Issue 21_Regards croisés sur la société Pathé Frères

Edited by / Sous la direction de André Gaudreault, Laurent Le Forestier

André Gaudreault, Laurent Le Forestier

Les tableaux animés de la production Pathé
Valentine Robert

In this essay, the author discovers an intriguing anomaly in Pathé’s early catalogues – the presence and yet absence of “tableaux vivants.” From 1897 until 1907, Pathé Frères produced no fewer than about fifty films consisting in realizations of famous paintings. Although numerous and impressive, these living pictures set on screen and in motion are unmentioned in the promotional documents of the period. In the Pathé catalogues, these “re-animated paintings” do not have their own category; instead, they are scattered throughout other “genres” of film. Pathé’s description of them also changes over time – the pictorial references seem to disappear. This growing silence may be a result of the legal climate of the time, shaken by the first copyright complaints in the film and phonograph industries. Or, it may be related to the way realistic and historical paintings of that time were taken for accurate documents and not for an artist’s vision. But, it may also be the new “era of reproductive technology” that freed works (intended to be reinterpreted through all media) from any “original” identity. In any event, this “secret” seems to hold the key to Pathé Frères’ early success: a cinema production conceived as a cinema of reproduction.

Du comique dans les catalogues Pathé : littérarité et intermedialité dans les résumés de films
Sarah Gely, Jérémy Houillère

This essay deals with the summaries of comic films in Pathé catalogues between 1906 and 1914. We try to understand the literary bases of these summaries. Before 1910, summaries had several literary characteristics, but still remained essentially commercial discourses. Then, after 1910, we see changes that bring them closer to literary discourse. The texts are longer, characters have names and the narrative has a beginning, middle and end. In this sense they are close to the short comic texts published in the satirical press. Through this link, it seems clear that the literary discourses in Pathé catalogues and satirical press are based on the same process: the reader of abstracts is constantly led to identify with the subjectivity of the narrator. The pleasant and entertaining nature of the film summaries seems to come from the subtle blend of the stylistic requirements of the literary text and the identification with the narrator. In the end, it appears that the transformation that occurs during the passage of the filmic text to the literary text, and thereby from the film medium to the literary medium, is not  accompanied by a generic transformation. The comic form of the film-object is also found in the summary-object.

Cambriolage moderne. Pathé, la troupe des Price et la tradition de la pantomime anglaise
Stéphane Tralongo

In 1908, Pathé Frères faced several charges of plagiarism. Three Pathé films looked so similar to successful recent plays that some spectators easily recognized the original dramatic works. While questions concerning “adaptation” and “narrative” were central to the trial that resulted from a lawsuit brought by dramatic authors, the testimony also includes discussion of many aspects of “mise en scène,” specifically about the Pathé film Cambrioleurs modernes (1907). The whole of Cambrioleurs modernes seems to have been based on the pantomime which the famous acrobat James Price (who worked on the film) had performed in Le Papa de Francine at the Théâtre Cluny in 1896. In Paris, Price had staged many “pantomimes anglaises” like this one in the style of the Hanlon-Lees, though some of them were also parts of musical plays protected by copyright after their publication. The trial that resulted from Pathé’s infringement of one such copyright thus provides rare and detailed insight into the processes by which early film studios reproduced spectacular performances by some of the most renowned stage artists.

Portraits de la Hollande
Frank Kessler

This article discusses a corpus of travelogues filmed by Pathé Frères in the Netherlands between 1909 and 1914. According to the catalogue descriptions, these films mainly present views of rural areas, concentrating on the region around the Zuiderzee, in particular the village of Volendam and the island of Marken, both very important places for tourism at that time. The catalogue descriptions continuously refer to the picturesque qualities of the views and highlight the emblematic aspects of the country: windmills, canals, cheese, local costumes and folkloristic dances. Almost all of the films avoid showing the modern side of the Netherlands, and, except Rotterdam and Alkmaar, no cities are shown. Holland thus appears as a “timescape,” a place situated not only geographically, but also idealistically in an indefinite past. Two surviving prints reveal interesting formal features such as editing patterns and close framings that are extremely rare in fictional films from the same period. Each one follows a different logic: while Comment se fait le fromage de Hollande depicts the different stages of the cheese production process, Coiffures et types de Hollande functions like an album of moving photographs, showing women’s heads and their traditional attire. Both however clearly privilege the picturesque.

