Prod.: Pathé 35mm. L.: 110 m. D.: 6” a 16 f/s. Bn
Popular Opposites: Attraction and Narration
In the 1908 Pathé catalogue Bousquet records only a few variety numbers (but how we would love to see P. 1548: Les vidéos dance the minuet on roller skates!), and Nick Carter, rois des detectives, Éclair’s first detective series in six episodes of 1908, stands for a narrative cinema that, unlike the earliest fictional genres such as the fairy tale film and biblical and historical scenes, was based not on decades of stage productions but on dime novels. Now before anyone gets the bright idea that the cinema of attraction was on the wane and the realm of narrative cinema just over the horizon, here are a few bare figures on the attraction of the year: in 1908 there were probably some 1,000 Tonbilder (sound pictures) and phonoscènes on the market, with Messter’s biophon and Gaumont’s chronophone being the most perfect systems technically. In 1908 Gaumont’s catalogue offered 583 phonoscènes plus, on request, an additional 100 in Russian (!), and the number of Tonbilder produced by Messter up to and including 1908 has been estimated at 450. (Incidentally, both began production in 1903.) ‘The highest acclaim everywhere! The latest novelty! An enormous success everywhere! Living-speaking-singing-musical photographs. Presenting the most splendid scenes from the finest and newest operas and operettas, exact correspondence between word and image, a miracle of technology, including: The Merry Widow, Carmen, The Trumpeter of Sackingen, A Waltz Dream’, we read in the programme announcements for the 1908 season by Georges Hipleh-Walt, the leading Swiss owner of travelling cinemas.
These early sound films also make it clear what all silent films are: visual props for live musical events.
A cinema programme of 1908 offers aesthetic experiences of high culture (opera) as well as the joys of popular literature (detective stories and Westerns); attraction, narration, self-reflexivity… all of the entertainment values are discovered and deployed unselfconsciously, to the advantage of the audience, for our enjoyment. To our enchanted and astonished delight: the films of 1908 include a successful film version of the paradox of the Cretan Epimenides on the mendacious Cretans. This cinema is even more amazing than we thought. (Whatever you do, don’t miss Les agents tels qu’on nous les présente – Les agent tels qu’ils sont)