In the period previous to the 1930’s, the predominant form of filmmaking wasthat of the crank camera. This is not to say that motor-driven cameras werenot possible. However, the motors to advance the film were so large that theywere simply too cumbersome to be effective. Thus, it was the cameramanhimself who would crank the film at a steady rate to expose the frames.
When it came to showing the film, on the other hand, motor driven projectorswere quite convenient, and by the 1920’s a standard 24 frames per secondwas established for projecting films. Filming, however, remainedunstandardized due to the inherent variation in recording speeds, since itdepended directly on the cameraman. An experienced cameraman wascapable of filming an entire film at approximately the same speed, yet oftenvariations were made in the recording speed for dramatic effect. Decreasingthe number of cranks, for example, exposed fewer frames and thus whenprojected at the standard 24 frames created the frenzied action thatcharacterized much of the Vaudeville cinema. The French filmmaker GeorgesMelies was among the first to employ changing backdrops and costumes totell his story. Up until that point many film were only a few minutes long takingplace on a single set. Changing sets and costumes opened a vast range ofnew possibilities and spurred further growth in the fledgling industry. As thefilm industry expanded in America, filmmakers found and increasing need forto establish a single location at which they could build sets and filmundisturbed.
The bright sunlight, relative stability of climate, and varied terrainfound in California made it an ideal place to film, much of the reason for theindustry’s concentration there. During this time, films were shot on a singlereel, resulting in filmstrips that were only 15-20 minutes. Independentproducers pioneered the use of double reel filmmaking during the yearsbefore the First World War. This allowed much longer films and opening thedoor for further opportunity, both financially and creatively, as well asbringing into being the double reel camera that became such an icon of movieproduction. The major advance of the 1930’s was the introduction ofsynchronous sound and dialogue in the late 1930’s. First invented and shownin the 1920’s, it became the standard by the early 1930’s, partly due to theinvention of a device based on the radio that could effectively amplify soundin the theater. Initially there were two available systems with which to recordsound.
The first was similar to a phonograph, and recorded the sound to aseparate disc. The second, more popular, system recorded the sound directlyonto the celluloid strip. Initially sound hindered the filmmaking process, sincethe cameras had to be encased to muffle the noise of their motors and actorscould not stray far from the stationary microphones. However, technologicaladvances soon made up for this and the sound became an integral part offilmmaking. The incorporation of sound into film and the resulting movietheater draw triggered a number of mergers in Hollywood as companies triedto consolidate their power (and their wealth). The result of these unions wasthe creation of the first major studios that dominated the industry for decades,Fox Studios (later 20th Century Fox), Leow’s Incorporated (laterMetro-Goldwyn-Meyer), Paramount, RKO, and Warner Bros. Thesestudios monopolized the industry through vertical consolidation, meaning theycontrolled every part of the production process.
They owned the writers, thedirectors and producers, the actors, the equipment and crew, even thetheaters. They controlled every step and dominated Hollywood until 1948when the U.S. Government found them to be an illegal monopoly.
It was alsoduring this time that color in movies became possible through the use of theTechnicolor system. Technicolor was created using a special camera that ranthree strips of film, one in red, one in blue, and one in yellow. When the threestrips were consolidated, the resulting image was in full color, though thecolors were frequently very exaggerated as can be seen in two such films thatwere filmed in this manner, Gone With The Wind (1939) and The Wizard ofOz (1939). The 1940’s also marked the beginning of the Italian movementknown as “neorealism.” This movement focused on portraying thenon-fictional aspects of Italian society for entertainment, in contrast to manyof the dream worlds that were being produced by Hollywood.
Futuregenerations of filmmakers would look to this movement as inspiration for theirown films depicting their home countries in a style that is sometimes known as”slice-of-life.” A novelty technique used during the 1950’s was theintroduction of 3-D. Filmed with special lenses and then viewed by theaudience with special glasses, Hollywood released about 35 of these filmsduring its brief popularity. Unfortunately, audiences quickly became boredwith it and Hollywood soon dropped it.
Another technique introduced in the1950’s was the wide screen format. It was introduced largely to distinguishmovies from television in an effort to lure dwindling audiences back intotheaters. Cinemascope was the first such technology, using a special lens tocompress the wider image onto a 35mm film reel. A second lens on theprojection piece would later decompress the image to create the wide screenformat. It was later replaced by the Panavision system, which did not requirespecial lenses. The 1950’s also saw the rise of the French “New Wave”. TheNew Wave began with a group of French film critics who believed that themajority of French cinema was overly devoted to written aspects of a film.
