Works on American Film
Works on American Leisure Time in the
Era of Early Cinema
The Invention of the Movies
Histories of Early American Cinema
Works on American Film
Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema:
Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).
This is a definitive study of the way Hollywood films were made, the technology
they used, and the style in which they told stories. This volume covers
early cinema as well, although the focus is on the "Classical"
era in Hollywood cinema.
Hollywood Cinema (London: Blackwell,
Although this deals mainly with the studio system of the later period,
Maltby provides a original understanding of the way the business and economics
of film determined the way films appeared to their audiences. Very clear,
readable, and concise.
Movie Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York: Random House, 1975).
Still the best single volume overview with a few in-depth treatments of
films in relation to larger issues in American culture.
on American Leisure Time in the Era of Early Cinema
Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century
New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987).
A wonderfully readable account of urban leisure time with a strong focus
on the changing role commercial leisure played in working women's lives
as it moved from a male-dominated realm to one that included women and
their families. Movies played a big role in this transformation as the
Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial
City, 1870-1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
This classic account gives a sense of the audiences that came to the nickelodeon
and the other ways they used their leisure time, both before and during
the cinema, with an excellent chapter on the transformation of the film
theater during the era covered.
Invention of the Movies
The Great Art of Light and Shadow
(Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000).
A monumental work of research focusing mainly on France and Europe that
reveals the ancestry of the film image in a variety of visual devices,
especially the "Magic Lantern." Filled with facts and details
from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century.
Living Pictures: The Origins of the Movies
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998).
A somewhat more compact and focused account of the actual invention of
the cinema at the turn of the last century, with excellent accounts of
a variety of pioneers and early technologies, including the "invention"
of film, the actual celluloid.
of Early American Cinema
The Red Rooster Scare: Making Cinema American 1900-1910 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
The Transformation of Cinema 1907-1915,
Vol. II: History
of the American Cinema (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1991).
Abel has primarily been a historian of early French cinema (as in his
monumental Cine Goes to Town).
Here he focuses on the effect French films had on early American film
history, revealing how French films from the Pathé company primarily
fueled the nickelodeon revolution. Abel then shows how American producers
tried to regain control of their own market by producing a self-consciously
In the second volume of this series, Bowser manages to both give the facts
and tell the story of cinema's emergence during the nickelodeon era in a
manner that is engaging and scholarly.
The Parade's Gone By (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968).
An account by a film enthusiast of film from the silent era, based largely
on interviews the author conducted with filmmakers and stars of the era.
This concentrates mainly on the late teens and twenties, and tends towards
the anecdotal, but still provides a strong flavor of the unique process
of silent filmmaking
the Mask of Innocence (New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1990).
Brownlow's third installment of his works on American silent film concentrates
on the social problem films of the era, films that dealt with controversial
issues ranging from white slavery to abortion to illicit drugs and political
The War, the West, and the Wilderness
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978).
Life to those Shadows (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1991).
Brownlow follows up The Parade's Gone By with an analysis of the
role silent film had in recording an era of exploration and expansion,
including the capturing of modern warfare.
A series of unique essays by a major film theorist who sees early cinema
as a laboratory for the analysis of the psychological and ideological power
that cinema exerts. Burch was one of the first to argue for the unique quality
of early cinema, in contrast with Classical cinema, and he presents an ideological
analysis of the relation between the two.
and Vanessa R. Schwartz, eds., Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
An anthology of essays by historians and film historians trying to locate
cinema in relation to the new phenomenon of "modern life," such
as mass marketing, urban life, and in relation to other modern spectacles,
such as the wax museum. An important attempt to define the cultural context
of cinema's emergence.
Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990).
A carefully developed discussion of the way movie stars emerged at the beginning
and middle of the teens, showing the role publicity and fans played in creating
a new phenomenon.
and Adam Barker, eds., Early Cinema: Space Frame Narrative (London: British Film Institute, 1990).
The anthology of essays that defined Early Cinema as a new area in film
studies. The focus is international and largely theoretical, dealing both
with modes of narration and new forms of spectatorship, although with less
emphasis on the historical context.
H. Fuller, At the Picture Show: Small-Town Audiences and the Creation
of Movie Fan Culture (Washington,
DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996).
