UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Decolonizing Film History: Ukrainian Contexts for the Decadent Cinema of the Russian Empire

05 December 2022, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

Screenshot from the movie Last Tango (edited)

A SSEES Russian Cinema Research Group seminar with Olga Kyrylova / Kirillova (University of Kansas, United States)

This event is free.

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The film history of the Russian Empire has absorbed early cinema’s minor ethnic and national components. The main problem for film historians is claiming its multinational heritage to be ‘Russian film by default’ and basically denying any national cinematography (Ukrainian, in particular) in the pre-Soviet times. The purpose of Professor Kyrylova’s talk is to revise the film history in terms of ‘contexts’ and ‘margins’ which reveal the national ‘presence’ within the imperial contexts (in particular, the Ukrainian presence). As this ‘presence’ might have been mistakenly considered in the ghettoization of the national cinematographies within the ‘low’ folklore subjects, the offered approach is focused on cinematic decadence, which neglects the notion of ‘imperial’ and reveals the ‘national’ in highlighting the ‘margins’ and ‘contexts’ as modes of Ukrainian presence. In this view, ‘decadent’ and ‘decolonial’ might become synonymous as they subvert and undermine the meta-narratives of empires and help us to find national identities through subtle differences/diversities. National cinematography is regarded not as an attempt to create a meta-narrative alternative to the imperial but as a locality creating cultural difference on the margins of the cinematography of the Russian Empire. The cinematic decadence of the Russian Empire becomes known through actors of Ukrainian origin, many of whom integrated successfully into the European film industry (Gregory Khmara, Vira Kholodnaya, Xenia Desni, Varvara Yanova, Nikolai Malikov). The most important figures of cinematic decadence contributed to the foundations of the national cinematographies of the Soviet republics (Petr Chardynin, Les’ Kurbas, Amo Bek-Nazaryan). One of the brightest examples addressed in the talk is Vyacheslav Vyskovsky/Viskovskii, a film director from Odesa, ethically half-Polish, half-Jewish, who not just filmed the only masterpiece of purely Ukrainian cinematic decadence – The Lie (1918) based on the eponymous play by Volodymyr Vynnychenko – but also contributed to the ethnic cinematographies of Crimeans and Bukhara Region (which became the starting point for the foundation of Uzbekfilm).



Olga Kyrylova / Kirillova
Olga Kyrylova / Kirillova teaches at the Film and Media Studies Department in the University of Kansas, United States. She graduated from the University of Cambridge (Slavonic Department, Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages) with the degree of Master of Philosophy in European Literature (2001). She holds two doctoral degrees: Candidate of Sciences in Philosophy (equivalent to Ph.D.) and Doctor of Sciences in Cultural Studies (equivalent to Habilitation Degree), both obtained in Ukraine. Professor Kyrylova has contributed to film theory, having introduced the new fields of study ‘Thanathology of the film’ (Death Film Studies) and ‘Cinematic Decadence’, which resulted in her book The Cinematic Decadence Approached by Cultural Studies and Philosophical Thanatology published in Kyiv (2017, in Ukrainian). Her previous book The Cold Moon Sickle: Re-Construction of the Sensuality Patterns (2010, in Russian) was the unprecedented study of Lacanian Post-Sovietology.

Image credit Vera Kholodnaya / Vira Kholodna in The Last Tango (1918) by Vyacheslav Vyskovsky / Viskovskii (edited) in ‘contexts’ of Argentina decolonized in 1816 / Odesa (currently – Ukraine) liberated from Russian imperial presence in 1917.