- History of film
Years in film
1870s 1880s 1890s 1890 • 1891 • 1892 • 1893 • 1894
1895 • 1896 • 1897 • 1898 • 1899
1900s 1900 • 1901 • 1902 • 1903 • 1904
1905 • 1906 • 1907 • 1908 • 1909
1910s 1910 • 1911 • 1912 • 1913 • 1914
1915 • 1916 • 1917 • 1918 • 1919
1920s 1920 • 1921 • 1922 • 1923 • 1924
1925 • 1926 • 1927 • 1928 • 1929
1930s 1930 • 1931 • 1932 • 1933 • 1934
1935 • 1936 • 1937 • 1938 • 1939
1940s 1940 • 1941 • 1942 • 1943 • 1944
1945 • 1946 • 1947 • 1948 • 1949
1950s 1950 • 1951 • 1952 • 1953 • 1954
1955 • 1956 • 1957 • 1958 • 1959
1960s 1960 • 1961 • 1962 • 1963 • 1964
1965 • 1966 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969
1970s 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974
1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979
1980s 1980 • 1981 • 1982 • 1983 • 1984
1985 • 1986 • 1987 • 1988 • 1989
1990s 1990 • 1991 • 1992 • 1993 • 1994
1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999
2000s 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004
2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009
2010s 2010 • 2011 • 2012
2013 and beyond
The history of film spans over 100 years, from the latter part of the 19th century to the present day. Motion pictures developed gradually from a carnival novelty to one of the most important tools of communication and entertainment, and mass media in the 20th century and into the 21st century. Motion picture films have substantially affected the arts, technology, and politics.
The beginning of cinema
Precursors of film
Plays and dances had elements common to films- scripts, sets, lighting, costumes, production, direction, actors, audiences, storyboards, and scores. They preceded film by thousands of years. Much terminology later used in film theory and criticism applied, such as mise en scène. Moving visual images and sounds were not recorded for replaying as in film.
People tend to have used an early type of camera obscura (which meanes darken chamber). The camera obscura was further described by Alhazen in his Book of Optics (1021), and was later perfected near the year 1600 by Giambattista della Porta. Light is inverted through a small hole or lens from outside, and projected onto a surface or screen, creating a projected moving image, indistinguishable from a projected high quality film to an audience, but it is not preserved in a recording.
In 1739 and 1748, David Hume published Treatise of Human Nature and An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, arguing for the associations and causes of ideas with visual images, in some sense forerunners to the language of film.
Moving images were produced on revolving drums and disks in the 1830s with independent invention by Simon von Stampfer (Stroboscope) in Austria, Joseph Plateau (Phenakistoscope) in Belgium and William Horner (zoetrope) in Britain.
On June 19, 1878, under the sponsorship of Leland Stanford, Eadweard Muybridge successfully photographed a horse named "Sallie Gardner" in fast motion using a series of 24 stereoscopic cameras. The experiment took place on June 11 at the Palo Alto farm in California with the press present. The exercise was meant to determine whether a running horse ever had all four legs lifted off the ground at once. The cameras were arranged along a track parallel to the horse's, and each camera shutter was controlled by a trip wire which was triggered by the horse's hooves. They were 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by the horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second.
Étienne-Jules Marey invented a chronophotographic gun in 1882, which was capable of taking 12 consecutive frames a second, recording all the frames on the same picture. He used the chronophotographic gun for studying animals and human locomotion.
The second experimental film, Roundhay Garden Scene, filmed by Louis Le Prince on October 14, 1888 in Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, UK is now known as the earliest surviving motion picture.
On June 21, 1889, William Friese-Greene was issued patent no. 10131 for his 'chronophotographic' camera. It was apparently capable of taking up to ten photographs per second using perforated celluloid film. A report on the camera was published in the British Photographic News on February 28, 1890. On 18 March, Friese-Greene sent a clipping of the story to Thomas Edison, whose laboratory had been developing a motion picture system known as the Kinetoscope. The report was reprinted in Scientific American on April 19. Friese-Greene gave a public demonstration in 1890 but the low frame rate combined with the device's apparent unreliability failed to make an impression.
As a result of the work of Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge, many researchers in the late 19th century realized that films as they are known today were a practical possibility, but the first to design a fully successful apparatus was W. K. L. Dickson, working under the direction of Thomas Alva Edison. His fully developed camera, called the Kinetograph, was patented in 1891 and took a series of instantaneous photographs on standard Eastman Kodak photographic emulsion coated on to a transparent celluloid strip 35 mm wide. The results of this work were first shown in public in 1893, using the viewing apparatus also designed by Dickson, and called the Kinetoscope. This was contained within a large box, and only permitted the images to be viewed by one person at a time looking into it through a peephole, after starting the machine by inserting a coin. It was not a commercial success in this form, and left the way free for Charles Francis Jenkins and his projector, the Phantoscope, with the first showing before an audience in June 1894. The Louis and Auguste Lumière perfected the Cinématographe, an apparatus that took, printed, and projected film. They gave their first show of projected pictures to an audience in Paris in December 1895. 
After this date, the Edison company developed its own form of projector, as did various other inventors. Some of these used different film widths and projection speeds, but after a few years the 35-mm wide Edison film, and the 16-frames-per-second projection speed of the Lumière Cinématographe became standard. The other important American competitor was the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, which used a new camera designed by Dickson after he left the Edison company.
At the Chicago 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Muybridge gave a series of lectures on the Science of Animal Locomotion in the Zoopraxographical Hall, built specially for that purpose in the "Midway Plaisance" arm of the exposition. He used his zoopraxiscope to show his moving pictures to a paying public, making the Hall the first commercial film theater.
William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, chief engineer with the Edison Laboratories, is credited with the invention of a practicable form of a celluloid strip containing a sequence of images, the basis of a method of photographing and projecting moving images. Celluloid blocks were thinly sliced, then removed with heated pressure plates. After this, they were coated with a photosensitive gelatin emulsion. In 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair, Thomas Edison introduced to the public two pioneering inventions based on this innovation; the Kinetograph - the first practical moving picture camera - and the Kinetoscope. The latter was a cabinet in which a continuous loop of Dickson's celluloid film (powered by an electric motor) was back lit by an incandescent lamp and seen through a magnifying lens. The spectator viewed the image through an eye piece. Kinetoscope parlours were supplied with fifty-foot film snippets photographed by Dickson, in Edison's "Black Maria" studio (pronounced like "ma-RYE-ah"). These sequences recorded both mundane incidents, such as Fred Ott's Sneeze, and entertainment acts, such as acrobats, music hall performers and boxing demonstrations.
Kinetoscope parlors soon spread successfully to Europe. Edison, however, never attempted to patent these instruments on the other side of the Atlantic, since they relied so greatly on previous experiments and innovations from Britain and Europe. This enabled the development of imitations, such as the camera devised by British electrician and scientific instrument maker Robert W. Paul and his partner Birt Acres.
Charles Francis Jenkins, wanting to display moving pictures to large groups of people, invented the first patented film projector. In 1894, his invention, called the Phantoscope, was the first to project a motion picture. At about the same time, in Lyon, France, Auguste and Louis Lumière invented the cinematograph, a portable camera, printer, and projector. In late 1895 in Paris, father Antoine Lumière began exhibitions of projected films before the paying public, beginning the general conversion of the medium to projection (Cook, 1990). They quickly became Europe's main producers with their actualités like Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory and comic vignettes like The Sprinkler Sprinkled (both 1895). Even Edison, initially dismissive of projection, joined the trend with the Vitascope, a modified Jenkins' Phantoscope, within less than six months. The first public motion-picture film presentation in Europe, though, belongs to Max and Emil Skladanowsky of Berlin, who projected with their apparatus "Bioscop", a flickerfree duplex construction, November 1 through 31, 1895.
That same year in May, in the USA, Eugene Augustin Lauste devised his Eidoloscope for the Latham family. But the first public screening of film ever is due to Jean Aimé "Acme" Le Roy, a French photographer. On February 5, 1894, his 40th birthday, he presented his "Marvellous Cinematograph" to a group of around twenty show business men in New York City.
The films of the time were seen mostly via temporary storefront spaces and traveling exhibitors or as acts in vaudeville programs. A film could be under a minute long and would usually present a single scene, authentic or staged, of everyday life, a public event, a sporting event or slapstick. There was little to no cinematic technique: no editing and usually no camera movement, and flat, stagey compositions. But the novelty of realistically moving photographs was enough for a motion picture industry to mushroom before the end of the century, in countries around the world.
The silent era
In the silent era of film, marrying the image with synchronous sound was not possible for inventors and producers, since no practical method was devised until 1923. Thus, for the first thirty years of their history, films were silent, although accompanied by live musicians and sometimes sound effects and even commentary spoken by the showman or projectionist.
Illustrated songs were a notable exception to this trend that began in 1894 in vaudeville houses and persisted as late as the late 1930s in film theaters. In this early precursor to the music video, live performance or sound recordings were paired with hand-colored glass slides projected through stereopticons and similar devices. In this way, song narrative was illustrated through a series of slides whose changes were simultaneous with the narrative development. The main purpose of illustrated songs was to encourage sheet music sales, and they were highly successful with sales reaching into the millions for a single song. Later, with the birth of film, illustrated songs were used as filler material preceding films and during reel changes.
In most countries the need for spoken accompaniment quickly faded, with dialogue and narration presented in intertitles, but in Japanese cinema it remained popular throughout the silent era.
Film history from 1895 to 1906
The first eleven years of motion pictures show the cinema moving from a novelty to an established large-scale entertainment industry. The films represent a movement from films consisting of one shot, completely made by one person with a few assistants, towards films several minutes long consisting of several shots, which were made by large companies in something like industrial conditions.
Film business up to 1906
The first commercial exhibition of film took place on April 14, 1894 at the first Kinetoscope parlor ever built. However, it was clear that Edison originally intended to create a sound film system, which would not gain worldwide recognition until the release of "The Jazz Singer" in 1927. In 1896 it became clear that more money was to be made by showing motion picture films with a projector to a large audience than exhibiting them in Edison's Kinetoscope peep-show machines. The Edison company took up a projector developed by Armat and Jenkins, the “Phantoscope”, which was renamed the Vitascope, and it joined various projecting machines made by other people to show the 480 mm. width films being made by the Edison company and others in France and the UK.
However, the most successful motion picture company in the United States, with the largest production until 1900, was the American Mutoscope company. This was initially set up to exploit peep-show type films using designs made by W.K.L. Dickson after he left the Edison company in 1895. His equipment used 70 mm. wide film, and each frame was printed separately onto paper sheets for insertion into their viewing machine, called the Mutoscope. The image sheets stood out from the periphery of a rotating drum, and flipped into view in succession. Besides the Mutoscope, they also made a projector called the Biograph, which could project a continuous positive film print made from the same negatives.
There were numerous other smaller producers in the United States, and some of them established a long-term presence in the new century. American Vitagraph, one of these minor producers, built studios in Brooklyn, and expanded its operations in 1905. From 1896 there was continuous litigation in the United States over the patents covering the basic mechanisms that made motion pictures possible.
In France, the Lumière company sent cameramen all round the world from 1896 onwards to shoot films, which were exhibited locally by the cameramen, and then sent back to the company factory in Lyon to make prints for sale to whoever wanted them. There were nearly a thousand of these films made up to 1901, nearly all of them actualities.
By 1898 Georges Méliès was the largest producer of fiction films in France, and from this point onwards his output was almost entirely films featuring trick effects, which were very successful in all markets. The special popularity of his longer films, which were several minutes long from 1899 onwards (while most other films were still only a minute long), led other makers to start producing longer films.
From 1900 Charles Pathé began film production under the Pathé-Frères brand, with Ferdinand Zecca hired to actually make the films. By 1905, Pathé was the largest film company in the world, a position it retained until World War I. Léon Gaumont began film production in 1896, with his production supervised by Alice Guy.
In the UK, Robert W. Paul, James Williamson and G.A. Smith and the other lesser producers were joined by Cecil Hepworth in 1899, and in a few years he was turning out 100 films a year, with his company becoming the largest on the British scene.
Initially films were mostly shown as a novelty in special venues, but the main methods of exhibition quickly became either as an item on the programmes of variety theatres, or by traveling showman in tent theatres, which they took around the fairs in country towns. It became the practice for the producing companies to sell prints outright to the exhibitors, at so much per foot, regardless of the subject. Typical prices initially were 15 cents a foot in the United States, and one shilling a foot in Britain. Hand-coloured films, which were being produced of the most popular subjects before 1900, cost 2 to 3 times as much per foot. There were a few producers, such as the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, which did not sell their films, but exploited them solely with their own exhibition units. The first successful permanent theatre showing nothing but films was “The Nickelodeon”, which was opened in Pittsburgh in 1905. By this date there were finally enough films several minutes long available to fill a programme running for at least half an hour, and which could be changed weekly when the local audience became bored with it. Other exhibitors in the United States quickly followed suit, and within a couple of years there were thousands of these nickelodeons in operation. The American situation led to a worldwide boom in the production and exhibition of films from 1906 onwards.
