In 1924, film technology had been around for slightly more than thirty years, yet the relatively new medium was already playing multiple roles, from popular entertainment to experimental art. Paris contained more than 100 cinema houses. Some theaters were owned by major businesses such as Pathé (a large production and distribution company still flourishing today), whereas others, known as art houses, tended to be smaller and specialized in art and avant-garde cinema.
Film was entertainment—people flocked to see the latest Charlie Chaplin (France’s beloved Charlot) films and to have a laugh and escape for a while from the realities of a post-war world. Below is a program to Louxor, a Paris theater that showed popular films in 1924.
To get an idea of the variety of films showing in Paris in 1924, we can take a look at Cinéa-Ciné-pour-tous, a magazine founded by film critic and director Jean Tedesco and focusing on film discussion. The “Les Nouveaux Films” section contains notices for films playing around Paris. For example, for this week (the first week of July) in 1924, it lists showings of La Victoire de Coeur and La Raison de Vivre, both of which initially premiered in 1922.
Many of the films listed in the Cinéa are American-made films, and indeed while France dominated the industry before the war, in the 1920s, “French audiences saw eight times more Hollywood footage than domestic footage.”
Film was also an exciting new art form, and filmmakers were bubbling over with questions and discussions—could a film stand alone as a form of art, encapsulate an emotion, or convey an idea as powerfully as a poem, painting, or symphony?
Art movements such as impressionism and surrealism crossed over into the world of film. Impressionist film makers worked under major film companies as well as privately on avant-garde pieces and aimed to make film an experience resulting in a certain emotional response or encompassing an image. Surrealist film-makers tended to produce privately for a solely artistic audience.
Being so accustomed to the film experience today, it’s hard to imagine sitting in a 1920s movie house–but more on this in part II…