New Cinema History and the Comparative Mode: Reflections on Comparing Historical Cinema Cultures
Daniel Biltereyst and Philippe Meers
Abstract: Within the new cinema history perspective, the call for more systematic comparative research has been high on the agenda for some time. The recent proliferation of studies on various aspects of film exhibition and cinemagoing creates an enormous potential for data to be integrated and compared, larger patterns to be discovered, and hypotheses to be tested. This article maintains that the work done so far is largely monocentric in the sense that most studies focus on very specific local practices and experiences, often concentrating on film exhibition and audience experiences in particular cities, neighbourhoods or venues. The contribution argues that, similarly to what happened in other disciplines, a comparative perspective might be helpful in trying to understand larger trends, factors or conditions explaining differences and similarities in cinema cultures. After a discussion on the (underdeveloped) comparative mode within film studies in general, this methodological and partly self-reflective essay will go into some of the challenges of doing comparative research on film exhibition and moviegoing. Concentrating on these issues, different levels and modes of comparative research are discussed and illustrated by using data and insights from various historical studies on cinema cultures.