The second birth of cinema

The Electric Cinema, Notting Hill, London, which celebrates its centenary in 2011. See

The problem with centenaries is that they only come around once every 100 years. This is a long time to wait, especially if you want to celebrate 100 years of cinema, because we all put on our party hats for that way back in 1995 (or 1996). But some are clearly not happy with waiiting, or more precisely are not entirely satisfied with 1895 (or 1896) as the starting date of what we call cinema. It started a technology, but did it start a phenomenon? What is cinema anyway?

Well, whether it’s because of an intellectual problem, or because film study academics love any excuse for a scholarly knees-up, there has been a call for papers for a conference entitled The Second Birth of Cinema: A Centenary Conference. Taking place at Newcastle University, UK 1-2 July 2001, and with Newcastle University, 1-2 July 2011, and with André Gaudreault, Philippe Marion, Ian Christie and Joe Kember as keynote speakers, it takes as its theme the approximate centenary of the breakaway of cinema from other media to the point where it stood out as an individual medium. And that occured in 1911? They are certainly going to have plenty to debate. Here’s the conference blurb:

This conference commemorates cinema’s ‘second birth’, the historical developments and departures that broke cinema’s subordination to other media to give us the medium, the industry and the building that we know as ‘the cinema’.

If, as André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion have recently insisted, cinema was born once as a technology and then again as a medium, just when and how did this occur? What caused film practice, the film business and film discourse all to generate a media identity for cinema? How did we get from ‘animated photography’ to ‘the pictures’?

Possible questions to consider:
Was cinema’s ‘second birth’ a radical short-term event or a gradual and imperceptible change? What was the most significant cause? Was this ‘second birth’ a matter of maturation or deliberate manipulation? What people and organisations were most instrumental in bringing it about, and how did it vary from country to country? How extensively was cinema’s audience contract re-written? What kinds of genealogies were invented for cinema, what genealogies were forgotten, and what genealogies were actively disavowed? Was cinema drafted into bourgeois culture, or did it fashion its own unique identity? Did this period create a lasting identity card for cinema, or were third and fourth births still to come? How did contemporaries register this change? How early did the process of reinventing cinema begin, and when, if ever, did it end? And what date stands out as the watershed? Indeed, was 2011 a good choice for the centennial year?

Abstracts are invited for 20-minute papers on any aspect of this ‘event’ in any part of the world. Please send abstracts, by email attachment, to Andrew Shail at a.e.shail [at], with the subject line ‘Second Birth of Cinema’, by the 30th of September 2010.

There’s no web page as yet, but I’ll add details as and when they appear to the Bioscope’s Conferences page.

This is not the only event which has laid claim to the mysterious second centenary. Last year’s Continuous Performance exhibition at the University of Kent (images from which are now on the Bioscope’s Flickr site) ostensibly celebrated 100 years of cinema, while this December’s 1910 Centenary Conference at the University of Glasgow looks at 100 years of modernism, including film within its frames of reference. Or check out William Drew’s 100 Years of Hollywood and the Stars site, which recognises the centenary of both Hollywood and the movie star in 2010. Or pick your own centenary.

Update: (September 2010)
There is now a website for the conference, at

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