The first film cameras were fastened directly to the head of their tripod or other support, with only the crudest kind of levelling devices provided, in the manner of the still-camera tripod heads of the period. The earliest film cameras were thus effectively fixed during the shot, and hence the first camera movements were the result of mounting a camera on a moving vehicle. The first known of these was a film shot by a Lumière cameraman from the back platform of a train leaving Jerusalem in 1896, and by 1898 there were a number of films shot from moving trains. Although listed under the general heading of "panoramas" in the sales catalogues of the time, those films shot straight forward from in front of a railway engine were usually specifically referred to as "phantom rides".
In 1897, Robert W. Paul had the first real rotating camera head made to put on a tripod, so that he could follow the passing processions of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in one uninterrupted shot. This device had the camera mounted on a vertical axis that could be rotated by a worm gear driven by turning a crank handle, and Paul put it on general sale the next year. Shots taken using such a "panning" head were also referred to as "panoramas" in the film catalogues of the first decade of the cinema.
The standard pattern for early film studios was provided by the studio which Georges Méliès had built in 1897. This had a glass roof and three glass walls constructed after the model of large studios for still photography, and it was fitted with thin cotton cloths that could be stretched below the roof to diffuse the direct ray of the sun on sunny days. The soft overall light without real shadows that this arrangement produced, and which also exists naturally on lightly overcast days, was to become the basis for film lighting in film studios for the next decade.
Unique among all the one minute long films made by the Edison company, which recorded parts of the acts of variety performers for their Kinetoscope viewing machines, was The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. This showed a person dressed as the queen placing her head on the execution block in front of a small group of bystanders in Elizabethan dress. The executioner brings his axe down, and the queen's severed head drops onto the ground. This trick was worked by stopping the camera and replacing the actor with a dummy, then restarting the camera before the axe falls. The two pieces of film were then trimmed and cemented together so that the action appeared continuous when the film was shown.
This film was among those exported to Europe with the first Kinetoscope machines in 1895, and was seen by Georges Méliès, who was putting on magic shows in his Theatre Robert-Houdin in Paris at the time. He took up filmmaking in 1896, and after making imitations of other films from Edison, Lumière, and Robert Paul, he made Escamotage d’un dame chez Robert-Houdin (The Vanishing Lady). This film shows a woman being made to vanish by using the same stop motion technique as the earlier Edison film. After this, Georges Méliès made many single shot films using this trick over the next couple of years.
The other basic set of techniques for trick cinematography involves double exposure of the film in the camera, which was first done by G.A. Smith in July 1898 in the UK. His The Corsican Brothers was described in the catalogue of the Warwick Trading Company, which took up the distribution of Smith's films in 1900, thus:
“One of the twin brothers returns home from shooting in the Corsican mountains, and is visited by the ghost of the other twin. By extremely careful photography the ghost appears *quite transparent*. After indicating that he has been killed by a sword-thrust, and appealing for vengeance, he disappears. A ‘vision’ then appears showing the fatal duel in the snow. To the Corsican's amazement, the duel and death of his brother are vividly depicted in the vision, and finally, overcome by his feelings, he falls to the floor just as his mother enters the room.”
The ghost effect was simply done by draping the set in black velvet after the main action had been shot, and then re-exposing the negative with the actor playing the ghost going through the actions at the appropriate point. Likewise, the vision, which appeared within a circular vignette or matte, was similarly superimposed over a black area in the backdrop to the scene, rather than over a part of the set with detail in it, so that nothing appeared through the image, which seemed quite solid. Smith used this technique again a year later in Santa Claus.
Georges Méliès first used superimposition on a dark background in la Caverne maudite (The Cave of the Demons) made a couple of months later in 1898, and then elaborated it further with multiple superimpositions in the one shot in l’Homme de têtes (The Troublesome Heads). He then did it with further variations in numerous subsequent films.
Other special techniques
The other special effect technique that G.A. Smith initiated was reverse motion and the quality of self-motivating images. He did this by repeating the action a second time, while filming it with an inverted camera, and then joining the tail of the second negative to that of the first. The first films made using this device were Tipsy, Topsy, Turvy and The Awkward Sign Painter. The Awkward Sign Painter showed a sign painter lettering a sign, and in the reverse printing of the same footage appended to the standard print, the painting on the sign vanished under the painter's brush. The earliest surviving example of this technique is Smith's The House That Jack Built, made before September 1901. Here, a small boy is shown knocking down a castle just constructed by a little girl out of children's building blocks. Then a title appears, saying “Reversed”, and the action is repeated in reverse, so that the castle re-erects itself under his blows.
Cecil Hepworth took this technique further, by printing the negative of the forwards motion backwards frame by frame, so producing a print in which the original action was exactly reversed. To do this he built a special printer in which the negative running through a projector was projected into the gate of a camera through a special lens giving a same-size image. This arrangement came to be called a “projection printer”, and eventually an “optical printer”. With it Hepworth made The Bathers in 1900, in which bathers who have undressed and jumped into the water appear to spring backwards out of it, and have their clothes magically fly back onto their bodies.
The use of different camera speeds also appeared around 1900. To make Robert Paul's On a Runaway Motor Car through Piccadilly Circus (1899), the camera was turned very slowly, so that when the film was projected at the usual 16 frames per second, the scenery appeared to be passing at great speed. Cecil Hepworth used the opposite effect in The Indian Chief and the Seidlitz Powder (1901), in which a naïve Red Indian eats a lot of the fizzy stomach medicine, causing his stomach to expand vastly. He leaps around in a way that is made balloon-like by cranking the camera much faster than 16 frames per second. This gives what we would call a “slow motion” effect.
The most important development in this area of special techniques occurred, arguably, in 1899, with the production of the short film Matches: An Appeal, a thirty-second long stop-motion animated piece intended to encourage the audience to send matches to British troops fighting the Boer War. The relative sophistication of this piece was not followed up for some time, with subsequent works in animation being limited to short, two or three frame effects, such as appeared in Edwin Porter's 1902 short "Fun in a Bakery Shop", where a lump of dough was made to smile over the course of a three-frame sequence. Works rivaling the British short in length did not appear until 1905, when Edwin Porter made How Jones Lost His Roll, and The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog. Both of these films had intertitles which were formed by the letters moving into place from a random scattering to form the words of the titles. This was done by exposing the film one frame at a time, and moving the letters a little bit towards their final position between each exposure. This is what has come to be called “single frame animation” or “object animation”, and it needs a slightly adapted camera that exposes only one frame for each turn of the crank handle, rather than the usual eight frames per turn.
In 1906, Albert Edward Smith and James Stuart Blackton at Vitagraph took the next step, and in their Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, what appear to be cartoon drawings of people move from one pose to another. This is done for most of the length of this film by moving jointed cut-outs of the figures frame by frame between the exposures, just as Porter moved his letters. However, there is a very short section of the film where things are made to appear to move by altering the drawings themselves from frame to frame, which is how standard animated cartoons have since been made up to today.
Narrative film construction
The way forward to making films made up of more than one shot was led by films of the life of Jesus Christ. The first of these was made in France in 1897, and it was followed in the same year by a film of the Passion play staged yearly in the Czech town of Horitz. This was filmed by Americans for exhibition outside the German-speaking world and was presented in special venues, not as a continuous film, but with the separate scenes interspersed with lantern slides, a lecture, and live choral numbers, to increase the running time of the spectacle to about 90 minutes.
Films of acted reproductions of scenes from the Greco-Turkish war were made by Georges Méliès in 1897, and although sold separately, these were no doubt shown in continuous sequence by exhibitors. In 1898 a few films of similar kind were made, but still none had continuous action moving from one shot into the next. The multi-shot films that Georges Méliès made in 1899 were much longer than those made by anybody else, but l’Affaire Dreyfus (The Dreyfus Case) and Cendrillon (Cinderella) still contained no action moving from one shot to the next one. Also, from Cendrillon onwards, Méliès made a dissolve between every shot in his films, which reduced any appearance of action continuity even further. To understand what is going on in both these films, the audience had to know their stories beforehand, or be told them by a presenter.
Real film continuity, which means showing action moving from one shot into another joined to it, can be dated to Robert W. Paul's Come Along, Do!, made in 1898. In the first shot of this film, an old couple outside an art exhibition follow other people inside through the door. The second shot showed what they do inside.
The further development of action continuity in multi-shot films continued in 1899. In the latter part of that year, George Albert Smith, working in Brighton, made The Kiss in the Tunnel. This started with a shot from a “phantom ride” at the point at which the train goes into a tunnel, and continued with the action on a set representing the interior of a railway carriage, where a man steals a kiss from a woman, and then cuts back to the phantom ride shot when the train comes out of the tunnel. A month later, the Bamforth company in Yorkshire made a restaged version of this film under the same title, and in this case they filmed shots of a train entering and leaving a tunnel from beside the tracks, which they joined before and after their version of the kiss inside the train compartment.
In 1900, continuity of action across successive shots was definitively established by George Albert Smith and James Williamson, who also worked in Brighton. In that year Smith made Seen Through the Telescope, in which the main shot shows street scene with a young man tying the shoelace and then caressing the foot of his girlfriend, while an old man observes this through a telescope. There is then a cut to close shot of the hands on the girl's foot shown inside a black circular mask, and then a cut back to the continuation of the original scene.
Even more remarkable is James Williamson's Attack on a China Mission Station, made around the same time in 1900. The first shot shows the gate to the mission station from the outside being attacked and broken open by Chinese Boxer rebels, then there is a cut to the garden of the mission station where the missionary and his family are seated. The Boxers rush in and after exchanging fire with the missionary, kill him, and pursue his family into the house. His wife appears on the balcony waving for help, which immediately comes with an armed party of British sailors appearing through the gate to the mission station, this time seen from the inside. They fire at the Boxers, and advance out of the frame into the next shot, which is taken from the opposite direction looking towards the house. This constitutes the first “reverse angle” cut in film history. The scene continues with the sailors rescuing the remaining members of the missionary's family.
G.A. Smith further developed the ideas of breaking a scene shot in one place into a series of shots taken from different camera positions over the next couple of years, starting with The Little Doctors of 1901. In this film a little girl is administering pretend medicine to a kitten, and Smith cuts in to a big Close Up of the kitten as she does so, and then cuts back to the main shot. In this case the inserted close up is not shown as a Point of View shot in a circular mask. He summed up his work in Mary Jane's Mishap of 1903, with repeated cuts in to a close shot of a housemaid fooling around, along with superimpositions and other devices, before abandoning film-making to invent the Kinemacolor system of colour cinematography.
James Williamson concentrated on making films taking action from one place shown in one shot to the next shown in another shot in films like Stop Thief! and Fire!, made in 1901, and many others.
Film continuity developed
Other film-makers then took up all these ideas, which is the basis of film construction, or “film language”, or “film grammar”, as we know it. The best known of these film-makers was Edwin S. Porter, who started making films for the Edison Company in 1901. When he began making longer films in 1902, he put a dissolve between every shot, just as Georges Méliès was already doing, and he frequently had the same action repeated across the dissolves. In other words, Edwin Porter did not develop the basics of film construction. The Pathé company in France also made imitations and variations of Smith and Williamson's films from 1902 onwards using cuts between the shots, which helped to standardize the basics of film construction.
In 1903 there was a substantial increase in the number of women film several minutes long, as a result of the great popularity of Georges Méliès’ le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), which came out in early 1902, though such films were still a very minor part of production. Most of them were what came to be called “chase films”. These were inspired by James Williamson's Stop Thief! of 1901, which showed a tramp stealing a leg of mutton from a butcher's boy in the first shot, then being chased through the second shot by the butcher's boy and assorted dogs, and finally being caught by the dogs in the third shot.
Several British films made in the first half of 1903 extended the chase method of film construction. These included An Elopement à la Mode and The Pickpocket: A Chase Through London, made by Alf Collins for the British branch of the French Gaumont company, Daring Daylight Burglary, made by Frank Mottershaw at the Sheffield Photographic Company, and Desperate Poaching Affray, made by the Haggar family, whose main business was exhibiting films made by others in their traveling tent theatre. All of these films, and indeed others of like nature were shown in the United States, and some them were certainly seen by Edwin Porter, before he made The Great Train Robbery towards the end of the year. The time continuity in The Great Train Robbery is actually more confusing than that in the films it was modeled on, but nevertheless it was a greater success than them worldwide, because of its Wild West violence.
From 1900, the Pathé company films also frequently copied and varied the ideas of the British film-makers, without making any major innovations in narrative film construction, but eventually the sheer volume of their production led to their film-makers giving a further precision and polish to the details of film continuity.
