Early cinema 1893-1903:
As motion pictures consist of the projection of luminous moving images onto a screen, their invention was not possible until certain technological developments had occurred. The invention of photography in 1826 began this number of discoveries, in 1879 Edward Muybridge, an American photographer made a series of photographs of a running horse by using a series of cameras with glass plate film and a fast exposure in 1889 Kodak introduced a flexible film base, celluloid, which made possible the creation of long series of frames necessary to get photographed motion pictures.
By the early 1890s independent inventors in many countries had developed several different film cameras and devices for showing films. The two most important figures were Edison in America and Lumière in France.
Thomas Edison´s assistant, WKL Dickson, developed a camera by 1983 that made short 35 mm films. Edison combined them with his photograph to show sound movies and hen developed the kinetoscope, a peep-show machine. Since Edison believed that movies were a passing fad, he didn´ t develop a system to project films onto a screen. This was left to the Lumière´s brothers who determined the specific form for the new medium was to take and made Edison abandon kinetoscopes and form his own production company to make films for theatres. The first films dealt with daily events, workers coming out of a factory.
The development of the classical Hollywood cinema (1903-1927):
In order to exploit the money-making potential of his company´ s invention, Edison created the MPPC (Motion Picture Patents Company) but he never succeeded in eliminating its competition: Biograph and D.W Griffith formed their own companies too.
After about 1910, film companies began to move out to California and Florida. Eventually Hollywood became the site of much of the film production. Its advantages were the climate, which permitted shooting year-round and the great variety of terrains (mountains, ocean, desert, city) available for location shooting.
By the late 1920s most of the major film companies existed: MGM (Metro Goldwyn Mayer), Fox film Corporation (merged in 1935 with 20th century), Universal and Paramount.
At that time, the major problem for early filmmakers was the establishment of temporal continuity from one shot to the next. In 1902 Edwin Porter started the practice of “continuity editing” with The life of an American fireman, where he said: “ told a story in continuity form” but the best early prototype for the classical American film was his The great train robbery (1903) with a clear linearity of time, space and logic. The American cinema became definitively orientated toward narrative form: using principles of narrative, continuity and development.
At about the same time British filmmakers in Brighton were working along similar lines eg. Cecil Hepworth´ s Rescued by Rover (1905) (very similar to Porter´s The great train robbery).
Other prolific filmmakers in the USA were D.W Griffith and Cecil B. de Mille who introduced new techniques and devices to get stronger narrative motivation: use of the camera movement and placement and expressive lighting. Griffith´ s main works are: The birth of a nation, Intolerance (1916), Abraham Lincoln (1930) was his first sound film.
Post-world war I European cinema:
During the 1st world war European film production ceased mainly because the same chemicals used in the production of celluloid were necessary for the manufacture of gun powder. The American cinema, meanwhile, exercised nearly total control of the international market. In 1919 a 90% of the films screened in Europe, Asia and Africa were American. The main exception was Germany which had been cut off from American films during the war and had made its own films cheaply and crudely. However, in 1917 military leaders (led by Erich Ludendorf) concerned about the flood of anti-German propaganda films from the allied countries, created the UFA, which was the government subsidized conglomerate of the German production, distribution and exhibition companies, the German film industry could now compete in the international market. UFA´ s first peacetime productions were elaborate costume dramas, whose master was Ernst Lubitsch, who would emigrate some years later to the USA, the same as Fritz Lang and Murnau, who escaped the nazis and began a second career in the Hollywood studios, whose attention had been attracted by the German Expressionist movement to which they belonged.
Post-world war I U.S. cinema:
Virtually all of the major film genres evolved and were codified during the 1920s, but none was more characteristic of the period than the slapstick comedy. This form´s narrative logic was subordinated to fantastic purely visual humour. In these comedies an anarchic mixture of circus, vaudeville, burlesque, pantomime and the chase, created a world of madness and mayhem and they were starred by such talents as Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Langdon, Arbuckle and the team of Stan Laurel and Olvier Hardy.
