Novelties, Spectacles and the Documentary Impulse

Jeffrey Geiger

in American Documentary Film

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780748621477
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748670796 | DOI:
Novelties, Spectacles and the Documentary Impulse

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Chapter 1 looks at ‘authentic attractions’ and at phenomena that might be referred to as ‘documentary before documentary’. Though the documentary film had not yet formally come into being, one might discern a documentary ‘impulse’ in the combination of education, edification, sensation, and entertaining display encountered in sites such as the Midway Plaisance at the Chicago Exposition of 1893. This event brought together efforts to invoke a distinct American national identity through an amalgam of technologies, commercial ventures, cultural expectations, and ideological notions that fed into early cinema in the US, and into a popular taste for nonfiction actualities. The chapter moves on to examine films of the Edison Company, suggesting that rather than see these early films as ‘documents’ as opposed to fully fledged ‘documentaries’ we might consider how they lie at the heart of the documentary tradition, in no small part due to their interactions with a national imaginary.

Keywords: World's Fairs; attractions; Eadweard Muybridge; Thomas Edison; early cinema; Biograph Company; actualities

Chapter.  9648 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film

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