Alan Williams book, Republic of Images: A History of French Filmmaking begins its long journey through time in the 1800’s before cinema was invented. Williams explains that the three necessary aspects of film were to come, the “bricolage” meaning the analysis of movement, the optical synthesis of movement, and photography. There were many important people over the course of this book that had huge influences on putting together the bricolage as well as path that this most popular media traveled. Williams begins with men such as Niepce in his success of inventing the start of photography, then Daguerre who improved it, Plateau’s construction of an apparatus that showed the synthesis of motion called the Phénakistoscope, all the way to Thomas Edison’s final contribution to make film possible, the Kinetoscope. Williams continues through time to the Lumiére brother’s major influence until the film industry began. Film started off as a spectacle in France at fairs much likes freak shows and wax museums. Williams moves on explaining the development of turning cinema from a spectacle into what it is today. He goes over the beginning of genre’s or “series”, the dramas that ensued with money, monopolies, huge fires from the flammable theaters and eventually the wars that influenced a lot of change in this important industry. We learn about the transformation from silent to talkies and even the anti-Semitism that forced many Jewish filmmakers/actors to never trust France again. Williams takes the reader to France’s significant film noir and New Wave styles that show the aftermath of the war on its people and eventually ends with another important media that is quite influential today, television. Although this book is filled with many names and many details, it truly deserves the name ‘A History of French Filmmaking’.
After reading this book, it is clear that without France, film might not be what it is today. Although when one thinks of cinema, they might right away think of Hollywood, but there are many people, movies, and studios that started in France that made Hollywood possible. To start, the Lumiére brothers, mostly Louis, were not only able to record film, but they were able to project it as a show for an audience. Although these films were not necessarily long feature length films, Louis showed great art in his films and even made many color slides in his films. The next person to take film to a different level was Mélies who not only discovered “substitution splicing” but he made films about magic, he “…Anticipated Surrealism” (37), and was like the first “movie star” of his time. After the Lumiére business died down, the one to take over was Pathé. He hired Ferdinand Zecca, an important filmmaker, as well as created the first genres or at that time was called “series”. Examples of these are outdoor views, comic scenes, sports and acrobats, and dances and ballets. Pathé tried to monopolize the film industry but instead “…The second consequence of Pathé’s bid for monopoly was to encourage the competition” (53). Pathé’s competitor, Léon Gaumont was not only influential in his decisions to use real locations unlike Pathé’s films, but he hired one of the most important French film producers, Alice Guy. “Alice Guy is one of the most significant figures in the entire history of French Cinema. Despite her great influence, frustratingly little is known about her actual work at Gaumont” (55). Williams explains how Guy was great at saving money during productions, which was very important then and now in film production. Another important name mentioned was Max Linder, the first big comedic star who later influenced one of the biggest comedic names of all time, Charles Chaplin. Willaims goes on to explain many other studios in French Film’s beginning, one being Film d’Art. Although this eventually became less significant over time, it was interesting that this was directed towards the upper middle class instead of the population...
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