History of Film Industry
France is considered the most important country in the
development of the world film industry AND the development of the movie poster.
We will not delve into the early developments of Daguerre, Demeny, Edison, Marey,
Muybridge, Niecpe, Reynaud, and many others. Instead we'll start our history
with the developments of the Lumiere Brothers and leave earlier developments
for our new section under development called Global Cinema.
On February 13, 1895, Louis and Auguste Lumiere patented
their first projection machine. On March 28th, the first film Lunch Hour
at the Lumiere Factory was shown before the Societe d'Encouragement de
L'Industrie Nationale. Nine months later, the cinema in France and the world
came into existence.
The first public or paying performance was given on December
28, 1895 at the Grand Cafe, Boulevard des Capucines, in a basement called the
Salon Indien. The proprietor of the Grand Cafe, somewhat skeptical, had preferred
to charge a rental of 30 francs a day in lieu of the customary 20% of the takings.
Admission was one franc. For this sum, audiences saw 10 films, each 50 foot
in length and each lasting less that one minute (250 feet of film lasts 4 minutes).
The first day's takings were 35 francs. The organizers were rather discouraged.
3 weeks later, without a single line of advertising, the profits had risen to
2000 francs a day.
The films were simple and consisted of scenic views, scenes
of people, moving vehicles and the like. As more entrepenieurs made otther presentations,
all the big producers of the time began by filming pretty much the same subjects.
So while Lumiere released Lunch Hour at the Lumiere Factory, Gaumont released
Lunch Hour at the Panhard and Levassor Factories. Gaumont filmed the Fountains
of Versailles so Melies filmed the Boulevard des Italiens. There were 10 different
versions of Teasing the Gardener, 20 different of a Policeman's Patrol, etc,
Instead of trying to license their equipment (as did Edison
in the US), the Lumieres immediately started training cameramen and by the end
of 1896, they had given presentations and taken footage in Argentina,
Austria, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark,
Finland, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Italy,
Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Russia,
Spain, Sweden, and Yugoslavia.
With this expansion, the way that the camera was used
also began to expand. Besides factuals and newsreels, camera equipment moved
into the science arena and the military for documentation and training films.
Thanks to the Lumiere Brothers, the news and presentation of the cinema had
been presented all around the world. However the public began to lose interest
and within a couple of years the facination with scenes, newreels declined and
the future of cinema looked dim. The Lumieres were soon to cease their presentations
and others take up the gauntlet.
Three immerging areas of development had a tremendous
impact on the development, direction and revival of cinema. All 3 were started
and developed in France from 3 entirely different perspectives and each had
a world wide impact. Those 3 were Georges Melies, Alice Guy, and Charles Pathe. These 3 changed the direction of the film industry forever.
In the US, films were moving from summer parks and vaudeville
into theaters. The expansion was so rapid and so competitive that US film producers
couldn't meet the demand (especially while also fighting Edison's lawsuits)
and French production filled in the need. The quality and variety from the French
producers, especially Gaumont, Melies and Pathe, were so much better that they
became the dominant requested films. US producers started copying the French
films and putting them out as their own. Melies' Trip to the Moon was
considered the most pirated film ever, and pirating became so bad that in 1903,
[put Melies ad] Melies sent his brother Gaston to open an office in New York
to try to curtail the circulation of 'bad and fraudulent copies' of Star Films.
Pathe, working through Kleine
Optical who was their agent in the US, started putting their logo of the
red rooster on the frames of film to show that they were Pathe films. They also
started a massive advertising campaign. In an interview with Edwin Porter many
years later, he stated that when he was first hired by Edison, his first job
was copying French films where he learned some of the techniques that he used
in his films.
By 1906, the French production companies dominated world
film production, AND Pathe dominated Europe's market in motion picture cameras
and projectors. It has been estimated that at that time, 60 percent of all films
were shot with Pathe equipment.
For the next few years, the French film industry was flying
high and when Pathe invented their newsreel in 1908 that was shown in theaters
prior to the feature film, it looked like nothing could stop them.
But, over the next few years, French market dominance decreased
and with the threat of war, French companies started making made numerous changes
and shifts in company offices to anchor themselves.