Examines the development of film display and audiences from the silent
era to the 1930s, from rural and small-town itinerant shows to urban palaces.
Also explores the rise of movie fan magazines and culture, including negotiations
over the gender and nature of fan culture.
D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film: The Early
Years at Biograph (Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 1991). D.W. Griffith possesses a legendary reputation
as the "father of film language." Here his first years of filmmaking
are scrutinized in terms of the development of film style and narration,
as well as their relation to new economics of film production and distribution.
Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991).
A major theoretical attempt to rethink the spectator of silent film in America.
Using German philosopher Jürgen Habermas's concept of the "public
sphere," Hansen argues that the movies provided new contexts in which
working-class audiences could digest their experiences of modern life. The
book deals first with the nickelodeon era, provides a detailed reading of
Griffith's 1916 film Intolerance, and finally discusses the later film stars with an
analysis of the Rudolph Valentino and his appeal, especially for female
Screening out the Past: The Birth of Mass Culture and the Motion Picture
Industry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
Although some film historians fault this book's slightly cavalier attitude
towards the films it discusses, May does provide a historical argument
about the role film played in establishing a new culture of leisure in
The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907, Vol. I: History
of the American Cinema (New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1990).
The first volume of the Scribner series, this is a tour de force of historical
research, crammed with facts and illustrations. Original research at its
best, it provides the most reliable account of the beginnings of cinema
in the U.S.
Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing
Company (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).
Musser again breaks new ground in research, supplying the first complete
account of America's first famous filmmaker, Edwin S. Porter, who made
The Great Train Robbery.
Besides analyzing the style of Porter's films, Musser shows how Porter
interacted with the first major American film production company, the
and Carol Nelson, High Class Moving Pictures: Lyman Howe and the Forgotten
Era of Traveling Exhibition 1880-1920
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).
In the third volume of his trilogy of pioneer works on early American
cinema, Musser focuses on the exhibition of film, turning the spotlight
on Lyman Howe who toured the U.S. in the early decades of the twentieth
century showing films in a unique manner, asserting careful control over
music, sound effects, projection lecturing, and programming.
For the Love of Pleasure: Women, Movies, and Culture in Turn-of-the-Century
Chicago (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998).
Rabinovitz deals with women as an audience for not only the first movie
shows, but also for other popular amusements at the turn of the century.
Her focus on Chicago allows her to delve into the Columbian Exposition
of 1893, as well as amusement parks and department stores as early public
realms of pleasure for the "new woman" and the way these forms
anticipated the cinema.
Movie Struck Girls: Woman and Motion Picture Culture after the Nickelodeon (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
Stamp provides a fresh look at the way women embraced the movies in the
era just after the nickelodeon. She deals both with specific films that
portrayed feminist issues (such as White Slavery films or films on women's
suffrage) and the way women "went to the movies" how they dressed
to go out, behaved when they were there, and afterwards discussed what
and Roberta E. Pearson, Reframing Culture: The Case of the Vitagraph
Quality Films (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1993).
Taking films that adapted such high culture texts as the works of Shakespeare
and Dante, or films that portrayed great men in history such as Napoleon,
the authors try to reconstruct the cultural backgrounds of the nickelodeon
audiences and the cultural "uplift" programs to which such early
Vitagraph films appealed.
Main Street Amusements: Movies and Commercial Entertainments in a Southern
City, 1896-1930 (Washington DC: Smithsonian
Institution Press, 1995).
Taking Lexington, Kentucky, as his case study, Waller details the way
this small southern city "took in" the movies, considering their
relation to vaudeville and other forms of entertainment, the role cinema
played in a racially segregated city, and the transformation of both theaters
and audiences over three and a half decades. One of the most detailed
studies of film-going yet produced.
Fred J. Balshofer
and Arthur C. Miller, One Reel a Week
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967).
Memoirs by a film producer and a cameraman of the early era. This was
written decades after the fact and may romanticize an incident or two,
but it captures the often chaotic process of making films before there
was a Hollywood.
His Story: The Autobiography of D. W. Griffith's Master Cameraman
(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973).
Written in the 1930's this memoir still provides rich details of the process
of making films in the early era. Besides dealing with his collaboration
with Griffith, this book describes Bitzer's early work with the Biograph
Company before Griffith arrived, including his filming of the Spanish