Valentine Robert

Les tableaux animés de la production Pathé

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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".

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