Popular culture and communication CMN2180. Florian Grandena, PhD.
The emergence of cinema Different hypotheses • Cinema emerged thanks to ‘commercial and technological activities of the industrial, capitalist societies’ of the time (p.5). • According to Noël Burch, the emergence of cinema involved the development of a mode of representation that was determined by specific historic and cultural contexts (p.6).
3 different forces • During its first two decades, cinema was influenced by folk art (kept alive by working classes in Europe and the US): music hall, pantomime, vaudeville etc. • Tension between folk art and bourgeois modes of representations:theatre, literature, painting. • Scientific approach to technical innovations (p.7).
These three forces led to the creation of a cinema that was ‘collective, non-linear and non-standardised’ (p.7).
In contrast, the narrational mode that is now known as the institutional mode, or the Hollywood classical text, involves ‘a clearly linear narrative which subordinates time and space to the recounting of a story’ (p.7). • This narrational mode has been in place since roughly 1915.
Who invented cinema? • Cinema is a sum of inventions and technical innovations. • The first paying film screening in the world took place on December 28th 1895 in Paris. The screening was organised by the Lumière brothers.
Thomas Edison invented the kinetograph and the kinetoscope in 1887. Popular in public amusements, these machines allowed only one person to view ‘animated photographs’.
The Lumière brothers • The Lumière brothers improved Edison’s inventions. Their camera was called ‘cinématographe’ (1895). • In the early days of cinema, their short silent films were the most widely seen. Most of their works were (such as La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière and L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de la Ciotat) but also staged short comedies (as the famous L’Arroseur arrosé).
As soon as 1896, the films of the Lumière brothers were shown in Europe, the United States and South America. • The Lumière brothers asked some of their employees to travel the world and bring back to France ‘exotic’ images: these films can be considered as the ‘ancestors’ of newsreels and documentaries.
Up to the late 1890s, films are made up of one single shot (a shot or a take is ‘one uninterrupted run of the camera’). (Bordwell and Thompson, Film History: an Introduction, p.823). • George Albert Smith (UK) is the first to combine interior and exterior shots: this way, he creates a ‘film space and time’.
Alice Guy-Blaché shot what is now thought to be the first scripted film (La Fée aux choux, 1896). She makes 250 films over a 25-year period.
George Méliès was a magician who liked to experiment with his camera. He discovered special effects by chance. • Special effects as well as other important discoveries allowed filmmakers to tell more complicated stories and develop a more sophisticated mise en scène:the mise en scène is ‘all the elements placed in front of the camera to be photographed: the settings and props, lighting, costumes and make-up, and figure behavior’ (Bordwell and Thompson, p.822).
Hollywood made its first films in the early 1900s. • Edwin Stanton Porter made The Great Train Robbery and The Life of an American Fireman. He started to experiment with ellipses: an ellipsis is ‘the omission of certain scenes or portions of the action’ (Bordwell and Thompson, p.820).
The Great Train Robbery (1903) • This film is considered to be one of the first to use editing to tell a story (editing is ‘the task of selecting and joining camera takes’, Bordwell and Thompson, p.820).
At first, most films were ‘filmed theatre’; they slowly became replaced by films relying more on action. • The first flashback was used in 1908 (A Yiddisher Boy, USA). • Filmmakers such as Charles Pathé and D. W. Griffith started to elaborate new forms of storytelling (use of ellipses and parallel editing).
Japan • Cinema was first filmed theatre, as in Japan (filmed kabuki andshimpa). • The actors used to face the camera, the latter was always still. Sometimes the actors had to stop moving in order to stress one particular dramatic scene / moment.
Other countries • The Indian, Italian and Danish film industries started to develop. • Big budget productions started to emerge in the USA and Italy. Griffith shot Birth of a Nation in 1915). In Italy, Giovanni Pastrone filmed Cabiria (1913) and discovered new camera movements.
The coming of sound • The Jazz Singer (1927) was the first major film with sound. By 1931, silent films had virtually disappeated (so had many film stars). • Sound ‘enhanced the narrative power of Hollywood cinema’ (p.13).
The studio system • The studio system was based on an oligopolistic organisation (an oligopoly exists when a limited number of sellers, service providers etc. dominate their markets). • The main ‘majors’: Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Radio-Keith Orpheum. • The main ‘minors’: Universal, Columbia, United Artists.
The studio system • The studio system was organised in order to maintain Hollywood cinema’s domination both in the USA and the rest of the world. • The studio system relied on ‘a detailed division of labour to produce, distribute and screen films’ (p.15).
The ‘decline’ of the studio system From the mid / late 1940s, audiences and profits started to decline. Here are some explanations: • Rise of television • Suburban living: ‘adoption of a more private and house-bound family life’ (p.17). • Anti-trust action ‘aimed at divesting the majors of their ownership and control over exhibition’ (p.18).
In order to attract more spectators, the majors put emphasis on the ever-changing face of cinema (e.g. 3-D). • The depiction of sex and violence became a little bit more graphic: such an escalation allowed cinema to differentiate itself from television.
Star system • Theda Bara (real name: Theodosia Burr Goodman). • An international star: Asta Nielsen.
Star system • Douglas Fairbanks • Charlie Chaplin