Film history from 1906 to 1914
The film business
In 1907 there were about 4,000 small “nickelodeon” cinemas in the United States. The films were shown with the accompaniment of music provided by a pianist, though there could be more musicians. There were also a very few larger cinemas in some of the biggest cities. Initially, the majority of films in the programmes were Pathé films, but this changed fairly quickly as the American companies cranked up production. The programme was made up of just a few films, and the show lasted around 30 minutes. The reel of film, of maximum length 1,000 feet (300 m), which usually contained one individual film, became the standard unit of film production and exhibition in this period. The programme was changed twice or more a week, but went up to five changes of programme a week after a couple of years. In general, cinemas were set up in the established entertainment districts of the cities. In other countries of the Western world the film exhibition situation was similar. With the change to “nickelodeon” exhibition there was also a change, led by Pathé in 1907, from selling films outright to renting them through film exchanges.
The litigation over patents between all the major American film-making companies had continued, and at the end of 1908 they decided to pool their patents and form a trust to use them to control the American film business. The companies concerned were Pathé, Edison, Biograph, Vitagraph, Lubin, Selig, Essanay, Kalem, and the Kleine Optical Company, a major importer of European films. The George Eastman company, the only manufacturer of film stock in the United States, was also part of the combine, which was called the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC), and Eastman Kodak agreed to only supply the members with film stock. License fees for distributing and projecting films were extracted from all distributors and exhibitors. The producing companies that were part of the trust were allocated production quotas (two reels, i.e. films, a week for the biggest ones, one reel a week for the smaller), which were supposed to be enough to fill the programmes of the licensed exhibitors. Vitagraph and Edison already had multiple production units, and so had no difficulty meeting their quota, but in 1908 Biograph lost their one working director. They offered the job of making their films to D. W. Griffith, an unimportant actor and playwright, who took up the job, and found he had a gift for it. Alone he made all the Biograph films from 1908 to 1910. This amounted to 30 minutes of screen time a week.
But the market was bigger than the Motion Picture Patents Company members could supply. Although 6,000 exhibitors signed with the MPPC, about 2,000 others did not. A minority of the exchanges (i.e. distributors) stayed outside the MPPC, and in 1909 these independent exchanges immediately began to fund new film producing companies. By 1911 there were enough independent and foreign films available to programme all the shows of the independent exhibitors, and in 1912 the independents had nearly half of the market. The MPPC had effectively been defeated in its plan to control the whole United States market, and the government anti-trust action, which only now started against the MPPC, was not really necessary to defeat it.
It was around 1910 that the actors in American films, who up to this point had been anonymous, began to receive screen credit, and the way to the creation of film stars was opened. The appearance of films longer than one reel also helped this process. Such films were extremely rare, and almost entirely restricted to film versions of the life of Christ, which had reached three reels in length in the first few years of cinema. They were always shown as a special event in special venues, and supported by live commentary and music. A unique addition to this style of presentation was The Story of the Kelly Gang, made in Australia in 1906. This was a four-reel version of the career of this famous (in Australia) outlaw, and was incomprehensible without explanation. More multi-reel films were made in Europe than in the United States after 1906, because the MPPC insisted on working on the basis of one-reel films up until 1912. However, before this, some MPPC members got around this restriction by occasionally making longer stories in separate parts, and releasing them in successive weeks, starting with Vitagraph's The Life of Moses in five parts (and five reels) at the end 1909. In other countries this film was shown straight through as one picture, and it inspired the creation of other multi-reel films in Europe.
Pathé-Frères set up a new subsidiary company in the United States called Eclectic in 1913, and in 1914 this began production of features at the Pathé plant in New Jersey. The French Éclair company was already making films in the United States, and their production of features increased with the transfer of more film-makers when the French industry was shut down at the beginning of World War I.
Up to 1913, most American film production was still carried out around New York, but because of the monopoly of Thomas Edison's film patents, many filmmakers had moved to Southern California, hoping to escape the litany of lawsuits that the Edison Company had been bringing to protect its monopoly. Once there in Southern California, the film industry grew continuously.
The move to filming in California had begun when Selig, one of the MPPC companies, sent a production unit there in 1909. Other companies, both independents and members of the MPPC, then sent units to work there in the summer to take advantage of the sunshine and scenery. The latter was important for the production of Westerns, which now formed a major American film genre. The first cowboy star was G.M. Anderson (“Broncho Billy”), directing his own Western dramas for Essanay, but in 1911 Tom Mix brought the kind of costumes and stunt action used in live Wild West shows to Selig film productions, and became the biggest cowboy star for the next two decades.
Most of the major companies made films in all the genres, but some had a special interest in certain kinds of films. Once Selig had taken up production in California, they used the (fairly) wild animals from the zoo that Colonel Selig had set up there in a series of exotic adventures, with the actors being menaced or saved by the animals. Essanay specialized in Westerns featuring “Broncho Billy” Anderson, and Kalem sent Sidney Olcott off with a film crew and a troupe of actors to various places in America and abroad to make film stories in the actual places they were supposed to have happened. Kalem also pioneered the female action heroine from 1912, with Ruth Roland playing starring roles in their Westerns.
Minor curiosities were some of the films of Solax directed by Herbert Blaché and his wife Alice Guy. They left American branch of the Gaumont company in 1912 to set up their own independent company. The distinguishing feature of some of their films was a deliberate attempt to use resolutely theatrical-type light comedy playing that was directed towards the audience. This went against the trend towards filmic restraint already visible in what were called “polite” comedies from other film companies.
In France, Pathé retained its dominant position, followed still by Gaumont, and then other new companies that appeared to cater to the film boom. A film company with a different approach was Film d’Art. This was set up at the beginning of 1908 to make films of a serious artistic nature. Their declared programme was to make films using only the best dramatists, artists and actors. The first of these was L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise (The Assassination of the Duc de Guise), a historical subject set in the court of Henri III. This film used leading actors from the Comédie Francaise, and had a special accompanying score written by Camille Saint-Saens. The other French majors followed suit, and this wave gave rise to the English-language description of films with artistic pretensions aimed at a sophisticated audience as “art films”. By 1910, the French film companies were starting to make films as long as two, or even three reels, though most were still one reel long. This trend was followed in Italy, Denmark, and Sweden.
Although the British industry continued to expand after its brilliant beginning, the new companies that replaced the first innovative film-makers proved unable to preserve their drive and originality.
New film producing countries
With the worldwide film boom, yet more countries now joined Britain, France, and the United States in serious film production. In Italy, production was spread over several centres, with Turin being the first and biggest. There, Ambrosio was the first company in the field in 1905, and remained the largest in the country through this period. Its most substantial rival was Cines in Rome, which started producing in 1906. The great strength of the Italian industry was historical epics, with large casts and massive scenery. As early as 1911, Giovanni Pastrone's two-reel la Caduta di Troia (The Fall of Troy) made a big impression worldwide, and it was followed by even bigger spectacles like Quo Vadis? (1912), which ran for 90 minutes, and Pastrone's Cabiria of 1914, which ran for two and a half hours.
Italian companies also had a strong line in slapstick comedy, with actors like André Deed, known locally as “Cretinetti”, and elsewhere as “Foolshead” and “Gribouille”, achieving worldwide fame with his almost surrealistic gags.
The most important film-producing country in Northern Europe up until the First World War was Denmark. The Nordisk company was set up there in 1906 by Ole Olsen, a fairground showman, and after a brief period imitating the successes of French and British film-makers, in 1907 he produced 67 films, most directed by Viggo Larsen, with sensational subjects like Den hvide Slavinde (The White Slave), Isbjørnenjagt (Polar Bear Hunt) and Løvejagten (The Lion Hunt). By 1910 new smaller Danish companies began joining the business, and besides making more films about the white slave trade, they contributed other new subjects. The most important of these finds was Asta Nielsen in Afgrunden (The Abyss), directed by Urban Gad for Kosmorama, This combined the circus, sex, jealousy and murder, all put over with great conviction, and pushed the other Danish film-makers further in this direction. By 1912 the Danish film companies were multiplying rapidly.
The Swedish film industry was smaller and slower to get started than the Danish industry. Here, the important man was Charles Magnusson, a newsreel cameraman for the Svenskabiografteatern cinema chain. He started fiction film production for them in 1909, directing a number of the films himself. Production increased in 1912, when the company engaged Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller as directors. They started out by imitating the subjects favoured by the Danish film industry, but by 1913 they were producing their own strikingly original work, which sold very well.
Russia began its film industry in 1908 with Pathé shooting some fiction subjects there, and then the creation of real Russian film companies by Aleksandr Drankov and Aleksandr Khanzhonkov. The Khanzhonkov company quickly became much the largest Russian film company, and remained so until 1918.
In Germany, Oskar Messter had been involved in film-making from 1896, but did not make a significant number of films per year till 1910. When the worldwide film boom started, he, and the few other people in the German film business, continued to sell prints of their own films outright, which put them at a disadvantage. It was only when Paul Davidson, the owner of a chain of cinemas, brought Asta Nielsen and Urban Gad to Germany from Denmark in 1911, and set up a production company, Projektions-AG “Union” (PAGU), for them, that a change-over to renting prints began. Messter replied with a series of longer films starring Henny Porten, but although these did well in the German-speaking world, they were not particularly successful internationally, unlike the Asta Nielsen films. Another of the growing German film producers just before World War I was the German branch of the French Éclair company, Deutsche Éclair. This was expropriated by the German government, and turned into DECLA when the war started. But altogether, German producers only had a minor part of the German market in 1914.
Overall, from about 1910, American films had the largest share of the market in all European countries except France, and even in France, the American films had just pushed the local production out of first place on the eve of World War I. So even if the war had not happened, American films may have become dominant worldwide. Although the war made things much worse for European producers, the technical qualities of American films made them increasingly attractive to audiences everywhere.
With the increased production required by the nickelodeon boom, extra artificial lighting was used more and more in the film studios to supplement diffuse sunlight, and so increase the hours that film could be shot during the day. The main sources used were modified arc lights made for street lighting. These were either hung on battens suspended forward of the actors from the roof, or mounted in groups on floorstands. The addition of a metal reflector round the arc source directed a very broad sweep of light in the desired direction. Large mercury vapour tube lights (Cooper-Hewitts) were also used in racks placed in the same way. Arc lights had been used to produce special lighting effects in films like the light from a lamp or firelight before 1906, but this now became more common.
A strong expressive use of a fire effect occurs in D.W. Griffith'sThe Drunkard's Reformation (1909). Here, the reformed drunkard is happily reunited with his family before the fire in the hearth, in a set-up reproducing that at the beginning of the film in which the fire is out, and the hearth is cold, and the family is destitute.
Low-key lighting (i.e. lighting in which most of the frame is dark) slowly began to be used for sinister scenes, but not in D.W. Griffith films. Vitagraph's thriller, The Mystery of Temple Court (1910) has low-key lighting for a scene of murder, and their Conscience (1912) shows low-key lighting done solely with artificial light for a scene of terror.
This sort of lighting was appearing occasionally in European films by 1911, and in some cases was pushed much further. Lighting from a low angle was used more strongly in the Italian epic film Quo Vadis? in 1912, and then in the famous Cabiria (1914) to reinforce the weird atmosphere in one scene.
Silhouette effects in location scenes began to appear in 1909 in both the United States and Italy; though as things developed, European film-makers made more use of this than the Americans did.
The most important aspect of this was that such shots involved having the sun light the scene from behind, and this approach was extended by using the reflected sunlight from a white surface below the camera to light up the shadow on the actors faces from the front. This is the one novel technique that D.W. Griffith and his cameraman Billy Bitzer may really have invented. The next step was to transfer this kind of back-lighting onto the lighting of actors on studio sets. Up to this point artificial lighting in studio scenes had always been put on from the front or side-front, but in 1912 there began to be a few cases where light was put onto the actors from arc floodlights out of shot behind them and to one side, to give a kind of backlighting. It was not until 1915 that the effect of backlighting of the actors by the sun was fully mimicked in studio lighting, by using a powerful arc spotlight shining from above and behind the set down onto the actors. This slowly became a standard component of the studio lighting of figures in American films, but it took much longer to catch on with European cameramen.
The technique of single frame animation was further developed in 1907 by Edwin S. Porter in The Teddy Bears and by J. Stuart Blackton with Work Made Easy. In the first of these the toy bears were made to move, apparently on their own, and in the latter film building tools were made to perform construction tasks without human intervention, by using frame-by-frame animation. The technique got to Europe almost immediately, and Segundo de Chomon and others at Pathé took it further, adding clay animation, in which sculptures were deformed from one thing into another thing frame by frame in Sculpture moderne (1908), and then Pathé made the next step to the animation of silhouette shapes. Also in France, Emile Cohl fully developed drawn animation in a series of films starting with Fantasmagorie (1908), in which humans and objects drawn as outline figures went though a series of remarkable interactions and transformations. In the United States the response was from the famous strip cartoon artist Winsor McCay, who drew much more realistic animated figures going through smoother, more naturalistic motion in a series of films starting with the film Little Nemo, made for Vitagraph in 1911. In the next few years various others took part in this development of animated cartoons in the United States and elsewhere.