When these performers achieved fame, many of them formed their own companies and became directors: Chaplin who has developed the character of the little tramp directed his semi-autobiographical The kid (1921), The gold rush (1925), City lights (1931) and Modern times (1936). Buster Keaton shared with Chaplin a sense of the tragic often contained in the comic. A Keaton trademark was the trajectory gag in which a perfect timing of acting, directing and editing propels his character through a progression of complicated sight gags that seem impossibly dangerous but dramatically logical. His main works are The navigator (1924) and The general (1927)
Other silent comics but not directors were: Harold Lloyd cultivated the character of the eranest, innocent boy next-door who finds himself placed in physical danger: Safety last (19239 and The freshman (1925). Laurel and Hardy made 27 silent films but became even more popular with sound films as: Another fine mess (1930), and Sons of the desert (1933). Their comic characters were grown-up children whose relationship was sometimes disturbingly sadomasochistic.
But the early 1920s, 40 million Americans were attending the movies each week and half of them were minors. This caused mild public concern because Hollywood had become identified with the materialism and sexual license of the Jazz Age. Therefore, in an attempt to avoid boycotts and censorship in 1922 the studio heads created a self-regulatory trade organisation, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). It promulgated a Purity code and a policy of compensating values whereby any vileness was only justified if punished by the film´ s end. The leading practitioner of these compensating values was director Cecil B. de Mille: The ten commandments 1923. His first rival was the German émigré Ernst Lubitsch who excelled at sexual innuendo and understatement in The marriage circle (1924). Also popular in the 1920s were Douglas Fairbanks ´s adventure films including Robin Hood (1922) and The thief of Bagdag (1924)
The pre-world war II sound era:
By means of the release of Don Juan in 1926 a lavish costume drama with the accompaniment of the New York philarmonic orchestra, Warner Brothers began to popularise the idea of sound films. In 1927 The jazz singer (a part “talkie” with silent scenes) had a great success and the Warner Bros. investment began to pay, sound contributed to profitable filmmaking.
However, for a few years, sound created a setback for Hollywood film style. The filmmakers´ inability to tilt or dolly the camera and the actors´ immobility (so that their speech was registered on the track) account for this short period of static films resembling stage plays.
But most of these technical problems were solved by 1933. The technological development that most liberated sound film was post-synchronization or dubbing, in which image and sound are printed on separate pieces of films so that they can be manipulated independently. It became standard industry procedure.
Other changes brought by sound were purely human: actors and actresses were now required to learn lines and to have pleasant voices and accents and most of them were defeated. As sound demanded new filmmaking techniques and talents, it also created new genres and renovated old ones but always within overall patterns of continuity style and classical narrative form.
1. Gangster films: Howard Hawk´s The criminal Code (1931)
2. Newspaper films: Frank Capra´ s Platinum blonde (1931), Milestone´ s The front page
3. Historical biographies were also very popular at the time and several actors whose imprtessive voices were associated with the genre, notably George Aliss (Disraeli 1929) and Paul Muni (Juarez 1939) in USA and Charles Laughton (The private life of Henry VIII 1933 and Rembrandt 1936)
4. In the realm of comedy the visual humour of slapstick comedies couldn´ t survive and it was replaced by equally vital but less surreal and abstract sound comedies including The Marx Brothers´ Monkey business (1931) and Duck Soup (1933) and wisecracking “screwball comedies” of directors like Frank Capra´ s Mr. Deeds goes to town, Howard Hawk´ s Bringing up baby 1938 and The awful truth 1937
5. The horror-fantasy genre was also enhanced by sound: Browning´ s Dracula 1931 and James Whale´ s Frankestein (1931) are 2 horror classics of the period.
6. One major genre, the musical, became possible only with the introduction of sound. RKO studios made a series of musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Swing Time 1936 and Top hat 1935) which illustrate how a musical can be a classically constructed narrative.
Early colour effects:
To enhance their fantasy-like appeal, both the musical and the animated film made use of the photographic colour systems introduced by the Technicolour Corporation during the conversion to sound and the two genres became associated with colour in the public mind.
