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 General 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
• Memoirs


General Works on American Film

David Bordwell, 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.

Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema (London: Blackwell, 1995).
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.

Robert Sklar, 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.

Works on American Leisure Time in the Era of Early Cinema

Kathy Peiss, 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 author shows.

Roy Rosenzweig, 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.

The Invention of the Movies

Laurent Mannoni, 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.

Deac Rossell, 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.

Histories of Early American Cinema

Richard Abel, The Red Rooster Scare: Making Cinema American 1900-1910 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
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 "American" cinema.

Eileen Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema 1907-1915, Vol. II: History of the American Cinema (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991).
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.

Kevin Brownlow, 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

---, Behind 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 corruption.

---, The War, the West, and the Wilderness (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978).
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.

Noël Burch, Life to those Shadows (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).
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.

Leo Charney 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.

Richard Decordova, 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.

Thomas Elsaesser 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.

Kathryn 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.

Tom Gunning, 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.

Miriam Hansen, 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 spectators.

Lary May, 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 America.

Charles Musser, 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.

Charles Musser. 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 Edison Company.

Charles Musser 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.

Lauren Rabinovitz, 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.

Shelly Stamp, 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 they saw.

William Uricchio 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.

Gregory Waller, 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.

Billy Bitzer, 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 American War.