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  • Golbarg Rekabtalaei (a1)

Much of the scholarship on the history of Iranian cinema considers film spectatorship in the first three decades of the 20th century as a leisure practice with origins in royalist and elitist entertainment forms. However, a close reading of archival material from this era reveals that cinema's significance extended well beyond its role as a pastime, as it became engaged in the governance of the self and disciplinary strategies of the state in Iran's experience of modernity in the early 20th century. In this article, I reperiodize the history of cinema in Iran by demonstrating the entanglement of cinema in popular nationalist discourses on education prior to cinema's institutionalization in the 1930s. Drawing on newspaper articles, film announcements, official documents, and poems, I show how, despite the absence of a centralized cinema institution in the 1910s and early 1920s, cosmopolitan citizens in dialogue with global trends promoted cinema as a means for the governance of selfhood and moral edification in the service of national progress. With the appropriation of cinema by the Pahlavi state in the 1930s, cinema was used as a technique of governmentality that aimed to conduct the conduct of individuals and shape an Iranian civic society.

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Author's note: I am indebted to Farzaneh Hemmasi, Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, and the IJMES anonymous reviewers and editors, especially Jeffrey Culang, for their invaluable comments and help.

1 “Favaʾid-i Sinamatugraf,” Iran-i Naw, yr. 1, no. 84 (16 Azar 1288 [8 December 1909]), 3. For more information on the “medicalized” language that emerged during Iran's Constitutional Revolution (1905–1911), see Tavakoli-Targhi, Mohamad, “Tajaddud-i Bihdashti va Ampul-i Taddayun,” Iran Namih 24 (2009/1387): 421–58. See also Schayegh, Cyrus, Who Is Knowledgeable Is Strong: Science, Class, and the Formation of Modern Iranian Society (1900–1950) (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2009).

2 Grieveson, Lee, “On Governmentality and Screens,” Screen 50 (2009): 186. In this article, I use “cinema” to refer to the space of sociability that the technology facilitated as well as the films that it projected onscreen.

3 In his essay on the historiography of modern Iran, Cyrus Schayegh rightfully warns against focusing on “methodological statism” when writing about the Pahlavi era, that is, using sources or writing histories that focus on state-driven metanarrative of Pahlavi history. Schayegh, Cyrus, “‘Seeing Like a State’: An Essay on the Historiography of Modern Iran,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42 (2010): 3761.

4 See Marashi, Afshin, Nationalizing Iran: Culture, Power, and the State, 1870–1940 (Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 2008); Ringer, Monica, Education, Religion and the Discourse of Cultural Reform in Qajar Iran (Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda Publishers, 2001); Vejdani, Farzin, Making History in Iran: Education, Nationalism, and Print Culture (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2014); and Naficy, Hamid, A Social History of Iranian Cinema, vol. 1, The Artisanal Era, 1897–1941 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011).

5 Tavakoli-Targhi, Mohamad, “From Jinns to Germs: A Genealogy of Pasteurian Islam,” Iran-Namih 30 (2015): iv–xix. See also Schayegh, Who Is Knowledgeable Is Strong.

6 Foucault, Michel, “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, with Two Lectures by and One Interview with Michel Foucault, ed. Burchell, Graham, Gordon, Colin, and Miller, Peter (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), 103.

7 For more on Foucault's conception of the government as “conduct,” where the government directs the way individuals or groups conduct themselves, see Foucault, Michel, “The Subject and Power,” Critical Inquiry 8 (1982): 777–95.

8 Hansen, Miriam, “The Mass Production of the Senses: Classical Cinema as Vernacular Modernism,” Modernism/Modernity 6 (1999): 60.

9 Tavakoli-Targhi, Mohamad, “Tajaddud-i Bihdashti va Ampul-i Taddayun,” Iran Namih 24 (2009/1387), 421–58.

10 For a detailed analysis of the importance of sciences in early 20th-century Iran, and the medicalized language that was used to cure social maladies, see Schayegh, Who Is Knowledgeable Is Strong.

11 “Nukat va Mulahizat,” Kavih, yr. 2, no. 3 [4 Aban 1290 Yazdgirdi (11 March 1921)], 1.

