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Bioscope en l'an 1900
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Bonville, Jean de. 1988. La presse québécoise de 1884 à 1914 : genèse d’un média de masse. Québec: Les Presses de l’Université Laval.
Gaudreault, André, Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan. 2002. La vie ou du moins ses apparences: émergence du cinéma dans la presse de la Belle Époque (1894-1910). Montréal: GRAFICS/Cinémathèque québécoise.
Cinema in the Press
A Sensational Invention
A true mass medium first emerged in the late nineteenth century when daily newspapers began circulating on a wide scale. In Montreal, La Patrie and La Presse were inaugurated in 1879 and 1884 respectively, while Quebec City’s Le Soleil began publication in 1880. On the English side, the circulation of the Montreal Daily Star – the largest Canadian newspaper at the beginning of the twentieth century – and the Quebec Chronicle climbed rapidly during the same period.
The press played a fundamental role in the history of cinema. The public first learned about the fantastic devices of “The Wizard of Menlo Park” – Thomas Edison – the Lumière brothers and other inventors of animated view through the reviews of astounded journalists. In covering the invention of cinema, newspapers hoped to attract many readers. The public’s appetite for news on science and technology increased during the latter half of the nineteenth century with the advance of electricity, and the inventions of such varied things as the phonograph, the automobile and X-rays.
The premieres of Edison’s Kinetoscope in 1894 and Lumière’s Cinématographe in 1896 prompted an outpouring of praise in the Montreal press. However, considering that the Kinetoscope premiere took place at the offices of the Montreal Daily Star and that journalists were among the privileged few to attend the premiere of the Cinématographe, this fact should not be surprising. Moreover, animated view shows were very good clients of newspapers, because they depended largely on advertisements to attract their clientele.
A Hallmark of Quebec
Quebec scopes (nickelodeons) assumed this practice after 1905, contrary to American nickelodeons and Canadian “theatoriums” whose advertisements were usually limited to either window announcements or flyers distributed on the street. The owner of the Ouimetoscope, Léo-Ernest Ouimet, was a skilled advertiser. In addition to drawing attention with his camera and automobile during local shoots, Ouimet prepared press releases praising each new program at his theatre. Many newspapers gladly published these press releases without distinguishing them from news articles. Ouimet’s main competitors, including his main adversary Georges Gauvreau of the Nationoscope, soon began imitating this practice. Several years would elapse before genuine film criticism emerged.
However, scope activities did prompt a number of criticisms that were regularly reported by newspapers. The main reproaches concerned opening on Sundays, showing views that didn’t conform to Christian morals, and exhibiting films made of highly flammable material without concern for the safety of the audience. In reporting on even the most insignificant projection-related fire, the press involuntarily contributed to a mass hysteria; panicked spectators apprehensive of fires caused more injuries and deaths than the actual nitrate -induced fires – as was the case in the Laurier Palace tragedy.
Synergy in the Mass Media
The years 1912-1913 marked a turning point in the relationship between cinema and the daily press. It was during these years that movie palaces began to spread across North American cities and advertise in daily papers. As for the first columns on cinema, they began appearing around 1914. These consisted of plot summaries, portraits of stars, Hollywood gossip, and detailed movie listings at theatres in the city. Editorial columns offering actual opinions on movies were rare; the Montreal Daily Star’s Samuel Morgan-Powell and La Patrie’s Gustave Comte were among the few critics who occasionally wrote about films. However, the main content of movie-related newspaper columns was taken verbatim from the press releases written by movie exhibitors or publicity departments of studios. In the 1920s, the Saturday editions of the main newspapers began dedicating two or three pages to cinema.
Serials made their first appearances in North American newspapers during this period as well. In Montreal, the Montreal Daily Star launched the weekly publication of episodes of The Adventures of Kathlyn (produced by the Selig-Polyscope Company) on January 17, 1914. As for La Patrie, The Diamond from the Sky, a serial produced by the Mutual Company, began publication on June 26, 1915. Both working- and middle-class readers were enthralled by the many serials published in newspapers. Newspaper serials contributed significantly to the assimilation of cinema by Quebec audiences and served to reinforce a sense of community – everyone waiting together on pins and needles for the next thrilling adventure of Kathlyn, Pauline or Elaine.
The Emergence of a Specialized Press
As cinema occupied a greater place in daily newspapers, a specialized film press began to emerge. The first cinema-related magazines were addressed to members of the film industry, such as distributors, producers and theatre owners and managers. The Canadian Moving Picture Digest began publication in Montreal in 1915; its goal was to defend and serve the interests of a film industry that was largely comprised of new entrepreneurs, several of whom were also newcomers to cinema. The Digest published criticisms of current films, plot summaries, advice on managing movie theatres and editorials that vigorously defended the film industry. In 1917, the magazine left Montreal and followed a general pattern of migration which made Toronto the centre of the Canadian film industry. From 1918 to 1954, the Digest’s editor-in-chief was Ray Lewis, an energetic woman with plenty of experience in show business. For many years, Lewis fought for the autonomy of the Canadian film industry and defended the interests of independent movie theatre owners.
Other specialized journals addressed to movie fans also appeared in the United States in the early 1910s. Distributed widely in Quebec, these magazines described the lives of movie stars and the activities of Hollywood studios. The abundance of advertisements for cosmetics and household products indicates that editors assumed their readers were mostly women. In 1919, a Quebec publisher launched a French-language version of Photoplay and other American fan magazines (called “fanzines”) – Le Panorama, published monthly in Montreal. In 1921, Le Panorama was replaced by Le Film, which circulated until the 1960s. Still, Le Panorama and Le Film published relatively little original material on cinema in Quebec and Montreal. Their contents consisted mostly of movie star portraits and gossip.