Apart from one exception (“Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah Shooting with the Camera”), all the films identified to the present are of the “burlesque” type and their chronological sequence remains to be determined. On the whole, what sets these films apart from filmmaking in its wide sense, whether in the course of time or at present, is that narrative films are usually made in view of financial (and sometimes political) gains and with public screening in mind, whereas these Iranian films were made for the Shah and his entourage, indeed by themselves, without any financial or political gains being contemplated. From this point of view, the early Iranian cinema is comparable to the first fifty years of photography in this country, and to a large extent to its high class painting in the same era, both of which were courtly and aristocratic. The slow pace at which these arts permeated the (almost nonexistent) middle classes and the population at large, and their ensuing lack of financial support of arts, can be considered to have largely obstructed the development of these arts, which has been the greatest difference between the Iranian and western societies in this domain.
What can be termed the first collection of Iranian cinema films presently consists of 7676 frames (frames 7226 to 15902 of copy reel No. 3). The film fragments copied have a total length of approximately 200 meters and a viewing time of around 10 minutes. If, with slight exaggeration, an identity card is written for this presently disheveled film collection, or, in today’s terms, a “bande d’annonce” is prepared for it, this is what the viewer will read: producer: Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah; scenario writer and director: ‘Issa-Khan; cast: ‘Issa-Khan, Mirza-Abolqassem Ghaffari, Malijak, Mahmood-Khan and other intimates of the Shah; a release of the royal studio. The same “annonce” can be repeated for the “donkey-back race of Mozaffar-ed-din Shah’s private servants in a tree-planted street”, and particularly for “The Shah searching for hunting game through looking glasses”—to which we shall return—, but in the latter the main actor is the Shah himself in his own role.
Date of the film: As Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah and his intimates, particularly ‘Issa-Khan and Abolqassem Ghaffari, appear in these fragments, they must have been shot between the arrival of the film cameras to Tehran on 11 Shavval 1317 / 11 February 1900 / 22 Bahman 1278 and the Shah’s death on 23 Ziqa‘deh 1324 / 18 January 1907 / 18 Dey 1285. In view of the country’s situation in the last years of Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah’s reign (third European tour in 1323 AH / 1905 AD / 1284 AS, grant of the constitution in 1324 AH / 1906 AD / 1285 AS) and the receding novelty of cinema to the benefit of the Shah’s greater interest for photography, these burlesque films must be attributed to a time closer to the date of the arrival of the cameras, probably to after the Shah’s first voyage, around 1900-1901, i.e., 1279-80 AS. The exactness of this dating can be ascertained by the fact that the idle Malijak, who was an accomplished hunter, appears in a film with his gun, but never mentions the shooting sessions in his memoirs. Rather than an omission on his part for whatever reason, this lack is due to the fact that he began writing his memoirs at a later date, on 10 Zelhajjeh 1319 / 20 March 1903 / 29 Esfand 1282.
Style and content: As already mentioned, almost all these films are of the “burlesque” type, then popular and in the leading position across the world. For anyone, the most familiar scene of these films is the “pie fight”, in which two or more people throw creamy pies at each other. Asides from its popularity, the main reason for the adoption of this style in the early period of Iranian filmmaking was its appeal to the Shah. In fact, probably no choice was even made. The Shah’s inclination towards funny things attracted a clown such as Mirza-Abolqassem Ghaffari or a couple of court eunuchs—‘Issa-Khan and Mahmood-Khan—to his private quarters, so that, when it was decided to make a film, this style was naturally adopted. Friend and foe agree that Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah was good-natured and cared for the people, as his granting of the constitution symbolized. But, on the other hand, in the words of Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani, who was not one of his supporters: “He was exceedingly candid, gullible, moody, facetious, easy-laughing, ill-tempered in private and affected.” Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani, Tarikh-e Bidari-e Iranian, v. 1, p. 131. His “facetious, easy-laughing” character appears even more clearly when reviewing the pictures at the Golestan Palace, and there are photographs that can be considered in bad taste today. Forgetting that these pictures belonged to the private quarters of the Shah and were not intended for us to see, they can even be considered unbefitting his royal rank.