Cross-cutting between parallel actions
As the film boom got under way, the Pathéa film-makers continued to refine the continuity of action from shot to shot in their films. In films like Pathéa's le Cheval emballé (The Runaway Horse) (1907), there appeared a new feature, which can be called cross-cutting between parallel actions. In this film, a delivery man is going about his lady's house inside an apartment house while his horse steals a big meal from a bag of oats outside a feed store. The film cuts back and forwards between the two chains of action four times before the delivery man comes out, and the horse runs away with him. More importantly, early next year the Pathé production unit down in the south of France in Nice made le Médecin du chateau (The Physician of the Castle), in which there are cuts back and forth between criminals threatening a doctor's wife and child, while the doctor himself drives home to rescue them after being warned by telephone. This film also contains a cut in to a closer shot of the doctor as he hears the dreadful news on the telephone, which uses the new idea of getting in closer to the actor to accentuate the emotion.
In the United States, Vitagraph was also trying cross-cutting for suspense in 1907 and 1908 with The Mill Girl and Get Me a Stepladder. Before D.W. Griffith started directing at Biograph in May 1908, he had seen the two Pathé films just mentioned, and a number of Vitagraph films as well. But Griffith's first use of cross-cutting in The Fatal Hour, made in July 1908, has a much stronger suspense story served by this construction than those in the earlier Pathé examples. From this point onwards Griffith certainly developed the device much further, gradually increasing the number of alternations between two, and later three, sets of parallel scenes, and also their speed. This intensified usage was only slowly taken up by other American film-makers. So although he did not invent the technique of cross-cutting, he did consciously develop it into a powerful method of film construction. It is also important to note that Griffith described cross-cutting indiscriminately as the ‘switch-back’ or ‘cut-back’ or ‘flash-back’ technique, and that by the last of these terms he did not mean what we now understand by a ‘flash-back’. The true ‘flash-back’ was also developed in this period, but not at all by D.W. Griffith.
Although D. W. Griffith did not invent any new film techniques, he was the best film director working up to 1913, and this was because he made better dramatic and artistic use of the medium than other directors. One aspect of this was the structure he gave his films, with the final scene mirroring the opening scene, as in the example of A Drunkard's Reformation already mentioned above. Many other examples of this like The Country Doctor (1908) can easily be found in his work. But the most important thing Griffith did was work out significant and expressive natural gestures in intensive rehearsal periods with his actors, before the film was shot, such as the enraged and jealous husband in The Voice of the Child (1911) walking around his office chomping on a cigar and puffing clouds of smoke out of it through clenched teeth. Griffith's increased use of cross-cutting between parallel actions helped him to get more shots into his films than other directors, but he also had another method for doing this. This was to split a scene that could have been played in room (or other place), into two or more sections that moved backwards and forwards between adjoining rooms or spaces. The result of this was that D.W. Griffith's films had at least twice as many shots in them as did those of other American directors. Over this period, the other directors speeded up, but so did Griffith. At first, the technique of cutting in to a closer shot of an actor in a scene made no contribution to the increase in cutting rate, because it was still very rarely done, despite having been established as a possibility in the previous period. The exception to this was a close shot of an object, which was sometimes used to make clear exactly what a person was doing. It was only towards 1913 that film-makers began to cut into closer shots with any regularity.
However, American film-makers did get closer to the actors on the average by shooting the whole scene with the camera closer than previously. The Vitagraph company led the way here, by using what they called “the nine-foot line” from 1910 onwards. This meant that the actors played a scene up to a line marked on the ground nine feet from the camera lens, which meant that they were shown cut off at the waist in the image. Some, but not all, American film-makers followed their example, calling it the “American foreground”, while European film-makers stayed with the “French foreground” established by the Pathé about 1907, which only cut the actors off at the shins. This corresponded to the actors playing up to a line put down 4 metres in front of the camera lens.
Point of view shots
An even more important development was the use of the Point of View shot. Previously, these had only been used to convey the idea of what someone in the film was seeing through a telescope (or other aperture), and this was indicated by having a black circular mask or vignette within the film frame. The true Point of View (POV) shot, in which a shot of someone looking at something is followed by a cut to a shot taken from their position without any mask, took longer to appear. In 1910, in Vitagraph's Back to Nature we see a Long Shot of people looking down over the rail of a ship taken from below, followed by a shot of the lifeboat they are looking at taken from their position.
However, the Vitagraph film-makers continued to be a little uneasy with the device, as a true POV shot is introduced by an explanatory intertitle, “What they saw in the house across the court” in Larry Trimble's Jean and the Waif, made at the end of 1910. But a few months later, Trimble made Jean Rescues, another of the popular series starring the fictional exploits of his Border Collie, which has Point of View [POV] shots introduced at an appropriate point without explanation. After this, un-vignetted POV shots began to appear fairly frequently in Vitagraph films, and also occasionally in films from other American companies. However, D.W. Griffith only used them in a theatrical situation, to show what the audience in a theatre were looking at, as did European film-makers.
Another important development was in the use of reverse angle shots; that is, continuing a scene with a cut to a shot of the action taken from the opposite direction. There were isolated examples of this very early, and the first of these, Williamson's Attack on a China Mission (1900) has already been mentioned. But in 1908, starting with l’Assassinat du duc de Guise (The Assassination of the Duc de Guise), there began to be other films in which a scene was shown from another direction by cutting to the opposite side. This effect was imitated occasionally in Europe and the United States over the next couple of years, and came to be called a “reverse scene”.
The next step, in which two actors facing each other are shown in successive close shots from taken opposite directions towards each of them, is first to be seen at the end of 1911 in The Loafer, made by Arthur Mackley for Essanay. This is what is called reverse-angle cutting, and it is used constantly in present day film-making. However, it took some years to catch on with other American film-makers, but by 1913, it was starting to occur with greater frequency in the work of a few directors. This happened entirely when they were filming exterior scenes, where there was no problem about shooting past the edge of the studio set. A leading example of this use of close in reverse-angle cutting is His Last Fight (1913), directed by Ralph Ince for Vitagraph, in which one-third of the cuts are between a shot and the reverse angle. However, this sort of thing never happened in D.W. Griffith's films, or in European films.
Symbolism and insert shots
In this period the word “Art” was mentioned more and more in connection with motion pictures, and as a result of the increasing artistic ambitions of film-makers, poems began to be transposed directly into films. D.W. Griffith went further than this, by creating the visual equivalent of the poetic or musical refrain in The Way of the World (1910), by cutting in shots of church bells at intervals down the length of the film. However, this was an exceptional case, and it is not until 1912 that there were the first signs of the special expressive use of Insert Shots; that is, shots of objects rather than people. In the Italian Ambrosio companies film La mala planta (The Evil Plant), directed by Mario Caserini, which involves a case of poisoning, there is an Insert shot of a snake slithering over the ‘Evil Plant’. Another of the still very rare examples at this date is in Griffith's The Massacre, which was made at the end of 1912. This includes an Insert Shot of a candle at a sick man's bedside guttering out to indicate his death. Yet another is in the Ambrosio company version of Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei (The Last Days of Pompeii) (1913). This film includes a scene, preceded by the title “The thorns of jealousy”, in which a rejected woman overhears the man she loves with another woman, and this is followed by a fade to a shot of a pair of doves, which then dissolves into a shot of a bird of prey.
It was in 1914 that D.W. Griffith began to bend the use of the Insert towards truly dramatically expressive ends, but he had not done this often, and it is really only with his The Avenging Conscience of 1914 that a new phase in the use of the Insert Shot starts. In this film the intertitle “The birth of the evil thought” precedes a series of three shots of the protagonist looking at a spider, and ants eating an insect, though at a later point in the film, when he prepares to kill someone, these shots are cut straight in without explanation. As well as the symbolic inserts already mentioned, The Avenging Conscience also made extensive use of large numbers of Big Close Up shots of clutching hands and tapping feet as a means of emphasizing those parts of the body as indicators of psychological tension. Griffith never went so far in this direction again, but his use of the Insert shot made its real impression on other American film-makers during the years 1915-1919.
The vast increase in film production after 1906 inevitably brought specialist writers into film-making as part of the increasing sub-division of labour, but even so the film companies still had to buy stories from outsiders to get enough material for their productions. This introduced a greater variety into the types of story used in films. The use of more complex stories derived from literary and stage works of the recent past also contributed to developments in script film construction. The general American tendency was to simplify the plots borrowed from novels and plays so that they could be dealt with in one reel and with the minimum of titling and the maximum of straightforward narrative continuity, but there were exceptions to this. In these cases the information that was difficult to film and lacking in strong dramatic interest was put into narrative titles before each scene, and this was also mostly the custom in European films of the more seriously intended kind. Motion pictures were classified into genres by the film industry following the divisions already established in other media, particularly the stage. The main division was into comedy and drama, but these categories were further subdivided. Comedy could be either slapstick (usually referred to as “burlesque farce”), or alternatively “polite comedy”, which later came to be referred to as “domestic comedy” or “sophisticated comedy”. D.W. Griffith made a small number of the latter type of film in his first two years at Biograph, but had little interest or aptitude for the genre. From 1910 he let Frank Powell, and then Mack Sennett direct the Biograph comedies. Sennett left in 1912 to set up the Keystone company, where he could give his enthusiasm for the slapstick comedy style derived from the earlier Pathé comedies like le Cheval emballé (The Runaway Horse) full rein. In Europe the more restrained type of comedy was developed in substantial quantities in France, with the films of Max Linder for Pathé representing the summit of the genre from 1910 onwards. Linder's comedy was set in an upper middle-class milieu, and relied on clever and inventive ways of getting around the embarrassments and obstacles arising in his single-minded pursuit of a goal. Quite often a goal of a sexual nature.
D.W. Griffith had a major influence on the simplification of film stories. After he had been at Biograph for a year, Griffith started to make some films that had much less story content than any previous one-reel films. In The Country Doctor, the action is no more than various people, including the doctor, hurrying backwards and forwards between the doctor's house, where his child is sick, and a neighbouring cottage, where another child is also sick. By 1912 and 1913, there are beginning to be many films from many American companies that rely on applying novel decoration to the story, rather than supplying any twists to the drama itself to sustain interest.
Intertitles containing lines of dialogue began to be used consistently from 1908 onwards. In that year, Vitagraph's An Auto Heroine; or, The Race for the Vitagraph Cup and How It Was Won, contains a couple of dialogue titles, and the same firm's Julius Caesar includes three lines of dialogue from Shakespeare's play quoted in intertitles before the actors speak them, finishing with “This was the noblest Roman of them all”. From 1909 a small number of American films, and even one or two European ones, came to include a few dialogue titles, or “spoken titles” as they were called at the time. Film-makers slowly progressed from putting these dialogue titles before the scene in which they were spoken, to cutting them into the middle of the shot at the point at which they were understood to be actually spoken by the characters. This transition began in 1912. Once underway, the trend was aided by the move towards the increasing use of cuts within scenes in American films. In 1913 a substantial proportion of the dialogue titles that were used in American films were cut in at the point when they were spoken. Hardly any of the films where this happened were D.W. Griffith films, and indeed many of his 1913 films still contain no dialogue titles at all. Although some European film-makers picked up the trend towards using dialogue titles, they did not pick up on the move towards cutting them into the scene at the point at which they were actually spoken until a few years later. The introduction of dialogue titles was far from being a trivial matter, for they entirely transformed the nature of film narrative. When dialogue titles came to be always cut into a scene just after a character starts speaking, and then left with a cut to the character just before they finish speaking, then one had something that was effectively the equivalent of a present-day sound film.
Film history from 1914 to 1919
The film business from 1914 to 1919
The years of the First World War were a complex transitional period for the film industry. It was the period when the exhibition of films changed from short programmes of one-reel films to longer shows consisting of a feature film of four reels or longer, though still supported by short films. The exhibition venues also changed from small nickelodeon cinemas to larger cinemas charging higher prices. These higher prices were partly justified by the new film stars who were now being created. In the United States, nearly all the original film companies which formed the Motion Picture Patents Company went out of business in this period because of their resistance to the changeover to long feature films. The one exception to this was the Vitagraph company, which was already moving over to long films by 1914. The move towards shooting more films on the West coast around Los Angeles continued during World War I, until the bulk of American production was carried out there.
