The Advent of the Newsreel

From its inception in 1895, Gaumont, like Lumière, began shooting current events, and the first news titles, including shots of the Exposition Universelle in Paris (second from left), appeared in the company’s 1897 catalogue. Launched in 1912, Gaumont-Actualités took advantage of the firm’s network of worldwide offices to supply scenes of newsworthy events to precede feature films in France and elsewhere. Series included reports from China at the turn of the century (second from right), the funeral of England’s Queen Victoria, World War I, and the Russian Revolution (right). Sound was added in October 1932. The newsreel, however, should not be confused with the actualité as it was first practiced by Louis Lumière. Most of Lumière’s short subjects—Sortie d’usine, Repas de bébé, Arrivée d’un train—are glimpses of everyday life that reject a theatrical approach to photographic subject matter (see Chapter 2). In contrast, the newsreel, according to film historian Erik Barnouw,

tended to turn the customary documentary into a ritual composite: a royal visit, a military maneuver, a sports event, a funny item, a disaster, a native festival in costume. The newsreel institutionalized the decline of the documentary.

Symptomatic of this change in the usage of “reality” footage was the fact that, even before the turn of the century, competition for newsworthy images was so fierce that filmmakers took to faking major events when they couldn’t acquire genuine footage.

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