A Social History of Iranian Cinema, Volume 1

The Artisanal Era, 1897-1941

A Social History of Iranian Cinema, Volume 1

Book Pages: 456 Illustrations: 74 illustrations, 1 table Published: September 2011

Author: Hamid Naficy

Media Studies > Film, Middle East Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Hamid Naficy is one of the world’s leading authorities on Iranian film, and A Social History of Iranian Cinema is his magnum opus. Covering the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first and addressing documentaries, popular genres, and art films, it explains Iran’s peculiar cinematic production modes, as well as the role of cinema and media in shaping modernity and a modern national identity in Iran. This comprehensive social history unfolds across four volumes, each of which can be appreciated on its own.

Volume 1 depicts and analyzes the early years of Iranian cinema. Film was introduced in Iran in 1900, three years after the country’s first commercial film exhibitor saw the new medium in Great Britain. An artisanal cinema industry sponsored by the ruling shahs and other elites soon emerged. The presence of women, both on the screen and in movie houses, proved controversial until 1925, when Reza Shah Pahlavi dissolved the Qajar dynasty. Ruling until 1941, Reza Shah implemented a Westernization program intended to unite, modernize, and secularize his multicultural, multilingual, and multiethnic country. Cinematic representations of a fast-modernizing Iran were encouraged, the veil was outlawed, and dandies flourished. At the same time, photography, movie production, and movie houses were tightly controlled. Film production ultimately proved marginal to state formation. Only four silent feature films were produced in Iran; of the five Persian-language sound features shown in the country before 1941, four were made by an Iranian expatriate in India.

A Social History of Iranian Cinema
Volume 1: The Artisanal Era, 1897–1941
Volume 2: The Industrializing Years, 1941–1978
Volume 3: The Islamicate Period, 1978–1984
Volume 4: The Globalizing Era, 1984–2010


“These volumes reveal the unspoken side of Iranian culture, society and history within the context of film and cinema. This marvellously detailed account of Iranian cinema is a must-read for anyone who is interested in understanding Iran in the past and present, a true story of a long-term, ongoing revolution in Iranian culture, society and film.” — Arezou Zalipour, Media International Australia

“While the first two volumes that I have had the pleasure to review here are indeed comprehensive, covering great depth and breadth, I find Naficy to be a very open, collegial scholar whose work certainly does not close down the field. Rather, at times, Naficy openly signals that more research is still to be conducted into certain areas ensuring that the field of Iranian cinema studies may live on with vital and vibrant energy. Graduate students in particular should take heed of these openings in the text, for therein lie great possibilities for future, compelling and original scholarship in the field.... I can only conclude my review by emphasizing what I said in my opening comment: this is rich, compelling, and complex scholarship at its very finest. Thanks Hamid!”
— Michelle Langford, Senses of Cinema

“The four volumes of A Social History of Iranian Cinema constitute a landmark achievement. . . . For students of Iranian cinema, I can think of no better place to begin than these four volumes. The sheer expansiveness of Naficy’s project is a testimony to the untold narratives, theoretical paradigms, and concepts waiting to be found in the ongoing history of Iranian cinema.” — Sara Saljoughi, International Journal of Middle East Studies

A Social History of Iranian Cinema is an extraordinary achievement, a scholarly, detailed work in which a massive amount of material is handled with the lightest touch. Yet it is Hamid Naficy’s personal experience and investment that give this project a particular distinction. Only a skilled historian, one who is on the inside of his story, could convey so vividly the symbolic significance of cinema for twentieth-century Iran and its deep intertwining with national culture and politics.” — Laura Mulvey, author of Death 24× a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image

“Hamid Naficy is already established as the doyen of historians, as well as critics, of Iranian cinema. Based on his deep understanding of modern Iranian political and social history, this detailed critical study of cinema in Iran since its debut more than a century ago is his crowning achievement. To say that it is a must-read for virtually all concerned with modern Iranian history, and not just cinema and the arts, is to state the obvious.” — Homa Katouzian, author of The Persians: Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern Iran

“Hamid Naficy seamlessly brings together a century of Iran’s cinematic history, marking its technological advancements and varying genres and storytelling techniques, and perceptively addressing its sociopolitical impact on the formation of Iran’s national identity. A Social History of Iranian Cinema is essential reading not only for the cinephile interested in Iran’s unique and rich cinematic history but also for anyone wanting a deeper understanding of the cataclysmic events and metamorphoses that have shaped Iran, from the pivotal Constitutional Revolution that ushered in the twentieth century, through the Islamic Revolution, and into the twenty-first century.” — Shirin Neshat, visual artist, filmmaker, and director of the film Women Without Men

“This magisterial four-volume study of Iranian cinema will be the defining work on the topic for a long time to come. Situating film within its sociopolitical context, Hamid Naficy covers the period leading up to the Constitutional Revolution and continues after the Islamic Revolution, examining questions about modernity, globalization, Islam, and feminism along the way. A Social History of Iranian Cinema is a guide for our thinking about cinema and society and the ways that the creative expression of film should be examined as part of a wider engagement with social issues.” — Annabelle Sreberny, coauthor of Blogistan: The Internet and Politics in Iran


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Hamid Naficy is Professor of Radio-Television-Film and the Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in Communication at Northwestern University. He is the author of An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking, The Making of Exile Cultures: Iranian Television in Los Angeles, and (in Persian) Film-e Mostanad, a two-volume history of nonfiction cinema around the world. Naficy helped to launch ongoing annual Iranian film festivals in Los Angeles and Houston.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Organization of the Volumes xxi

A Word about Illustrations xxvii

Preface. How It All Began xxix

Introduction. National Cinema, Modernity, and Iranian National Identity 1

1. Artisanal Silent Cinema in the Qajar Period 27

2. Ideological and Spectatorial Formations 71

3. State Formation and Nonfiction Cinema: Syncretic Westernization during the First Pahlavi Period 141

4. A Transitional Cinema: The Feature Film Industry and Sound Cinema 197

5. Modernity's Ambivalent Subjectivity: Dandies and the Dandy Movie Genre 277

Notes 309

Bibliography 343

Index 371
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Honorable Mention, 2013 Katherine Singer Kovacs Award (Society for Cinema and Media Studies)

Winner, 2012 Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award (presented by Middle East Studies Association)

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