American Cinema, 1895-1915

Charlie Keil

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
American Cinema, 1895-1915

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The study of early American cinema was both the beneficiary and the instigator of a wave of revisionist historiography that gained momentum from the mid-1970s onward. While previous accounts of American cinema prior to the advent of features had concentrated on those artistic achievements that led “inevitably” to the mature work of the Hollywood studio system, isolating the contributions of Porter, Ince, and Griffith, the first wave of revisionist efforts, ushered in largely by the findings of scholars still in graduate school, redefined the early cinema landscape. Aided by archivists, who provided them access to large swaths of previously unwatched or underregarded films, and prepared to wade through untold issues of contemporaneous trade journals recorded on microfilm, these young scholars reclaimed the terrain of early American cinema with a historiographically sophisticated fervor. Much of this work did not always distinguish American filmmaking from that of other nations, acknowledging perhaps the porous boundaries of global film exchange, particularly prior to World War I; more often than not, however, emphasis gravitated toward the United States. Most significantly, scholarship in this burgeoning subfield marked off the years prior to 1915 as important in their own right, distinctive for their formal features, audience address, patterns of industrial development, and intertextual references. As the study of early American cinema developed over the next several decades, attention shifted from insightful studies of the films’ formal patterns and groundbreaking examinations of early exhibition and production to consideration of how early American cinema engaged with a host of issues: the dynamics of race and gender, the concurrent emergence of the culture of modernity, audiences in a variety of settings and locales, and the institutional and intermedial contexts for cinema’s emergence during the crucial years before features took hold.

Article.  8659 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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