They believed that the director, the creator of the final visual image should bethe true center and set out to direct their own films under this new theory. TheFrench New Wave also sought in some ways to reconceptualize film. Thoughthey were immersed in popular culture and striving to emulate Hollywood’ssuccess, they also incorporated new techniques and styles. One suchexample of this Jean-Luc Godard, who introduced the jump cuts, temporalcuts to disrupt the continuity of a scene.
During the 1960’s Germany began itsown movement, similar to the Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave,known as “das neue Kino”, translated as The New Cinema. Major aspects ofthe New Cinema were a focus on history and hardship Germany hadendured, the effects of popular culture from America on German society, aswell as the inclusion of feminist viewpoints on these subjects. It was duringthe 1970’s that the blockbusters as we now know it was officially born. Themovie that started it all, if it has to go to a single movie, was Jaws.
Thoughsomewhat similar to the formula that had described blockbusters under theold studio system, it broke the mold in several major ways. First, its cast was,for the most part, unknown actors. Under the old model it was thoughtimpossible to have a blockbuster without a recognizable cast.
Second, andmuch more importantly, it used shocking special effects, namely a largemechanical shark, to thrill the audience. Audiences had scene special effectsbefore, but this was a whole new level of realism. Thus was born the era ofthe f/x blockbuster. A few years later the trend was reaffirmed whenaudiences were again captivated by special effects in one of the most popularmovies of all time, Star Wars. Special effects surrounding romanticized andoften simplistic characters became the core of the blockbusters, the newformula that brought back the large audiences and flowing cash toHollywood. By the mid-1970’s the new formula for success had beenreached. Whereas before a large number of movies were released and shownon the screens of the theaters that bought them, movies were now released insmaller numbers on thousands of screens at once and advertised with massivepromotion campaigns to maximize gross on each film.
It broke the financialslump of the 60’s and remains the formula today. In 1978 a device was alsodeveloped that opened new doors for filmmakers. Dubbed the Steadicam, itwas a camera mount that attached to the cameraman rather than a tripod ordolly. Thus, instead of being stationary or relying on a track or cart to move,the camera could go anywhere a cameraman could walk or run.
Since then,numerous changes in the system have consistently improved its quality andease of use. One of the most recent examples of a sequence filmed using theSteadicam were the Normandy battle sequences of Spielburg’s SavingPrivate Ryan. The only major change in the film industry that occurred in the80’s (aside from the technological advances that occur constantly since thecreation of the first camera but are for the most part too technical to beinteresting to you or I) was the rise of new mediums. Cable companiesexploded in the 1980’s, wiring the country with a multitude of newentertainment possibilities.
This wave of entertainment also started a trend ofincreasing independent production. Up until that time, an independent filmoften had trouble finding an audience as major theater chains only dealt withstudios. Cable opened up new audiences for independents and was a strongcontributor the growth of that sector of the industry. The major technicaladvance of the 1990’s has been the advent of the Digital Age. All acrossAmerica people are going digital, with CD’s having completely replaced vinyland tapes, DVD’s becoming increasingly popular, and camcorder’s andcamera’s becoming sharper and sharper. Hollywood is not to be left behind,in fact they are far ahead.
Though digital editors have been in use since the1980’s, it was not until the 1990’s that the non-linear format of editingbecame a true standard, as even high school programs began to purchaseconsumer-grade non-linear devices. At the same time, advances in the 1990’shave grown by leaps and bounds. Numerous breakthroughs in computereffects editing make it not only possible to alter the look of a film in acomputer, but also extremely cost effective, as more productions use thecomputer to delete out mistakes in filming, or expand the grandeur of a scene(an example of this will be seen in an upcoming war movie as yet unnamed inwhich twenty extras charging across a battlefield will be digitally cloned into athousand-man assault). Perhaps the most important step comes from thepioneer of the digital world, George Lucas. Releasing Star Wars: E1 in threetheaters using completely digital projectors (no film reels needed) and makinghis preparations to film the next two using completely digital cameras andencouraging release on completely digital theaters.
It is now clear toHollywood and the rest of the world that digital is the next evolution in film. Bibliography: