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.
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