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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 4: Regional Urban Spaces: Scotland in Film


← 146 | 147 → CHAPTER 4

Regional Urban Spaces: Scotland in Film

Where cargo ships, forests of pinnacles, an 135-foot tall dome and the familiar figure of Lord Roberts provide a complex image of Scotland in the Age of Empire.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the steel industry replaced the iron industry as one of the dominant elements in Scottish economic life, and by 1900 over twenty per cent of British steel output was produced by Scottish firms.1 The growth of heavy industry contributed to the continuing processes of urbanization and concentration of the population into relatively small and highly congested urban areas. In 1900, one-third of the population lived in Scotland’s four major cities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow.2 At the turn of the century both these four cities and the beautiful scenery of rural Scotland attracted a number of filmmakers. In this chapter, I examine early films of Scottish cities and draw particular attention to the most populated of them, Glasgow. The imperial project bound people of Britain together and the cinematic image of Glasgow presented themes equally expressed by films of Liverpool and Manchester. However, the cinematic image of Scotland in the 1900s also revealed characteristics specific to the country’s identity, both in relation to industry and scenery.

← 147 | 148 → Early cinematic representations of Scotland focused on images of urban spaces, which were filmed more often than the rest of the country, and rural landscapes. Films of...

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