Authored by: Claire Molloy , Yannis Tzioumakis

The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Politics

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  July  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415717397
eBook ISBN: 9781315678863
Adobe ISBN: 9781317392460


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In June 1869, U.S. Patent 90,646 was granted to Thomas Edison. The patent was for an electric vote recorder which could speed up and replace the lengthy process of roll call voting. However, the possibility of utilising this technology was summarily rejected by a Congressional committee; a technology such as this would prevent filibustering. While Edison’s first patent would prove to have little impact on political decision making and discourse, the same cannot be said for his later inventions which shaped a history of cinema. Telegraphy sat behind the shared lineage of both the ill-fated vote recorder and the vastly more successful motion picture technologies that followed, tying the two inextricably together; an intersection of the political and the cinematic. Of course, such linkages between cinema and politics are various and extend far beyond the early and perhaps inauspicious technological relationship noted above. Elizabeth Ezra stresses a more overt relationship between the two in early cinema, writing about the films of George Méliès and noting that in France “the mass diffusion of ‘expert’ opinions in print was quickly complemented by the use of film as a medium of political expression” (Ezra 2000: 70), and elsewhere the early intervention of film into the sphere of politics can be well illustrated by the now infamous examples of D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) and later in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935). Fast forward to 2013 and U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to DreamWorks to address studio executives; there he described Hollywood and the entertainment industries as “an engine for the economy”, “part of our American diplomacy” and, later in his speech, stated that through the global distribution of entertainment products “we have shaped a world culture” (PBS NewsHour 2013). What these few examples demonstrate is an enduring connection between cinema and politics where films continue to play a role in the dissemination of political messages, shape the collective memories of past events and inform political agendas.

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