- The Europe of 1500-1815 on Film and Television: A Worldwide Filmography of Over 2550 Works, 1895 through 2000 by Michael Klossner
Klossner’s compendious volume is an impressive text and will undoubtedly prove a valuable resource for scholars of historical film. The author includes entries for a staggering 2,554 films and television productions released from 1895’s The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots through to 2000’s Quills. Despite its 2014 publication date, the text is a reprint of a 2002 edition, which helps explain why the book ends with films released in 2000. Since it is not a new edition, it does not appear to have been updated to include films that may have been missed, which is unfortunate. All of the films listed focus on the Europe of 1500-1900 in some significant way. However, to say that the films deal with ‘Europe’ is somewhat misleading because Klossner’s definition of ‘Europe’ is appreciably broader than one might expect. In addition to films focused on Continental Europe and the United Kingdom, entries are included for productions set in Iceland, Russia, the Caucasus, the Balkans, and other European or near-European regions, which gives the book an extraordinary scope. Likewise, an effort has been made to include numerous national cinemas outside of Europe and Hollywood. The author conceptualizes the text as a companion to other similar works on historical films, namely Kevin J. Hartly’s The Reel Middle Ages (1999) in which Hartley chose the year 1500 as his cut-off point, giving Klossner that date as a logical starting point.
The criteria for inclusion on or exclusion from the author’s list is, however, somewhat confusing, largely because it lacks explanation. Klossner spends much of his brief preface discussing what he leaves out, but very little space is devoted to why some genres have been omitted. Musical comedy, science fiction, pornography, and films about Shakespeare’s life are in, but documentary, opera films, and films based on the works of Shakespeare and set in the period are out. Thus, there is an entry for Addio, Fratello Crudele (1971), an Italian film adaptation of John Ford’s seventeenth-century play ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, but no entries for The Merchant of Venice. This isn’t necessarily problematic, but a clearer explanation of the author’s reasoning would have been very helpful, especially considering his considerable expertise in the area. Klossner notes that others have covered film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, but that they have rarely been approached as historical films, which could merit their inclusion alongside the numerous other adaptations of literature listed in the book (such as the dozens of versions of The Three Musketeers). The text is described as a ‘finding aid’ aimed at assisting in the “writing of serious, analytical studies of these fascinating productions” (5), but as a reader, I was interested in hearing more of Klossner’s thoughts on the topic, such as his argument that historical film is better approached as a ‘category’ than as a ‘genre.’ Such interpretive issues are raised in the author’s preface but are dispensed with rather quickly.
The individual entries for the films and television productions are of varying lengths and usefulness, and many rely heavily on information provided by the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), Variety reviews, and other published film resources. Some entries consist of brief listings of production and casting details along with a sentence about plot (with the shortest entry amounting to little more than a dozen words), while other entries are given a more detailed treatment that goes on for multiple paragraphs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, popular or more readily available productions are discussed in greater detail than are inevitably more obscure silent films, so readers looking for information on the curios of historical film may find the entries too sparse.
All of these criticisms, however, are minor when compared to the immense value of the text as a whole. Klossner...