Can you read French? If not, you may want to rely on some online translator, just this once, because Hervé Dumont’s Encyclopédie du film historique – that is, the encyclopedia of historical films, is a real treasure trove.
Right now, I think that all you can find in English is the Author’s Note, explaining what and why. Amongst other things, you’ll find that Swiss film historian Dumont quotes Stanley Kubrick’s notion that “one of the things the cinema knows how to do better than any of the other arts, is to bring to the screen historical subjects.”
I’m not sure I entirely agree with this statement (what of novels then?) – but this doesn’t keep me from appreciating a website aimed to “document, in the form of a comprehensive catalogue […] the permanent game of mirrors between past and present allowed, and even encouraged by the cinema and other audio-visual media.”
And this is exactly what you will find: a catalogue of historical films, divided by era and place and/or argument. The encyclopedia is divided into four volumes.
Volume One, Antiquity, is actually a flipbook reproduction of Dumont’s 2009 book L’Antiquité au cinéma. Vérités, légendes et manipulations, which is now out of catalogue. Volume Two, The Middle Ages and the Renaissance, is still a work in progress, and only the French section is fully compiled. Volume Three (The age of Absolutism – 17th and 18th centuries) and Four (XIXth Century) are complete, and offer a comprehensive and detailed annotated catalogue of how cinema and television have narrated history, beginning with silent movies and down to last year’s releases.
There is also a section with links to books, articles and DVDs… Did I say it’s quite the treasure trove?
And yes, most of it is in French – but rich, informative, detailed – and, if you have even the slightest interest in the way history is fictionally told, quite worth a visit