An illuminating talk at the Giornate del Cinema Muto focused on the process of film restoration reminded me of how the challenges involved in the process are nothings short of scary. There is actually never a certainty that whatever early film has survived to this day can be seen now in its originally intended form. This is because even when they were first released, individual prints could be very different from one another. In the most drastic cases, they could even star different actors. In some territories and countries, imported prints would be re-edited to suit the political vogue of the time.
Some editors were so great at doing (also) that that they succeeded in building a reputation for themselves.
One of them was Soviet editor Esfib Shub, who made The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty in 1927 – the year in which many filmmakers were commissioned films to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the October revolution in communist Russia. Among them, The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty is special. It’s different and revolutionary, for it was one of the very first film that was entirely made of found footage, without a camera. Therefore, watching it is like watching the birth of the archive historical documentary. History, in her film, is tweaked to be propagandist (guess whose side she’s on!) But it hardly matters, because it is still powerful to this day, especially on its critique of the violence of World War I. Of course, the fact that Soviet Union in 1927 was still at a peak in its “montage” years, a film like The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty, made entirely with scissors and tape, is absolutely representative of its time.