1990 Quebec City Conference


An Invention of the Devil: Moving Pious Pictures

The First International Domitor Conference was held at the Musée de la civilization at Quebec City in Canada and was devoted to the relationship between the early cinema and religious institutions; censorship, the use of film for religious advocacy and the numerous versions of the Passion of Christ were just some of the dimensions of this topic explored in this conference. Evening events included archival screenings (over sixty films from the period related to the theme of the Conference were shown and a full day of the Conference was devoted to the numerous versions of the Passion of Christ, a genre that strongly affected the early development of cinema), a special projection of the 1913 Pathé Passion of Christ with live music in the Saint-Roch Church, and a performance “Le Retour de l’historiographe” (films projection accompanied by live music and a lecturer).


May ‘90*: First Domitor Seminar on the occasion of our Second Congress. This event will be held at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada and will revolve around the relationship between the early cinema and religious institutions. It will be divided into several separate sessions devoted to such matters as censorship, the use of film for religious advocacy, the numerous versions of the Passion of Christ, etc. The overall concept has yet to be defined and we welcome any suggestions from members (as soon as possible).

First Call for Presentation Proposals: We would appreciate your sending us your proposals for lectures or presentations at this time in order to allow the seminar organizers to approach subsidizing agencies and lay out a programme of activities. We hope to be able to cover the cost of travel and accommodations for all such contributors. As a result, it is important for us to receive your proposals in the very near future. The largest grant application we will be making must be sent to the subsidizing agency by June 15th. We will therefore be unable to include proposals received after June 1, 1988. There will probably be a second call for presentation proposals for the event itself, but grant possibilities will be more limited at that time. Please fill out the attached form to notify us of your submission. We would also appreciate your sending us your full résumé with any submission.

*After consulting with the members of the Ruling Council, the Coordinating Committee has decided to postpone our first seminar, which has initially scheduled for 1989, in order to ensure its success. Preliminary viewing sessions in 1989 are planned for preparation purposes. The next Bulletin will provide particulars.


  • Jacques André and Marie André (Paris, France) “Le cinéma des premiers temps et l’institution religieuse à Montpellier”
  • Aldo Bernardini (Vicenza, Italy) “Le cinéma des premiers temps: catholicisme, propagande et répression”
  • Stephen Bottomore (London, Great Britain) “Use of the Cinema for Religious Purposes in Britain from 1896 to 1905”
  • Paolo Cherchi Usai (Rochester, USA) “Analyse comparative de sept versions de la ‘Vie et Passion de Jésus-Christ’ (1898-1912)”
  • Guido Convents (Lummen, Belgium) “Les relations entre l’Église catholique et l’avènement du cinéma en Belgique”
  • Roland Cosandey (Vevey, Switzerland) “L’abbé Joye – Une collection, une pratique: premières approches”
  • André Gaudreault (Quebec, Canada) “La Passion du Christ: un discours, un genre, une forme”
  • Tom Gunning (New York, USA) “Passion Play as Palimpsest: The Problem of the ‘Text’ in Early Cinema”
  • Steven Higgins (New York, USA) “‘Civilization’ (Ince, 1916) and Use of Religious Spectacle”
  • François Jost (Paris, France) “Des apparitions aux images mentales”
  • Charles Keil (Toronto, Canada) “The New Testament Narrative and the Question of Stylistic Retardation”
  • Adam Knee (University Park, USA) “The Spirituality of Griffith’s Editing”
  • Dejan Kosanovic (Belgrade, Yugoslavia) “Le cinéma, la religion et la censure dans les pays yougoslaves”
  • Peter Kramer (Norwich, England) “Aspects of the Generic Specificity of Religious Films in Early Cinema”
  • Germain Lacasse (Montreal, Canada) “De Passions en Passions: le cinéma des débuts au Québec”
  • Thierry Lefebvre (Paris, France) “Le crucifix dans le profilmique”
  • Jean-Louis Leutrat (Paris, France) “Le thème de la redemption dans les films sur l’Ouest”
  • Jacques Malthête (Paris, France) “Méphisto-Méliès et les thèmes religieux chers à Pathé”
  • Michel Marie (Paris, France) “Le statut de l’écrit dans les films religieux”
  • Joan M. Minguet (Barcelona, Spain) “L’Églie et les intellectuels espagnols contre le cinéma”
  • Charles Musser (New York, USA) “Screen Presentations of the ‘Passion Play’ in the United States (1880-1900)”
  • Richard Alan Nelson (Houston, USA) “Pastor Russell and the Multi-media ‘Photo-drama of Creation’ (1912)”
  • Natacha Noussinova (Moscow, USSR) “Les codes culturels et narratifs des films religieux et mystiques dans le cinéma russe pré-révolutionnaire”
  • Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio (University Park, USA) “From the ‘Seventh Veil’ to the ‘Ten Commandments’: Intertextuality and Reception in Biblical Films”
  • Denise Pérusse and Suzanne Richard (Quebec, Canada) “Les modes de raconter une histoire Sainte: du pittoresque au regards anthropologique”
  • Sylvie Pliskin (Paris, France) “L’Armée du Salut et le développement du cinéma de fiction australien entre 1890 et 1900”
  • Dana Polan (Pittsburg, USA) “The Narratology of Early Biblical Film Narrative”
  • Isabelle Raynauld (Montreal, Canada) “Les scenarios de la vie de Jésus (Pathé 1902-1914)”
  • Herbert Reynolds (New York, USA) “From the Canvas to the Screen: Sources and Motives in ‘From the Manger to the Cross’ (Kalem, 1912)”
  • Heide Schlupmann (Frankfurt, Germany) “Christianisation of Cinematography: The Role of the Church in Wilhelminian Cinema”
  • Clive Vincent Sowry (Lower Hutt, New Zealand) “ ‘Perry’s Biorama’ in New Zealand”
  • Yuri Tsivian (Riga, USSR) “Censure Bans on Religious Subjects in Russian Film (1908-1917)”