The Universal Film Manufacturing Company had been formed in 1912 as an umbrella company for many of the independent producing companies, and continued to grow during the war. Other independent companies were grouped under the Mutual banner in 1912, and there were also important new entrants, particularly the Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company, and Famous Players, which were both formed in 1913 to take advantage of the fact that films could reproduce the real substance of a stage play (plus embellishments), and so the best plays and actors from the legitimate stage could be enticed into films. In fact, the film industry adopted the term “photoplay” for motion pictures at this time. In 1914 the Lasky company and Famous Players were amalgamated into Famous Players-Lasky, with distribution of their films handled by the new Paramount Pictures Corporation.
Another new major producing company formed during the war years was Triangle, with Mack Sennett, D.W. Griffith and Thomas Ince heading its production units. Despite the talents involved, it only lasted from 1915 to 1917, after which its separate producers took their films to Paramount for distribution. Equally short-lived, but still very important, was the World Film Company, which recruited most of the French directors, cameramen, and designers who had previously been working at the Fort Lee, New Jersey studios for Pathé and Éclair.
The biggest success of these years was D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), made for Triangle. Griffith applied all the ideas for film staging that he had worked out in his Biograph films to a bigoted white southerner's epic view of the Civil War and its aftermath. Despite protests in the northern cities of the United States organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others, it took many millions at the box office. Stung by the criticism of his film, Griffith made a new film he had just finished, The Mother and the Law, into one of the strands of an even bigger film with an even bigger theme, Intolerance (1916).
European film production
In France, film production and exhibition closed down as its personnel became part of the general military mobilization of the country at the beginning of the war. Although film production began again in 1915, it was on a reduced scale, and the biggest companies gradually retired from production, to concentrate on film distribution and exhibition. Hence the cinemas were given over to imported films, particularly American ones. New small companies entered the business, and new young directors arrived to replace those drafted or working in the United States. The most notable of these was Abel Gance.
Italian film production held up during the war, with long features already established as the main form. However, there was a disastrous move in subject matter to what were called “diva films”. These romantic dramas had the female star (the “diva”) suffering from unhappy love, and striking endless anguished Art Nouveau poses, while surrounded by male admirers and luxury. They were a commercial failure outside Italy.
In Denmark the Nordisk company increased its production so much in 1915 and 1916 that it could not sell all its films, which led to a very sharp decline in Danish production, and the end of Denmark's importance on the world film scene. The Nordisk distribution and cinema chain in Germany was effectively expropriated by the German government in 1917. The Swedish industry did not have this problem, as its production was more in balance with the market, and more importantly, the quality of its films was now superior to those from Denmark.
The German film industry was seriously weakened by the war, though with the major companies continuing as before. The distribution organization Projektions-AG “Union” (PAGU) acted as an umbrella company backing production by individual producers, and the Messter company also made many films. The most important of the new film producers at the time was Joe May, who made a series of thrillers and adventure films through the war years, but Ernst Lubitsch also came into prominence with a series of very successful comedies and dramas.
Because of the large local market for films in Russia, the industry there was not harmed by the war at first, although the isolation of the country led many Russian films to develop peculiarly distinctive features. The Khanzhonkov company retained its dominance, but the Ermoliev company, which had been formed in 1914, became its principal competitor, propelled by the work of its star, Ivan Mosjoukin, and principal director, Yakov Protazanov. The Bolshevik revolution in October 1917 did not eliminate the privately owned film companies at first, though production was reduced through 1918. It was only in 1919 that the exodus of talent from the country took place, and fiction film production was reduced to practically nothing.
The major change in film production methods in the United States during this period was the change to shooting in “dark” studios. The existing glass-roofed studios were blacked out, and the many new ones being built around Los Angeles were constructed with solid walls and ceilings. This meant that shooting could continue all day and night, without being limited by the changing sunlight. The general diffuse daylighting in the old studios was completely replaced with floodlights, and the actors were individually lit with floodlights on floorstands. The use of a spotlight from high at the back onto the actors to rimlight them became more frequent, and around 1918 some American cameramen started to use spotlights to light the actors from the front. All this meant that the figures of the actors were modelled more by the lighting, and more separated from the background by the lower light levels now used on the sets. This was a major step towards the standard studio lighting methods of the sound period. At the same time there was the beginning of a move towards using artificial light to light the actors on location, and some of the biggest studios bought electric generator trucks for this purpose. All these developments took years to reach Europe
Irising and soft focus
A very noticeable technical development was the widespread adoption of irising-in and out to begin and end scenes. This is the revelation of a film shot by its appearance inside a small circular vignette mask which gradually gets larger till it expands beyond the frame, and the whole image is in the clear. D.W. Griffith, who used it relentlessly, was responsible for the popularization of this device. By 1918 the use of the iris to begin and end sequences was starting to decrease in the United States, though in Europe it was just starting to become fashionable. At that date it is quite easy to find American films such as Stella Maris in which only fades are used. There were other variants of the simple iris as well and in these the mask opening or closing in front of the lens had shapes other than circular. One of the more frequent of these shapes was the opening slit; a vertical central split appears in the totally black frame, and widens till the whole frame is clear, revealing the scene that is about to start. Eventually the diagonally opening slit appeared as well, and then there was the diamond-shaped opening iris, as in Poor Little Peppina and Alsace (1916), rather than the usual circle. Again, all of these variant forms were very infrequently used, and when they did occur in American films it was usually in the introductory stages. By 1918 the edges of ordinary circular irises were becoming very fuzzy when they were used in American films.
Enclosing the image inside static vignettes or masks of shapes other than circular also began to appear in films during the years 1914-1919, including symbolic shapes such as a cruciform cut-out in the Mary Pickford film Stella Maris (Marshall Neilan, 1918), and Maurice Elvey in Britain put romantic scenes inside a heart-shaped mask in Nelson; The Story of England's Immortal Naval Hero (1918) and The Rocks of Valpré (1919). The most elegant variants occur in some films Ernst Lubitsch made in 1919. In Die Austernprinzessin (The Oyster Princess) a triple layer of horizontal rectangles with rounded ends enclose sets of dancing feet at the frenzied peak of a foxtrot, and in Die Puppe (The Doll) a dozen gossiping mouths are each enclosed in individual small circular vignettes arranged in a matrix.
A new idea taken over from still photography was “soft focus”. This began in 1915, with some shots being intentionally thrown out of focus for expressive effect, as in Mary Pickford's Fanchon the Cricket. The idea developed slowly through the war years, until in D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms (1918) all the Close Ups of Lillian Gish are heavily diffused by the use of layers of fine black cotton mesh placed in front of the lens. Heavy lens diffusion was also used on all the other shots carrying forward the romantic and sentimental parts of the story of this film.
It was during this period that camera effects intended to convey the subjective feelings of characters in a film really began to be established. These could now be done as Point of View (POV) shots, as in Sidney Drew's The Story of the Glove (1915), where a wobbly hand-held shot of a door and its keyhole represents the POV of a drunken man. In Poor Little Rich Girl (1917) a camera shot tilting sideways is intended to convey delirium, and by 1918 the idea had got to Russia, in Baryshnya i khuligan (The Lady and the Hooligan), where the Hooligan's infatuation with the Lady is conveyed by his Point of View of her splitting into a multiply superimposed image. The use of anamorphic (in the general sense of distorted shape) images first appears in these years with Abel Gance's la Folie du Docteur Tube (The Madness of Dr. Tube). In this film the effect of a drug administered to a group of people was suggested by shooting the scenes reflected in a distorting mirror of the fair-ground type. Later we have Till the Clouds Roll By (Victor Fleming, 1919), where anamorphosis is used to depict the nightmare effects of indigestion in a comic manner. In fact, like so many film effects that distort the representation of reality, anamorphosis was first used exclusively in comic contexts.
"Poetic Cinema" and symbolism
Symbolic effects taken over from conventional literary and artistic tradition continued to make some appearances in films during these years. In D.W. Griffith's The Avenging Conscience (1914), the title “The birth of the evil thought” precedes a series of three shots of the protagonist looking at a spider, and ants eating an insect, though at a later point in the film when he prepares to kill someone these shots are cut straight in without explanation. Possibly as a result of Griffith's influence, 1915 was a big year for symbolism, allegories, and parables in the American cinema. Films following this route invariably included female figures in light, skimpy draperies, and indeed sometimes wearing nothing at all, doing “expressive” dances or striking plastic poses in sylvan settings. Titles include Lois Weber's Hypocrites, Vitagraph's Youth, someone else's Purity, and so on. The Primrose Path starts with a large painting illustrating the concept, which dissolves into a replica of the same scene with actors posed, and then they come to life, as these would soon become popular aspects of film making. This is then amplified by closer detailed live action representations of stations on “The Primrose Path”. An interesting German example from a few years later is Robert Reinert's Opium (1919), which has some notable innovations in the use of Insert shots to help convey the sensation of the drug reveries. These are travelling landscape shots taken from a boat going down a river, and they are intentionally shot out of focus, or underexposed, or cut into the film upside down.
Symbolist art and literature from the turn of the century also had a more general effect on a small number of films made in Italy and Russia. The supine acceptance of death resulting from passion and forbidden longings was a major feature of this art, and states of delirium dwelt on at length were important as well. The first Russian examples were all made by Yevgeni Bauer for Khanzhonkov during the First World War, and include Grezy, Schastye vechnoi nochi, and Posle smerti, all from 1915. These to some extent live up to the promise of the `decadent' aesthetic suggested by their titles; Daydreams, Happiness of Eternal Night, and After Death. Schastye vechnoi nochi includes a visually very striking vision of a medusa-like monster superimposed on a night-time snow scene, and *Posle smerti*has a somewhat subtler dream vision of a dead girl, picked out by extra arc lighting, walking through a wind-blown cornfield in the dusk. In Italy, another country somewhat isolated filmically by the war, the same kind of realization of the fin-de-siecle decadent symbolist aesthetic can be found, mostly in films associated with the “diva” phenomenon. The most complete example, which also has decor to match, is Charles Kraus' Il gatto nero (The Black Cat). This last is one of the few films of this kind to use atmospheric insert shots to heighten the mood. The first film explicitly intended by its maker to be a visual analogue of poetry, Marcel L'Herbier'sRose-France (1919), continues further along these same paths.
The use of Insert Shots, i.e. Close Ups of objects other than faces, was established very early, but apart from the special case of Inserts of a letter that was being read by one of the characters, they were infrequently used before 1914. It is really only with his *The Avenging Conscience*of 1914 that a new phase in the use of the Insert Shot starts. As well as the symbolic inserts already mentioned, The Avenging Conscience also made extensive use of large numbers of Big Close Up shots of clutching hands and tapping feet as a means of emphasizing those parts of the body as indicators of psychological tension. Griffith never went so far in this direction again, but his use of the Insert made its real impression on other American film-makers during the years 1914-1919. Cecil B. DeMille was a leading figure in the increased use of the Insert, and by 1918 he had reached the point of including about 9 Inserts in every 100 shots in The Whispering Chorus. He also pushed the insert into areas of visual sensuality inaccessible to D.W. Griffith, with such images as a Close Up of a silver-plated revolver nestling in a pile of silken sexy ribbons in a drawer in Old Wives for New (1918).
The atmospheric insert
Like many other devices that were more fully developed in Europe during the next decade, what could be called the “atmospheric Insert Shot” made its first appearance in American films during the years before 1919. This kind of shot is one in a scene which neither contains any of the characters in the story, nor is a Point of View shot seen by one of them. An early example is in Maurice Tourneur's The Pride of the Clan (1917), in which there is a series of shots of waves beating on a rocky shore which are shown when the locale of the story, which is about the harsh lives of fisher folk, is being introduced. Simpler and cruder examples from the same year occurs in William S. Hart'sThe Narrow Trail, in which a single shot of the mouth of San Francisco Bay taken against the light (the Golden Gate) is preceded by a narrative title explaining its symbolic function in the story. This film also contains a shot of wild hills and valleys cut in as one character comments that the country far from the city is so clean and pure. By 1918 we can find a shot of the sky being used to reflect the mood of one of the characters without specific explanation in The Gun Woman (Frank Borzage), but it must be emphasized that these examples are very rare, and did not either then, or within the next several years, constitute regular practice in the American cinema. The Tourneur example just mentioned also could stand as part of the beginning of the “montage sequence”. Maurice Elvey's Nelson - England's Immortal Naval Hero (1919) has a symbolic sequence dissolving from a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm II to a peacock, and then to a battleship. The atmospheric Insert began its notable career in European art cinema in Marcel L'Herbier'sRose-France. Here amongst the intentionally “poetic” uses of vignettes and filters and literary intertitles, a shot of the empty path once trod by the lovers is used to evoke the past.
