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Why “Cinema and History”

In the Introduction to our work Antiquity in the Cinema, Truths, Legends, and Manipulations (2009) we quoted Stanley Kubrick who maintained that “one of the things the cinema knows how to do better than any of the other arts, is to bring to the screen historical subjects,” in other words, to represent the past. It's not our intention to theorise on the links between the seventh art and the representation of a past or present event. Nor to dissect the pitfalls of what has been directed in the past, to denigrate or excuse its irregularities, in short not to enumerate and explain the different ways of understanding it (for some of these questions, see our introduction cited above).

In admitting the principle by which all historical reconstruction, whatever the degree of objectivity intended, reflects primarily the period in which it was made, this work seeks simply to document, in the form of a comprehensive catalogue, created so to speak ex nihilo, the permanent game of mirrors between past and present which permits, which even encourages the cinema and other media stemming from the audio-visual. The result opens the door to a whole host of considerations as much thematic as sociological, political, artistic, or philosophical, in furnishing the reader with the basic elements for a more detailed study.

With its commentaries, the Encyclopedia seeks primarily to respond to the following questions (in order of importance):

  • which characters, which subjects, which periods of our history have been dealt with by the cinema? Which have received the most media coverage, and why? What topics were banned, and when exactly? Which have been ignored by the big screen, but embraced by television?

  • how have these subjects been presented, and in what light (by comparison with acknowledged historical facts)? Secondarily, what are the key differences of approach between the big and the small screen?

  • in what circumstances were these films produced and in what way do they reflect the period of their production?

  • what are their artistic qualities – or failings?

Answering these questions suggest having seen the films, in so far as they still exist and are viewable somewhere, or at least to have had access to the written sources concerning them (synopses, reportages, reviews). This can be a seemingly impossible task, especially where the first three decades of the cinema are concerned, and a majority of TV movies. The disdain, ignorance, or indifference that the critical establishment has often shown towards the historical film does not make research any easier. Assessments and aesthetic considerations are obviously dependent on these factors.

Several commentaries in the Encyclopedia sketch out a response. Thus one can state that certain film-producing countries ignore entire aspects of their own past. Germany, for example, is hardly interested in its own Middle Ages or in the 17th century: too few charismatic characters, apart from those overlapping several cultures (Charlemagne, Charles Quint), a universe too “Christian” for the years 1930/40, and which sits awkwardly with nationalist celebration, the absence of a coherent and unified political agenda, prior to the breakthrough of Prussia under Frederick the Great etc. Italy is embarrassed by everything that tarnished the Republican Rome of antiquity: the occupation of Greece, the treatment of slaves, the destruction of Carthage; the splendour and depravity of the renaissance offer an abundance of subject-matter (ah, the Borgias!), followed however by a dismal period (in the “cloak and sword” genre) under the occupation of foreign kings, until the incentive arrival of Garibaldi. After Napoleon, 19th century France on the screen turns its back on politics, a subject featuring too many rifts between conservatives and radicals; colonisation is ignored almost entirely (contrary to England), and the Commune and the Dreyfus Affair have proved embarrassing. The charms of Versailles conjured up by Sacha Guitry conceal the chaos of the post-war period until, with May '68, the revolt of the Camisards arouse more interest than the bedroom skits of Louis XIV, the life of the peasantry more than the Cinq-Mars plot. In the United States, the “Promised Land” of the Old Testament merges with the so-called virgin lands of the Far West, ancient Rome is at once the object of rejection-fascination (paganism, eroticism, slaves), of admiration (order and fascistic militarism), and of veneration (seat of the Catholic Church). As for the “conquest” of the West, it acquires its inverted commas with the Vietnam quagmire which plunges the North American continent into a phase of self-criticism and questioning of Western mythology. As one can surmise from these few examples, the historical representation of the cinema, hovering between idealised imagery, propaganda, unconscious instrumentalisation and revisionism, is open to every perspective.

Time-frame of the Encyclopedia

The Encyclopedia is divided into four parts, according to a principle of separation that is clearly arbitrary, but common practice and convenient:

  • Antiquity (from Pre-history to the fall of the Roman Empire).

  • The Middle Ages and the Renaissance (from the 6th to the 16th century).

  • Absolutism (17th-18th centuries, in sum: from the Thirty Years' War to the French Revolution).

  • The 19th Century (from Napoleon to the Boer War).

This comprises all fiction films and TV movies, the action of which occurs in one of these four epochs, whether or not the action is imaginary or rather based on precise events.

