As someone interested in older horror films, it was natural to check out Portret, by Wladyslaw Starewicz. Released in 1915 and based on the story by Nikolai Gogol, Portret features a straightforward concept. Basically, a creepy painting coming to life, frightening the man who just purchased it. Admittedly, details on the film are scarce, but it seems only an 8 minute snippet of Porte” survives, from the original 44 minutes!

Nevertheless, those 8 minutes are actually pretty decent. It stars Andrej Gromov as the art connoisseur, who feels drawn to unique art. Also, I believe the man in the painting is played by Ivan Lazarev (and details on that actor are scarce, too). I have included the film in this article, as I doubt there’s any risk of getting sued (for obvious reasons).

If you look at the comments on this Youtube video for Portret, some remark on the buyer’s interest in the “creepy painting.” However, it’s exactly the sort of thing that some are drawn to, and it certainly has unique characteristics. In fact, I’d say it has a charm apart from the creepiness that some assign it. This particular version of the silent film features Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor, which lends the film an even more haunting quality. It;s further proof that, sometimes, music really adds something to a piece. Another good thing is, this film could (at least hypothetically) increase interest in Nikolai Gogol’s story. I know I’d be interested in reading it.

The Director

Wladyslaw Starewicz (or Ladislas Starevich) has other films that may be of interest. For example, you may want to check out his stop-motion films depicting insects. For example,The Ant and the Grasshopper (1913) is a cute little story. He also has a mostly live-action version of The Night Before Christmas (1913). He was a pretty successful and prolific filmmaker in his day, but I couldn’t say I’ve heard of him before seeing Portret.

In Summation

One great thing about researching old movies (or, of course, any art), is that you can look into who they influenced, and who influenced them. It reminds us that the arts have always been linked to each other. Obviously, even silent films tend to be tied with music, which itself tends to be tied with other concepts (including dance, story elements, emotional imagery, etc.). After looking at a few Starewicz films, I feel at least vaguely smarter for it. This will sound like a snobbish thing to say, but I really hope more people actually do work and research older films, songs, literature and whatnot, rather than simply leaving it up to Disney, Netflix or Amazon.

Definitely look into these older horror films, and older movies in general. Granted, you might not like everything you see or learn, but it is history, and history is a potentially fascinating journey. We see how we got here, and may gain insights into where we’re headed. Plus, in this case, Portret is successful at being a little creepy, just by the mood it conveys. If you turn your back on black and white/silent cinema, you are missing some opportunities. Right now, thankfully, we have a much better ability to preserve and observe creative works. If we’re going to watch tons of movies, we should occasionally “kick it old school.”

What are your thoughts on Portret and older films? Let us know in the comments!

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Wade Wanio is an author.

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