(Membership Bulletin, vol. IV, no 2, September 1990, p. 2–4)

The First International Domitor Conference held June 7-13, 1990, at the Musée de la Civilisation in Québec City, Canada, was truly an intellectual success and has set an extremely high standard for all subsequent Domitor conferences. Through the seven days of screenings and scholarly presentations, the organizers – Roland Cosandey, André Gaudreault, and Tom Gunning – and their terrific staff developed a fine balance between moving image artifacts and historical and theoretical discussions. Furthermore, special presentations created important experiences reminding participants of how early film-goers might have personnally encountered the films being analyzed by scholars 90 years later. The conference participants also had the pleasure of opening and closing addresses by Robert Daudelin, David Francis and Eileen Bowser.

The first two days of the Conference and several additional screenings were devoted to watching some 65 films previewed earlier at the National Film Theater, London, March 1989, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, June 1989; (reports on these screenings are in earlier Domitor bulletins). Of particular note were two special presentations: La Vie et la Passion de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ (Pathé , 1913) and La Vie du Christ (Gaumont, 1906). The first screening occurred on Sunday evening at l’Église Saint-Roch, a magnificient cathedral near the center of old Québec City. The projection of the colored print was accompanied by organ music played by Maxime DuBois. Open to the public, the screening seemed a particularly appropriate reminder of what many papers were discussing: the first response by some clergy to moving pictures was one of enthusiasm, viewing this new invention as a continuity with earlier screen practices of using magic lantern shows for moral education. (Elsewhere in the conference, David Francis showed a set of lantern slides very possibly produced for use in lectures such as those of John R. Stoddard in the late 1880s.) The second special presentation was a re-creation of turn-of-the-century exhibition, complete with lecturer (Québec film actor Yves Jacques) and musical accompaniment.

Five days of papers provided the participants with several important conclusions. One of the major areas of research was the various relations among the Church, the production of films, and the State in the first years. Individuals treating this subject with very detailed explications of particular national and religious configurations included Guido Convents (Belgium and Catholics), Germain Lacasse (Québec, Catholics, and the ruling class), Marie André and Jacques André (France, Catholics, and secular interests), Roland Cosandey (Switzerland and the Abbé Joye), Joan M. Minguet (who was unable to attend but sent his paper – Spain, Catholics and intellectuals), Aldo Bernardini (Italy and Catholics), Sylvie Pliskin (Australia and the Salvation Army), Charles Musser (United States and commercial representations of the Passion Play), Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio (United States and the marketing of the Life of Moses [1910]), Bradford Smith (United States, Germany, and The Miracl e [1912]), Richard Alan Nelson (United Sates and Pastor Charles Taves Russell), and Yuri Tsivian (Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church).