However, an important exception is made for the 19th century (Volume IV), a century which saw the proliferation of a new literary genre – the novel. The innumerable screen adaptations of 19th century literature (Balzac, Maupassant, Zola, Dostoyevsky, Austen etc.) have been excluded from the outset, save where their narrative introduces historically authentic characters and situations. For example, Waterloo in 1815 and the barricades of June 1832 in Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71 in Boule-de-Suif by Maupassant, the Napoleonic element in Tolstoy's War and Peace, or the Indian colonial wars in Kipling's work. In this fourth section, innumerable filmed biographies (biopics) of writers, artists, musicians, scientists etc. have been gathered together at the end of each chapter concerning their country.

Why Stop at the Dawn of the 20th Century?

The Encyclopedia comes to a halt in 1900, in other words with the appearance of the cinematograph, capable of capturing directly the many facets of the immediate present. From that point on, virtually any action either in the present or in the recent past, can in theory be illustrated by an ensemble of filmed reportages, documentaries, or newsreels: the representation, and thus the reconstitution (which remains our basic criterion), becomes not so much an obligation as a choice.

Besides, approaching the history of the 20th and 21st centuries as viewed by the cinema according to the same process and the same quest for exhaustiveness would end up by including almost 65% of world movie production, with reconstitutions such as Rosi's Uomini contro, Costa-Gavras's L'aveu, Schaffner's Patton, Spielberg's Schindler's List, Schlöndorff's The Three Lives of Rita Vogt, and the likes of Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo and countless takes on recent events. Finally, there already exist several bookshelves of works devoted to the subject – which is far from the case where previous centuries are concerned.

Geographic Scope

It is clear that this filmographic encyclopedia deals in the first instance with the West (Europe and its extension, the United States) but also, for limited periods, every part of the globe that has undergone Western influence or occupation, or which has determined the course of events in the West at a certain juncture in history – for example, the Punjab of Alexander the Great, the Middle East of the Crusades, the Mongolia of Genghis Khan, the Latin America of the conquistadors, and the Africa, Far East, or Oceania of the colonial era. Furthermore, taking into account the southern Mediterranean basin incorporates not just the fate of those territories that formed part of the Roman Empire (Mesopotamia, Arabia Petraea, Egypt), but also the entire Muslim civilization, in Europe (moorish Spain, the Ottoman Empire) as well as the East (including the Moguls in India) with which the West has never ceased to have pretty much the same links.

Admittedly, this geographic constraint is also subject to considerations of a practical nature: the cinema of the East (China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, India, Pakistan etc.) has a considerable output but has never, to our knowledge, been fully listed (let alone television). The absence of serious dictionaries and, often, co-operative archives and extant films (the losses have been immense, because of a lack of any serious heritage policy), linguistic obstacles, and finally the West's very limited knowledge of the history and myths of these countries, all make the task almost impossible for one individual, if one wishes to apply to this “global” research a rigour and a precision.

One final point: the chronological division applied to Western countries, such as Antiquity, the Middle Ages, or Absolutism obviously does not apply in any way to Eastern regions of the world.

Disparities between Treatment and Presentation

  • The first part regarding “Antiquity” in the cinema goes back, literally, and in the form of a Flipbook, to the pages of our volume that appeared in 2009 (now out of print*). Nevertheless it is accompanied by a major chapter of additions and corrections as well as bringing the material up to 2013.

  • Part II, “The Middle Ages and the Renaissance”, which comprises very detailed analyses (even more thorough than for “Antiquity”), is still in the process of being edited and will be accessible only progressively, as the work develops. A large initial chapter, devoted to France and the Crusades (710 films) is ready, and is on line.

  • Part III (“Absolutism”) and Part IV (“The 19th Century”) consist of either a brief commentary of a few sentences, or a much more exhaustive treatment (for example, the entire colonial era of the 19th century, the Native Americans, the Napoleonic period, pirates, adaptations from Alexandre Dumas, etc.). This is in tune with the author's personal affinities; working alone, and faced with the considerable scope of the project, he has developed first and foremost certain themes and certain favoured periods. It must be admitted that to bring the three volumes following “Antiquity” to fruition, and to give equal treatment to all three, would require three lifetimes... and our own is already far advanced. So as to make our “encyclopedia” available from now on, we have therefore decided to transfer a part of the material to the website as “work in progress”. What counts above all else is to let people know what has been shot. Starting with a title, a year of production, and some names, all kinds of research become possible.

The same concerns the form of this “work in progress”, in gestation for almost fifteen years, in other words before Photoshop and scanners existed (hence the rather uneven quality of the illustrations). The information takes precedence over its presentation.

