Americanizing the Movies and "Movie-Mad" Audiences, 1910-1914

By Richard Abel | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
The “Usable Past” of Westerns
Cowboy, Cowboy Girl, and Indian Pictures,
Part 2

“America” for Export

It was during this period that American companies first realized that they could successfully export films to Europe—and westerns turned out to be their most popular product. Perhaps this should not have come as such a surprise, given the extent to which images of the American West had long been familiar to Europeans, from the exhibitions of George Catlin in the 1840s to the initial tour of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in the late 1880s and early 1890s.1 Jacques Portes, for instance, has explored French conceptions of American Indians as “the last remnants of a primitive humanity” and of the cowboy as a new hero of such typically American qualities as simplicity, energy, and selfconfidence.2 More specifically, Francis Lacassin has traced the rise of the Eichler publishing house, in France and Germany, which began in 1907 with translations and adaptations of the Buffalo Bill dime novels, following close on the second European tour of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Paris and other cities.3 So popular was Buffalo Bill, along with others based on the detective Nick Carter, that Eichler was releasing a new series every six months, from Riffle Bill or Texas Jack the Scourge of the Indians to Sitting Bull the Last of the Sioux, whose heroes followed “the trails of the American West, already blazed by Buffalo Bill.”4 As a mythic space symbolizing America, the Far West also had been glimpsed in early Pathé-Frères films such as Indians and Cowboys (1904) or A Detective’s Tour of the World (1906), where, in one of the latter film’s scenes, the hero has to be rescued from “red skins” by the bankerembezzler he is pursuing.5 Such globe-trotting adventure films, writes Deniz Göktürk, would crop up repeatedly among French and especially German feature films before World War I, often mapped according to the contours of European colonialism.6 At least one episode in these adventure films usu-

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