Dream That Kicks: Prehistory and Early Years of Cinema in Britain Hardcover – 1 Jan 1980
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...not only is the book a careful study of early British cinema but it is equally an important explosion of what it means to write film history. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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This book was possibly the first that combined a number of perspectives to account for the developments that led to "cinema". As such it still remains one of a small number. Chanan presents the process of invention as resulting from the interplay of a number of factors ranging from discoveries in optics and the theory of perception to the expansion of the capitalist mode of production and the social forces it unleashed. In the course of the book he has a lot to say about all these aspects and their relationship to "cinema". A lot of research has gone in the writing of this book but it manages to avoid the dangers of being dry, boring or difficult. On the contrary it is readable, full of surprises and insight, and transmits to the reader the joy of discovering a history mostly forgotten and ignored.
Chanan discusses a lot of commonly held beliefs that are based on misconceptions. One such point is the explanation of the perception of moving images. Cinema is still very often explained by the phenomenon of persistence of vision. In one of the best chapters, Chanan outlines the development of the theory of perception since the beginning of the 19th century, which has established that persistence of vision plays only a relatively minor role, while the principal reason is the phenomenon of apparent movement, known also as phenomenon-phi. Another major aspect he deals with is the process of the invention of cinema. Chanan shows that cinema was developed by the combined efforts of hundreds of individuals, each one making a more or less significant contribution. The final conclusion of this issue is that the efforts to assign to one particular individual the title of inventor of the cinema are misguided, irrelevant and suspect. Other chapters include issues like patent conflicts; the structure of the music hall and theatre businesses in the 19th century; the invention and development of photography and celluloid. Another positive aspect of the book is its international character. Despite its subtitle ("The prehistory and early years of cinema in Britain") and the associated emphasis on the history in that country it doesn't cover only the developments there. Of course the emphasis is on Britain but, rightly, it covers developments anywhere in the world, as the early history of cinema was an international effort.
On the negative side is the emphasis Chanan puts on certain of his research findings. Even if they are interesting, they did not had to be listed exhaustively in the main body of the book. For example Chanan was able to trace the notes Friese-Greene (a British film pioneer) carried with him when he died, during a film industry meeting. The notes are of interest and fascinating but they do not really fit in his narrative. They would be excellent as an appendix or an extended footnote; even as subject of a separate article but not where they are included. Another negative aspect is the absence of illustrations. This aspect is important, as several of the devices and processes described can only be understood if demonstrated with drawings and photographs. However, these minuses are few and do not reduce the importance of this major book.
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