The years 1914-1919 in America also saw the consolidation of the forms of what was to become the dominant mode of commercial cinema: “continuity cinema”, or “classical cinema”. During this period there were other styles that were still important, and these can be considered to lie along a spectrum between the best examples of “continuity cinema” at one extreme, and at the other extreme the “DIS-continuity cinema” of D.W. Griffith. There are a number of factors involved in the strong and apparent visual discontinuities between successive shots in Griffith's films, and the use of cross-cutting between parallel actions is only the most obvious of these. In 1915, cuts within the duration of a scene were still relatively infrequent in his films, and when they do occur they were frequently from Long Shot or Medium Long Shot (which were the shots he most used) to a Big Close Up of an insert detail, which only occupied a small part of the frame in the previous shot. This in itself introduces a fairly strong visual discontinuity across the cut, but as well as that, the cut-in shot might often have a circular vignette mask if it were a Close Up of a person, so reinforcing the effect. And sometimes the now-standard Griffith iris-out and iris-in might also be left on the inserted shot, even though it had action continuity with the shots on either side of it. As well as all this there was Griffith's habit of moving the action into another shot in an adjoining space, and then back again if it was at all possible, which produced a marked change in background, which also made its small contribution to the discontinuity between shots.
One of the advanced continuity techniques involves the exact way the movement of actors from a shot in one location to another in a neighbouring location is handled. At best this kind of transition had previously been dealt with by having the directions of travel of the actor in the two shots correspond on the screen, but in a film such as The Bank Burglar's Fate (Jack Adolfi, 1914), one can see shot transitions in which a cut is made from an actor just leaving the frame, to a shot of him well inside the frame in an adjoining location, which have the positions and directions so well chosen that to the casual eye his movement appears quite continuous, and the real space and time ellipsis between the shots is concealed. Other good examples of this technique for eliminating several yards of waste space and a few seconds of waste time can be seen in Ralph Ince's films, particularly The Right Girl (1915), and by 1919 it was widely diffused in American films, but not in those made in Europe. All this connects with the rise of the use of cutting to different angles within a scene during the years 1914-1919, and in particular to the development of reverse-angle cutting.
Cutting to different angles within a scene now became well-established as a technique for dissecting a scene into shots in American films. This approach had appeared a few times in earlier years, but in general cuts to or from a closer shot within a scene were still being made more or less down the lens axis as established in the Long Shot of the scene in question. The particular form of cutting to different angles within a scene in which the direction changes by more than ninety degrees is called reverse-angle cutting by film-makers. The leading figure in the full development of reverse-angle cutting was Ralph Ince. Films that he made at Vitagraph in 1915 such as The Right Girl and His Phantom Sweetheart have a large number of reverse-angle cuts in interior, as well as exterior, scenes. Other directors were also just starting to take up this style in 1915, for instance William S. Hart in Bad Buck of Santa Ynez.
As for Griffith, in Birth of a Nation there are just eight cuts to reverse-angle shots in the scene in Ford's Theatre, while elsewhere throughout the two-and-a-half hour length of this film there are only four more true reverse-angle cuts. Nevertheless, the Griffith style of film-making was still followed in its full idiosyncrasy, with extensive use of side by side spaces and a definite “front” for the camera, in most slapstick comedy. Directors of dramatic films who had worked Griffith also followed his style fairly closely, and it the standard for films made by his Fine Arts section of the Triangle company.
By 1916 there are a number of films in which there are around 15 to 20 true reverse-angle cuts per hundred shot transitions, such as The Deserter (Scott Sidney) and Going Straight. By the end of the war such films formed an appreciable but minor part of production: e.g. The Gun Woman (F. Borzage, 1918) and Jubilo (Clarence Badger, 1919). All this hardly concerned European cinema, where those few reverse-angle cuts used were mostly between a watcher and what he sees from his Point of View, both being filmed in a fairly distant shot. However, after the end of the war some of the brighter young directors such as Lubitsch started using a few reverse-angle cuts, mostly in association with Point of View cutting.
The use of flash-back structures continued to develop in this period, and the usual way of entering and leaving a flash-back was through a dissolve, and this was in fact the principal use at this time for this device. The Vitagraph company's The Man That Might Have Been (William Humphrey, 1914), is even more complex, with a series of reveries and flash-backs that contrast the protagonist's real passage through life with what might have been, if his son had not died. In this film dissolves are used both to enter and leave the flash-backs, and also the wish-dreams, and also for a time-lapse inside a reverie at one point. But fades are also used for these purposes in this and other films of the period, and flashback transitions are also done with irising in other films, and even straight cuts. During World War I the use of flashbacks occurred in films from all the major European film-making countries as well, from Italy (Tigre reale) to Denmark (Evangeliemandens Liv) to Russia (Grezy and Posle smerti), where it arrived in 1915.
As the years moved on a sudden decline in the use of long flash-back sequences set in around 1917, but on the other hand the use of a transition to and from a brief single shot memory scene remained quite common in American films. However, there could still be an even more complex flash-back construction in American films in the case of W.S. Van Dyke'sThe Lady of the Dugout (1918). This film has a story that happened long before which is narrated by one character in the framing scene, and initially accompanied by his narrating dialogue in intertitles, though after a while this stops, and the intertitles then convey the dialogue occurring within the flashback. Inside this main flashback there develops cross-cutting to another story, happening at the same time, and at first apparently unconnected with it, though the connection eventually appears. Next, inside this first flashback, the Lady of the title narrates another story, presented in flashback form, but with cutaways inside it back to events occurring in the time frame in which she is doing her narrating. Actually, all this is fairly easy to follow while watching the film, in part because what happens in all these strings of action is relatively simple.
Cross-cutting between parallel actions
After 1914 cross cutting between parallel actions came to be used whenever appropriate in American films, though this was not the case in European films. It should be noted that a good deal of the American use of cross-cutting was not the rapid alternation between parallel chains of action developed by D.W. Griffith, but a limited number of alternations to make it possible to leave out uninteresting bits of action with no real plot function. In Europe, some of the most enterprising directors did use cross-cutting sometimes, but they never attained the speed of the many American examples of this technique.
Cross-cutting was also used to get new effects of contrast, such as the cross-cut sequence in Cecil B. DeMille's The Whispering Chorus, in which a supposedly dead husband is having a liaison with a Chinese prostitute in an opium den, while simultaneously his unknowing wife is being remarried in church. All this was simple compared to D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), in which four parallel stories are intercut throughout the whole length of the film, though in this case the stories are more similar than contrasting in their nature. The use of cross-cutting within these parallel stories as well as between them produced a complexity that was beyond the comprehension of the average audience of the time. The influence of Intolerance produced a few other films that combined a number of similar stories having similar themes, such as Maurice Tourneur's Woman (1918), but the box-office failure of Intolerance ensured that these later films had simpler structures.
The development of film art
The general trend in the development of cinema, led from the United States, was towards using the newly developed specifically filmic devices for expression of the narrative content of film stories, and combining this with the standard dramatic structures already in use in commercial theatre. D.W. Griffith had the highest standing amongst American directors in the industry, basically because of the dramatic excitement he got into his films. But there were others who were also considered as major figures at the time. The first of these was Cecil B. DeMille, whose films, such as The Cheat (1915), brought out the moral dilemmas facing their characters in a more subtle way than Griffith. DeMille was also in closer touch with the reality of contemporary American life. Maurice Tourneur was also highly ranked for the pictorial beauties of his films, together with the subtlety of his handling of fantasy, while at the same time he was capable of getting greater naturalism from his actors at appropriate moments, as in A Girl's Folly (1917). Sidney Drew was the leader in developing “polite comedy”, while slapstick was refined by Fatty Arbuckle and Charles Chaplin, who both started with Mack Sennet's Keystone company. They reduced the usual frenetic pace of Sennett's films to give the audience a chance to appreciate the subtlety and finesse of their movement, and the cleverness of their gags. By 1917 Chaplin was also introducing more dramatic plot into his films, and mixing the comedy with sentiment.
In Russia, Yevgeni Bauer put a slow intensity of acting combined with Symbolist overtones onto film in a unique way.
In Sweden, Victor Sjöström made a series of films that combined the realities of people's lives with their surroundings in a striking manner, while Mauritz Stiller developed sophisticated comedy to a new level.
In Germany, Ernst Lubitsch got his inspiration from the stage work of Max Reinhardt, both in bourgeois comedy and in spectacle, and applied this to his films, culminating in his die Puppe (The Doll), die Austernprinzessin (The Oyster Princess) and Madame Dubarry.
Until this point, the cinemas of France and Italy had been the most globally popular and powerful. But the United States was already gaining quickly when World War I (1914–1918) caused a devastating interruption in the European film industries. The American industry, or "Hollywood", as it was becoming known after its new geographical center in California, gained the position it has held, more or less, ever since: film factory for the world, exporting its product to most countries on earth and controlling the market in many of them.
By the 1920s, the U.S. reached what is still its era of greatest-ever output, producing an average of 800 feature films annually, or 82% of the global total (Eyman, 1997). The comedies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the swashbuckling adventures of Douglas Fairbanks and the romances of Clara Bow, to cite just a few examples, made these performers’ faces well-known on every continent. The Western visual norm that would become classical continuity editing was developed and exported - although its adoption was slower in some non-Western countries without strong realist traditions in art and drama, such as Japan.
This development was contemporary with the growth of the studio system and its greatest publicity method, the star system, which characterized American film for decades to come and provided models for other film industries. The studios’ efficient, top-down control over all stages of their product enabled a new and ever-growing level of lavish production and technical sophistication. At the same time, the system's commercial regimentation and focus on glamorous escapism discouraged daring and ambition beyond a certain degree, a prime example being the brief but still legendary directing career of the iconoclastic Erich von Stroheim in the late teens and the ‘20s.
The sound era
Experimentation with sound film technology, both for recording and playback, was virtually constant throughout the silent era, but the twin problems of accurate synchronization and sufficient amplification had been difficult to overcome (Eyman, 1997). In 1926, Hollywood studio Warner Bros. introduced the "Vitaphone" system, producing short films of live entertainment acts and public figures and adding recorded sound effects and orchestral scores to some of its major features. During late 1927, Warners released The Jazz Singer, which was mostly silent but contained what is generally regarded as the first synchronized dialogue (and singing) in a feature film; but this process was actually accomplished first by Charles Taze Russell in 1914 with the lengthy film The Photo-Drama of Creation. This drama consisted of picture slides and moving pictures synchronized with phonograph records of talks and music. The early sound-on-disc processes such as Vitaphone were soon superseded by sound-on-film methods like Fox Movietone, DeForest Phonofilm, and RCA Photophone. The trend convinced the largely reluctant industrialists that "talking pictures", or "talkies", were the future. A lot of attempts were done before the success of the Jazz Singer, that can be seen in the List of film sound systems.
Industry impact of sound
The change was remarkably swift. By the end of 1929, Hollywood was almost all-talkie, with several competing sound systems (soon to be standardized). Total changeover was slightly slower in the rest of the world, principally for economic reasons. Cultural reasons were also a factor in countries like China and Japan, where silents co-existed successfully with sound well into the 1930s, indeed producing what would be some of the most revered classics in those countries, like Wu Yonggang's The Goddess (China, 1934) and Yasujiro Ozu's Was Born, But... (Japan, 1932). But even in Japan, a figure such as the benshi, the live narrator who was a major part of Japanese silent cinema, found his acting career was ending.
Sound further tightened the grip of major studios in numerous countries: the vast expense of the transition overwhelmed smaller competitors, while the novelty of sound lured vastly larger audiences for those producers that remained. In the case of the U.S., some historians credit sound with saving the Hollywood studio system in the face of the Great Depression (Parkinson, 1995). Thus began what is now often called "The Golden Age of Hollywood", which refers roughly to the period beginning with the introduction of sound until the late 1940s. The American cinema reached its peak of efficiently manufactured glamour and global appeal during this period. The top actors of the era are now thought of as the classic film stars, such as Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Greta Garbo, and the greatest box office draw of the 1930s, child performer Shirley Temple.
Creative impact of sound
Creatively, however, the rapid transition was a difficult one, and in some ways, film briefly reverted to the conditions of its earliest days. The late '20s were full of static, stagey talkies as artists in front of and behind the camera struggled with the stringent limitations of the early sound equipment and their own uncertainty as to how to utilize the new medium. Many stage performers, directors and writers were introduced to cinema as producers sought personnel experienced in dialogue-based storytelling. Many major silent filmmakers and actors were unable to adjust and found their careers severely curtailed or even ended.
This awkward period was fairly short-lived. 1929 was a watershed year: William Wellman with Chinatown Nights and The Man I Love, Rouben Mamoulian with Applause, Alfred Hitchcock with Blackmail (Britain's first sound feature), were among the directors to bring greater fluidity to talkies and experiment with the expressive use of sound (Eyman, 1997). In this, they both benefited from, and pushed further, technical advances in microphones and cameras, and capabilities for editing and post-synchronizing sound (rather than recording all sound directly at the time of filming).
