The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

NATIONAL CINEMAS

French Silent Cinema

RICHARD ABEL

In 1907, the French press repeatedly erupted in astonishment over the speed with which the cinema was supplanting other spectacle entertainments like the caféconcert and music hall and even threatening to displace the theatre. As a song from the popular revue, Tu l'as l'allure, put it:

So when will the Ciné drop and die? Who knows. So when will the Café-conc' revive? Who knows.

Whatever the attitudes taken -- and they ranged from exhilaration to resigned dismay -- there was no doubt that, in France, 1907 was 'the year of the cinema' or, as one writer enthused, 'the dawn of a new age of Humanity'. So limitless seemed the cinema's future that it set off an explosion of entrepreneurial activity.


PATHÉ-FRÈRES INDUSTRIALIZES THE CINEMA

At the centre of that activity was Pathé- Frères as it systematically industrialized every sector of the new industry. Two years before, Pathé had pioneered a system of mass production (headed by Ferdinand Zecca) which soon had the company marketing at least half a dozen film titles per week (or 40,000 metres of positive film stock per day) as well as 250 cameras, projectors, and other apparatuses per month. By 1909, those figures had doubled across the board, and the Pathé studio camera and projector had become the standard industry models. This production capacity enabled Pathé to construct one cinema after another in Paris and other cities, beginning in 1906-7, shifting film exhibition away from the fairgrounds to permanent sites in urban shopping and entertainment districts. By 1909 Pathé had a circuit of nearly 200 cinemas throughout France and Belgium, probably the largest in Europe. In order better to regulate distribution of its product within that circuit, in 1907-8 the company also set up a network of six regional agencies to rent, rather than sell, its weekly programme of films. This network augmented the dozens of agencies Pathé had opened across the globe, beginning as early as 1904, and through which it quickly dominated the world-wide sale and rental of films. By 1907, one-third to one-half of the films making up American nickelodeon programmes were Pathé's -- as a general rule, the company shipped up to 200 copies of each film title to the United States. As the 'empire' of this first international cinema corporation began to stabilize (and eventually contract in the USA because of MPPC restrictions) and film distribution and exhibition became its most secure sources of revenue, Pathé gradually shifted film production to a growing number of quasi-independent affiliates. By 1913-14, Pathé Frères had become a kind of parent company ( Charles Pathé himself invoked the analogy of a book publisher) to a host of production affiliates, from France (SCAGL, Valetta, and Comica) to Russia, Italy, Holland, and the USA.

The other French companies engaged in the cinema's expansion either followed Pathé's lead or found a profitable niche in one or more sectors of the industry. Léon Gaumont's company, Pathé's closest rival, was the only other vertically integrated corporation active in every sector, from manufacturing equipment to producing, distributing, and exhibiting films. Its 1911 renovation of the Gaumont-Palace (seating 3,400 people), for instance, not only anchored its own circuit of cinemas but spurred the construction of more 'palace' cinemas in Paris and elsewhere. Unlike Pathé, however, Gaumont steadily increased direct investment in production so that it too could release at least half a dozen film titles per week. Under the management of Charles Jourjon and Marcel Vandal, Éclair operated within a slightly narrower sphere, having never established a circuit of cinemas to present its product. Instead, to fuel its aggressive expansion between 1910 and 1913, Éclair concentrated on producing and distributing films as well as manufacturing various kinds of apparatuses. Along with Pathé, it was the only French company with the capital and foresight to open its own production studio in the USA. Most smaller French companies either confined their efforts to production (Film d'Art, Eclipse, and Lux) or concentrated on distribution (AGC). The most important independent distributor, Louis Aubert, embarked on a somewhat different trajectory, much as Universal, Fox, and Paramount would slightly later in the USA. Aubert's company prospered through its exclusive contracts to release films by the major Italian and Danish producers in France, including Quo vadis?; by

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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • CinÉma-VÉritÉ and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823
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