Monday 29 March 2021

Week 13: Cinema in the year 2021

100 years ago this week: Week 13

When I take my trips back into 1921 I feel like an invisible observer of another world. What I didn't expect was to find somebody heading the other way to look into my world! And I certainly didn't expect them to have predicted Netflix, personal video cameras and online dating!

Take a trip into the past and back to the future.

(Click on the image to see a full-size version)

Cinematography in 2021

It's no joke - this article, signed Réné Hervouin, was published on April 1! It appeared in the daily arts paper Comoedia, a newspaper that covered literature and the theatre, and was also finding ever greater amounts of space in its pages for the cinema. One of the amusing elements of this piece is the prediction that in 100 years time the cinema would be seen as the equal of the theatre. Clearly for many in 1921, the cinema was an amusing distraction rather than an art form. 

I have translated the full article below, which I find amazingly prescient in many respects. There are certain flights of fancy - clearly there was limited knowledge about the dangers of mercury - and some outdated language that I could have cut, but I think this all adds to the colour of the piece. Let's hope 2021 truly is "the year of progress, science and radiance" anyway!

Réné Hervouin himself doesn't seem to have left much of trace on history to be carried forward into the future. If this is our man, he was 25 when the article was published. His name appears only once or twice more, notably as a director of a short film called 'Notre Dame de Paris', produced in 1942. By 1957, when he died, many of his predictions must have still seemed a long way off! 


We are in the year 2021. So many changes, transformations and surprises. Electricity, double Z rays, and radio waves are the great miracles of the time. Everything has significantly evolved, and the blind man of the Pont des Arts now travels to his "place of work" in a magnificent torpedo, an outmoded form of locomotion, alongside the electric-aero-torpedo which has definitively overtaken the ordinary airplane with its safety coefficient that is now too low.

The lighting of our major thoroughfares has fortunately been transformed. No more bulky and dangerous street lamps, and no more flickering gas jets. Mercury tubes now run along houses, climbing up to the highest floors, clinging to the sober lines of new architecture, snaking along terraces and bathing streets and buildings in a blinding light.

Everything has undergone deep modifications. The cinema has almost completely replaced the printing press. It is no longer looked down on as it was a hundred years ago. Today it is assimilated with the theatre, with the low taxes being picked up by foreigners and the takings from gaming and betting.

The theatre welcomes it because it has become an integral part of productions which are now more realistic.

It has also almost completely taken over from posters, replacing them with animated models that educate and inform at the same time.

A French fashion house has even had the bright idea to pave its entrance hall with polished glass tiles on which it projects its most recent animated catalogue with the parades of its latest creations.

Outside the offices of the big daily newspapers, the latest news from across the world plays out on a giant screen. The wireless tele-cinematography - WTC - in operation for the last few years, enables the projection on our boulevards of, for example air force reviews taking place in the Pacific, or any other hot news demanding our attention.

The Film industry has changed completely in nature. Large theatres are rare, with Cinema At Home now making those tiresome journeys out unnecessary. As well as a telephone, all 'modern' apartments are equipped with a small cinema. For a minimal fee, we subscribe to Filus, a service that supplies the most varied supply of programmes that you could imagine. Whether a ‘film of the latest Prix Goncourt', all the classics of French and world literature, or the most recent discoveries in brain transplants, you are spoiled for choice.

Educational cinema is in full development. From the smallest village schools up to our universities, no history, geography, botanical or even philosophy lesson takes place without the aid of a suitable film. As well as Bertillon files and photos, the police have in their possession a 10-metre film on all convicts and criminals, significantly facilitating the endless manhunts that are otherwise almost always unsuccessful.

The state subsidises and controls "the Museum of History" where all the films relating the key events of the nation are stored. A department in this museum called 'Biography Service' contains the filmed biographies of the great men of each era, bringing together in this manner the most animated gallery of celebrities that one could wish for.

Inspired by this valuable initiative, a large number of families own what is called 'Souvenir films' which reconstitute and revive various happy events - engagements, weddings, births, children, grandchildren, and nothing is more charming than this gentle evocation of the past.

Railway companies and, above all, the principal transair companies, make impressive filmed adverts, promoting the beauty of our sites, or displaying, with the help of lively images, that nothing is more beautiful and spectacular than a panorama of Athens or the Eternal City, seen from different altitudes, submerged in the dying light of a magical sunset.

Colour cinema is now common, and the industry uses it in an extremely ingenious manner. Instead of sending a sales representative, a film catalogue is sent to interested parties, providing them in this way with the most precise information.

Some brave spirits have even created matrimonial agencies where, after choosing from an illustrated catalogue, you can 'view' the n°3624 of the 11th series. If the subject is to your liking, the name is immediately communicated to you, and the marriage is celebrated a few days later.

But it is in advertising and information that the cinema has gained considerable importance. Since 2019 only, a French inventor has discovered a technigue to project a wide variety of adverts onto artificial clouds.

An important newspaper, Le Lux, immediately gained the exclusive use of this invention for twenty years, and projects the most recent illustrated stories from across the world each evening. Nothing is more magic and remarkable than seeing these words suddenly blazing in the sky: "Attention! Up to the minute cine-radios from 'Le Lux'"

The reports follow one after the other, intercut with animated scenes that are as sensational as they are surprising. And from all aircraft, helicopters, tethered customs observation balloons, boulevards and terraces, millions of people read their newspaper in this manner, whilst waiting for the morning edition of the paper that will provide all the details that their curiosity demands.

In the studios - which can be counted in their thousands - companies of handsomely paid artists film non-stop. Film costs only 8 centimes the metre, and soon it will be only 5. French propaganda films travel the world. The most remote negro village has its own projection room. The cinema, triumphant everywhere, is the shining torch burning away the last remaining shadows of ignorance, making 2021 the year of progress, science and radiance.

Glory to the cinema!


C-Marie said...

Very fun, indeed!! I was taken aback at first for when I read 2021, as my thought went to the here and now, instead of keeping in mind this was the written forecast!!
Thank you, for the time and effort of the translation.
God bless, C-Marie

Susan said...

Quite remarkable accuracy, for this sort of thing. Usually they are ludicrously wide of the reality.

Ralph Lloyd-Jones said...

Absolutely brilliant, thank you for the great translation too. The British boy's weekly 'Eagle' made a very good prediction in the 1960s of a future with computers in every home, the internet and the fact that machines in the home would be controllable by computer, even included a relatively accurate picture of a boy sitting in front of a screen.

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