Today i’m going to be going through the entire history of film as succinctly as i possibly can.
THE FIRST FILM CAMERA AND EARLY FILM [1830- 1910]
In 1839 French painter Louis Jacques mount Dager invented the photo. In 1877 photographer Edward Muybridge successfully reduced the exposure time enough to capture a horse galloping. Proving that at one stage in the gallop all four legs of the horse are in the air at the same time. In the same year celluloid began being used as a base for photographic emulsions and started being manufactured by George Eastman in New York in 1889. Meanwhile French-born inventor Louis le prince built a motion picture camera and made several short films that he was due to showcase in New York in 1890. He disappeared during his travels and his contribution to cinema has remained little known for decades.
Instead the invention of the motion picture camera is often attributed to William Kennedy Laurie Dixon who worked for the Edison Company. Edison did not hold any patents in Europe where inventors copied and improved upon his designs including Auguste and Louis Lumiere. They created the cinematograph a lightweight hand-cranked camera that also functioned as a projector which they sold internationally enabling filmmaking in other countries.
The Lumiere brothers created actualities which were single shot documentaries that captured one activity. The arrival of the train near the turn of the century there was a shift from merely documenting life to creating entertaining stories. Most evident in the work of French filmmaker Georges Mele and American filmmaker Edwin s porter who both experimented with trick and multi-scene films. Making the 1902 film a trip to the moon and the 1903 film the great train robbery respectively.
PRE- WW1 SILENT ERA [1910- 1914]
Pathe and Rival Company Goldman pictures dominated pre-world war one production exhibition and sales in Europe. Manufacturing equipment opening foreign offices and acquiring theatre chains. In the U.S. film exchanges and nickelodeons opened up across the country and film production moved to warmer states such as California, Florida and Texas. It was easier to film in these climates all year round. In the case of Hollywood there was a wide range of geography all in one place. Run times began to increase heavily influenced by theatre shows which were being directly captured and projected using film.
There came a new age of multiple real films or features as they became known such as the 1912 Italian film Covadus which wowed audiences. It featured huge sets recreating ancient Rome and used 5000 extras. Importantly it had an admission price of a whopping dollar. Exhibitors realized that it was easier to advertise and charge more for features rather than a series of shorts. During this era director DW Griffith experimented with narrative techniques that helped shape the cinematography and editing standards in the industry that we have today. Examples include using multiple camera setups i.e wide medium and close-up shots as well as the use of tracking and panning shots. He also used inter cutting of two seemingly unrelated scenes to imply a connection. Prefiguring the soviet theories of montage by about a decade.
WW1 AND POST WW1 SOUND AND COLOR [1914- 1939]
Up until world war one European cinema dominated the industry especially France and Italy. However during the war film production virtually ceased in Europe whilst American cinema prospered immensely. Motion pictures became a national obsession and the Hollywood studio system was established. Churning out films in an assembly line fashion with each studio becoming known for a specific genre and style. In Germany general Eric Ludendorff frustrated with the slew of anti-German films that were coming in during the war ordered the creation of the UFA. The UFA became the single largest studio in Europe producing most of the films associated with the golden age of German cinema during the Weimar republic. This included the German expressionist movement that used distorted sets and lighting to create specific moods and reflect the psyche of the characters.
Perhaps the most well-known expressionist film is fritz Lang’s metropolis. Films with synchronized musical scores exist early in film history. But it was only after the invention of the sophisticated disc system called the Vitaphone the recording dialogue became viable.
Warner brothers bought the rights to the Vitaphone and used it to record the 1927 film the jazz singer which was a phenomenal success and marked the start of the sound revolution. It taking a mere 15 months for the rest of the Hollywood studios to all have sound. America sound technology was exported worldwide and the new age of sound gave rise to directors such as Alfred Hitchcock as well as the French impressionist movement and the start of Bollywood cinema in India.
Sound led to many changes acting became more than just movement. Some actors failed to learn their lines had unappealing or unintelligible voices. Directors could no longer direct their actors during filming. The film industry started employing critics, playwrights and novelists to write their scripts with dialogue. Musicals became popular as a genre.
In 1934 the production code was implemented prohibiting nudity violence and profanity in film. If a character did anything immoral then they must be redeemed or punished by the end of the film. This code dictated American cinema for the next 20 years. In japan motion pictures thus far were akin to kabuki theatre with dialogue and narration being delivered by performers called benches who stood to the side of the screen.
The coming of sound was resisted by the bunchy but the conversion was inevitable. The Japanese film industry evolved its own studio system and became one of the most prolific industries in the world. Though very few films were exported out of japan. As with sound color was also present in early film history. However it was painstakingly hand-painted frame by frame. The invention that truly revolutionized color was the three color system invented by Technicolor in 1932. However it was quite expensive and would only come into widespread use after the great depression.
WW2, TV AND THE COLD WAR [1939- 1980]
When Hitler came into power in 1933, German cinema became controlled by the ministry of public enlightenment and propaganda, which reviewed every film before release for the next 12 years. Already many German filmmakers had immigrated to America but this forced more people to follow. Perhaps the most famous films produced during Nazi Germany are documentaries by Lenny Riefenstahl including Triumph of the Will.