12 Ibid., 2.

13 Ringer, Education, Religion and Cultural Reform, 213.

14 In addition to Tehran's School of Higher Education, Dar al-Funun, schools such as Sharaf, Iftitahiyyih, Muzaffariyyih, Madrisih-yi Danish, and Dabistan-i Danish, were among the educational centers established during the reign of Muzaffar al-Din Shah. Ringer suggests that the increasing politicization of the 1890s and the Shah's approval for private initiatives in the reform process were the reasons behind the growth in the number of schools in the late Qajar period and the establishment of Anjuman-i Maʿarif (The Society of Education), “the first organized, non-governmental attempt to promote educational reform in Iran.” See Ringer, Education, Religion and Cultural Reform, 155.

15 Hamid Dabashi believes that the “collective gazings at the historical person” through film spectatorship, were “a forbidden glance, mediated by the remissive corners that religious minorities had long occupied.” He considers the representational quality of cinema to have been deemed “sacrilegious,” especially by the religious establishment. See Dabashi, Hamid, Close-Up: Iranian Cinema, Past, Present, and Future (New York: Verso, 2001), 16.

16 “Layihih-yi yiki az Namayindigan-i Japun,” Tamaddun, no. 36 (14 Shaʿban al-Muʿazzam 1325 [22 September 1907]).

17 “Favaʾid-i Sinamatugraf,” 3.

18 Ibid., 4.

19 Murtiza Mushfiq Kazimi, “Maʿarif dar Iran: Tiʾatr va Musighi dar Iran,” Iranshahr, yr. 2, no. 5-6 (2 Isfand 1292 Yazdgirdi [15 February 1924]), 326.

20 Ibid., 330.

21 For a social history of cosmopolitan merchants and political activists who were involved in cinematographic practices in the early 20th century, see Naficy, A Social History of Iranian Cinema, 1:50– 70.

22 Until the early 1930s, the films that were screened in Iranian theaters were silent movies that had intertitles (printed texts included in the films) in various languages, namely Russian, English, and French.

23 The first Persian-language silent and talking fiction films were created in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

24 As early as the late 1900s, advertisements for discounted film tickets appeared in Iranian newspapers. For example, in 1909, Iran-i Naw (New Iran) advertised “half-price tickets for students” who obtained the signature of their school principal. See “Iʿlan-i Tamashakhanih-yi Jadid-i Nasiriyyih,” Iran-i Naw, yr. 1, no. 23 (28 Sunbulih 1288 [20 September 1909]), 1.

25 “Rafʿ-i Ishtibah—Sinama Palas,” Raʿd, no. 124 (8 Zi-Hajja 1337 [4 September 1919]), 2.

26 “Sinama-yi Khurshid,” Sitarih-yi Iran, no. 114 (11 Bahman 1302 [31 January 1923]).

27 “Girand Sinama az Diruz Shuruʿ Shud,” Iran, yr. 10, no. 2210 (4 Mihr 1305 [27 September 1926]), 4.

28 “Imshab—Film-i Tamaddun dar Girand Sinama,” Iran, yr. 10, no. 2126 (15 Khurdad 1305 [6 June 1926]), 3.

29 Ibid., 3.

30 See Peterson, Jennifer Lynn, Education in the School of Dreams: Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Films (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2013).

31 Ibid., 102.

32 Ibid., 103.

33 See Gaycken, Oliver, Devices of Curiosity: Early Cinema and Popular Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

34 Ibid., 99.

35 Mentioned in Baharloo, Abbas, Ruzshumar-i Sinama-yi Iran az Aghaz ta Inqiraz-i Qajariyyih (Tehran: Taʿlif Institution, 2010), 94. According to Baharloo, this advertisement was a flyer that was dedicated to the Iranian Cinema Museum by Yahya Zuka. It has not been seen by the author of this article.

36 “Az Taraf-i Shirkat-i Kunfirans,” Iran-i Naw, yr. 2, no. 140 (11 Safar 1328 [22 February 1922]), 1.

37 This is in comparison to the usual two to three films that would be included in each program. See “Sinama-yi Jadid,” Naw Bahar, no. 221 (24 Murdad 1294 [16 August 1915]).

38 Silent motion pictures included intertitles, pieces of filmed printed texts that were edited into the films to describe events or express dialogues.

