Publication by DPDF 2007 “Visual Culture” Fellow Brian Jacobson.
This essay situates the development of early ‘glass house’ film studios in the history of nineteenth‐century glass‐and‐iron architecture. It focuses on Georges Méliès’s first studio (built in 1897) and describes its roots in structures including the Galeries des Machines at Paris’s international expositions and the photography studio on the roof of Méliès’s magic theatre in Paris. Filmmakers such as Méliès used the same materials and designs that changed turn‐of‐the‐century Western cities to create the first buildings for film production. In doing so, they made the primary characteristics of nineteenth‐century architecture – spatial plasticity and fluidity, artificiality, and the manipulation of light – defining elements of both the first film studios and the films created there. This essay argues that early cinema, especially in its relationship to architecture, played a significant role in the changes of industrial modernity that historians of technology describe as the greatest technological revolution in history: the construction of an increasingly artificial, human‐built world. As urban populations adjusted to the artificiality of modern space, cinema arrived to both re‐imagine the built environment and re‐create artificial worlds on the screen. Filmmakers such as Méliès, who built and worked in the first studios, occupied a unique position: both the films they made and the spaces in which they worked were at the vanguard of fraught changes in the experience of Western urban reality. While early film historians have detailed the ways that urban modernity affected cinematic spectatorship, this essay shows that film production spaces were part and parcel of that process.