Andrea Gronemeyer. Film: A Concise History. London: Laurence King Publishing, 1999.
Thomas Edison presented the first Kinetography movie in 1891. It could be seen by one viewer at a time.
The Skladanowsky brothers presented the first general public viewing movie, what they called “living photographs” in Berlin on November 1, 1895. The Lufilmiere brothers followed in France on December 28, 1895 with the first Cinematographe movie whose quality was so much better than many credit the Lumiere brothers with the first modern movie technique.
The first Lumiere movie showing attracted an audience of 35 people. Positive newspaper reviews sparked the beginning of movie showings.
George Melies, an actor, decided to create movies that showed fairy tales, comedy, and magic tricks. An accidental shutter jam led to the discovery of the first use of trick photography.
What are called the Childhood Years of movies lasted until World War I. Movies then ranged from one minute long to full length features. They were shown mostly in pubs and cafes. In the United States, Nickelodeons showing films lasting 10 to 15 minutes were shown for five cents admission.
The United States reached a totally of 10,000 Nickelodeons, which were more than existed in all of Europe. Chase films were popular Nickelodeon fare.
Nordisk in Denmark formed in 1906 and Cines in Itary were among the first large movie producers. Nordisk’s 1907 film “Lion Hunt’ showing the actual hunting and killing of two lions generated protests. The protests brought the film publicity and the movie sold 260 copies. Nordisk’s full length film “The World Slave” was one of the first erotic films ever.
Companies that could afford and use better filming equipment turned out to be more successfully. The film production industry shifted from selling movies to renting them. The shift drove out many small companies out of business.
The Compagnie de Films d’art arose in 1907 in France to produce films that were more theatrical. Unfortunately, many theatrical gestures struck audiences as being comedic.
The Brighton School filmmakers in England sought to bring more expression into films.
Independent Italian filmmakers from 1903 to 1914 focused on presenting historical events. Giovanni Pastrone was the first filmmaker to use artificial lighting in movies.
Early American film producers were entangled in numerous legal suits between MPPC, Thomas Edison’s company, and numerous rivals. The rival independents produced feature length comedies and epics. They also introduced the stay system where leading actors were featured in many films of the same studio. Edison’s company focused on Westerns. In 1914, half of all films distributed internationally were produced in the United States.
David W. Griffin produced films that, for the first time, combined shots at different lengths, had insert cuts, and introduced the use of establishing shorts for introducing scenes. He was also the first filmmaker to use a crane while shooting.
In 1917, the German government partially owned and directed Universum-Film AG. This company produced movies for German audiences in 2,000 theaters.
The first World War divided the European film market, which hurt the European film producers. The United States became the leading film producer in 1916 and has maintained this position of the world’s leading movie producer ever since.
During World War I, many European films had political content. American films had more commercial appeal. The largest studios were the Big Three: Paramount, Loew’s, and First National, followed by the Little Five: Universal, Fox Film Corporatobn, the Producer Distribution Company, the Film Booking office, and Warner Brothers.
Mack Sennett gained fame for slapstick films. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy were early comedy stars. Their comedic spontaneity was not as successful in later scripted sound films.
American film sales became so large that many European companies decided it was better to distribute American films instead of making their own movies. Still, a number of European avant garde films were produced and aimed towards the intellectual audience. A number of French and German impressionism films, showing dreams, thoughts, memories, etc. arose. Cimera pur or “absolute film” arose, using abstract scenes and surrealism. The Soviet Union produced a number of avant garde and montage films with political themes.
Alfred Hitchcock’s “Blackmail” in 1929 was one of the first films to use music as an element of the film.
The economic crisis and Depression that began in 1929 hit the film industry later than most other industries, as movie entertainment remained a low cost diversion for audiences. “The Jazz Singer” was the first generally distributed movie with sound. It was released in 1927 and audiences developed an interest in more sounds films. The costs required to create sound films were high and silent films remained competitive for several years. The changing industry led to their being five major studios: Paramount, MGM, Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox, and RKO as well as three minor studios: Universal, Columbia, and United Artists.
England responded by placing a quota system to guarantee that a minimum number of films shown to British audiences were produced in Britain.