39 In The Social History of Iranian Cinema, Naficy describes live screen translators who would translate foreign language intertitles or describe the events in various scenes for cinema audiences. The screen translators sometimes adopted certain local practices of storytelling (e.g., pardih khānī or taʿziyyih gestures) in their translations to endow their acts with Persian and familiar accents. See Naficy, A Social History of Iranian Cinema, 1:118–28.

40 “Sinama-yi Khurshid,” Raʿd, no. 2 (2 Safar 1336 [17 November 1917]), 4.

41 Tavakoli-Targhi, Mohamad, “Refashioning Iran: Language and Culture During the Constitutional Period ,” Iranian Studies 23 (1990): 77101.

42 This cinema was presumably associated with the French Pathé brothers.

43 “Iʿlan,” Sitarih-yi Iran, no. 93 (15 Day 1302 [6 January 1923]), 4.

44 Ibid.

45 “Farus Sinama,” Iran, yr. 7, no. 1374 (6 Jawza 1302 [27 May 1923]), 4.

46 In his book, Vejdani shows that efforts to standardize education to bring it under state control, began in the first two decades of the 20th century, prior to the onset of Pahlavi Dynasty. These attempts were then intensified through the promotion of state-sponsored institutions during the reign of Reza Pahlavi in the decades that followed. See Vejdani, Making History in Iran, 61.

47 For a comprehensive examination of how culture was used to shape a national identity (as a form of governance), see Marashi, Nationalizing Iran.

48 Lee Grieveson elaborates on Foucault's discussion of governmentality, especially as it relates to cinema studies. He specifically writes on film (and culture) as a form of governance. See Lee Grieveson, “On Governmentality and Screens.”

49 Kazimzadih, Hussayn, “Jang ba Fisad-i Akhlaq,” Iranshahr (Berlin) yr. 1, no. 5 (25 October 1922]), 89.

50 Ibid., 89–103.

51 Partaw, Duktur, “Tarbiyat-i Milli,” Arman, yr. 1, no. 3 (Bahman 1309 [January 1931]), 81.

52 Marashi, Nationalizing Iran, 89.

53 “Mutinavvaʿih: Taʿlimat-i Ibtidayi dar Faransih,” Taʿlim va Tarbiyat, yr. 1, no. 3–4 (Khurdad-Tir 1304 [May–June 1921]), 75.

54 Ibid., 78.

55 “Maʿarif dar Mamalik-i Digaran,” Taʿlim va Tarbiyat, yr. 1, no. 7 (Mihr 1304 [September 1921]), 29.

56 “Pishnahad-i Muhammad Husayn Ayram (Raʾis-i Tashkilat-i Kull-i Nazmiyyih-yi Mamlikati) Mabni bar Taʾsis-i yik Madrisih bara-yi Taʿlim va Tarbiyat-i Hunarpishih-yi Sinama va Varid Kardan-i Lavazim-i Filmbardari: Sanad-i Shumarih-yi 33/1,” in Asnadi az Musiqi, Tiʾātr va Sinama dar Iran (13001357) (Tehran: The Press and Publication Organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, 2000), 1:103.

57 “Tadris bih vasilih-yi Sinama,” Taʿlim va Tarbiyat, yr. 4, no. 10 (Day 1313 [December 1934]), 619.

58 “Rapurt-i ʿAmaliyat-i Saliyanih-yi Idarih-yi Intibaʿat,” Taʿlim va Tarbiyat, yr. 5, no. 4 (Tir 1314 [June 1935]), 220.

59 By the early 1930s, Ibrahim Muradi (1898–1976) had already been active in the field of cinema for a couple of years. In 1917, Muradi left Bandar-i Pahlavi with his family for Russia, where he acquired the skills for still photography and purchased a home cinematograph device with which he started to make amateur films. Upon his return to Iran, Muradi established Jahan-Nama film studio in 1929 and bought a camera from the German Zeiss (Ikon) Company. In 1931, he wrote the screenplay for his first film, Intiqam-i Baradar (Brother's Revenge), which was then shot and screened in Bandar-i Pahlavi. Muradi had also made some documentaries, actualités, and short films from 1926 to 1929, and from 1929 to 1933. See Muradi, Ibrahim, “Sah Namih bih Ruznamih-yi Ittilaʻat,” in Film-Namih-y'i Intiqam-i Baradar, Vazifih, Dafinah-yi Yazdgird-i Sivvum: Ibrahim Muradi (Tehran: Farabi Cinema Foundation, 2000), 53; and Mehrabi, Masud, “Darbarih-yi Ibrahim Muradi: Saratan-i Ishq,” in Film-Namih-yi Intiqam-i Baradar, Vazifih, Dafinih-yi Yazdgird-i Sivvum: Ibrahim Muradi (Tehran: Farabi Cinema Foundation, 2000), 36.