Finally it should be emphasized that, once placed on this website, the Encyclopedia will no longer be subject to updating. We trust that this will serve to spur those interested in this kind of work to continue it on their own behalf.

* L'Antiquité au cinéma. Vérités, légendes et manipulations. Editions Nouveau Monde (Paris and La Cinémathèque Suisse, Lausanne).


Over and above the reviewing of the films themselves – when they exist and are accessible – the primary source of information stems from the main weekly publications devoted to the cinema (and published from 1910 onwards), and from television, which includes illustrated reportages on the shooting, accounts, synopses and original cast lists, thousands of pages to be scrupulously examined.

Then come the national filmographies (among others Raymond Chirat, Jean-Charles Sabria, Eric LeRoy, Henri Bousquet for France, Denis Gifford for Great Britain, Gerhard Lamprecht, Alfred Bauer, Ulrich J. Klaus, Herbert Holba for Germany and Austria, Vittorio Martinelli, Aldo Bernardini, Roberto Chitti, Roberto Poppi for Italy), monographs, collections of illustrated programme booklets, company magazines and above all the invaluable press dossiers kept by the European film archives – from Lausanne to Moscow, via Brussels, Paris, London, Prague, Budapest, Belgrade, Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt, Bologna, Turin, Madrid and Istanbul – as well as the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.

Finally for some years past there have of course been certain reference sites on the internet, including, naturally, IMDb (which should be consulted with caution, for much of the information is not reliable, or even fanciful), the BFI Film & TV Database (with very serious gaps), the TCM Movie Database comprising data from the American Film Institute, and Filmportal.de (German-speaking cinema, still under construction) etc., etc.

Selection Criteria

The encyclopedia deals with all theatrical films, television movies, and video/DVD circuits. As one knows, the distinction between these categories is starting to blur, if not disappear entirely; thus we make “no difference between the small and large image. It is sufficient that the Spirit speaks through the image, whatever its size” (Abel Gance). The listings seek, ideally, to be complete, but the author is the first to admit the limitations of his project. The exploration of the silent cinema, for example, remains incomplete and can hold many surprises in store; many lost films have left no trace in the history of the cinema apart from their titles, which can themselves be misleading. We have in principle omitted those films whose content has not been established.

The cataloguing of the sound era is fragmentary in many of the largest film producing countries (particularly Turkey and the Middle East). As for television production, it is an area difficult to approach; only France, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, and the United States have attempted to measure its extent, with very uneven results. Most reference works contains errors in a majority of cases, and when they actually exist, programme bulletins are often full of gaps, as well as being difficult of access to the researcher. These reservations aside and, taking account of the current state of film, research at an international level, our work as a whole should nonetheless provide a relatively reliable and significant picture of the entire audio-visual production re-enacting history, for the periods mentioned above and made between 1896 and today.

Only the contribution of fictional cinema and television have been included, to which one must add TV docufiction programmes, a bastard genre of recent years that mixes documentary and genuine or digitised reconstructions of reality, using often unknown actors. Still on the subject of the small screen, we have not made separate lists for dramas, TV movies, soaps, serials, series, or filmed version of works staged in the theatre. A certain number of filmed operas inspired by historical subjects (from Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto to Lecocq's La Fille de Madame Angot) have also been retained, albeit without aiming to be exhaustive. Occasionally, and for strictly informative reasons, some important animation films and documentaries are noted in square brackets.

As far as the information supplied for each film, it is impossible to reprint the lists of an entire cast and crew. Once the existence of a film has been indicated, it is relatively easy to complete this kind of data, although every researcher knows how errors can often litter official credits. So we have decided to list only the director, production company, the length of the film, and the leading actors alongside their respective roles (with priority given to historical characters). Even this latter information is not always easy to gather because many lists of credits fail to include parts played by actors. And not to mention other details much more difficult to track down, such as locations, budgets, source of a project and so on...

Overall Organisation

For strictly pragmatic reasons, films have been re-grouped according to their historical context by country, and then by government or reign. Under these headings, they are listed in chronological order – of shooting, or of release. As a reminder, certain basic historical facts about political regimes, events, or personalities, allow one to place individual films in the historical period that they are supposed to illustrate, and by the same token to measure also what they have omitted or misrepresented. A detailed list of contents (with search engine) accompanies each of the four parts of the Encyclopedia.

That said, good luck with the navigation!