Camera Distance and Max Linder at Pathé-Frères
Charles O’Brien

This article surveys staging practices in a sample of films from Pathé-Frères featuring the comedian Max Linder. The examination concerns the distance between camera and actor, and particularly the tendency in cinema by 1910 to reduce the distance in ways that enable the naturalism of actors’ performances. This tendency, which was a transnational development involving the main production companies in Europe and the U.S. at around the same time, is approached through a comparative framework, with a focus on similarities between staging in the Linder films (Pathé-Frères) and in the films directed contemporaneously by D.W. Griffith (Biograph). The analysis employs statistical methods in combination with conventional practices of film-historical research to show that Linder’s films devoted more running time to shots featuring a reduced camera distance than Griffith’s, and that the difference can be explained with reference to Linder’s persona as a comic performer.

Le regard attractionnel : entre opacité du médium et immersion du spectateur
Hubert Sabino-Brunette, Dolorès Parenteau-Rodriguez

In a context in which film attraction tends to co-exist with narration, this article examines how filming in natural settings puts into question the singular and characteristic “method” of the Pathé firm. The authors analyse the transition between studio shooting and outdoor sets by focusing on three animated views and their descriptions in Pathé’s catalogues which suggest a hybridization of “scènes en plein air” and “scènes comiques:” Odyssée d’un paysan à Paris (1905), Aux bains de mer (1906) and Les Alpes par le télescope (1906). This article suggests that the transformation of shooting modalities invites reflection on the involvement and nature of the spectator’s gaze; simultaneously spectators in a cinema as well as background actors/spectators of the film. This demonstration will be accomplished by way of the disjunction between the catalogue descriptions and the views themselves; it will be argued that these major differences direct the spectator’s reading of the view, raising the implications of the transition for the spectator.

Le montage alterné chez Pathé : coupe d’ordre actoriel et coupe d’ordre narratoriel
André Gaudreault, Philippe Gauthier

In the first decade of the twentieth century Pathé presented itself as a kind of film “laboratory” where several forms of editing were developed, in particular crosscutting, wherein segments of actions taking place concurrently and simultaneously within the same narrative were woven together. In order to fully understand the emergence of this major film technique, the authors of this article analyse editing in films in which a character looks through a keyhole or viewing device. While the systematic alternation of viewpoints (between those seeing and those seen) in an A-B-A-B manner is one of the forms of this discursive configuration, one of alternation, this does not make it an example of crosscutting. Alternation between those seeing and those seen is basically motivated by the acting: the film shows us an object in order to follow through on an actor’s view of that object. As the authors demonstrate, crosscutting exists only when the cuts are independent of the contingencies of the action depicted – when the connection between the two actions is entirely and exclusively carried out and motivated by the “narrator” alone (by which is meant the mega-narrator).

Filmer le théâtre comme un sujet de cinéma : le point de vue du spectateur dans Max joue le drame (Pathé 1914)
Sophie Rabouh

The principal interest of the Pathé comic film Max joue le drame (Max Plays at Drama, 1914) lies in the direct way it confronts theatre and cinema in the early years of the 20th century. In the film, Max gives a theatrical performance on a private stage to his friends. A distinction between the diegetic point of view of the theatre spectators and that of the film viewers is clearly established. By making techniques of distancing (in time and space), shifting and contrast (specific to the comic genre) its subject, the theatre is reshaped in various ways and takes on a whole new aspect. This re-appropriation of the theatre by cinema is run through dynamically by a vector, Max Linder, whose central action and interaction with the theatre cast as a subject creates a point of view for the film viewer that is both inside and outside the film and in this way is truly cinematic. It thus becomes possible to propose the hypothesis that Pathé was contributing indirectly to the development of cinema as an institution by encouraging, through a mode of production which privileges characters typical of the cinema, the emergence of new points of view for the viewer.