60 “Guzarishha-yi Bazdid-i Ibrahim Muradi az Sinama-yi Dar al-Funun va Pishnihad-i Namburdih Mabni bar Varid Kardan-i Filmha-yi az Kharij baray-i Danish Amuzan: Sanad-i Shumarih-yi 34/1,” in Asnadi az Musiqi, Tiʾatr va Sinama dar Iran (13001357) (Tehran: The Press and Publication Organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, 2000), 1:110. One can confer from this statement that by 1934 Iranian screening venues (and schools) would still use magic lantern slides for entertainment and instruction.

61 Ibid., 111.

62 ʿAzizi, Muhsin, “Kungirih-yi Bayn ul-Milali-yi Rum Rajiʿ bih Taʿlim va Tarbiyat bih vasilih-ui Film,” Taʿlim va Tarbiyat, no. 52 (Tir 1313 [June 1934]), 230.

63 Ibid., 231–32.

64 Mahmudi, Alighuli, “Taraqqi-yi sinama dar Tihran,” Iran, no. 2064 (27 Isfand 1304 [18 March 1926]).

65 Falsafi, Nasrullah, “Vasayil-i Taʿlim,” Taʿlim va Tarbiyat, yr. 5, no. 2 (Urdibihisht 1314 [April 1935]), 22.

66 Ibid., 23.

67 “Khadamat-i Sinama dar Pishraft-i Maʿarif,” Mihr, yr. 5, no. 3 (Murdad 1316 [July 1937]), 307.

68 “Az Lingih Minivisand,” Habl al-Matin, yr. 36, no. 9 (17 Bahman 1306 [7 February 1928]), 20.

69 Dastgirdi, Vahid, “Durugh,” Armaghan, yr. 14, no. 10 (Day 1312 [January 1933]), 676.

70 Ibid., 677.

71 Criticisms aimed at the space of cinema were not exclusive to Iran. Jennifer Lynn Peterson cites examples from the United States during the 1910s when Nickelodeons were considered “dark dens of vice” where women were molested and young children were exposed to distasteful behavior onscreen. See Peterson, Education in the School of Dreams, 102.

72 Dastgirdi, “Durugh,” 677.

73 ʿAli Akbar Hakamizadih, “Tablighat,” Humayun, no. 7 [Farvardin 1314 [March 1935]), 31.

74 “ʿIfaf-Namih,” Armaghan, yr. 15, no. 6 (Shahrivar 1313 [August 1934]), 450.

75 Ibid.

76 Ibid., 454.

77 Ibid.

78 It is very likely that the poet was referring to the complicity of women in the “Europeanization” of the country in this poem; however, considering the Persian language's gender neutrality, it cannot be confirmed if women were the sole target of his criticisms.

79 Ibid., 455.

80 Ibid., 456.

81 Dastgirdi, “Durugh,” 676.

82 Kasravi, Ayin, 23.

83 Ibid., 16. Kasravi's notion of Europeanization was further explored by Jalal Al-i Ahmad in his 1962 theses on Occidentosis [gharbzadigī], or western cultural domination. See Al-i Ahmad, Jalal, Occidentosis: A Plague from the West, trans. Campbell, Robert (Berkeley, Calif.: Mizan Press, 1984).

84 ʿHamzavi, Abdulhamid, “Hich Chizi dar Dunya-yi Jadid bih Andazih-yi Sinama Ahammiyyat va Shuyuʿ Payda Nakardih,” Iran-i Bastan, no. 29 (29 Murdad 1312 [19 August 1933]), 5.

85 Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” 792.

86 “Nizam-Namih-yi Marbut bih Film-Bardari va Namayish-i Filmha-yi Sinamayi: Sanad-i Shumarih-yi 19,” in Asnadi az Musiqi, Tiʾatr va Sinama dar Iran (13001357) (Tehran: The Press and Publication Organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, 2000), 1:51–54. It is not clear which institution was behind the collection of the set of codes that was presented to the Ministry of State.

