“Cinematic Modernity” explores the genesis amnesia that informs the conventional scholarly accounts of Iranian cinema history. Critiquing a homogeneous historical time, this dissertation investigates cinematic temporality autonomous from (and in relation to) political and social temporalities in modern Iran. Grounding the emergence of cinema in Iran within a previously neglected cosmopolitan urban social formation, it demonstrates how the intermingling of diverse Russian, Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, French and British communities in interwar Tehran, facilitated the formation of a cosmopolitan cinematic culture in the early twentieth century. In the 1930s, such globally-informed and aspiring citizens took part in the making of a cinema that was simultaneously cosmopolitan and Persian-national, i.e. cosmo-national.
This dissertation explains how in the late 1940s, after a decade long hiatus in Iranian feature-film productions—when cinemas were dominated by Russian, British, and German films—Iranian filmmakers and critics actualised their aspirations for a sovereign national cinema in the form a sustained commercial industry; this cinema staged the moral compromises of everyday life and negotiation of conflicting allegiances to families and social networks in a rapidly changing Iran—albeit in entertaining forms. While critiqued for “imitating” European commercial films, this cinema—known as ―”Film-Farsi” (Persian-Language)–was highly informed by lived experiences of Iranians and international commercial motion pictures. In the late 1950s, a group of internationally-educated filmmakers, distanced themselves from the debilitating charges aimed at “Film-Farsi” cinema, and crafted an alternative, social realist, intellectual cinema, i.e., an alter-cinema, that drew upon recognised international visual motifs and techniques, and lent itself to a critique of social and political conditions of the time. Envisioning a cinematic revolution (in form and content), this cinema became more politically conscious as revolutionary fervour grew in the 1970s. Decoupling cinematic temporality from Iran‘s political temporality, this dissertation demonstrates that alter-native cinema‘s revolution presaged the political revolution of 1979