As mentioned above, the research of these scholars indicates that through the first decade of films, dominant religious groups in most countries perceived no threat from early moving pictures, and in some instances individuals incorporated films into their educational and moral outreach programs. The most advanced example in this survey was Pastor Russell who in 1914 put together an eight-hour slide and film show to be accompanied by 96 phonograph records often synced to images of his lectures on the past, present, and future of the world. However, between 1905 and 1910, the views of the churches changed as production and distribution of films became international and local exhibition expanded so that control of the content of films by the church was increasely difficult. At that point, religious groups took several retaliatory approaches including producing their own films, developing their own theater networks, and appealing to the State to censor the movies. Commercial concerns often responded to this anxiety, carefully marketing products by aligning them with traditional views or claiming they were authentic in some way. Firms also solicited endorsements from clergy for special religious films. The only counter instance to the above history was the case of Russia where the Church immediately delegated cinema to a status lower than theater and hence assumed it was already irrevocably contamined by the secular. Consequently, censorship was aimed at preventing any representations of the sacred toward understanding similarities and differences among nations, religions, political structures, cultures, and modes of production for the period.

Another major group of papers continued current attempts to outline and explain the development of textual practices by studying the influence of religious traditions of narrative and narration on early film form and style. Charles Keil argued that the genre of the passion plays produced stylistic practices in From the Manger to the Cross (Kalem, 1912) which were “retarded”relative to the general process of US filmmaking. Peter Krämer provided a thesis that several contradictory demands which religious films provoked (Biblical authenticity versus current notions of “realism”particularly related to issues of “visions”) could be aligned with changes in linking diegetic characters with subject positions for audiences. Adam Knee examined Griffith’s editing practices, speculating that certain moral views related to theories of “providence”seem to underpin the narrative and social commentary functions of the editing. In particular, discussion of these papers was animated, with numerous contributions and observations. Hence, the conjunction of early cinema and “religion”will be producing some refinements and new observations about this period’s cinema which should have important implications in continuing research in this area. Other papers contributing important textual analyses were Jacques Malthête’s comparison and contrast of devils in the films by Méliès and Pathé and Isabelle Raynauld’s research on newly found early scenarios including one for Pathé’s 1913 passion film.

A final major theme were historically grounded discussions of the meanings of these films both culturally and individually for people of those days as well as now. Tom Gunning considered an unusual print of the passion play found among the films at the Museum of Modern Art, a film in which multiple versions of the story have been spliced together, often with the same scene cut into discrete action segments and joined so that the action overlapped, version to version. Speculating that this editing may well have been the work of an exhibitor/lecturer, Gunning queried how (or if) audiences understood and enjoyed the “stuttering”film. Also raising questions about reception, André Gaudreault took on the difficult question of how to consider these early films – as document or fiction? – and concluded that neither one term nor the other suffices for such an ambiguous problem of interpretation. Herbert Reynolds described Kalem’s on-location duplication in From the Manger to the Cross of a series of contemporary paintings by Tissot illustrating a recently published rendition of the story of Jesus, and Steven Higgins contextualized Civilization (1916) in the pre-war US women’s peace movement. Natacha Noussinova showed that an allegorical mysticism exists in many pre-revolutionary Russian films. Thierry Lefebvre analyzed the appearance and disappearance of the crucifix in early French films, linking this to politics of the separation between Church and State occurring at that time. Referencing work on mentalities, François Jost discussed dreams, hallucinations, and visions in relation to contradictory discourses of Biblical traditions versus contemporary medical theory. Each of these presentations helped the participants consider not only the production of this cinema but also its reception.

Because of the general coherence to the Conference, several tentative hypotheses were formed by the participants, some of which I have mentioned above. Obviously, numerous questions were also raised. This situation, however, indicates the value of the event for the development of the scholarship in the field. Helping achieve such good discussion were the chairs of the sessions: Roland Cosandey, Tom Gunning, Richard Abel, Alain Lacasse, Elena Dagrada, François de la Bretèque, Pierre Pageau, and Carlos Bustamante.

Janet Staiger


Two full days of silent films on religion
The first two days of the Colloquium were devoted entirely to the projection of films related to religious themes and produced between 1895 and 1915. Those films were made available to Domitor by American and British film archives in collaboration with the Cinémathèque québécoise (Montreal) and the National Archives of Canada (Ottawa).

For the film titles of the archival screenings, Click here for the 1990 Domitor List of Films (PDF).

A special projection of the 1913 Pathé Passion of Christ
Organized in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada, a double feature of two famous Passions was presented at Saint-Roch Church: La Vie de Jésus (Pathé, 1913) and Jésus de Montréal(Denys Arcand, 1989).

“Le Retour de l’historiographe”
Written by André Gaudreault and Germain Lacasse, the performance “Le Retour de l’historiographe” starred the actor Yves Jacques as Vicomte Henry de Grandsaignes d’Hauterevies, the first exhibitor and lecturer in Quebec between 1889 and 1905. This film’s projection was accompanied by live music played by Maxime Dubois.

Click here for the 1990 Domitor Event Historiographe (in French only) for more details about “Le Retour de l’historiographe.”