National Film Traditions

National Film Traditions

Little by little the various firms reorganized themselves, and American firms either opened branches in France or made arrangements for French distributors to handle their output. Various changes were made on the producing side and by 1915 the industry was once more functioning almost normally. But it had undergone considerable changes. Western Import had opened a big branch in Paris managed by Jacques Haik.

Keystone was distributing all its comedies, notably those of Mabel Normand, in France through Aubert. Eclair never entirely ceased production but had kept going with war newsreels, on which it now continued to concentrate. The Film d’Art had passed into the control of Nalpas: he had reorganized its personnel but kept its character. Other firms, less well managed or less stable, had entirely disappeared, the one among them most to be regretted being, of course, that of Méliès.

The making of war newsreels led naturally to the production of patriotic films. In 1915 Film National brought out an ambitious picture based on Victor Margueritte’s patriotic novel, Frontiers of the Heart. “Extolling as it does the national sentiment of France,” so the producers advertised, “this film has been so adapted as to fit perfectly with the following patriotic airs: The Sambre-et-Meuse Regiment, The Bugle Call, The Marseillaise, The Call to the Colors and The Charge.”

The same firm announced A Sacred Love, “showing on the screen the most poignant conflict of emotions that could rend the heart of a young Frenchman today.” They also produced The Burgomaster’s Daughter and The House at the Ferry Ferry, not to mention The Independence of Belgium from 1830 to 1914, a piece which was highly edifying as well as historical. The influence of American culture in other countries was not always welcome.

The main essentials of the postwar film, when Baroncelli and Léonce Perret were to dominate the scene, were thus all ready prepared. Actually the sum total of the French wartime film is rather a sorry one. There was neither development nor originality to be found; only the old Film d’Art on the one hand and the serials on the other. In between these there occurred no genuine contribution to the art of the film, now stemming rather from Chaplin and Ince and Griffith in America.

There was in France only a film industry and the desire to exploit popular taste. The war was doubtless to blame, but so were the producers, and the writers who lacked courage, and the absolute lack of any standards, and the prevailing bad taste. The prophetic words of Louis Delluc might appropriately be repeated here, for though they were written in 1919 they remain true to this day: “I should like to believe that we shall eventually make good films. It would be very surprising, for the cinema is not in our blood. There are few nations which nurture all of the arts, and France, which has so much to pride herself on in poetry and the drama, in painting and the dance yet has no feeling, no understanding and no love for music. I prophesy–we shall see in the future if I am right–that France has no more aptitude for the cinema than for music.”

In the 1930s Japan was the most prolific filmmaking country in the world, producing 400 to 600 features a year. Like Hollywood, Japanese cinema had its established genres. The most popular were historical films, swordfight action dramas appealing largely, like Westems, to male audiences. Gendai-geki, films set in modem Japan, included comedies, films about the lower middle class, and home drarnas, which dealt with family problems.

Like the Japanese, the German and Italian governments restricted the import of foreign films, but they produced their propaganda in newsreels and radio. Their feature films tended instead to express the feeling of their cultures about entertainment, social relationships and individual emotions.

Under Mussolini the ltalian industry produced far more ltalian “pink” films – sentirnental comedies and romantic melodramas, – than “black” or truly Fascist films. Similarly, the German film industry produced far more drawing-room comedies and operettas than Nazi propaganda.

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