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Imitation And Creation In Early Cinema In The Southslavic Region

Quarter of a century ago, when he was writing the book An Introduction to the Study of the History of Yugoslav film (Beograd, 1976), the author stressed the widespread opinion that there were no significant artistic achievements in the film production in the period before World War II. Today, after a long research, he questions whether that claim was justified. For orientation purposes, he defined film art as planned and systematical usage of film expressive means, shot and editing, for the purpose of eliciting particular impressions, associations and feelings in film viewers. After a short review of the development of film language in the world, he focuses on the situation in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, or as was soon changed — Yugoslav Kingdom. In short, cinema took long time to develop and it was spread unevenly. The process was slow because the country was economically weak, and the government was not interested in the development of domestic film nor cinema in general. Film production was left to individuals, lonely pioneers of film who invested their energy and money to achieve something in the field of film. Production was uneven because certain parts of the new state already had modest film traditions and developed movie-theatre networks (Croatia, Serbia, Vojvodina, and partly Slovenia), while others were mostly (Bosnia and Herzegovina) or completely undeveloped (Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo). In comparison with other European countries, as far as the number of movie-theatres and seats per capita was concerned, Yugoslavia was placed at the bottom. On the other hand, despite the circumstances, film as the most popular form of entertainment of the masses irrepressibly pushed its way ahead and definitely influenced the changes and the modernisation of that backward country, primarily towns and economically developed rural areas. For the emergence of the national film art two important factors were still missing — there was no economically stable and organised domestic cinematography, and therefore no continual production of domestic films. There were only pioneers of film who have mastered the basics of the trade, the enthusiasts who were watching foreign films, followed developments in the world of film and conceived their own ideas and projects. Unfortunately, only few have actually realized their ideas. Since only a small portion of those films have survived, it is hard to make any relevant judgement.
The middle part of the text discusses 28 directors, mostly from Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, who made noted films and analyses the level of their contribution to the art of film.
Documentary films were mostly of journalistic kind, film chronicles that followed and screened interesting daily events in the manner of renowned foreign film journals, which used static camera, extended shots, long shots (long and medium shots), and editing continuity of the events with no intervention. Rarely one could observe elements of artistic photography and some more elaborate editing. As far as motion pictures are concerned, none of them have survived, so any conclusion would be a pure speculation. At the heart of Belgrade and Zagreb films lies the theatre; the films were inspired by similar European films based on literary or stage traditions. In Belgrade that was the tradition of French ’art film’ (film d’art), while in Zagreb it was the tradition of Austrian ’literary film’ (Literarische Film). Films were made by the people from the theatre, the actors were most famous stage actors, while the costumes were borrowed from the theatres. The proof of this are a few photographs from those shootings showing stage scenography, costumes and actors. Producers and directors of those films had two basic goals: to present the viewers with some domestic themes using standard film narration observed in similar foreign films. Only few filmmakers managed to create noted opuses. This primarily refers to Oktavijan Miletić, the most wholesome domestic film artist in the period before World War II. Some films signalled the artistic talents of their authors, but the authors failed to develop (Maks Kalmić). Others only occasionaly had the strength and talent to incorporate some artistic elements in their rather conventional work (Kosta Novaković, Mihajlo Al. Popović, Josip Novak). In conclusion we can say that the Kingdom of SHS/Yugoslavia had no systematic film art, but there were some film artists with significant achievements.

Dejan Kosanović

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