Yakov Protazanov - Director

Nationality: Russian. Born: Yakov Alexandrovitch Protazanov in Moscow, 4 February 1881. Education: Commercial school, Moscow. Career: Film actor, from 1905; translator, then writer of scenarios and director, Gloria studios, from 1909; moved to Ermoliev company, began collaboration with actor Ivan Mozhukhin, 1915; Ermoliev studios moved to Yalta, 1918, then to Istanbul and Marseilles, 1919–20; moved to Paris, worked in France and Germany, 1920–22; returned to Russia, joined Mezhrabpom-Rus Studio, Moscow, 1923. Awards: Merited Artist of the RSFSR, 1935. Died: In Moscow, 8 August 1945.

Films as Director:


The Fountains of Bakhisarai


Pesnya katorzhanina ( The Prisoner's Song ) (+ sc)


Anfisa ; Ukhod velikovo startza ( Departure of a Grand Old Man ) (co-d)


Razbitaya vaza ( The Shattered Vase ) (+ sc); Klyuchi shchastya ( Keys to Happiness ) (co-d); Kak khoroshi, Kak svezhi byli rozi ( How Fine, How Fresh the Roses Were ) (+ sc)


Petersburgskiye trushchobi ( Petersburg Slums ) (co-d, co-sc); Voina i mir ( War and Peace ) (co-d, co-sc); Plebei ( Plebeian ) (+ sc); Nikolai Stavrogin (+ sc)


Pikovaya dama ( The Queen of Spades ); Zhenshchina s kinzhalom ( Woman with a Dagger ); Grekh ( Sin ) (co-d)


Prokuror ( Public Prosecutor ); Andrei Kozhukhov (+ sc); Ne nado krovi ( Blood Need Not Be Spilled ) (+ sc); Prokliatiye millioni ( Cursed Millions ); Satana likuyushchii ( Satan Triumphant )


Otets Sergii ( Father Sergius )


Taina koroloevy ( The Queen's Secret ) (+ sc)


L'Angoissante aventure ; L'Amour et la loi ( Love and Law ); Pour une nuit d'amour ; Justice d'Abord ; Le Sens de la mort ; L'Ombre du pêché ; Der Liebes Pielgerfahrt




Yevo prizyv ( Broken Chains ; His Call ); Zakroichik iz Torzhka ( Tailor from Torzhok )


Protsess o tryokh millyonakh ( The Three Million Case ) (+ co-sc)


Sorok pervyi ( The 41st )


Byelyi orel ( The White Eagle ) (+ co-sc); Dondiego i Pelaguya ( Don Diego and Pelagea )


Chiny i liudi ( Ranks and People ) (+ co-sc); The Man from the Restaurant


Prazdnik svyatovo Iorgena ( The Feast of St Jorgen ) (+ sc)


Tommy (+ sc)


Marionetki ( Marionettes )


Bespridannitsa ( Without Dowry ) (+ co-sc)


Pupils of the Seventh Grade


Salavat Yulayev


Nasreddin v Bukhare ( Nasreddin in Bukhara )



Yakov Protazanov , Moscow, 1957.

Leyda, Jay, Kino, A History of the Russian and Soviet Film , London, 1960.

Lebedev, Nikolai, Il cinema muto sovietico , Turin, 1962.

Robinson, David, and others, editors, Silent Witnesses , London, 1989.

On PROTAZANOV: articles—

Alisova, N., "Priobzcenie k poesii," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), April 1973.

Raizman, Yuli, and others, "Protazanov," in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 6, 1981.

Vajsfel'd, I., and others, "Effect Protazanova," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), August 1981.

Tumanova, N., "Zabytaja stat'ja Jakova Protazanova," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), July 1984.

Robinson, David, "Evgeni Bauer and the Cinema of Nikolai II," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1989/90.

* * *

As a pioneer of the czarist cinema, as a director who filmed in Moscow, Yalta, Paris, and Berlin, and as one who worked under various social systems and managed to survive, Yakov Protazanov has a unique place in the story of the Russian cinema.

Originally intended for a commercial career, Protazanov fell under the spell of films and began his apprenticeship with Gloria Films, later to become Thiemann and Reinhardt, in Moscow. The cinema in Russia had been socially acceptable from the beginning and enjoyed the patronage of imperial circles. From script-writing and acting Protazanov moved into directing. In 1911 he made Pesnya katorzhanina ( The Prisoner's Song ) with Vladimir Shaternikov, an actor he was to use many times. The following year Andreyev scripted for him an adaptation of his play Anfisa. The same year he made Ukhod velikovo startza ( The Departure of a Grand Old Man ), thereby antagonising Countess Tolstoy, who objected to the depiction of her husband as played by Shaternikov. The film was subsequently banned. A happier venture was Klyuchishchastya ( Keys to Happiness ), written by a popular novelist, A. Verbitskaya. The wide appeal of this film made it a great box-office success throughout Russia.