After three-colour technicolour was used successfully in Walt Disney´ s pioneering cartoon short The three little pigs 1933, it took some time to prove itself economically feasible and it gradually worked its way into mainstream feature production with Snow White and the seven dwarfs 1937, The wizard of Oz 1939 and Gone with the wind 1939.
The Hollywood studio system:
If the coming of sound changed the aesthetic dynamics of filmmaking process, it also altered the economic structure of the industry, causing the largest mergers in motion-picture history. By 1930, 95% of all American production was concentrated in the hands of only 8 studios producing each studio a distinctive style of entertainment:
1. Metro Goldwyn Mayer the most American of the major studios, concentrated on the celebration of middle class values.
2. Paramount with its UFA-trained directors, was the most European of the studios, producing the most sophisticated and baroque films of the era.
3. Warner Bros. targeted for working-class audiences.
4. 20th century Fox films were known for their glossy attractiveness and state-of-the-art special effects.
5. RK radio produced King Kong 1933, the Astaire-Rogers dance cycle, Orson Welles´ s Citizen Kane and distributed Disney´ s features.
6. Universal Pictures became famous for its horror films
7. Columbia Pictures became famous for its main director Frank Capra.
An important aspect of the studio system was the Production Code which was implemented in 1934 because of the violence and sexual suggestiveness of some sound films (eg. ganster films and Mae West´ s films. It was very similar to the Purity Code of 1922. This code was very repressive, demanding that the sanctity of marriage be upheld at all times and that crime be punished and never justified. The code which lasted 22 years, was used as a scriptwriter´ s blueprint. A love story could only move in one direction, towards marriage, and adultery and crime could have only one conclusion: disease or horrible death.
Some examples of the more than 7500 carefully controlled films made between 1930 and 1945 are: John Ford´ s The grapes of wrath (1940), She wore a yellow ribbon (1949), Howard Hawks´ s Scarface (1932), The big sleep (1946), and British émigré Alfred Hitchcock´ s Rebecca (1940), Notorius (1946), and Frank Capra´ s It is a wonderful life (1946), William Wyler´ s Wuthering heights (1939), George Cukor´s Adam´ s rib, Preston Sturges´ s Sullivan´ s travels, the work of gifted directors who managed to transcend the mechanistic nature of the system to produce work of unique personal vision. However, the most extraordinary film to emerge from the studio system was Orson Welles´ s Citizen Kane 1941, whose controversial theme and experimental technique combined to make it a classic.
Because of the lack of a language barrier, the U.K. became Hollywood ´s first major foreign market for sound films. However, in 1927 the Cinematographic Films Act passed by Parliament protected the British film industry from complete American domination, but many of the British film artists were soon lured to Hollywood such as Hitchcock. Alfred Hitchcock´ s first sound film Blackmail (1939) marked the effective beginning of sound production in England. He used both naturalistic and non-naturalistic sound in his British triumphs: The 39 steps (1935), the man who knew too much 1934. Other significant British filmmakers (who remained based in London) were the Hungarian-born brothers Alexander, Zoltan and Vincent Korda: Rembrandt, The private life of Henry VIII and John Grierson.
The war years and post-world war II trends:
Decline of the Hollywood studios:
During the war the Hollywood film industry cooperated closely with the government to support its war-aims information campaign with patriotic, morale-boosting themes and messages about the American way of life, civilian responsibility and the fighting forces themselves: Hitchcock´ s Lifebox (1944), Capra´ s The Memphis belle (1944) and Huston´ s The battle of San Pietro (1944).
However, The nation´ s general post-war disillusionment generated several new film types in the late 1940s. Small-scale drama, thought-provoking stories reflecting the psychological and social problem of post-war adaptation: mental illnesses, alcoholism etc. but especially film noir and its fatalistic interpretations of contemporary American reality is unique in the industry´ s story: Tay Garnett´ s The postman always rings twice (1946), Welles´ s The lady from Shangai (1948).
