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History Of The Cinema Evolution Film Studies Essay

1338 words (5 pages) Essay in Film Studies

5/12/16 Film Studies Reference this

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The Frenchman Louis Lumiere is always credited and he actually is known as the inventor of the motion picture camera in 1895. Other inventors preceded him, and Lumiere’s achievement should always be considered in the context of this creative period. Lumiere’s portable, suitcase-sized cinematography served as a camera, film processing unit, and projector all in one. He could shoot footage in the morning, process it in the afternoon, and then project it to an audience that evening. His first film was the arrival of the express train at Ciotat. Other subjects included workers leaving the factory gates, a child being fed by his parents, people enjoying a picnic along a river. The ease of use and portability of his device soon made it the rage in France. Cinematographes soon were in the hands of Lumiere followers all over the world, and the motion picture era began. The American Thomas Alva Edison was a competitor of Lumiere’s, and his invention predated Lumiere’s. But Edison’s motion picture camera was bulky and not portable. The “promoter” in Lumiere made the difference in this competition. (Yahnke, 1996)

For the first twenty years of motion picture history most silent films were short–only a few minutes in length. At first a novelty, and then increasingly an art form and literary form, silent films reached greater complexity and length in the early 1910’s. The films on the list above represent the greatest achievements of the silent era, which ended–after years of experimentation–in 1929 when a means of recording sound that would be synchronous with the recorded image was discovered. Few silent films were made in the 1930s, with the exception of Charlie Chaplin, whose character of the Tramp perfected expressive physical moves in many short films in the 1910’s and 1920s. When the silent era ended, Chaplin refused to go along with sound; instead, he maintained the melodramatic Tramp as his mainstay in City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936). The trademarks of Chaplin’s Tramp were his ill-fitting suit, floppy over-sized shoes and a bowler hat, and his ever-present cane. A memorable image is Chaplin’s Tramp shuffling off, penguin-like, into the sunset and spinning his cane whimsically as he exits. He represented the “little guy,” the underdog, someone who used wit and whimsy to defeat his adversaries.

Eisenstein’s contribution to the development of cinema rested primarily in his theory of editing, or montage, which focused on the collision of opposites in order to create a new entity. One of the greatest achievements in editing is the Odessa Steps sequence, in his film Potemkin (1925). Eisenstein intercut between shots of townspeople trapped on the steps by Czarist troops, and shots of the troops firing down upon the crowd. Members of the crowd became individual characters to viewers as the montage continued. Within the editing track the fate of these individuals was played out. A mother picks up her dead child and confronts the troops. Then she is shot. A student looks on in terror and then flees–his fate uncertain. An old woman prays to be spared, but she is killed by a soldier who slashes her face with his saber. When a woman holding her baby carriage is killed, she falls to the steps, and the carriage begins a precipitous decline–shots of the baby crying are intercut with wide shots of the carriage rolling down the steps. To Eisenstein, each individual shot contributed energy within the editing track that yielded far more than the sum total of shots. In other words, the “combination” of shots through editing created a new entity, based on the expressive emotional energy unleashed through the editing process.

Although the technology for making movies was invented in 1895, a significant realization of the potential for film as art occurs with the appearance of D. W. Griffith’s 1915 full-length epic, Birth of a Nation. In this film Griffith utilized crosscutting (parallel editing) effectively, particularly at the climax, when a number of editing tracks play off one another. He also portrayed battle scenes magnificently, with action in one set of shots moving from left to right, while action in another set of shots moves from right to left. But Griffith’s work is diminished severely by the overt racism employed in characterizations and plotting.

Then comes German Expressionism, and it was from 1919 to 1925. German got an innovative art, newly urban subject matter and refinement of technique. At that time Germany was politically, socially, economically crippled. But they influenced and thus the German directors deserve credit for their experimentation with unusual camera angles and complex stage settings. Two examples of this approach is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) by Robert Wiene. The latter is also credited with perfecting the use of visual language in The Last Laugh (1924), a film about a lonely old man who is ridiculed by others. Few titles are used in the film because Murnau is able to communicate meaning by virtue of well-placed visual cues. They also got and directed mythological film like Metropolis which was spectacular. Then they brought vampire kind of films which were again something new to cinema. After that chamber play film came which was not much of expressionistic. During that time the Last laugh was the finest German silent film.

The 1920s was a miraculous golden age for Soviet cinema, both for features and documentary. The films were meticulously curated and handsomely presented collection convey the incredible excitement filmmakers felt at the opportunity to participate in the construction of the world’s first socialist state. Freed from the need to make money that drove the Hollywood industry, they could focus on “educating” the new Soviet population. All the films were originally released between 1924 and 1930. Each has a nifty new musical score, using both previously composed and original material. Robert Israel compiled four of them; his score to the early morning Moscow street scenes in The House on the Trubnaya makes ingenious use of Sergei Prokofiev’s piano cycle, Fugitive Visions, to set the mood. Lev Kuleshov not only made films, but also wrote extensively on film theory. His imaginative parody upends negative Western preconceptions about Russians and Bolsheviks, even as it consciously imitates the style of the American action films he so admired. With an all-star cast that includes the manic, leering Aleksandra Khokhlova and cameo appearances by two directors (Boris Barnet and Vsevolod Pudovkin) reaches its Buster-Keaton-like climax in a memorable chase sequence. In 1926, Kuleshov’s style had dramatically changed, becoming less artificial and more moody and psychological under the influence of German expressionism.

The coming of sound fueled a number of genre developments in Hollywood cinema. One obvious example is the film musical. Less obvious is how the horror genre also dramatized and explored potentials that synchronized sound brought to Hollywood films. Hollywood cinema was suggested by the exhibitors’ weekly Harrison’s Reports when it explained the success of The Jazz Singer: “It was the talk that Al Jolson made here and there and his singing of his ‘Mammy’ song, chiefly the singing of ‘Mammy.’ It was so successfully done that people were thrilled. The sight of Mr. Jolson singing to his mother, sitting in the orchestra, stirred the spectator’s emotions as they were stirred by few pictures; it brought tears to the eyes of many spectators.

Warner Bros is best known for its innovations in sound technology. In 1925 Warner partnered with Western Electric to develop a sound system. This involved a massive investment as the company had to reconvert all its theatres. Two years later, with much fanfare, the studio released The Jazz Singer. It was herald as the first “talking picture” and was a huge international success, eventually grossing 3 million dollars. The sound was recorded on discs that each had a total playing time equal to one reel of film. Because this form of synchronized sound was rather unreliable, it was soon replaced by sound recorded directly onto film.

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