By the time of World War I, Protazanov had directed some forty films covering a wide range of material, from the perfervid, morbid, and even decadent themes so popular in Russia at the time to historical spectacles and films based on the literary heritage of his country. In Kak khoroshi, kak svezhi byli rosi ( How Fine, How Fresh the Roses Were ) of 1913 he was inspired by Turgenev. He utilized Shaternikov once again in the film, casting him as Lev Tolstoy.

After his experiences as a soldier Protazanov joined the Ermoliev Company, as did his former colleague Vladimir Gardin. In 1915 they shared the direction of the elaborate Voina i mir ( War and Peace ) and a serial called Petersburgskiye trushchobi ( Petersburg slums ), while Protazanov directed a version of Strindberg's Froken Julie under the title Plebei ( Plebian ). In these three films the lead was taken by Olga Preobrazhenskaya, herself to become a director of distinction in later years.

Ermoliev's greatest actor was Ivan Mozhukin, whose knowledge and interest in the whole field of cinema transcended his interpretive skills. Protazanov directed him in Nicolai Stavrogin (based on Dostoievsky) in 1915 and the following year in Pikovaya dama ( The Queen of Spades ). The latter film was a milestone in Mozhukin's career. The script, incidentally, was written by a young Fedor Otsep. Other important Protazanov films with Mozhukin were Prokuror ( Public Prosecutor ), Satana likuyushchii ( Satan Triumphant ), Andrei Kozhukov , and Otets Sergii ( Father Sergius ). The last film is undoubtedly his masterpiece. Tolstoy's story of the spiritual struggles of a young officer of the Imperial Court who gives up a life of pleasure to become a monk was a tour de force for Mozhukin. The actor's transition from youth to age, the authenticity of the settings, and the cohesion of the film help to make it one of the great classics of the cinema.

On a very different level was Taina koroloevy ( The Queen's Secret ), a film based on a novel by Elinor Glynn that again featured Mozhukin. This work was filmed in Moscow and Yalta, for with the coming of the Revolution many film artists fled to the south. Ermoliev transferred his studio to Yalta, bringing all his equipment, technicians, and artists with him. Here Protazanov made three films, but political unrest soon made work impossible. Ermoliev and all his people embarked on a British ship at Odessa which took them to Constantinople, where Protazanov continued with the direction of the film L'Angoissante Aventure , from a script by Mozhukin. This ambulatory film went on from Constantinople to Marseilles and Paris, where Ermoliev's production continued at Méliès' old studio at Monteuil. In spite of the circumstances under which it was made, L'Angoissante Aventure was a quite ingenious comedy that effectively utilized the diverse talents of Mozhukin. The film ranged from comedy to tragedy, but was resolved by the typically Russian device of being a dream.

Protazanov's Justice d'Abord was a remake of Prokuror , but he broke away from Ermoliev and his company. He adapted novels by Zola and Paul Bourget before going to Berlin, where he made Liebes Pilgerfahrt. Invited back to Russia to make a film of Taras Bulba , he instead directed Aelita for Mezhrabpom-Russ. This fantasy, in which life on Mars is compared with contemporary Russia, featured extraordinary sets by Alexandra Exter of the Kamerny Theatre. Yevo prizyv ( His Call ) was released the following year. A propaganda film with a human face, the work showed that Protazanov was still his own man. Protsess o tryoch millyonakh ( The Three Million Case ) of 1926 and subsequent films like Sorok pervyi ( The 41st ), Byelyi orel ( The White Eagle ), Dondiego i Pelaguya (a satiric comment on bureaucracy), Chiny i Liudi ( Ranks and People , a compendium of three Chekhov stories), and Prazdnik svyatovo Iorgena ( The Feast of St Jorgen , a satirical anti-religious film) all established him as an artist who could hold his own with the new young school of Russian film directors.

In Sorok pervyi , a story of the fighting in Turkestan, a young girl partisan is torn between love and duty and has to kill a young White officer, the only man she ever loved. Set in a memorable landscape of sandy desert, the film develops with a powerful impact. Tommy , which was released in 1931, was Protazanov's first sound film. It tells of a British soldier's reaction to a group of partisans.

A recipient of official honours, Protazanov continued to be regarded as an outstanding creative artist, and many of his films were set in far-flung locations in outlying Soviet republics. When the centre of Soviet film production moved to Alma Ata in the Urals during the German invasion of Russia in World War II, Protazanov moved with it. His last film, though, was filmed on location in Uzbekistan. Nazreddin ve Bukhare ( Nazreddin in Bukhara ) was a delightful comedy that featured Meyerhold's great actor Lev Sverdlin in the title role, where he gave a performance reminiscent of Fairbanks' in Thief of Bagdad. When Protazanov died in 1945 he was working on a script based on a play by Ostrovsky. A prolific creator of films, he remains known as a great man of the cinema.

—Liam O'Leary

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