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Movies: History of Technology The illusion of motion; persistence of motion

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Movies: History of Technology

The illusion of motion; persistence of motion

Eadweard Muybridge (1879) sets up a serious of cameras to photograph a race horse to see if at any time all four legs were off the ground. He did this for California Governor Leland Stanford who bet that, indeed, a horse got off the ground….

Stanford won the bet and Muybridge’s photographs were a precursor of motion picture technology (Zoogyroscope, 1880).


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Movies: History of Technology

  • The development of film:

  • Flexible film (Hannibal Goodwin and George Eastman, 1880s)

  • Continuous film and photography: kinetoscope (1888)

  • Projection: Lumiere Brothers (1895) cinematagraph

  • Reliable projector: Armat and Jenkins: film gate Latham: film loop

  • Vitascope: Edison’s “wide-screen” projection (1896)

  • The Nickelodeon (1905): The first theaters aimed at the working class


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Movies: The coming of the story film

  • George Melies: (1900s) French magician creates stories with in-camera editing for special effects.

  • Edwin Porter (for Edison) : The Life of an American Fireman (1902) and The Great Train Robbery (1903). Editing for continuity.

  • D.W. Griffith (1910s-1920s): The multi-reel story film: the feature


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Movies: The studio system

  • First attempt was to control the hardware: Motion Picture Patents Company (1908)

  • Independents fought back with: The feature film as standard The development of stars The move west to Hollywood Vertical Integration

  • These Independents became the new Majors: Paramount-Famous Players M-G-M-Loews Fox United Artists (1919) Universal (no theaters)


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Movies: The studio system 1920s-1930s

  • The studio system as production: All facets of the production under control of one studio, from script to final edit. All creative and craft personnel under contract. Bank financing to control risk.

  • Distribution: Block booking and reciprocal theater access. Also control of foreign markets.

  • Exhibition: Control of first-run theaters by region; the growth of the picture palace.

  • The coming of sound: Adds two new majors in Warner Brothers and RKO (created by Radio Corporation of America by buying Keith-Albee-Orpheum theater circuit.


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Movies: The studio system 1920s-1940s

  • The development of the Hollywood narrative film based on studio system.

  • Genres: Specific categories of films, such as crime dramas, westerns, etc. The appeal of genres guaranteed audience appeal.

  • The Auteur: The director as “author” of the film. Notion developed in the 1960s that tried to explain how certain directors’ styles superceded the homogenization of the studio system. Examples include John Ford, Howard Hawks.


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Movies: The Documentary Tradition

  • From the start, many film makers believed that non-fiction was the true art of the film. Greatest early example was Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North

  • John Grierson: Scottish film maker working in England coins the term Documentary in a review of Flaherty’s Moana. “The creative treatment of actuality.” Grierson organizes documentary units in Great Britain.

  • American documentarists work for the Federal government during the Depression and World War II


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Movies: The Documentary Tradition

  • Improved portability leads to cinema verite (from the French) in which film makers attempt to become invisible and record raw reality. Most notable example was Frederick Wiseman.

  • Documentary makers continue to this day continue to use film as a medium to record reality. These films take many forms, from the social satire of Michael Moore to the social commentary of Barbara Kopple and Peter Davis to the many independent film makers who illuminate historical, social, economic, and cultural issues without the use of fictional stories.


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Movies: The 1950s-1960s

  • The Paramount Decision (1948): Divorcement decree breaks up vertical integration, thus undermining the financial security of the studio system.

  • Competition from television and foreign films forces change in content (more adult themes) and exhibition (color, wide-screen).

  • Runaway production: Movie making moved from Hollywood to locations with lower production costs.

  • Hollywood Ten: Blacklist affects the movie industry as some “named names” to avoid public censure.

  • 1960s: Discovery of the youth market. Escalation of sex and violence in movies.


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Movies: Trends

  • Movie studios as producers for network and syndicated television

  • Blockbuster strategy: Spend more on one film (particularly for popular stars and directors) in order to get a big hit (opposite of studio system). Studios more important as financing and distribution partners for independent film makers.

  • Hollywood bookkeeping: Gross revenue does not correspond to profit. Major players get their’s “up front.”

  • Multiplex theaters: Lower overhead, less variety in types of films.

  • Multiple “windows” for film/video distribution

  • Concentration of ownership in production and the reemergence of exhibitors as major players

  • Digital film production and exhibition

  • Home video, piracy, and P2P file sharing


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