The French studios had been losing ground rapidly in the
US market, but when the war was announced in August 1914, the French film industry
came to an abrupt halt. Although Pathe, Gaumont, Eclair and Film d'Art all resumed
production in early 1915, wartime restrictions on capital and material forced
them to operate at bare minimums and to focus mainly on patriotic films and
comedies to help the morale. This reduction in production gave way to new distributors
with high quality American films such as the Keystone comedies brought in by
Jacques Haik at Western Imports, who had become a distributor just before the
war. Monat-Film brought in westerns and mysteries. To compete, Pathe brought
in Pearl White serials and other films that its American branch of Pathe had
produced. The smaller production companies gave way to the import distributors.
Melies' Star Studio was taken by the French government and he never recovered.
Gaumont moved their headquarters to London and Pathe moved their headquarters
to the US.
After the war, the film industry in France was in shambles.
During this time, the US film industry had made major advancements in equipment,
organization and quality of film, while all of Europe struggles to rebuild old
studios with old equipment, so the market became flooded with American films
and with all the problems of reconstruction, audiences demanded quality films
that a tattered French industry couldn't produce. The French public demanded
The early 20s brought a new era of art films and formations
of small independent production companies headed by cinema leaders such as Gance,
Delluc, Julien Duvivier, Jean Renoir and Rene Clair. Even though production
increased to 130 feature films by 1922, they still only occupied a minority
share of the French screens. By the end of the 20s, there
were over 4200 theaters in France and an Aubert Palace in every major French
city and demand continued to grow.
The arrival of American sound films at first created
panic among the European countries who immediately began a resistance to the
influx of US films. The language barrier put shackels on the distribution area
and collapsed the European Film Union. The French public wouldn't accept films
in other languages. The French film industry took the approach to procrastinate
and maybe it would go away. The French government strengthened censorship and
tariff laws and stopped 'talkies' from being shown in France for 2 years. At
first this seem to promote a greater amount of French films being shown in France.
US studios were struggling from the depression in the
US and the sudden decline in exported films due to language barriers. After
2 years of resistance, the pressure became too great to stop the foreign films
from coming into France.
French distributors scrambled to create adaquate methods
of subtitling, because so few theaters had sound equipment.
French directors struggled to make the adjustments to
sound productions. By 1935, the French film industry practically disappeared.
Controlled by Americans or crippled by the depression, Elair and Gaumont had
become insignificant and Pathe-Natan was so riddled with financial scandals
that they were ineffective. The few French films that had any relevancy came
from the independents which basically carried the French film industry at that
World War II divided France into a 'free' zone in the
south and an 'occupied' zone in the north, which had a devastating effect on
an industry that was just starting to regain some strength. Some film makers
fled to the US like Renoir, Duvivier, Gabin and Morgan, while others remained
in France and tried to continue to make films.
Since British and American films were banned, French films dominated
the operating screens in France. The films during this period have been called
'Vichy' films because a lot of them focus on sacrificial motherhood and patriotism.
Upon the liberation of France, the French cinema immediately
responded with a Committee for the Liberation of French Cinema.
In 1946, the Centre National de la Cinematographie (CNC)
was founded to extend the work of the COIC. This laid the foundation for a modern
film industry establishing some state control, box-office levy, and help to
Despite all of the new directions, soon problems reappeared.
The Blum-Byrnes Trade Agreement of 1946 established a generous import quota
to American films as part of a settlement to help with the French war debt to
the US. However, by the early 50s, French film production had regained an average
of 100-120 feature films a year which stablized the industry. French films continued
to gain more dominance in the French market, reaching its peak in 1957 as television
The late 50s saw a new era of de Gaulle's modern France
and a greater stablization to the film industry. As audience numbers declined,
French studios held their ground during the growth of television in the 60s
due to this stabilization. A new pattern of international co-production became
common that increased the marketability while dividing the expenses.
The 70s expanded co-productions into the standard with
expanded marketing to export films to the European market as well as the middle
east and Asian markets.
Currently France has a population of 59.3 million and
has approximately 4900 theater screens.