by Massoud Mehrabi
The film literature in Iran was introduced about two decades after production of early Iranian films. Two or three years after production of the first Iranian film in 1900 (which conformed to the same standards as early movies of the world), the sole official and state-run newspaper started to show interest in “cinematograph”. Naturally, film critique and other theoretical issues were not extant in those years. News about the most amazing phenomenon of the century as well as its good and evil effects on viewers and the whole society were the most important issues.
The first film critique (in the modern sense) was written by Ebrahim Moradi, a pioneer director of dramatic features in Iran. His writings, which gradually improved, focused on technical and dramatic problems of films. Few other writers started to follow suit with Moradi, though they later used what they had taught from him against his own films.
Growth of film literature in Iran is much indebted to art and cinema press. Although no films were produced in Iran between 1937 and 1948 due to various reasons, including the World War II and its consequences, since the more recent world cinema productions were screened in the country, cinema magazines were thriving. During that period, apart from various newspapers and magazines, three specialistic film magazines called Namayeshat (Entertainment), Jahan-e Cinema (World of Cinema) and Hollywood were published in Tehran and criticized all aspects of cinema art and industry, including films. Toghrol Afshar, Houshang Qadimi, Troal Gilani, Babak Saman, Farrokh Ghaffari, and Houshang Kavousi were among prominent critics of those years whose writings helped to promote film knowledge in Iran. Those periodicals and articles later gave rise to books on cinema.
The first book on cinema was published in 1927. It was written by Zabihollah Behrouz in two chapters. The first chapter was about the position and role of cinema in the world and its undeniable impact on human societies and the second chapter was a screenplay adapted from ancient Persian legends. Although that screenplay was never produced as film, the book was received warmly by movie buffs and encouraged other people to publish similar books and this continued until 1947. Three consequential books were published in those years: Troal Gilani wrote The Technique of Cinema, Toghrol Afshar wrote In the Rainbow of Cinema, and Hossein Saffari translated Lo Duca’s History of Cinema into Persian. The three books are considered among important events, which along with a number of earlier books determined the policy and orientation of film literature in Iran. The Technique of Cinema was an educational book which introduced its readers to filmmaking equipment (from raw film to cinematographic camera) and explained the filmmaking process from the beginning to the end. The book even included a chapter on how to become an actor and acting techniques. In the Rainbow of Cinema focused on theoretical issues of cinema and film analysis. History of Cinema and its writer are so well-known as to obviate explanation.
As film literature in Iran started with publication of a screenplay, publication of similar books continued with more zeal in later years. Among different types of cinema books, which ranged from theoretical and reference books to biographies of actors and filmmakers, screenplays ranked first both in terms of number and reprints. This was especially true after 1979 revolution when directors could not make every screenplay either due to their themes or inadequate funds. During those years, enthusiasm for screenplays was (and still is) so high that the Iranian auteur, Bahram Baizai, who has thus far only made six feature films, has published 26 screenplays. Some of his screenplays are more interesting and more impressive than his films. He is followed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf who has published all his screenplays (even those which have not been produced as film). On the whole, screenplays written by these two filmmakers have been republished 50 times. The screenplay of Makhmalbaf’s banned film, Time of Love, has been reprinted 11 times. Although publication of film books was not as extensive as it is now, screenplays also accounted for the main part of pre-revolution film literature and most of them were screenplays of prominent films. L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni) and The Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini) (whose translations were published in 1965) started a trend which continued with The Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie (Luis Bunuel), Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica), The Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein), M (Fritz Lang), and Face to Face (Ingmar Bergman). Since that time, the works of nearly all prominent filmmakers have been published in Iran.
After screenplays, educational books on filmmaking are the next in demand. Before the revolution, most young people who were interested in this subject were members of a center called Cinemaye Azad (Experimental Cinema Center) and since they used 8-mm cameras, books like Film and Director (Don Livingston, 1963) or Film and Education (Dr. Ebrahim Rashidpour, 1967) were all they needed for primary education. Today, however, there are tens of state-run and private filmmaking centers with 4,000-5,000 students. Therefore, all educational books imaginable have been published in Iran: from Eugene Vale’s The Technique of Screenwriting to Lee Strasberg’s A Dream of Passion. Apart from translations, tens of other books have been written by Iranian instructors.
The situation is very satisfactory for theoretical and analytical books. Although they rank after screenplays and educational books, the quality of their authorship and translation is ideal. Almost all books written by great theoreticians of world cinema have been translated by the best Iranian translators: from Andre Bazin and Rudolf Arnheim to Peter Woolen and Allan Casebier and W. F. Perkins. Iranian theoreticians have also authored valuable books some of which, including the works by Dr. Babak Ahmadi, can be presented internationally.
Books on history of cinema and reference books are like a magical substance which strengthens structure of every country’s film literature and determines its identity. There is no shortage in this category of books. Apart from books written by Lo Duca and Arthur Knight, which were respectively published in 1948 and 1962, the most important books in the history of the Iranian cinema which have been written by such prominent authors and researchers as John Howard Lawson, Christian Thompson, Geoffrey Nowell Smith, Eric Rhode, David A. Cook, and David Robinson have been translated and published. In addition to those books, many volumes have been compiled on the history of the Iranian cinema in addition to guide books and encyclopedias about Iranian and world cinema films and characters by Iranian authors, including myself, which can provide future researchers and authors with a comprehensive and rich source of study.
Iranian film literature is very rich. If professional Iranian filmmakers had established a better relationship with it from the early days that the Iranian cinema took shape, the situation of that cinema would have been much better now.