H. D. Autumn 2013

English translation by Peter Cowie


François Amy de la Bretèque (Montpellier)
Ahmed Araïb (Cinémathèque Marocaine, Rabat)
Claude Aubert (Lausanne)
Claude Aziza (Paris)
Peter von Bagh † (Helsinki)
João Benard da Costa † (Cinemateca portuguesa, Lisbonne)
Aldo Bernardini (Monteviale)
Jean-Pierre Berthomé (Guichen)
Claude Beylie † (Paris)
Nguyen Trong Binh / Yann Tobin (Paris)
Herbert Birett (Munich)
Hans Michael Bock (Cinegraph, Hambourg)
Henri Bousquet (Bures-sur-Yvette)
Patrick Brion (Paris)
Kevin Brownlow (Londres)
Milly Buonanno (Osservatorio sulla Fiction TV Italiana, Rome)
Suresh Chabria (National Film Archive of India, Pune)
André Chevailler (Lausanne)
Raymond Chirat (Institut Lumière, Lyon)
Gabrielle Claes (Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, Bruxelles)
Lorenzo Codelli (Trieste)
Peter Cowie (Montreux)
Vladimir Dmitriev † (Gosfilmofond, Moscou)
Geoffrey N. Donaldson † (Rotterdam)
Bernard Eisenschitz (Paris)
Michel Eloy (Bruxelles)
William K. Everson † (New York)
Diego Galán (Madrid)
Roger Garcia (Berkeley)
Luis Gasca (Barcelone)
Catherine Gautier (Filmoteca Española, Madrid)
Ali Ghasemi (CMI, Téhéran)
Jean A. Gili (Paris)
Noëlle Giret (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)
Leonhard H. Gmür (Vernate)
Mathilde Gotthardt (Filmdokumentationszentrum / Filmarchiv Austria, Vienne)
Roman Gubern (Barcelone)
Pierre Guinle † (Bruxelles)
Fritz Güttinger † (Zurich)
Vera Gyürej (Magyar Nemzeti Filmarchivum, Budapest)
Herbert Holba † (Vienne)
Jan-Christopher Horak (U.C.L.A., Los Angeles)
Uli Jung (Trier)
Nelly Kaplan (Paris)
Fereydoun Khameneipour (National Film Archive of Iran, Téhéran)
Wolfram Knorr (Ulm-München)
John Kobal † (Londres)
Asiye Korkmaz (Sine-TV Enstitüsü, Instanbul)
Richard Koszarski (New York)
Francis Lacassin † (Nice)
Einar Lauritzen † (Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm)
Eric Le Roy (Archives Françaises du Film CNC, Bois d’Arcy)
Armin Loacker (Filmarchiv Austria, Vienne)
Ronny Loewy † (Berlin)
Daniel López (Buenos Aires)
Jacques Lourcelles (Paris)
Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog, Cincinnati)
Neil McGlone (Woodbridge, UK)
Adrienne Mancia (Museum of Modern Art / Film Study Center, New York)
Miguel Marías (Madrid)
Vittorio Martinelli † (Bologna)
Jean-Pierre Mattei (Cinémathèque de Corse, Porto-Vecchio)
David Meeker (London)
Nikolay V. Minaev (Sovexportfilm, Moscou)
Agnieszka Münch (Lausanne)
Vincent Mury (L’Age du Soft, Morges)
Hubert Niogret (Paris)
Martine Offroy (Gaumont Pathé Archives, Neilly s. Seine)
John Oliver (British Film Institute, Londres)
Marcel Oms † (Narbonne)
Vladimir Opela (Narodny Filmovy Archiv, Prague)
Uta Orluc (Filmmuseum Berlin – Deutsche Kinemathek)
Manuela Padoan (Gaumont Pathé Archives, Neilly s. Seine)
James Robert Parish (Los Angeles)
Waldemar Piatek (Filmoteka Narodowa, Varsovie)
Allison G. Pinsler (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles)
Rémy Pithon (Allaman)
Lauri Piispa (Suomen Elokuva-Arkisto, Helsinki)
Valérie Pozner (Paris)
Daniel Rafaelic (Hrvatska Kinoteka, Zagreb)
David Robinson (London)
Nadia Roch (Cinémathèque suisse, Lausanne)
Ramón Rubio Lucia (Filmoteca Española, Madrid)
Ayaz Salayev (Dovlat Film Fond of Azerbaijan, Bakou)
Markku Salmi (Londres)
Raymond Scholer (Lausanne)
Musa Schubarth (Lausanne)
Sami Sekeroglu (Sinema-TV Enstitüsü, Istanbul)
Vittorio Sette (Archives de la RAI, Rome)
Melisia Shinners (South African National Film Archive, Pretoria)
Paul C. Spehr (American Film Institute, Fairfield, USA)
Peter Spiegel (Filmarchiv Austria, Vienne)
Eberhard Spiess † (Institut für Filmkunde, Wiesbaden)
Zdenek Stábla † (Prague)
Werner Sudendorf (Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin)
Sul Gee-Hwan (Korean Film Archive, Séoul)
Richard Szotyori (Cinémathèque suisse, Lausanne)
Bertrand Tavernier (Paris)
Brian Taves (Library of Congress, Washington/Culpeper, USA)
M. Tayeb (Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris)
Max Tessier (La Rochelle)
Juan Gabriel Tharrats † (Madrid)
Dinko Tocakovic (Jugoslovenska Kinoteka, Belgrade)
Ricardo Fernandez de la Torre Perez (Televisión Española, Madrid)
Emmanuelle Toulet (Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris)
Jean Tulard (Paris)
Davide Turconi † (Montebello della Battaglia)
Christian Viviani (Courbevoie)
Delphine Warin (Cinémathèque Française, Paris)
Michèle Wautelet (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel / INA, Paris)
Anja Wieber (Dortmund)
Michael Henry Wilson † (Westlake Village, USA)
Maria Wyke (London)
Karim Zein (Lausanne)
... and, finally, naturally, and above all, my wife JACQUELINE.

Instructions for Use, and Abbreviations

For Parts II to IV, we have introduced a personal rating system which takes account as much of the specific perspective of our work as the filmic quality of the production:

*** Major film
**Successful of its kind
*Film with a certain historical, ideological, thematic and/or artistic interest.

Instructions for Use

Film credits have been deliberately limited, and do not include the various technical or artistic members of the creative team (screenplay, cinematography, art direction, costumes and so on). Within a particular section, each film appears in chronological order of production, and according to the following criteria:

  • year of production/release date

  • original title (several titles in the case of an international co-production, alternative titles, or re-release)

  • film title in French in brackets = release title in France, Belgium, and Switzerland.

  • film title in square brackets = translation of title by the author.

  • producer(s), production companies and/or television channels with the date of the first telecast, the title of the TV series, etc.

  • Length of film in metres, minutes, or reels (1 reel = 5-15 minutes). A reminder that the existence of a production company and of known length is the minimum required to identify or authenticate films of the first thirty years of the history of the cinema, where no print, not even a still, exists, apart from a mention in the catalogues or publicity brochures of the period.

  • Main actors (av.= with) and their respective parts.

  • A brief synopsis (in so far as is known), followed by a presentation text and analysis, according to the significance of the film.

Signs and Abbreviations

(tv) = TV movie, dramatic, soap/series, docufiction, recording of a play.

(tv+ciné) = TV movie also benefiting from a theatrical release.

(tv-mus) = TV version of a musical work (opera, operetta).

(vd) = film made exclusively for the video/DVD market and never released in cinemas.

® in front of a title = cross-reference (film dealt with in another part of the Encyclopedia)

Δ in front of a title = film whose subject-matter has no connection with the period, but in which an historical figure appears briefly.

* in front of a title mentioned in the commentary = film project (never in fact made)

[?] before a title = film whose existence is not currently confirmed

[?] after a title = film whose title may not be exactly right.

[?] after the director's name = film whose authorship is vague.

[film and commentary in square brackets] = where the topic has been “modernised” and therefore not really part of the Encyclopedia, animated films, or documentaries mentioned in exceptional cases.

National Abbreviations (ISO standards):

AL Albania
AM Armenia
AR Argentina
AT Austria
AU Australia
BA Bosnia and Herzogovina
BE Belgium
BG Bulgaria
BR Brazil
CA Canada
CH Switzerland
CL Chile
CN China
CO Colombia
CU Cuba
CZ Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia
DE Germany
DE-RDA East Germany (German Democratic Republic)
DK Denmark
DZ Algeria
EG Egypt
ES Spain
FI Finland
FR France
GB Great Britain (United Kingdom)
GR Greece
HK Hong Kong
HR Croatia
HU Hungary
IE Ireland
IL Israel
IN India
IQ Iraq
IR Iran
IS Iceland
IT Italy
JP Japan
KR Korea
LB Lebanon
LT Lithuania
LU Luxembourg
LV Latvia
LY Libya
MA Morocco
MK Macedonia
MX Mexico
NL Netherlands/Holland
NO Norway
NZ New Zealand
PE Peru
PH Philippines
PK Pakistan
PL Poland
PT Portugal
RO Romania
RS Serbia
RU Russia
SE Sweden
SI Slovenia
SK Slovakia
SU Soviet Union (USSR)
SY Syria
TN Tunisia
TR Turkey
UA Ukraine
US United States (USA)
VE Venezuela
YU Yugoslavia
ZA Africa