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Bioscope en l'an 1900
More info
Lacasse, Germain. 1988. Histoires de scopes. Le cinéma muet au Québec. Montreal: Cinémathèque québécoise.
Morris, Peter. 1978. Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema, 1895-1939. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Evolution of Cinema Production
Foreign camera operators were the first to shoot images in Quebec, maintaining a presence there until the end of the Silent Era. Even though both fiction and documentary films were produced, some common features can be observed in both. Several of these films reveal a fascination with winter scenes. By 1902, camera operators from two major American film production companies had shot several winter sport scenes, such as Tobogganing in Montreal, Canada ( Edison ) and Amateur Ski Jumping (American Mutoscope and Biograph).
Several years later, in 1915, the American company Fox noticed the achievements of Quebec skiers, leading them to insert a ski jumping competition (filmed in Montreal) into their adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's famous novel Anna Karenina. The use of Quebec landscapes to stand in for pricier overseas locations was a widespread practice in American films. (Beginning in the 1920s, foreign production companies sometimes hired Canadian camera operators to shoot local scenes.) By 1912, New York's Vitagraph had made The Old Guard, a 19th century Paris drama shot in Quebec City's "Old Town".
However, the plots of two other films shot in Quebec during the same period, Put Yourself in Their Place (Vitagraph) and A Sailor's Heart (Biograph), were explicitly set in Quebec City. In 1913, another American production company, Kalem, made an impressive dramatization of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec entitled Wolfe, or the Conquest of Quebec. Released in 1914, this five-reel feature-length film was a worldwide success. The film is also interesting because it offers some insights into the way foreigners saw the country.
At the same time, a Quebec film industry emerged. In 1906, Léo-Ernest Ouimet opened his first scope (nickelodeon) and began producing local films to complement his program of foreign films. From 1906 to 1911 – his first great effort toward establishing local film production – Ouimet produced 75 films. A victim of hostile tactics, Ouimet was pushed aside, providing an opportunity for the emergence, in 1913-14, of local actualities (which benefited various movie theatres) filmed by some of Ouimet's former camera operators such as Bert Mason. Some camera operators even tried to launch local series, such as the short-lived "Canadian Weekly", "New Grand Weekly" (for the New Grand Theatre) and "Montreal Motion Picture Gazette", all of which ran for only one or two editions in late 1913 and early 1914.
While the films by local filmmakers occasionally showed the same places, individuals and even events as those found in foreign productions, they nonetheless had a Quebec "touch". This is the case, for example, in a number of films on Quebec's three-hundredth anniversary: Urban's Quebec: The Tercentenary Celebration; Gaumont-British's Quebec Pageant; Vitagraph's Discoverers: A Grand Historical Pageant Picturing the Discovery and Founding of New France, Canada and Quebec Tercentenary Celebration; and Ouimet's Fêtes du tricentenaire, première série, Fêtes du tricentenaire, deuxième série: Tableaux historiques des Pageants and Fêtes du tricentenaire, troisième série: Partie indienne et de la cour.
The adventure of cinema also lured several investors. Some merged to form the British American Film Company , which produced The Battle of the Long Sault (Frank Crane, 1912). Apart from the financing, subject and filming locations, everything about the film was American. The company produced other films but poor distribution led to its closure. Other production companies also emerged but never produced any films.
Wanting to avert the unfortunate fate of local production in the 1910s, Ouimet attempted a return to filmmaking by producing a propaganda film, The Call of Freedom (1918), and a film commissioned by Montreal firemen, Le feu qui brûle (1918). Ouimet also formalized an agreement with Pathé – for whom he had distributed films since 1915 – to produce a newsreel series through Ouimet's company Specialty Film Import. The series was entitled "British-Canadian Pathé News" and ran twice weekly from 1919 to 1922. These newsreels incorporated Canadian material shot by local camera operators (according to advertisements, 60% of the material was Canadian) with images from American ("Pathé's Weekly") and British ("Pathé's Animated Gazette") editions of Pathé actualities. Favouring subjects that were of interest to Canadians, these newsreels were comparable in quality to foreign ones and successful in theatres. Ouimet's career was nevertheless brought to a halt after a final attempt at feature-length filmmaking with his English-language Why Get Married? (1924).
In the 1920s, film production became more diverse. In 1922, the company Le Bon Cinéma National made a burlesque comedy, Oh! Oh! Jean!, directed by Joseph-Arthur Homier . In the same year, Homier directed a second picture, Madeleine de Verchères. Homier went on to direct another film, La drogue fatale (1924), for a recently created company. Others attempted fiction filmmaking as well, such as Jean Arsin (La primeur volée, 1923; Diligamus vos, 1925). However, Quebec film production did not succeed in becoming established; on top of being mediocre in quality, these films also ran into distribution problems. Only documentaries and commissioned films gained any real traction, thanks to the presence of the Associated Screen News and also of the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau, which occasionally produced films shot in Quebec (these can be found in their catalogue, under the series "Seeing Canada" for example). Between 1922 and 1925, there were also Arctic expedition films directed by Georges Valiquette and Roy Tash featuring captain Joseph Elzéar Bernier. Besides the interest of the main subject, these expedition films are also noteworthy for the images they offer of the native peoples of the Arctic region.
Quebecers and foreign production companies made over a thousand films (mostly shorts) in Quebec during the Silent Era. Of these, very few have survived; this is particularly true of local productions. However, thanks to researchers who have rummaged through newspapers, journals, archives and catalogues from the period, it is now possible to know what films were made and exhibited. Consequently, we have learned that greater numbers of films were produced in Quebec than was previously thought.