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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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Chapter 3: Cinematic Empire: Seaside, Industry and Trade


← 114 | 115 → CHAPTER 3

Cinematic Empire: Seaside, Industry and Trade

Where further contrasts between the grandiose and the squalid are revealed and we learn that accumulating vast wealth does not protect a city from becoming ugly.

In the late 1880s, William Friese-Greene, Mortimer Evans and Frederick Varley created a camera which could take up to four or five pictures per second, too low a frequency rate for an illusion of motion but nevertheless a significant step towards the invention of the cinematograph. In 1888, Friese-Greene improved his camera and filmed a street scene in Brighton photographed at ten frames per second on oil-soaked paper.1 At about the same time, Louis Le Prince was filming his short scene showing the traffic on Leeds Bridge. British industrial and provincial towns were indeed among the earliest subjects of films, and continued to be a recurrent landscape in non-fiction films produced in Britain until the start of the First World War. This chapter investigates the cinematic image of English cities and, in particular, draws attention to their imperial connection and iconography. If London was the political centre governing the colonies, England’s industrial and mercantile cities such as Liverpool and Manchester expressed the economic aims of imperialism. Paradigms of urban life, they hold key positions on the map of turn-of-the-century Britain as places characterized by exceptional industrial dynamism and urban modernity.

← 115 | 116 → According to Richard Sennett, the increasingly anonymous experience of social life in the great...

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