87 Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” 789.

88 Ibid., 790.

89 “Nizam-Namih-yi Marbut bih Film-Bardari,” 52.

90 Ibid., 53.

91 Paygah-i Ittilaʿat-i Qavanin va Mugharrarat-i Kishvar, “Nizam-Namih-yi Sinamaha (1314 [1935]),” accessed 17 May 12013,

92 Ibid. The interest in screening new films could be attributed to the following factors: economic apprehension (as new films would have been more marketable to the public), regulative concerns (as older films might not have been subjected to state regulations), and national interests (as the screening of new films would place Iran in temporal contemporaneity with countries that were more advanced in cinematic affairs).

93 Ibid.

94 Ibid.

95 Ibid.

96 Islamic Republic of Iran National State Archives, Vizarat-i Dakhilih, Dayirih-yi Umur-i Sihhi, “Julugiri az Istiʿmal-i Taryak dar Amakin-i ʿUmumi,” no. 5919, Communicated to Local Police Offices (in this case, Nazmiyyih-yi Isfahan), Urdibihisht 21, 1306 [12 May 1927], Document ID 290/415, Recovery ID 12/1/415.

97 Ibid., no. 5919.

98 “Khulasih-yi ʿAmaliyat-i Vizarat-i Maʿarif va Uwqaf dar Sal-i 1314,” in Salnamih va Ihsa'iyih 1312–1313 va 1313–1314, Idarih-yi Kull-i Intibaʿat – Dayirih-yi Ihsa'iyih, Vizarat-i Maʿarif va Uwqaf va Sanayiʿ-i Mustazrafih (Tehran: Shirkat-i Sahami-yi Chap [Publishing Co.]), 23. This report does not include a publication date; however, the author believes that it must have been published ca. 1935–36.

99 “Guzarish Marbut bih Vazʿiyyat-i Film-ha-yi Makhsus-i Kudakan: Sanad-i Shumarih-yi 53,” in Asnadi az Musiqi, Tiʾatr va Sinama dar Iran (1300–1357) (Tehran: The Press and Publication Organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, 2000), 1:245.

100 Acland, Charles R and Wasson, Haidee, “Introduction: Utility and Cinema,” in Useful Cinema, ed. Acland, Charles R and Wasson, Haidee (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011), 3.

101 Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” 790.

102 “Imshab Sinama Didihban (Mayak),” Iran, yr. 18, no. 4297 (2 Bahman 1312 [22 January 1934]), 4.

103 “Sinama- Tiʾatr,” Iran, yr. yr. 19, no. 4548 (9 Azar 1313 [30 November 1934]), 4.

104 “Film-i Bidari-yi Alman,” Iran-i Bastan, yr. 2 (14 Bahman 1312 [3 February 1934]), 2.

105 “Nukhustin Film-i Guya bih Zaban-i Farsi,” Iran-i Bastan, no. 17 (December 1935), 15.

106 Ibid.

107 “Lur” is a title/adjective given to people from the Iranian province of Luristan.

108 “Sinama-Tiʾatr: dar Sinama Mayak, Dukhtar-i Lur,” Iran, yr. 17, no. 4250 (1 Azar 1312 [22 November 1934]), 2.

109 Ibid.

110 “Dukhtar-i Lur ya Iran -i Diruz va Iran-i Imruz,” Iran-i Bastan, no. 33 (1 Mihr 1312 [22 September 1933]), 11.

111 “Sinama- Tiʾatr: dar Sinama Mayak, Dukhtar-i Lur,” 2.

112 “Dukhtar-i Lur,” Iran-i Bastan, no. 44 (4 Azar 1312 [25 November 1933]), 2.

113 “Sinama-Tiʾatr: Fīim-i Firdawsi,” Iran, yr. 18, no. 4494 (5 Mihr 1313 [27 September 1934]), 3.

114 ʿAtaʾullah Shahab-pur, “Sinama va Artisti: Ruznamih-yi Pirsfilm,” Iran-i Bastan, no. 36 (29 Mihr 1312 [21 October 1933]), 9.

115 Ibid.

116 Marashi, Nationalizing Iran, 108.

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