Stars Made in Moscow: Xanžankov and the Creation of the Female Star

Michelle L. Torre, University of Southern California

The role of women in silent era cinema has become increasingly important in recent cinema scholarship. One aspect of this current scholarship is the appearance of the female star, and the social, industrial and ideological forces that contribute to the construction of the star system.

Aside from a brief section in Denise Youngblood’s Magic Mirror: Moviemaking in Russia, 1908-1918, and select works on Vera Xolodnaja such as, Elena Prokof’eva’s Koroleva čkrana: istorija Very Xolodnoj, very little work has been done on the evolution of the female star in early Russian cinema. I will use the excellent work on female silent film stars in the recent issue of Camera obscura edited by Jennifer Bean and Diane Negra as a starting point for my own research on the integral role played by women in beginnings of the Russian star system.

This paper will closely examine how one studio in particular, the Xanžankov studio, contributed to the institutionalization and commodification of the star system in the 1910s. I will address the correlation between genre and the types of roles given to women, paying attention to the actresses cast in these roles, for the purpose of understanding how the Xanžankov studio conceptualized, codified, and marketed its female stars. 

Additionally, my paper will incorporate a close reading of Xanžankov’s journal Pegas’. I believe the journal provides us with much needed insight into the evolution of the star system and its relations to spectatorship in early Russian cinema, and so I will examine whom the journal was intended for and how the reading audience might have interpreted and contributed to “starification” of Russian actresses. I will also explore the difference between the reading audience and the actual viewing audience in order to discern how one might have informed the other.

This paper will clarify the relationship between the viewer and the stars on the screen, as well as that between the studio and the viewer. Much work has yet to be done in the area of spectatorship and issues surrounding the status of stars in early Russian cinema. This case study will serve as a basis for further exploration in the historiography of Russian silent film.