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  • Rooster PlayPathé Frères and the Beginnings of In-Frame Trademarks
  • Jan Olsson (bio)

Currently, and increasingly, many of us are garbed in visibly trademarked apparel and "logotyped" footwear. We share affections for branded sunglasses, hats, and bags. Characteristically, these desired items are trademarked and prized as genuine and high priced. True, some have slashed price tags, but these often are fake. This contemporary proprietary visualization of ownership, status, and position in commodity culture finds its parallel in early twentieth-century fi lm culture. In a manner similar to today's branded imagery, fi lm copies circulated as genuine articles (original copies) but also as rip-off s (dupes). Company signatures and trademarks, when such signs were in place, implied provenance and copyright but eventually also became important vehicles conveying brand recognition and quality differentiation. [End Page 1]

According to trademark scholar Paul Duguid, "business historians have given the history of brands a good deal of attention, [but] they have generally given less to the history of trademarks."1 This is, however, not applicable to the film business—and especially not so regarding the leading French film enterprise Pathé Frères. Their trademark—le coq gaulois or red rooster—was so established, inside and outside the company, that both the American trade discourse around 1908 and current scholars in the field refer to Pathé titles as "'red rooster' films." This designation frequently occurs, to take a pointed example, in Richard Abel's 1995 essay on Pathé that led up to his signature study The Red Rooster Scare (1999).2

The coq, which was and is a French national symbol as well as Pathé's trademark, took on added significance when the expanding company sought to impose its brand, especially on the unruly American market. Their films' main titles centered on Pathé's trademark, and each film's intertitles had two roosters flanking the text. Soon—and the timeline for this "soon" is the focal point for this essay's exploration of films and secondary materials—a single rooster was discreetly "placed," that is, inserted by the scenic designers, into various places in the films' settings, sometimes in just one shot, but at times in several.

It's notoriously difficult to pinpoint film copies' provenance more than a century after their releases. In Pathé's case, searching for the earliest instances of rooster-branded films and the provenance of copies with non-French titles is especially tricky, since at times the copies with French titles are reissues that may reflect updated practices for main titles and intertitles. In addition, one sometimes runs into copies that may be remakes of original versions. Such complications are caveats for discussing Pathé roosters against the backdrop of the American film market and its contentious litigations. Besides examining the French and American film conditions, an archival detour will take us to Sweden to study a rewarding collection of Pathé copies bought by a small-town exhibitor in 1905 and 1906. The Swedish in-frame roosters will then interface with materials at Gaumont Pathé Archives, resources at Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, and prints held at several FIAF archives, plus paper sources.


Behind the sign of the rooster, we find four Pathé brothers. When the company expanded its phonograph business to include films in 1896, Charles (1863–1957) became the emblematic figure among them. His business acumen eclipsed the visibility of big brother Jacques (1858–1941), Émile (1860–1937, his longtime business frère), and the youngster [End Page 2] Théophile (1866–1923). Soon, Jacques and Théophile were outside the purview of Pathé Frères' business orbit. Théophile eventually started his own film company after having been in charge of a Pathé exchange in Berlin for a few turbulent years.3

Already during the quartet's earliest business period, which, prior to their media involvements, had been devoted to various family enterprises, including a butcher shop, the brothers adopted a trademark with national panache: the Gallic rooster. In 1896, when they expanded their business endeavors to cinema as Société Pathé Frères, the rooster provided identifiable brand continuity across their business lines. In 1897, Compagnie gén...


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