Film content was next influenced by the fear of communism that pervaded the USA during the late 40s and 50s. The HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) investigated communist influence in motion-pictures and the studios had to blacklist and refuse to employ any person suspected of having communist associations which resulted in creative stagnation.
Another factor which influenced film success was the television industry. The studios therefore attempted to diminish television´ s appeal by exploiting the advantages that film enjoyed over the new medium: the size of its images and the ability of producing photographic colour: Kodak´ s new system Eastmancolour made that by 1954 more than 50% of American features were made in colour and it reached a 94% by 1970 and the new system, Cinemascope, introduced by 20th century Fox in the biblical epic The Robe in 1953, prompted the wide-screen revolution.
Given the political paranoia of the times, the studios concentrated on presenting traditional genre fare: westerns, musicals, comedies and blockbusters, suitable for wide-screen treatment. Kitchcock´s greatest works Vertigo (1958), Rear Window (1954), Psycho (1960), The birds (1963) were produced during this period.
Post-world war II British cinema:
In Great Britain, the post-world war II cinema was very literary, relying heavily on the adaptation of the classics in the work of such directors as Laurence Olivier (Henry V 1944, Hamlet 1948, Richard III 1955) and David Lean (Great expectations 1948, and Oliver Twist 1948).
An exception to this trend were the witty comedies made by Michael Balcon´s Ealing studios (The lavander hill mob 1951, The man in the white suit 1951) most of them starring Alec Guiness, but on the whole British post-war cinema was elitist and culturally conservative.
In reaction, ayounger generation of filmmakers led by Lindsay Anderson, Czechoslovak-born Karel Reisz, and Tony Richardson organised the Free Cinema Movement in the mid 50s. Its purpose was to produce short, low-budget documentaries illuminating problems of contemporary life. Grounded in the ideology and practice of neorealism, free cinema emerged simultaneously with a larger social movement calling for the replacement of bourgeois elitism with liberal working class values. In the cinema this antiestablishment agitation resulted in the new cinema or social realist movement signalled by Reisz´ s Saturday Night and Sunday morning (1960), the first British post-war feature with a working class protagonist and proletarian films, which was shot in the industrial Midlands, followed by Richardson´s A taste of Honey (1961) and John Schlesinger´s A kind of loving (1962) and Reisz´s Morgan: A suitable case for treatment (1966).
These films brought such prestige to the British film industry that London became the production capital of the Western world delivering such home-grown international hits as: Richardson´s Tom Jones (1963), Lester´ s 2 Beatles films: A hard day´ s night 1964 and Help! 1965 as well as such foreign importations as Roman Polanski´ s Repulsion (1965), Truffaut´s Farenheit 451 (1966) and Stanley Kubrick´ s 2001 A space odyssey (1968) and A clockwork orange (1971).
This activity inspired a new, more visually orientated generation of British filmmakers: Peter Yates, John Boorman, Ken Russel, and Ridley Scott who would make their mark in the 1970s. But as England ´s economy began its decline during that decade, so too did its film industry. Many British directors and performers defected to Hollywood while the English-language film market simultaneously experienced a vigorous and unprecedented challenge from Australia.
In the 1980s British annual film production reached an all-time low, although such works as Neil Jordan´ s The company of wolves (1984) and Terry Gilliam´ s Brazil (1985) demonstrated that uniquely individual films continued to be made there.
Recent trends in U.S. cinema:
In the U.S.A. as elsewhere, the last half of the 1960swas a time of intense conflict between generations and of rapid social change, Hollywood tried desperately to attract a demographically homogenous audience that no longer existed. One box-office disaster after another threatened the studios´ independence until most were absorbed by conglomerates, eg: RKO was sold to the General Tire and Rubber Corporation in 1955 and Columbia was purchased by the Coca-cola company in 1982.
But before conglomeration had completely restructured the industry, Hollywood tried various experiments to attract anew audience among the nation´ s youth, in an effort to lure the first television generation into movie theatres with films such as: Penn´ s Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Stanley Kubrick´ s 2001 A space odyssey (1968), Peckinpah´ s The wild bunch (1968), Dennis Hopper´ s Easy rider (1969) and Altman´s M.A.S.H. (1970) sharing a cynicism towards established values and fascination with apocalyptic violence but which attracted the youth market in record numbers.
