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Of Empire and the City

Remapping Early British Cinema

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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 6: Travel Cinematography in India

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← 186 | 187 → CHAPTER 6

Travel Cinematography in India

Where the author meditates on the political stakes emerging from films of Varanasi, Delhi and Colombo, and reflects on the definitions of “home” and “journey”.

Opened in the same year as the Crystal Palace in 1851, James Wyld’s Globe in Leicester Square symbolized the growing interest in geographical spectacles in Victorian Britain. It consisted of a globe sixty feet in diameter with the surface of the Earth shown inside the building and viewed by the public from a series of galleries and iron steps.1 Wyld’s Globe was one of many exhibits in this era which encouraged a new image of the globe resting on the idea of its visibility. As Denis Cosgrove suggests, this kind of image of the globe emerged from a series of non-linguistic ways of seeing and representing space as an “icon for the interrelated processes of connection, communication, and control which characterize modernity.”2

Indeed, as we have seen in previous chapters, the Victorian era saw a great number of colonial exhibitions, world’s fairs and technological displays, and pioneer filmmakers filmed places where colonial and exotic displays were exhibited, such as the Crystal Palace, the London Zoo and the Glasgow Exhibition. These sites, together with panoramas, dioramas, cosmoramas and theatres, reflected a new world-view that transformed exotic landscapes in records of cultural practice. Films of exhibitions, as ← 187 | 188 → seen in the previous chapters, offered a glimpse of the informative...

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