Similarly in soviet Russia film was used to increase support for the socialist cause, proving very successful given its ability to be understood by the largely illiterate working class. The all union state institute of cinematography was created and one of its teachers left Kuleshov and two of his student’s Sergey Eisenstein and cachalot Podovkin became famous for their experiments with montage. As japan became more militarized cinema shifted to social criticism, which inevitably led to the government imposing a strict code of censorship. Just like in Germany and the Soviet Union.
Famous director Akira Kurosawa ignored these restrictions and continued to make period dramas including samurai epics that earned him fame internationally. After the war the film industries of Germany the soviet union and japan were enfeebled, having all limited their production during the war to predominantly propaganda. Both japan and Germany managed to rebuild their industries in the 1950s and 60s. But focus mainly on quantity rather than quality to appease their domestic markets and compete with TV.
This was a similar case to India where the general Indian populace couldn’t afford a TV so there was no serious competition. The industry that did not recover after the war was the Soviet Union where although there were some very impressive literary adaptations made. Most other filmmaking was heavily monitored and suppressed. Director’s Sergey Peragenov and Andrei Tarkovsky both had their work heavily criticized and tampered with by soviet senses.
Italy’s early surrender meant that a lot of their facilities stayed intact. Post-war cinema developed into the neo-realist movement with directors such as Roberto Rossolini. The neo-realist movement inspired other movements around the world such as brutish social realism, Brazilian cinema Nuovo and the French and Czech new wave. The French new wave was guided heavily by Andre Bazan and Alexandre Astruc’s theoretical writings. They inspired a whole fleet of film critics such as Francoise Truffaut and Jean-Luc Goddard to begin making films that rejected the cinematic norms that had thus far been established.
During World War II America had a stable film industry, with many films made to encourage morale and inspire patriotism. However as the war continued films had increasingly serious themes. Some documentaries were shot on location such as john ford’s 1942 film the battle of midway. Citizen Kane one of the most influential films in film history was made during this period. The increasingly widespread use of tvs in the home weakened the film industry and led to technological developments such as the use of widescreen or cinemascope, as it was called in order to provide something that TV could not.
In 1948 the studio system was disbanded to allow for healthy competition. The industry became increasingly less about big budget spectacles and more about low budget socially conscious filmmaking that commented on topics such as racism, alcoholism, and mental illness. The pesky production code was dissolved in 1958 and in 1968 the motion picture association of America created a rating system, which meant that there were no limits on what people could make. This heralded the new Hollywood movement that involved mature themes such as violence from directors such as martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick. This period also featured the start of one of the biggest sci-fi franchises ever star wars.
Other countries around the world did not have a particularly strong national film industry, but became known for producing specific auteurs such as the satire extraordinaire Louis Bunuel from Spain and Ingmar Bergman from Sweden.
THE AGE OF TECHNOLOGY [1980- 2000]
Major advances in computer, computer-generated VFX led to a whole roster of exciting films, such as the matrix. More people than ever had access to filming and editing equipment. Directors such as spike jones, spike lee and Quentin Tarantino gained a cult following for their unconventional and low budget films. As the internet progressed it became a marketing tool exemplified by the 1999 cult hit the Blair witch project.
In Britain the industry declined in the 1980s but was revived by the creation of the TV network channel 4. It commissioned original films as well as the British national lottery that became a source of funding in 1994.
Australia gained international attention following the release of the 1982 film Mad Max 2 renamed the road warrior. In the 1990s directors such as Baz Lerman and Jane Campion solidified the country’s presence on the international scene. Neighboring country’s New Zealand director peter Jackson meanwhile had started work on one of the most ambitious literary adaptations in history the lord of the rings.
Once Mikhail Gorbachev came into power in 1990 and the Soviet Union officially dissolved. Soon after there was more freedom in Russia and the former republics to create previously suppressed material, especially in Poland and Hungary. However smaller film industries such as those in Bulgaria and Romania had a slower progression given that their main source of funding was taken away and they converted a lot of their theatres into new businesses.
Hong Kong had become known for its martial arts films during the 1960s. These extended into crime and gangster films during the 1980s with directors such as john woo. In the 1990s director Juan Carl Wai and Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle gained international acclaim for their highly stylized and unique work. Asian countries such as China, Taiwan and Korea had virtually no cinematic presence until the loosening of restrictions in the 1980s and 90s. This paved the way for new voices to be heard such as director’s Shanghai moo and Ang lee.
In Africa directors such as Mufida Tatli created films that commented on the themes of education, environment, women’s rights and colonialism.
In Iran directors such as Moxon Magmalbuff created their own quiet contemplative style that mixed reality with fiction. And in Denmark director Lars von trier created the movement of dogma 95 that argued against technical gadgetry and for realism.
CONTEMPORARY CINEMA [2000- ]
Over the last two decades the most revolutionary developments within the film industry. It has been the widespread access to equipment and software, which means that people can now make films on their smartphones as well as the proliferation of streaming services.it has heralded an entirely new way of consuming content.
By allowing everyone to have access to an unbelievably large library of films all the time rather than to a schedule. The lasting effect of these advancements on the industry remains to be seen as well as what the impact will be of this current pandemic.