Pathé et l’institutionnalisation du cinéma
Lénaïg Le Faou, Laurent Le Forestier

While it is possible to define one aspect of cinema’s institutionalisation during the first twenty years of French film as the process of normalising quality in a more or less consensual and lasting manner, this article seeks to show, through the case of Pathé and its role in this institutionalisation, that the quality at issue was cinematic and not simply filmic. Employing a vast collection of sources taken from the press of the day, this study offers a typology of different forms of quality in cinema as they were seen at the time of this initial phase in the institutionalisation process.

Les relations entre Pathé et Méliès : aux sources du cinéma industriel et du cinéma indépendant (1908-1913)
Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan

In this article, the author attempts an archaeology of the conflicts between the industrial cinema and independent cinema models in the period between1908-13. He focuses in particular on the figures Charles Pathé and Georges Méliès and of the firms Pathé Frères and Star Film respectively. The common preconception that Méliès’ fall was due to his having been overtaken aesthetically will be examined. The author will instead seek the reason amongst economic factors and the pitched battle between film production companies (Pathé Frères and Star Film, but also Gaumont, Edison and the others) for control of the nascent market. Questions around the Edison trust, over production and film rentals will be addressed, in addition to Star Film’s activities in the United States with Gaston Méliès. The little-known partnership that Pathé offered Méliès in 1911-13 presents an opportunity to address a final model: that of the independent filmmaker in the very heart of the industry.


Dear Photograph: Online Pictures and Traces of the Past
Maria Buratti

By analyzing the photographic archive of Dear Photograph ( – a website that intends to use pictures of the past as traces of personal memories – this article will focus on the relationship between memory and photography in the digital age, and on the value attributed to the sharing of private snapshots on the Web. I will analyze the images chosen by the participants to portray their own past, underlining both old and new uses of photographs, and pictures will be read together with their captions, as a unique “imagetext”. Even if images seem to play a crucial role in memory’s representation, their relationship with their verbal explanations reveals some crucial aspects of the sharing of private photographs on the Web. Captions make family pictures “readable” also for an extraneous observer and distinguish similar photographs one from another: while enlarging the intimate context that characterizes the reading of family pictures, the Web amplifies the properties of analogue photography, which ratifies the belonging of an individual to a group, and transforms personal recollections into a shared (and sharable) memory.

« Protéger sans censurer » : la politique de classement des films de sexploitation au Québec
Laurent Jullier

This article tries to address the following questions: which national apparatuses, cultural forces and social institutions have made a move to oppose the proliferation of pornography? What are, on a national level, the policies of the single nation-states towards it? The title of the article comes from the official statements of the Government of Québec, through its Régie du cinéma: “Since the mid 1960s, censorship is no longer practised in Québec. […] However, when the Régie believes that a film presents a real danger to the public good, especially in terms of obscenity, it reserves the right to refuse classification. In such cases, the showing, sale and rental of the film are prohibited.” The question is: when does obscenity cause a “real danger to the public good”? The Government asserts that it happens with films involving “non-fictional violence, cruelty and dehumanization of the protagonists.” Interestingly, the complete official statements use theoretical tools that seem to be taken from André Bazin’s theories, namely the concepts of “photographic evidence” and “film ontology,” to address this issues. Starting from this use of these notions by the Régie du cinema, the author will investigate the ontological argument applied to pornography, using an interdisciplinary approach: ethics of care, history of film techniques, and analytical philosophy.