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Of Empire and the City

Remapping Early British Cinema


Maurizio Cinquegrani

This book explores the cinematic representation of the city in British film from 1895 to 1914, featuring depictions of London, Glasgow, Dublin, Delhi and other British colonial cities. The author argues that the films are not only an invaluable record of the economic, social and cultural life of these cities but also that the spatial organization of these urban areas, and the cinematic representations of them, were shaped by the ideology and activity of imperialism. The pioneer camera operators who made these early films often put forward an imperialist ideology by paying particular attention to the cinematic representation of monumental and ceremonial spaces, modern communication and transport within the city and between the city and the empire. Of Empire and the City establishes connections between these cities and their cinematic representation by means of continuous motifs and themes, including modernity, Orientalism, spectatorship and the imperial subject. The book makes a unique contribution to studies of early film, British urban history and the history of the British Empire.
«This is a highly original and genuinely groundbreaking piece of scholarship on early British cinema. Very little work on this subject to date has sought to contextualise films of the 1890s and 1900s within the broader field of the history of imperialism. Cinquegrani's book systematically corrects this ‘blind spot’, and in its use of a wide range of ideas and methodologies […] it offers a compelling new model for future scholarship on British cinema of the silent era.» (Dr Jon Burrows, Associate Professor, Department of Film and Television Studies, University of Warwick)
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Introduction: The Absent-minded Cameraman?


← viii | 1 → INTRODUCTION

The Absent-minded Cameraman?

We seem, as it were, to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind.

— SIR JOHN SEELEY, The Expansion of England (1893)

The world of today is a bare, hungry, dilapidated place compared with the world that existed before 1914, and still more so if compared with the imaginary future to which the people of that period looked forward.

— EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism


A middle-class man born in London on 20 June 1837, Queen Victoria’s coronation day, could have been lucky enough to visit the Zoo in Regent’s Park as a young boy after its opening to the public in 1847. He could have also visited the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park or James Wyld’s Globe in Leicester Square in his early teens. As he turned twenty he would have read about the Sepoy Mutiny in India, perhaps in one of those illustrated magazines which often devoted their pages to events taking place in the colonies. Later he could have read serialized novels by Charles Dickens in All Year Around or Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories on The Strand while sitting on a train boarded in one of the fourteen major railway stations which opened in London during his lifetime. The train could have taken him on a short holiday to a seaside resort like Brighton or Blackpool, or...

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