The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

Cabarga, Leslie ( 1988), The Fleischer Story.

Canernaker, John ( 1987), Winsor McCay: His Life and Art.

------ ( 1991), Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World's Most Famous Cat.

Cholodenko, Alan (ed.) ( 1991), The Illusion of Life: Essays on Animation.

Crafton, Donald ( 1990), Émile Cohl, Caricature and Film.

------ ( 1993), Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898-1928.

Gifford, Denis ( 1987), British Animated Films, 1895-1985: A Filmography.

------ ( 1990), American Animated Films: The Silent Era, 1897-1929.

Maltin, Leonard ( 1980), Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons.

Merritt, Russell, and Kaufman, J. B. ( 1994), Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney.

Robinson, David ( 1991), 'Masterpieces of Animation, 1833-1908'.

Solomon, Charles ( 1987), Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation.



In a bare quarter of a century, the silent cinema created a tradition of film comedy as distinctive and as self- contained as the commedia dell'arte -- from which, however remotely, it seemed to derive something of its character.

The cinema arrived at the end of a century that had witnessed a rich flowering of popular comedy. Early in the century, both in Paris and in London, archaic theatrical regulations had forbidden spoken drama in certain theatres, and thus provided unintended stimulus for the inspired mime of Baptiste Debureau at Les Funambules in Paris, and for the English burletta, with its special combination of music, song, and mime. Later, the new proletarian audiences of the great cities of Europe and America found their own theatre in music hall, variety, and vaudeville. With these popular audiences, comedy was in constant demand. When life was bad, laughter was a comfort; when it was good, they wanted to enjoy themselves just the same. Famous comedy mime troupes of the music halls, like the Martinettis, the Ravels, the Hanlon-Lees, and Fred Karno's Speechless Comedians, can be seen as direct forerunners of one-reel slapstick films. Karno, in fact, was to train two of the greatest film comedians, Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.


The earliest comic films -- still only a minute or less in length -- were generally one-point jokes often inspired by newspaper cartoons, comic strips, comic postcards, stereograms, or magic lantern slides. The world's first film comedy, the Lumières' L'Arroseur arrosé (Watering the Gardener, 1895), was directly derived from a comic strip showing a naughty boy stepping on a garden hose and then releasing his foot as the unwitting gardener peers into the nozzle.

By the turn of the century, however, films were growing longer, and film-makers began to discover the specific qualities of the medium. Georges Méliès and his imitators used cinematic tricks, like stop action and accelerated movement, for comic effects. In the years 1905-7 the chase film -- which typically featured an ever-growing crowd of eccentrics in escalating pursuit of a thief or other malefactor -- became very popular with audiences. The bestknown exponents of the genre were the directors André Heuze in France and Alfred Collins in England.

The year 1907 brought a revolution, when the Pathé Company launched a series of comedies featuring the character Boireau played by the comedian André Deed ( André Chapuis, born 1884). Deed was the cinema's first true comic star, and achieved international popularity with his grotesque, infantile, comic character. From Méliès, with whom he probably worked as an actor, Deed learnt much about the craft of film-making, and particularly trick effects.

When in 1909 Deed was wooed away from Pathé by the Itala Company of Turin (he was to return to France two years later), Pathé already had an even greater comic star to take his place. This comedian, Max Linder, possessed an apparently inexhaustible comic invention, and was a performer of exquisite skill. The most durable and prolific of Pathé's stable of comic stars was Charles Prince (born Charles Petit-demange Seigneur), who made nearly 600 films in the course of ten years, in the character of Rigadin. Other Pathé comedians included Boucot ( Jean-Louis Boucot), the established variety star Dranem, Babylas, Little Moritz, the stout Rosalie ( Sarah Duhamel), Cazalis, and the comic detective Nick Winter ( Léon Durac).

The Boireau and Max series proved an incomparable draw at the box-office and Pathé's rivals strove to compete. Gaumont poached the comedian Romeo Bosetti from Pathé, and he directed a Romeo series and a Calino series (starring Clément Migé) before returning to head Pathé's new Comica and Nizza comedy studios on the Côte d'Azur. Bosetti's successor at Gaumont was Jean Durand, whose greatest innovation was to create a whole comic troupe, called Les Pouics, whose orgies of slapstick and destruction were particularly admired by the surrealists. Out of the group emerged Onésime ( Ernest Bourbon), who starred in at least eighty films which sometimes rose to


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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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