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Richard Abel's magisterial new book radically rewrites the history of French cinema between 1896 and 1914, particularly during the years when Pathé-Frères, the first major corporation in the new industry, led the world in film production and distribution. Based on extensive investigation of rare archival films and documents, and drawing on recent social and cultural histories of turn-of-the-century France and the United States, his book provides new insights into the earliest history of the cinema.
Abel tells how early French film entertainment changed from a cinema of attractions to the narrative format that Hollywood would so successfully exploit. He describes the popular genres of the era—comic chases, trick films and féeries, historical and biblical stories, family melodramas and grand guignol tales, crime and detective films—and shows the shift from short subjects to feature-length films. Cinema venues evolved along with the films as live music, color effects, and other new exhibiting techniques and practices drew larger and larger audiences. Abel explores the ways these early films mapped significant differences in French social life, helping to produce thoroughly bourgeois citizens for Third Republic France.
The Ciné Goes to Town recovers early French cinema's unique contribution to the development of the mass culture industry. As the one-hundredth anniversary of cinema approaches, this compelling demonstration of film's role in the formation of social and national identity will attract a wide audience of film scholars, social and cultural historians, and film enthusiasts.
|Note to the 1998 Edition|
|Note on Terms|
|2||The French Cinema Industry, 1896-1914||9|
|The Big Four, 1896-1902||10|
|Pathe Comes to Power, 1902-1907||19|
|Strategies of Dominance, 1907-1911||25|
|Strategies of Survival, 1911-1914||46|
|3||The Cinema of Attractions, 1896-1904||59|
|Trick Films and Feeries||61|
|Diverging Paths: From Actualites to Historical and Realist Films||91|
|4||The Transition to a Narrative Cinema, 1904-1907||102|
|The Bricolage Model||105|
|The Comic Chase Film and Company||109|
|The Pleasure and Pain of Just Looking: Erotic Films and Others||117|
|The Dramatic and Realist Films||121|
|Dissemination and Difference||136|
|The Cinema of Attractions (continued)||156|
|5||The Pre-Feature, Single-Reel Story Film, 1907-1911||179|
|Contemporary Melodramas: Light and Dark Variants||183|
|Comics Come in Series||215|
|Film d'Art and Films d'Art: The Historical Film and the Literary Adaptation||246|
|Trick Films and Feeries||278|
|6||The Rise of the Feature Film, 1911-1914||298|
|The Historical Film Comes of Age||302|
|Life As It Is: In and Out of Fashion||326|
|Crime Pays: Detectives Versus Criminals||354|
|The Comic Series in Full Swing||388|
Posted December 6, 2002
Richard Abel has done a massive reasearch job, and impressively documented French silent films from their first showing until the outbreak of World War I. French films were the most popular in the world until the War wiped out the film-making industry for a few years. By then, the American film industry was the world leader. Abel viewed hundreds of still-existing early films in writing this book. The appendix includes a very useful filmography that lists existing French silent films, the archive that holds them, and lists contemporary magazine reviews of the films. This book has very detailed endnotes of his sources. There are quite a few photos from the films that Abel describes. The book is broken up into five parts. The first part documents a history of the French film industry up to 1914, and the audiencies of the time. The next section documents "The Cinema of Attractions (1896-1904), when George Melies was the most popular filmmaker with his "trick" films. Also, the Lumiere Brothers specialized in "actuality" films, and the Pathe company was growing. The next section covers "The Transition to a Narrative Cinema (1904-1907)", where short story films were king. Pathe and Gaumont were the dominant film companies, and Melies was not popular much longer. Next, "The Pre-Feature Single-Reel Story Film" documents the rise of comedies, historical films and even cartoons. Finally, "The Rise of the Feature Film (1911-1914) covers historical epics that were much longer, crime and detective films, and comedies featuring comedians like Max Linder and Andre Deed. The book also explains how both serious films and comedies both affirmed and satirized contemporary French society. If you are new to the study of film history, this book will be way over your head. On the other hand, if you are interested in the development of film narrative and editing, you will be fascinated by this book. My only complaint is that Abel describes so many different examples of films, that it is tough to read a large chunk of this book at one sitting. After an hour or so, all of the plot-lines and camera-work and editing that he describes starts to blur together in your mind. I think that the book might have benefited from more section breaks. Still, this is a fascinating book for the serious silent film fan.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.