Sound films emphasized on black history and benefited different genres more so than silents did. Most obviously, the musical film was born; the first classic-style Hollywood musical was The Broadway Melody (1929) and the form would find its first major creator in choreographer/director Busby Berkeley (42nd Street, 1933, Dames, 1934). In France, avant-garde director René Clair made surreal use of song and dance in comedies like Under the Roofs of Paris (1930) and Le Million (1931). Universal Pictures begin releasing gothic horror films like Dracula and Frankenstein (both 1931). In 1933, RKO released Merian C. Cooper's classic "giant monster" film King Kong. The trend thrived best in India, where the influence of the country's traditional song-and-dance drama made the musical the basic form of most sound films (Cook, 1990); virtually unnoticed by the Western world for decades, this Indian popular cinema would nevertheless become the world's most prolific. (See also Bollywood.)
At this time, American gangster films like Little Caesar and Wellman's The Public Enemy (both 1931) became popular. Dialogue now took precedence over "slapstick" in Hollywood comedies: the fast-paced, witty banter of The Front Page (1931) or It Happened One Night (1934), the sexual double entrendres of Mae West (She Done Him Wrong, 1933) or the often subversively anarchic nonsense talk of the Marx Brothers (Duck Soup, 1933). Walt Disney, who had previously been in the short cartoon business, stepped into feature films with the first English-speaking animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; released by RKO Pictures in 1937. 1939, a major year for American cinema, brought such films as The Wizard of Oz and Gone with The Wind.
The 1940s: the war and post-war years
The desire for wartime propaganda created a renaissance in the film industry in Britain, with realistic war dramas like 49th Parallel (1941), Went the Day Well? (1942), The Way Ahead (1944) and Noel Coward and David Lean's celebrated naval film In Which We Serve in 1942, which won a special Academy Award. These existed alongside more flamboyant films like Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946), as well as Laurence Olivier's 1944 film Henry V, based on the Shakespearean history Henry V. The success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs allowed Disney to make more animated features like Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942).
The onset of US involvement in World War II also brought a proliferation of films as both patriotism and propaganda. American propaganda films included Desperate Journey, Mrs. Miniver, Forever and a Day and Objective Burma. Notable American films from the war years include the anti-Nazi Watch on the Rhine (1943), scripted by Dashiell Hammett; Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Hitchcock's direction of a script by Thornton Wilder; the George M. Cohan biopic, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), starring James Cagney, and the immensely popular Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart. Bogart would star in 36 films between 1934 and 1942 including John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941), one of the first films now considered a classic film noir. In 1941, RKO Pictures released Citizen Kane made by Orson Welles. It is often considered the greatest film of all time. It would set the stage for the modern motion picture, as it revolutionized film story telling.
The strictures of wartime also brought an interest in more fantastical subjects. These included Britain's Gainsborough melodramas (including The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady), and films like Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Heaven Can Wait, I Married a Witch and Blithe Spirit. Val Lewton also produced a series of atmospheric and influential small-budget horror films, some of the more famous examples being Cat People, Isle of the Dead and The Body Snatcher. The decade probably also saw the so-called "women's pictures", such as Now, Voyager, Random Harvest and Mildred Pierce at the peak of their popularity.
1946 saw RKO Radio releasing It's a Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra. Soldiers returning from the war would provide the inspiration for films like The Best Years of Our Lives, and many of those in the film industry had served in some capacity during the war. Samuel Fuller's experiences in World War II would influence his largely autobiographical films of later decades such as The Big Red One. The Actor's Studio was founded in October 1947 by Elia Kazan, Robert Lewis, and Cheryl Crawford, and the same year Oskar Fischinger filmed Motion Painting No. 1.
In 1943, Ossessione was screened in Italy, marking the beginning of Italian neorealism. Major films of this type during the 1940s included Bicycle Thieves, Rome, Open City, and La Terra Trema. In 1952 Umberto D was released, usually considered the last film of this type.
In the late 1940s, in Britain, Ealing Studios embarked on their series of celebrated comedies, including Whisky Galore!, Passport to Pimlico, Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Man in the White Suit, and Carol Reed directed his influential thrillers Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. David Lean was also rapidly becoming a force in world cinema with Brief Encounter and his Dickens adaptations Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger would experience the best of their creative partnership with films like Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes.
The House Un-American Activities Committee investigated Hollywood in the early 1950s. Protested by the Hollywood Ten before the committee, the hearings resulted in the blacklisting of many actors, writers and directors, including Chayefsky, Charlie Chaplin, and Dalton Trumbo, and many of these fled to Europe, especially the United Kingdom.
The Cold War era zeitgeist translated into a type of near-paranoia manifested in themes such as invading armies of evil aliens, (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The War of the Worlds); and communist fifth columnists, (The Manchurian Candidate).
During the immediate post-war years the cinematic industry was also threatened by television, and the increasing popularity of the medium meant that some film theatres would bankrupt and close. The demise of the "studio system" spurred the self-commentary of films like Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).
In 1950, the Lettrists avante-gardists caused riots at the Cannes Film Festival, when Isidore Isou's Treatise on Slime and Eternity was screened. After their criticism of Charlie Chaplin and split with the movement, the Ultra-Lettrists continued to cause disruptions when they showed their new hypergraphical techniques. The most notorious film is Guy Debord's Howls for Sade of 1952.
Distressed by the increasing number of closed theatres, studios and companies would find new and innovative ways to bring audiences back. These included attempts to literally widen their appeal with new screen formats. Cinemascope, which would remain a 20th Century Fox distinction until 1967, was announced with 1953's The Robe. VistaVision, Cinerama, and Todd-AO boasted a "bigger is better" approach to marketing films to a dwindling US audience. This resulted in the revival of epic films to take advantage of the new big screen formats. Some of the most successful examples of these Biblical and historical spectaculars include The Ten Commandments (1956), The Vikings (1958), Ben-Hur (1959), Spartacus (1960) and El Cid (1961). Also during this period a number of other significant films were produced in Todd-AO, developed by Mike Todd shortly before his death, including Oklahoma! (1955), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), South Pacific (1958) and Cleopatra (1963) plus many more.
Gimmicks also proliferated to lure in audiences. The fad for 3-D film would last for only two years, 1952–1954, and helped sell House of Wax and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Producer William Castle would tout films featuring "Emergo" "Percepto", the first of a series of gimmicks that would remain popular marketing tools for Castle and others throughout the 1960s.
In the U.S., a post-WW2 tendency toward questioning the establishment and societal norms and the early activism of the Civil Rights Movement was reflected in Hollywood films such as Blackboard Jungle (1955), On the Waterfront (1954), Paddy Chayefsky's Marty and Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men (1957). Disney continued making animated films, notably; Cinderella (1950), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), and Sleeping Beauty (1959). He began, however, getting more involved in live action films, producing classics like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and Old Yeller (1957). Television began competing seriously with films projected in theatres, but surprisingly it promoted more filmgoing rather than curtailing it.
Limelight is probably a unique film in at least one interesting respect. Its two leads, Charlie Chaplin and Claire Bloom, were in the industry in no less than three different centuries. In the 19th Century, Chaplin made his theatrical debut at the age of eight, in 1897, in a clog dancing troupe, The Eight Lancaster Lads. In the 21st Century, Bloom is still enjoying a full and productive career, having appeared in dozens of films and television series produced up to and including 2010.
Golden Age of Asian cinema
Following the end of World War II in the 1940s, the following decade, the 1950s, marked a 'Golden Age' for non-English world cinema, especially for Asian cinema. Many of the most critically acclaimed Asian films of all time were produced during this decade, including Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953), Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959) and The Music Room (1958), Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu (1954) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), Raj Kapoor's Awaara (1951), Mikio Naruse's Floating Clouds (1955), Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (1957) and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), and the Akira Kurosawa films Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954) and Throne of Blood (1957).
During Japanese cinema's 'Golden Age' of the 1950s, successful films included Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954) and The Hidden Fortress (1958) by Akira Kurosawa, as well as Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953) and Ishirō Honda's Godzilla (1954). These films have had a profound influence on world cinema. In particular, Kurosawa's Seven Samurai has been remade several times as Western films, such as The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), and has also inspired several Bollywood films, such as Sholay (1975) and China Gate (1998). Rashomon was also remade as The Outrage (1964), and inspired films with "Rashomon effect" storytelling methods, such as Andha Naal (1954), The Usual Suspects (1995) and Hero (2002). The Hidden Fortress was also the inspiration behind George Lucas' Star Wars (1977). Other famous Japanese filmmakers from this period include Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse, Hiroshi Inagaki and Nagisa Oshima. Japanese cinema later became one of the main inspirations behind the New Hollywood movement of the 1960s to 1980s.
During Indian cinema's 'Golden Age' of the 1950s, it was producing 200 films annually, while Indian independent films gained greater recognition through international film festivals. One of the most famous was The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959) from critically acclaimed Bengali film director Satyajit Ray, whose films had a profound influence on world cinema, with directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, James Ivory, Abbas Kiarostami, Elia Kazan, François Truffaut, Steven Spielberg, Carlos Saura, Jean-Luc Godard, Isao Takahata, Gregory Nava, Ira Sachs, Wes Anderson and Danny Boyle being influenced by his cinematic style. According to Michael Sragow of The Atlantic Monthly, the "youthful coming-of-age dramas that have flooded art houses since the mid-fifties owe a tremendous debt to the Apu trilogy". Subrata Mitra's cinematographic technique of bounce lighting also originates from The Apu Trilogy. Other famous Indian filmmakers from this period include Guru Dutt, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, K. Asif and Mehboob Khan.
The cinema of South Korea also experienced a 'Golden Age' in the 1950s, beginning with director Lee Kyu-hwan's tremendously successful remake of Chunhyang-jon (1955). That year also saw the release of Yangsan Province by the renowned director, Kim Ki-young, marking the beginning of his productive career. Both the quality and quantity of filmmaking had increased rapidly by the end of the 1950s. South Korean films, such as Lee Byeong-il's 1956 comedy Sijibganeun nal (The Wedding Day), had begun winning international awards. In contrast to the beginning of the 1950s, when only 5 films were made per year, 111 films were produced in South Korea in 1959.
The 1950s was also a 'Golden Age' for Philippine cinema, with the emergence of more artistic and mature films, and significant improvement in cinematic techniques among filmmakers. The studio system produced frenetic activity in the local film industry as many films were made annually and several local talents started to earn recognition abroad. The premiere Philippine directors of the era included Gerardo de Leon, Gregorio Fernandez, Eddie Romero, Lamberto Avellana, and Cirio Santiago.
During the 1960s the studio system in Hollywood declined, because many films were now being made on location in other countries, or using studio facilities abroad, such as Pinewood in the UK and Cinecittà in Rome. "Hollywood" films were still largely aimed at family audiences, and it was often the more old-fashioned films that produced the studios' biggest successes. Productions like Mary Poppins (1964), My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965) were among the biggest money-makers of the decade. The growth in independent producers and production companies, and the increase in the power of individual actors also contributed to the decline of traditional Hollywood studio production.
There was also an increasing awareness of foreign language cinema during this period. During the late 1950s and 1960s the French New Wave directors such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard produced films such as Les quatre cents coups, Breathless and Jules et Jim which broke the rules of Hollywood cinema's narrative structure. As well, audiences were becoming aware of Italian films like Federico Fellini's La dolce vita and the stark dramas of Sweden's Ingmar Bergman.
In Britain, the "Free Cinema" of Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and others lead to a group of realistic and innovative dramas including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving and This Sporting Life. Other British films such as Repulsion, Darling, Alfie, Blowup and Georgy Girl (all in 1965-1966) helped to reduce prohibitions sex and nudity on screen, while the casual sex and violence of the James Bond films, beginning with Dr. No in 1962 would render the series popular worldwide.
During the 1960s, Ousmane Sembène produced several French- and Wolof-language films and became the 'father' of African Cinema. In Latin America the dominance of the "Hollywood" model was challenged by many film makers. Fernando Solanas and Octavio Gettino called for a politically engaged Third Cinema in contrast to Hollywood and the European auteur cinema.
Further, the nuclear paranoia of the age, and the threat of an apocalyptic nuclear exchange (like the 1962 close-call with the USSR during the Cuban missile crisis) prompted a reaction within the film community as well. Films like Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe with Henry Fonda were produced in a Hollywood that was once known for its overt patriotism and wartime propaganda.
In documentary film the sixties saw the blossoming of Direct Cinema, an observational style of film making as well as the advent of more overtly partisan films like In the Year of the Pig about the Vietnam War by Emile de Antonio. By the late 1960s however, Hollywood filmmakers were beginning to create more innovative and groundbreaking films that reflected the social revolution taken over much of the western world such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Graduate (1967), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Rosemary's Baby (1968), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Easy Rider (1969) and The Wild Bunch (1969). Bonnie and Clyde is often considered the beginning of the so-called New Hollywood.
In Japanese cinema, Academy Award winning director Akira Kurosawa produced Yojimbo (1961), which like his previous films also had a profound influence around the world. The influence of this film is most apparent in Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and Walter Hill's Last Man Standing (1996). Yojimbo was also the origin of the "Man with No Name" trend.
