Posted by: professorepler | September 16, 2010

HISTORY OF EGYPTIAN CINEMA – class notes

MENA class 2 – Egypt, pt. 1

History of Egyptian Film Industry

Several films made in the 20’s. The first were made by Europeans (who had the equipment) with local starts, mostly in Egypt. Some of these crew were trained by the European crews, or travelled to Europe for training.

1.) Dynamic multicultural life in which native Egyptians always played an important role. (relatively undisturbed by colonial authorities)

1922 formally independent. Increasing Egyptianization visible and expressed a struggle against foreign dominance in the economy.

1937 – Egypt abolished “The Capitulations (special rights for Europeans)

1942,43 – Arabic obligatory for companies’ written communication.

1946 – All company name plates must be in Arabic

1947 – Percent of employed Egyptians from 75 of total to 90.

All of these were unthinkable in the French territories. The French forced the local communities to learn French culture and slowly, theirs was pressed out. By example, in 1933, Algeria already had 150 theaters, more than Egypt at the time, but not a single feature film was shot by a native director before independence (1962). Same for Morocco (ind 1954).

2.) After the upheaval in 1919, native Egyptians developed a stronger interest in film and combined it with arts like popular musical theater. Star system was in place, and money was already available through the successful theater system, and music/radio (often crossing over).

Theater directors, actors and actresses like Aziza Amir, Assia Daghir, Fatima Rushdi, Yusuf Wahbi, Ali al-Kassar and more worked at the end of 20s and in the 30s as producers, scriptwriters, or directors. Popular plays like The Clerk, Kish Kish Bey (1931) and Why Does the Sea Laugh (al-Bahr biyidhhak lih?, 1928) were adapted because of their success on stage.

1930 Yusuf Wahbi makes a first, modest studio to produce Zaynab. His $ comes from his success in the theatre, so he could finance the film and studio. (Privatized industry vs. government)

Since the 20s, independent nationalist entrepreneurs let by Talaat Harb worked to develop an independent national industry. In 1925 He established the Misr Company for Cinema and Performance (Sharikat Misr li-l-Sinima wa-l-Tamthil) intended to produce industrial and information films. Imported European talent, who then trained more craftsmen.

1934/1935 – Misr Bank (Talaat Harb) establishes Studio Misr.  Equipped with a lab, sound studio and employed several European specialists. Studio sent young Egyptians on scholarships to Europe (Badr Khan, Niyazi Mustafa).

According to Viola Shafik (Arab Cinema book), all genres created in Egypt were made with audience as the first priority (al-gumhur oyez kida, or The audience wants it like this).

The Egyptian industry lives like Hollywood on the image of its stars. With their assistance, particularly that of the popular singers, Egyptian cinema at the beginning was able to overcome an important obstacle the different dialects of the Mashriq and Maghreb. The constant consumption and demand for Egyptian mass production caused the audiences in many regions to acquire at least a passive knowledge of the Egyptian advantage.

Background on Yousef Chahine

Born 1926. Is raised by a well-off family through the nationalization and commercialization of the film industry.

Trained in US (Pasadena Playhouse), one of the few that did not go to Europe, or to the Higher Film Institute in Cairo (open 1945). Similarly, in the 1980s, Iraq had the University of Fine Arts and had the most up-to-date equipment. One of the teachers was Egyptian director Taufik Salih.

Background on “Cairo Station”

Comes out of Egyptian realism. Starting in the early 1950’s, there was a new attitude towards making socially real films that would feature the simple man as a protagonist instead of the handsome hero. They also portrayed a realistic environment, much dirtier than those of previous films. These are in high contrast to the lush costume dramas or musicals.

Only 32 out of 1,012 films produced between 1951-1972 could be considered realist, i.e. 1.5 films per year. In general, confined to 3 directors, Salah Abu Seif, Taufi Salih, and Youssef Chahine.

In 1949, the Faruq Code, issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs excluded realism by equating it with subversive Leftist trends. Many images prohibited, including:

>Images of apparently soiled alleys, of hand and donkey carts, traders, copper cleaners (mubayyad al-nahas), poor farm houses and women wearing enveloping gowns (al-mila’a al-laf).

With the coup in 1952, these can finally be ignored. These directors, with new freedoms, wanted to explore new themes and also engage the audience at the same time, so they relied on what could be called “Commercial Realism.”

Commercial Realism = Spectacular event + observation of daily life.

Cairo Station is a blend of social realism, political protest, sentimental comedy and tragedy, and is the first of many films that Chahine was to produce which combined a large variety of themes and techniques, where the director places contradictions in the film to prevent the audience from an easy identification with one character or another.

Relies on the suspense of a thriller, but is user-friendly because he intercuts the tension with comical everyday observations.

Was not immediately successful, but later recognized as a very important film in Egyptian film history and in World Cinema.

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