquarium theater in Saint Petersburg was inaugurated; a few days later, Muscovite spectators also saw the cinema at the Ermitaž Theater and Garden. Then solemnly presented as part of the all-Russian exhibition of industry and art in Nizhny-Novgorod, at the café-concert of Charles Aumont, the unusual show was also seen by some eminent Russian artists and intellectuals – including Maksim Gor′kij – who immediately grasped its immense spectacular potential, without however foretelling its destiny as a real new art. Initially welcomed as a modern electric attraction, the Cinématographe had to wait for the beginning of the twentieth century to free itself from its freak context and be welcomed into a wider cultural and social sphere. The monopoly of the patent on technical equipment, sold by the Lumière family only in the early years of the 20th century, and the control of the Russian film market by foreign companies, delayed the take-off of a national cinema. In the meantime, however, in that same 1896 the first cinematographic shots were made on the occasion of the coronation of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II Romanov, which constitute the oldest collection of the karst kronika (tsarist chronicle).
From Russian cinema to Soviet cinema
With the February Revolution of 1917, Russia ceased to be a monarchy and Tsar Nicholas II Romanov was forced into abdication. The October Revolution, which broke out in the same year, sent the Bolsheviks who had led it to power and Russia, withdrawn from the world conflict by signing a separate peace in Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, entered a period of civil war, in to which both Russian and European counter-revolutionary forces put the entire territory in a state of siege. The new Bolshevik government, to resist this heavy pressure, organized the country into a system of ‘war communism’, which ended between 1920 and 1921 with the introduction of some liberalization measures through the NEP (New Economic Policy). Previously, government measures had nationalized the key sectors of the economy and on 27 August 1919 the film sector was also nationalized, with the establishment of the first state film school, the VGIK, which would have formed the golden generation of filmmakers Soviet. But already in 1917 various committees for the management of cinema structures had been organized and, after the October Revolution, film studios were included in a section, dedicated to cinema, of the People’s Commissariat for Public Education (Narkompros). The studies, concentrated above all in the then Petrograd (later Leningrad, od. St. Petersburg), acquired different denominations up to settle in 1934 in Lenfil′m, while the state production of Soviet avant-garde, and interested in theoretical reflection and experimentation as regards productive realization. The USSR (SSSR), or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soyuz Sovetskich Socialističeskich Respublik), which was set up in July 1923, would offer all its support for the development of cinema, a medium greatly appreciated by Lenin himself. For the history of Soviet cinema between 1919 (the year of the nationalization of the film industry) and 1986 (the year of the political turning point of MS Gorbačëv), we refer first of all to the cinematography of the USSR, then to the biographies of the directors, of the actors and of the other figures of cinema, as well as under the item realism: Socialist realism.