Meanwhile in India, the Academy Award winning Bengali director Satyajit Ray wrote a script for The Alien in 1967, based on a Bangla science fiction story he himself had written in 1962. The film was intended to be his debut in Hollywood but the production was eventually cancelled. Nevertheless, the script went on to influence later films such as Steven Spielberg's E.T. (1982) and Rakesh Roshan's Koi... Mil Gaya (2003).
1970s: The 'New Hollywood' or Post-classical cinema
'The New Hollywood' and 'post-classical cinema' are terms used to describe the period following the decline of the studio system during the 1950s and 1960s and the end of the production code, (which was replaced in 1968 by the MPAA film rating system). During the 1970s, filmmakers increasingly depicted explicit sexual content and showed gunfight and battle scenes that included graphic images of bloody deaths.
'Post-classical cinema' is a term used to describe the changing methods of storytelling of the "New Hollywood" producers. The new methods of drama and characterization played upon audience expectations acquired during the classical/Golden Age period: story chronology may be scrambled, storylines may feature unsettling "twist endings", main characters may behave in a morally ambiguous fashion, and the lines between the antagonist and protagonist may be blurred. The beginnings of post-classical storytelling may be seen in 1940s and 1950s film noir films, in films such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and in Hitchcock's Psycho. 1971 marked the release of controversial films like Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection and Dirty Harry. This sparked heated controversy over the perceived escalation of violence in cinema.
During the 1970s, a new group of American filmmakers emerged, such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Brian De Palma. This coincided with the increasing popularity of the auteur theory in film literature and the media, which posited that a film director's films express their personal vision and creative insights. The development of the auteur style of filmmaking helped to give these directors far greater control over their projects than would have been possible in earlier eras. This led to some great critical and commercial successes, like Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Coppola's The Godfather films, Polanski's Chinatown, Spielberg's Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and George Lucas's Star Wars. It also, however, resulted in some failures, including Peter Bogdanovich's At Long Last Love and Michael Cimino's hugely expensive Western epic Heaven's Gate, which helped to bring about the demise of its backer, United Artists.
The financial disaster of Heaven's Gate marking the end of the visionary "auteur" directors of the "New Hollywood", who had unrestrained creative and financial freedom to develop films. The phenomenal success in the 1970s of Jaws and Star Wars in particular, led to the rise of the modern "blockbuster". Hollywood studios increasingly focused on producing a smaller number of very large budget films with massive marketing and promotional campaigns. This trend had already been foreshadowed by the commercial success of disaster films such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.
During the mid-1970s, more pornographic theatres, euphemistically called "adult cinemas", were established, and the legal production of hardcore pornographic films began. Porn films such as Deep Throat and its star Linda Lovelace became something of a popular culture phenomenon and resulted in a spate of similar sex films. The porn cinemas finally died out during the 1980s, when the popularization of the home VCR and pornography videotapes allowed audiences to watch sex films at home. In the early 1970s, English-language audiences became more aware of the new West German cinema, with Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders among its leading exponents.
In world cinema, the 1970s saw a dramatic increase in the popularity of martial arts films, largely due to its reinvention by Bruce Lee, who departed from the artistic style of traditional Chinese martial arts films and added a much greater sense of realism to them with his Jeet Kune Do style. This began with The Big Boss (1971), which was a major success across Asia. However, he didn't gain fame in the Western world until shortly after his death in 1973, when Enter the Dragon was released. The film went on to become the most successful martial arts film in cinematic history, popularized the martial arts film genre across the world, and cemented Bruce Lee's status as a cultural icon. Hong Kong action cinema, however, was in decline due to a wave of "Bruceploitation" films. This trend eventually came to an end in 1978 with the martial arts comedy films, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, directed by Yuen Woo-ping and starring Jackie Chan, laying the foundations for the rise of Hong Kong action cinema in the 1980s.
While the musical film genre had declined in Hollywood by this time, musical films were quickly gaining popularity in the cinema of India, where the term "Bollywood" was coined for the growing Hindi film industry in Bombay (now Mumbai) that ended up dominating South Asian cinema, overtaking the more critically acclaimed Bengali film industry in popularity. Hindi filmmakers combined the Hollywood musical formula with the conventions of ancient Indian theatre to create a new film genre called "Masala", which dominated Indian cinema throughout the late 20th century. These "Masala" films portrayed action, comedy, drama, romance and melodrama all at once, with "filmi" song and dance routines thrown in. This trend began with films directed by Manmohan Desai and starring Amitabh Bachchan, who remains one of the most popular film stars in South Asia. The most popular Indian film of all time was Sholay (1975), a "Masala" film inspired by a real-life dacoit as well as Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and the Spaghetti Westerns.
The end of the decade saw the first major international marketing of Australian cinema, as Peter Weir's films Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave and Fred Schepisi's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith gained critical acclaim. In 1979, Australian filmmaker George Miller also garnered international attention for his violent, low-budget action film Mad Max.
1980s: sequels, blockbusters and videotape
During the 1980s, audiences began increasingly watching films on their home VCRs. In the early part of that decade, the film studios tried legal action to ban home ownership of VCRs as a violation of copyright, which proved unsuccessful. Eventually, the sale and rental of films on home video became a significant "second venue" for exhibition of films, and an additional source of revenue for the film companies.
The Lucas-Spielberg combine would dominate "Hollywood" cinema for much of the 1980s, and lead to much imitation. Two follow-ups to Star Wars, three to Jaws, and three Indiana Jones films helped to make sequels of successful films more of an expectation than ever before. Lucas also launched THX Ltd, a division of Lucasfilm in 1982, while Spielberg enjoyed one of the decade's greatest successes in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial the same year. 1982 also saw the release of Disney's Tron which was one of the first films from a major studio to use computer graphics extensively. American independent cinema struggled more during the decade, although Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), After Hours (1985), and The King of Comedy (1983) helped to establish him as one of the most critically acclaimed American film makers of the era. Also during 1983 Scarface was released, was very profitable and resulted in even greater fame for its leading actor Al Pacino. Probably the most successful film commercially was vended during 1989: Tim Burton's version of Bob Kane's creation, Batman, exceeded box-office records. Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the demented Joker earned him a total of $60,000,000 after figuring in his percentage of the gross.
British cinema was given a boost during the early 1980s by the arrival of David Puttnam's company Goldcrest Films. The films Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, The Killing Fields and A Room with a View appealed to a "middlebrow" audience which was increasingly being ignored by the major Hollywood studios. While the films of the 1970s had helped to define modern blockbuster motion pictures, the way "Hollywood" released its films would now change. Films, for the most part, would premiere in a wider number of theatres, although, to this day, some films still premiere using the route of the limited/roadshow release system. Against some expectations, the rise of the multiplex cinema did not allow less mainstream films to be shown, but simply allowed the major blockbusters to be given an even greater number of screenings. However, films that had been overlooked in cinemas were increasingly being given a second chance on home video.
During the 1980s, Japanese cinema experienced a revival, largely due to the success of anime films. At the beginning of the 1980s, Space Battleship Yamato (1973) and Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), both of which were unsuccessful as television series, were remade as films and became hugely successful in Japan. In particular, Mobile Suit Gundam sparked the Gundam franchise of Real Robot mecha anime. The success of Macross: Do You Remember Love? also sparked a Macross franchise of mecha anime. This was also the decade when Studio Ghibli was founded. The studio produced Hayao Miyazaki's first fantasy films, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Castle in the Sky (1986), as well as Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies (1988), all of which were very successful in Japan and received worldwide critical acclaim. Original video animation (OVA) films also began during this decade; the most influential of these early OVA films was Noboru Ishiguro's cyberpunk film Megazone 23 (1985). The most famous anime film of this decade was Katsuhiro Otomo's cyberpunk film Akira (1988), which although initially unsuccessful at Japanese theaters, went on to become an international success.
Hong Kong action cinema, which was in a state of decline due to endless Bruceploitation films after the death of Bruce Lee, also experienced a revival in the 1980s, largely due to the reinvention of the action film genre by Jackie Chan. He had previously combined the comedy film and martial arts film genres successfully in the 1978 films Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master. The next step he took was in combining this comedy martial arts genre with a new emphasis on elaborate and highly dangerous stunts, reminiscent of the silent film era. The first film in this new style of action cinema was Project A (1983), which saw the formation of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team as well as the "Three Brothers" (Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao). The film added elaborate, dangerous stunts to the fights and slapstick humor, and became a huge success throughout the Far East. As a result, Chan continued this trend with martial arts action films containing even more elaborate and dangerous stunts, including Wheels on Meals (1984), Police Story (1985), Armour of God (1986), Project A Part II (1987), Police Story 2 (1988), and Dragons Forever (1988). Other new trends which began in the 1980s were the "girls with guns" sub-genre, for which Michelle Yeoh gained fame; and especially the "heroic bloodshed" genre, revolving around Triads, largely pioneered by John Woo and for which Chow Yun-fat became famous. These Hong Kong action trends were later adopted by many Hollywood action films in the 1990s and 2000s.
1990s: New special effects, independent films, and DVDs
The early 1990s saw the development of a commercially successful independent cinema in the United States. Although cinema was increasingly dominated by special-effects films such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Jurassic Park (1993) and Titanic (1997), independent films like Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape (1989) and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) had significant commercial success both at the cinema and on home video. Filmmakers associated with the Danish filmmovement Dogme 95 introduced a manifesto aimed to purify filmmaking. Its first few films gained worldwide critical acclaim, after which the movement slowly faded out.
Major American studios began to create their own "independent" production companies to finance and produce non-mainstream fare. One of the most successful independents of the 1990s, Miramax Films, was bought by Disney the year before the release of Tarantino's runaway hit Pulp Fiction in 1994. The same year marked the beginning of film and video distribution online. Animated films aimed at family audiences also regained their popularity, with Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). During 1995 the first feature length computer-animated feature, Toy Story, was produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Disney. After the success of Toy Story, computer animation would grow to become the dominant technique for feature length animation, which would allow competing film companies such as Dreamworks Animation and 20th Century Fox to effectively compete with Disney with successful films of their own. During the late 1990s, another cinematic transition began, from physical film stock to digital cinema technology. Meanwhile DVDs became the new standard for consumer video, replacing VHS tapes.
The documentary film also rose as a commercial genre for perhaps the first time, with the success of films such as March of the Penguins and Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. A new genre was created with Martin Kunert and Eric Manes' Voices of Iraq, when 150 inexpensive DV cameras were distributed across Iraq, transforming ordinary people into collaborative filmmakers. The success of Gladiator lead to a revival of interest in epic cinema, and Moulin Rouge! renewed interest in musical cinema. Home theatre systems became increasingly sophisticated, as did some of the special edition DVDs designed to be shown on them. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was released on DVD in both the theatrical version and in a special extended version intended only for home cinema audiences.
There is a growing problem of digital distribution to be overcome with regards to expiration of copyrights, content security, and enforcing copyright. There is higher compression for films, and Moore's law allows for increasingly cheaper technology.
More films were also being released simultaneously to IMAX cinema, the first was in 2002's Disney animation Treasure Planet; and the first live action was in 2003's The Matrix Revolutions and a re-release of The Matrix Reloaded. Later in the decade, The Dark Knight was the first major feature film to have been at least partially shot in IMAX technology.
There has been an increasing globalization of cinema during this decade, with foreign-language films gaining popularity in English-speaking markets. Examples of such films include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Mandarin), Amelie (French), Lagaan (Hindi), Spirited Away (Japanese), City of God (Portuguese), The Passion of the Christ (Aramaic), Apocalypto (Mayan), Slumdog Millionaire (a third in Hindi), and Inglourious Basterds (multiple languages).
Recently there has been a revival in 3D film popularity the first being James Cameron's Ghosts of the Abyss which was released as the first full-length 3-D IMAX feature filmed with the Reality Camera System. This camera system used the latest HD video cameras, not film, and was built for Cameron by Emmy nominated Director of Photography Vince Pace, to his specifications. The same camera system was used to film Spy Kids 3D: Game Over (2003), Aliens of the Deep IMAX (2005), and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (2005).
After James Cameron's 3D film Avatar became the highest-grossing film of all time, 3D films have gained increasing popularity with many other films being released in 3D, with the best critical and financial successes being in the field of feature film animation such as DreamWorks Animation's How To Train Your Dragon and Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar's Toy Story 3.
As of 2010, the largest film industries by number of feature films produced are those of India, the United States and China.
The Long Tail
One major new development in the early 21st century is the development of systems that make it much easier for regular people to write, shoot, edit and distribute their own films without the large apparatus of the film industry. This phenomenon and its repercussions are outlined in Chris Anderson's theory, The Long Tail.
Alongside the Hollywood tradition, there has also been an "underground film" tradition of small-budget, often self-produced works created outside of the studio system and without the involvement of labor unions.
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