In the autumn of 1921, protests broke out in Paris cinemas against the anti-Bolshevik documentary La Russie rouge. The protests were organised by branches of the Communist and Socialist Party. In an attempt to restore public order, police attended screenings of the film dressed as bourgeois filmgoers and used physical force to eject protestors. The government decision to police cinemas rather than ban the film only added to the anger of leftist organisations. Drawing on newspaper accounts and archive material such as government intelligence reports, I show how working-class audiences saw the appearance of La Russie rouge as a politically fraught intrusion into their communal spaces. In Paris, working-class cinemas served as local community houses, and the films shown there were integrated into a wider fabric of sociability constituted by community organisation, political activism, schooling, fund-raising, and non-cinematic forms of entertainment. Against this background, the self-consciously apolitical and formal appreciation of La Russie rouge by cinephile critics such as Louis Delluc would have appeared to working-class audiences as part and parcel of a systematic disciplining of proletarian publics by the official and unofficial representatives of the bourgeois public sphere. It was this perception, in turn, which in late October 1921 led to the creation of two short-lived Communist film exhibition networks, Le Bon Cinéma and Le Cinéma du Peuple, to combat what Communists increasingly saw as the transformation of Paris cinemas into ‘government’ and ‘bourgeois’ spaces.
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Early Popular Visual Culture on 21 Aug 2014, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/17460654.2014.923161