Eastern Europe as Other in Silent Cinema

  • Abstract:

    The following study will discuss depictions of Eastern Europe through the medium of silent film. My goal is to explore what distinguishes Eastern Europe from Western Europe and how early cinema has played a vital role in modern understanding of this divide. I will focus on three distinct images of the “orient:” traditional Judaism, vampires, and the nascent Soviet Union. It is beyond the scope of this study to fully delve into the cultural and ideological clashes of east versus west throughout history and even within the bounds of individual episodes in the past century. Instead, I have chosen to examine some of the most recognizable elements of what constitutes Eastern Europe in popular consciousness, and I will do it using the medium which has been responsible for much of our understanding – whether accurate or not – of the East. Like any other art form, cinema reflects the time in which it was made and betrays with varying degrees of subtlety the biases, fears, hopes, and desires of the artist. Silent cinema’s brief tenure as the world’s only non-print mass media impacted its audience in ways that are beyond the comprehension of the average person today who can access all the movies and information in the world through the phone in their pocket, yet old stereotypes have not necessarily suffered at the hands of 21st century technology and research. I could never expect to explain why this is so, but it is my intention to help clarify some reasons why contemporary cinema of the years encompassing the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and their aftermaths might be partially responsible for our perceptions.