The Tableau System of Presentation

Ali Baba et les quarante voleurs
R: Ferdinand Zecca. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1902

“The governing structural principle in Ali Baba is obviously the autonomous tableau — a narrative element bracketed by intertitles — and its most obvious ‘rhetorical’ device is Pathécolor (which is often striking). Clearly, the tableau system of presentation is not congenial to the principle from which the representational system of cinematic storytelling would gradually emerge — namely, the principle of matching action across adjacent spaces within a linear time frame. In addition, the color in this film is used not to enrich some aspect of this particular story, but rather because it’s an inherent component of its genre: the truly spectacular is, of course, very colorful. Color, in other words, reflects primarily the technical ingenuity of the production company in satisfying the demands of its chosen subject: as a self-conscious display of the cinema’s ability to show what will attract the spectator’s attention, it functions here within a cinema of attractions.”

Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse
R: Albert Capellani. D: Georges Vinter. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1906

“Like Ali Baba, Aladin is primarily a demonstration of the cinema of attractions. Color is again exploited as a display of Pathé’s technical ingenuity, and the exhibition of deep space in the arrangement of shots — the practice of keeping planes in focus as deeply as possible into the background — serves not to naturalize space, but rather to demonstrate the superiority of the cinematic presentation of space over that of the theatrical. And of course the film’s ‘representational’ system is anchored in a series of autonomous tableaux introduced by intertitles. But the differential between the number of title-announced tableaux (6) and the number of shot-scenes (16) means that most episodes are composed of multiple shots. Ali Baba’s house*, for example (especially in episode 3/shot {6}), is constructed of adjacent spaces, as is the desert site of the underground grotto (episode 3/shot {3}). Although the cuts depicting the characters’ movements among these spaces are not always adequately matched, the filmmakers clearly intend not only to create a coherent fictional space, but to reveal and use it according to the actions of characters in a story.”
* This is an error. Correct: “Aladin’s house…”