Concurrent with the youth-cult boom was the new permissiveness towards sex made possible by the MPAA ratings system (in 1968) that categorized films according to their appropriateness for young viewers: this system led to the production of serious, non-exploitative adult films such as Schlesinger´ s Midnight cowboy (1969) and Mike Nichols´ s Carnal knowledge (1971) in which sexuality was treated with a maturity and realism unprecedented on the American screen.
This conglomerate film industry invested their working capital in the production of only 5 or 6 films a year, hoping that one or two would be extremely successful, eg: Frank Coppola´ s The godfather (1972), Steven Spielberg´ s Jaws (1975) and George Lucas´ s Star wars (1977).
The new generation of directors included many who had been trained in university film schools: F.F. Coppola, George Lucas, John Milius, Martin Scorsese, Brian de Palma and Steven Spielberg and who therefore had technical sophistication and sense of film history suited to the new Hollywood, whose quest for profitable films demanded slick professionalism and thorough understanding of popular genres. Their success as highly skilled technicians was exploited in the representation of violence and sex during the 70s in Coppola´ s The godfather, Friedkin´ s The Exorcist (1973), De Palma´ s Carrie (1976) Scorsese´ s Taxi driver (1976) but especially with the newly popular science-fiction adventure genre by means of special effects and Dolby sound: Steven Spielberg´ s Raiders of the lost ark (1981), Stanley Kubrick´ s The shining (1980), Coppola´ s Apocalypse now (1979) and Scorsese´ s Raging bull (1980).
Some of the strongest films of the era came from émigré directors working within the American industry: John Boorman´ s Deliverance (1972), Roman Polanski´ s Chinatown (1974), Milos Forman´s One flew over the cuckoo´ s nest (1975) and Ridley Scott´ s Alien (1979).
In general, Hollywood´ s new corporate managers lacked the judgement of industry veterans and relied on the recently tried and true and on the viscerally sensational. To this latter category belong the “psychoslasher” films whose formula consists of a serial murder of teenagers by a psychotic, gratuitous sex and violence with realistic gore provided by good make-up and special effects. Some illustrations of this type of films are: John Carpenter´ s Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) whose precedents had been Psycho (1960) and Hooper´ s The Texas Chainsaw massacre (1974). Their popularity gradually decreased but slasher films remain a regular feature of the annual production schedule and their blend of sex and violence has become an obligatory ingredient: Vamp (1986), Aliens (1986), David Cronenberg´ s The fly (1986)and De Palma´ s Body double (1984).
During the 1980s, American film industry was shaped by new technologies of video delivery and imaging. Many studios devoted the majority of their schedules to the production of telefilms for the commercial television networks and sold their theatrical features for cable and videocassette distribution. The strength of the cable and video industries led producers to seek properties with televisual features that would play well on the small TV screen (Flashdance 1983, Footloose 1984) or to attempt to draw audiences into the theatres with spectacular 70-millimitre photography and multitrack Dolby sound (Amadeus, Aliens). During this period many Vietnam combat films were made: Oliver Stone´ s Platoon (1986), Kubrick´ s Full metal jacket (1987), Rambo but also films showing the fear of a Soviet invasion Red dawn (1985) and military vigilantism Top gun (1986), all of them responding to the political climate.
Films with a “literary” quality (many of them British made) were also popular in the American market during the 1980s: A passage to India (1984), A room with a view (1985), Out of Africa (1985).
Independent producers regained strength under the new regime of video and created some of the most unconventional and interesting work the American cinema had seen in some time eg: Jim Jarmusch´ s Stranger than paradise (1984), Stone´ s Salvador and Platoon and David Lynch´ s Blue Velvet (1986). These films were too original to have been made in the studio era and too eccentric for the mass-market economies of the 70s. they hark back to the vitality and integrity of the pre-studio age (to the work of Griffith, Keaton and Chaplin) when everything was possible because everything was new.