The role of film as a historical source involves a very different set of questions and debates to those involved in analysing it either as an art form or as an ideological apparatus. Yet the idea of film as a historical record predates the emergence of both theories of aesthetics and cinema as a social practice. Indeed, as Terveen indicates, it is as old as the medium itself. As early as 1898, for example, the pioneer Polish cinematographer Boleslas Matuszewski, whose films included records of state occasions such as the Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II (1897) and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1897), declared that film was ‘a new source of history’ and predicted that ‘animated photography … will give a direct view of the past’.
The notion of film as a historical source attaches a very different evidential value to film than aesthetics: in this approach the value of film is not to be found in its artistic or formal properties but in what it reveals about social and historical conditions at the time at which it was made. The discourse around film as a historical source has tended to focus on actuality and non-fiction films rather than on the fictional feature films that dominate aesthetic histories. However, the discursive terms are similar to those we have seen in Chapter 2. Matuszewski’s notion of the ‘truth’ of the filmic image anticipated André Bazin by over half a century:
Perhaps the cinematograph does not give history in its entirety, but at least what it does deliver is incontestable and of absolute truth … One could say that animated photography has a character of authenticity, accuracy and precision that belongs to it alone. It is the ocular evidence that is truthful and infallible
… In short, one wishes that other historic documents had the same degree of certitude and clarity.