The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

had acquired the status of the privileged form of representation of an industrialized, modernizing nation- state, and the means by which the key hegemonies informing the post-war and post-Swadeshi idea of a 'national' culture were expressed. The triumphant mercantile class of investors who replaced the studio system soon after the war also symbolized for directors like Raj Kapoor or Guru Dutt the state of a nation that specifically excluded their utopia. The conditions of the industry itself proved paradigmatic for the state of a nation reduced to a smash-and- grab fly-by-night cultural adventurism; but it also allowed, for the first time, a sense of Indian nationhood for which the epic melodrama acted as a cultural vanguard.


Choudhury, Ashim ( 1975), Private Economic Power in India.

Desai, A. R. ( 1948), Social Background of Indian Nationalism.

Report of the Indian Cinematograph Committee, 1927-8 ( 1928).

Rajadhyaksha, Ashish, and Willemen, Paul (eds.) ( 1994). The Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema.

Sivathamby, K. ( 1981), The Tamil Film as a Medium of Political Communication.

China Before 1949


Chinese cinema before the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949 was not only pre-revolutionary but also post-colonial. Primary source histories, written with the constraints of either Chinese Communist Party or Kuomintang Nationalist orthodoxy, and later works derived from them, have stressed the former and downplayed the latter. Yet it was precisely this paradox that animated the celebrated canon of resistant films from the two 'golden ages' of the 1930s and 1940s, which are claimed as heritage by both the mainland and Taiwan-based governments.

Shanghai was the Chinese cinema capital throughout this period. The first film screening in China occurred there on 11 August 1896 as an 'act' on a variety show bill. A great cosmopolitan entrepôt at the mouth of the Yangtze, Shanghai's growth and development was entirely the outcome of China's reluctant encounter with the west and the 'modern'. It was at once on the outermost margins of east and west, and also the central nexus of exchange between them; the point where they met, clashed, intermingled, hybridized, and, above all else, traded.

From Shanghai, the foreign cameramen-showmen fanned out along the trade tributaries, bringing the cinema to the other major littoral cities and the imperial capital, Beijing, in 1902. Right up until 1949, the cinema flourished where foreign penetration was most complete, and foreign films and foreign distribution and exhibition networks dominated the industry. Initially, the Japanese (in Manchuria) and the Germans showed greater skill in penetrating the interior, but by the 1930s 90 per cent of product shown was foreign and 90 per cent of that American.

This utterly foreign pedigree positioned cinema as an exotic, rather expensive form of entertainment. Within the exhibition hierarchy, foreigners and cosmopolitan Chinese paid the most to see the latest foreign films and less well-off Chinese paid less to see older releases. It was in this lower echelon of marginal profitability that local production inserted itself in the 1910s and 1920s and planted the seeds for the remarkable hybrid that was to develop soon afterwards.

The Fengtai Photography Shop in Beijing became the unlikely home of China's first films, when its owners started to record local opera in 1905. However, they soon realized greater opportunity lay in Shanghai and moved there in 1909. Most Shanghai production companies in this initial period were joint ventures with foreigners, and it was only in 1916 that the Hui Xi Company became the first wholly Chinese concern.

Hui Xi's first effort, Wronged Ghosts in an Opium Den, does not survive, but the film was a notable success, still playing seven years later. An examination of its plot and the earliest surviving film, Romance of a Fruit Pedlar ( 1922), indicates affinity between the cinema and the 'mandarin duck and butterfly' vernacular literature that also boomed in the cities at this time. These melodramatic and sentimental tales dramatized the disjunctures and contradictions of life in the modern, westernized city. If they were tragedies, decline and misfortune were inexorable, but if they were comedies, the wondrous device of coincidence would intervene. The scion of a rich Confucian family would fall in love with a poor mill girl, incurring the wrath of his parents, but then a long-lost relative would die, bequeathing her a fortune.

In the case of Wronged Ghosts, a family is ruined by the quintessential symbol of western imperialism in China: opium. Romance of a Fruit Pedlar is a gentler comedy, presenting the efforts of a greengrocer to woo a doctor's daughter in the rough and tumble of an urban streetscape full of conmen and gambling dens. The film mimics Hollywood silent comedy with much mugging for the camera


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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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