German films often had various political messages. When the Nazis began regulating films in 1933, films had to meet their criteria or be censored, or else they were prohibited from being shown. A number of German film personnel left Germany.
French filmmakers in the 1930s made use of deep focus shots with movable camera to create “poetic realism”.
British filmmakers in the 1930ss found value in producing documental films. Several social ills were explored, although financial backers of these films arrange to mute some of their criticisms.
American filmmakers continued successfully producing commercially successful films. Audiences during the Depression appreciated musicals with dancing scenes, gangster films, horror, and screwball comedies.
A number of anti-Hitler films were produced in America in 1939 to 1941. These were designed to awaken audiences to the emerging threat of Nazism.
Television emerged as a major media source in the 1940s. Privately owned networks emerged in the United States. England and West Germany adopted publicly owned networks.
After World War II, a number of neorealist movies were produced in Italy. These films intended for the audience to be analyze characters and to distance themselves from the characters. This was different from the typical films then that sought for audiences to build empathy with characters. Many of these films sought to criticize the Italian Fascism that had existed just a few years prior. Italian audiences desiring entertainment and to forget the past turned more towards viewing American films.
Film noir films began being produced in 1946. These films were pessimistic about society and focused on crime and murder.
Femmes fatale films gained popularity. Female characters displayed erotic tendencies towards male heroes. These films were designed primarily for male audiences.
The U.S. Supreme Court found movie studios were illegally monopolizing ownership of theater chains. The studios had to divest themselves of their interests in these theaters. Studios also were no longer allowed to book block groups of films to independent theaters where sold of the films were presented to them sight unseen.
American tax law set lower tax rates for independent films that then were sold to film distributors.
Alfred Hitchcock emerged as one of the most notable film directing careers in the 1950s and for all time. He was known for creating suspenseful films.
Color movies gained prominence during the 1950s. This increased the importance of the costume designer. Film noir films, which capitalized on the use of visual darkness to display storyline darkness, faded away along with most other black and white films.
Two thirds of movie attendees in the late 1950s were aged 17 through 23. Movies thus were targeted towards this audience.
Numerous distinctive film directors emerged in the 1960s. Federico Fellini of Italy directed films that often had themes centering around male sexuality and conflicts over Catholicism. Michelangelo Antonioni of Italy directed films on complex relationships. Ingmar Bergman of Sweden directed films exploring psychological issues in characters. Jacque Tati of France directed satires of obstacles met in everyday life. Robert Bresson of France directed films on environmental challenges to people and often used non-actors. Akira Kurosawa of Japan was the first Asian director to have films become popular in Western markets. Satyajt Ray of India directed films that achieved crossover success in Western markets.
National academies produced many technically taught filmmakers who arose in prominence in the 1960s and afterwards.
The journal of film theory “Cashiers du cinema” emerged. Director Francois Truffaut observed that many film directors had noticeable trademarks. Director Jean Luc Godard was known for his unconventional plot cohesion and jumps in continuity. Truffaut and Godard were among the directors classed as Nouvelle Vague. In 1968, Truffaut and Godard split with the Nouvelle Vague movement with Truffaut becoming more mainstream while Godard became more politically revolutionary.
The British Film Institute of the 1960s produced films that attempted to be socially relevant and critical of working class conditions.
West Germany provided subsidies, tax credits, and tax relief to filmmakers. 26 German filmmakers in 1962 declared in the Oberhausen Manifesto that Germany would produce more modern movies. Several films dealt with the youth movement, reactionary parents, and broken marriages that were then part of the German culture. The New German Film Movement emerged in the late 1960s with politically leftist films.
The 1960s saw the emergence of auteurs, who both wrote screenplays and then directed their films.
The 1970s saw many films presented for the youth market. The general press became more aware of independent filmmakers, some of whom found commercial success from the increased audience awareness of their market.
The 1970s were also known for the blockbuster films that were among the most commercially successful of al time, such as “The Godfather”, “Star Wars”, and “Jaws”. “Jaws” launched the career of director Steven Spielberg, who is one of the most influential directors ever.
The 1980s saw the rise of younger movie stars in youth oriented movies, some of whom were labeled “movie brats”.
Computer animation which arose during the 1990s introduced new abilities in presenting movies.