Between Europe and America: The Battle for Early Film
Gerben Bakker

Seminar Introduction

film introImagine Americans watching only European movies. The cinemas they visit show European pictures, the newspapers they buy contain advertisements for European films, the interviews they read are with European mega-stars. Imagine them, too, complaining about the immorality and plain commercialism of big-business European movies, calling for restrictions on the showing of these films full of sex and violence, aimed at the lowest common denominator. This may seem far from possible, but it actually happened. At the turn of the last century, European films were hugely popular in the United States. In fact, they dominated American film markets. European film companies had large American subsidiaries and international distribution networks, just as the Hollywood studios have today. In Europe, American films were only a marginal part of all films shown.

Then, in the first decade of the twentieth century, something happened to reverse this trend irrevocably. The European film industry fell into a state of perpetual decline, while the American film industry went from strength to strength until it reached a position of world dominance. In this seminar, Gerben Bakker investigates how the European film industry initially could have been so successful and how it could collapse, never to recover. He argues that film historians' analyses are somewhat inadequate and that the real answers lie in economics.

In session 1, Bakker surveys the status quo in the film industry at the turn of the twentieth century and today. In session 2, he explores the possible causes of the decline of the European film industry and the rise of the American film industry. In session 3, he investigates the importance of market structures and the development of European film through the twentieth century. Finally, Bakker considers the question of why film stars are paid so much: he argues that the inflation of stars' salaries in the United States was a crucial part of increasing film's marketability and profitability, and as such played an important role in making film the most popular media of the twentieth century and America the leader of the genre.

  • Session 1 Film Industry: Then and Now
  • Session 2 The Decline of Europe, the Rise of America
  • Session 3 Europe's Fate: Film Through the Twentieth Century
  • Session 4 Stars and Their Salaries: Making Films Big
Learning Objectives:
  • Summarize the balance of power between the European and American film industries at the turn of the last century.
  • List the possible causes for the decline of the European film industry at the beginning of last century.
  • Explain the importance of market size and escalation strategies in the expansion of the American film industry.
  • Describe the importance of film stars for increasing awareness and revenues for films.

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