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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 8: From the Boer War to the Great War


← 226 | 227 → CHAPTER 8

From the Boer War to the Great War

In which early propaganda films record a British victory in Africa while anticipating larger, more devastating wars and, with them, the end of the Empire.

Images of Africa fueled the geographical imagination and knowledge of the Victorians and the Edwardians, in ways that present both elements of continuity and discontinuity when compared to images of Asia. People and artefacts from the African continent were often displayed in ethnographic exhibitions and museums. As Annie Coombes argues, images of Africa at large-scale national and local exhibitions had a tremendous impact on the popular imagination and served to aggrandize the imperial message.1 Films brought this message to a larger audience by filming the African exhibitions held in Britain.

In 1899, the show “Savage South Africa” opened at the Greater Britain Exhibition in Earl’s Court, London, and included two hundred “natives” from Africa, twenty Boers, and the re-enactment of episodes from the Matabele Rebellion in Zimbabwe.2 Several films were shot at Earl’s Court during the exhibition. G.A. Smith and John Benett-Stanford filmed Kaffirs and Zulus on the Warpath and Savage South Africa at Earl’s Court. The Warwick Trading Company and Walturdaw produced Opening of the South ← 227 | 228 → African Exhibition and South African Products Exhibition respectively, two actuality films representing the South African Exhibition and thus emphasizing the connection, and at some degree the submission, between the Union of South Africa and Britain.3 At...

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