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History Of the Film Industry


General History

The history of film or cinema has brought this mass media from its early stages as an obscure novelty to one of the most important tools of communication and entertainment in the modern world. Film has existed since the late 19th century, and in the time since has had a broad impact on the arts, technology, and even politics.

 

The Birth of Film

W.K. Laurie Dickson, a researcher at the Edison Laboratories, is credited with the invention of a practicable form of celluloid strip containing a sequence of images, the basis of a method of photographing and projecting moving images. In 1894, Thomas Edison introduced to the public two pioneering inventions based on this innovation: the Kinetograph, the first practical moving picture camera, and the Kinetoscope. The latter was a cabinet in which a continuous loop of Dickson's celluloid film (powered by an electric motor) was projected by a lamp and lens onto a glass. The spectator viewed the image through an eye piece. Kinetoscope parlours were supplied with fifty-foot film snippets shot by Dickson, in Edison's "Black Maria" studio. These sequences recorded mundane events (such as Fred Ott's Sneeze, 1894) as well as entertainment acts like acrobats, music hall performers and boxing demonstrations.

Kinetescope parlors soon spread successfully to Europe. Edison, however, never moved to patent these instruments on the other side of the Atlantic, since they relied so heavily on previous experiments and innovations from Britain and Europe. This left the field open for imitations, such as the camera devised by British electrician and scientific instrument maker Robert W. Paul and his partner Birt Acres.

Paul hit upon the idea of displaying moving pictures for group audiences, rather than just to individual viewers, and invented a film projector, giving his first public showing in 1895. At about the same time, in France, Auguste and Louis Lumière invented the cinematograph, a portable, three-in-one camera, developer/printer, and projector. In late 1895 in Paris, the brothers began exhibitions of projected films before the paying public, sparking the wholesale move of the medium to projection (Cook, 1990). They quickly became Europe's leading producers with their actualités like Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory and comic vignettes like The Sprinkler Sprinkled (both 1895). Even Edison, initially dismissive of projection, joined the trend with the Vitascope within less than six months.

The movies of the time were seen mostly via temporary storefront spaces and traveling exhibitors or as acts in vaudeville programs. A film could be under a minute long and would usually present a single scene, authentic or staged, of everyday life, a public event, a sporting event or slapstick. There was little to no cinematic technique: no editing and usually no camera movement, and flat, stagey compositions. But the novelty of realistically moving photographs was enough for a motion picture industry to mushroom before the end of the century, in countries around the world.

 

The Silent Era

Inventors and producers had tried from the very beginnings of moving pictures to marry the image with synchronous sound, but no practical method was devised until the late 1920s. Thus, for the first thirty years of their history, movies were more or less silent, although accompanied by live musicians and sometimes sound effects, and with dialogue and narration presented in intertitles.

 

Early developments in technique, form and business

Paris stage magician Georges Méliès began shooting and exhibiting films in 1896. His stock-in-trade became films of fantasy and the bizarre, including A Trip to the Moon (1902), possibly the first movie to portray space travel. He pioneered many of the fundamental special effects techniques used in movies for most of the twentieth century, demonstrating the revolutionary point that film had unprecedented power to bend visible reality rather than just faithfully recording it (Cook, 1990). He also led the way in making multi-scene narratives as long as fifteen minutes.

Edwin S. Porter, Edison's leading director in these years, pushed forward the sophistication of film editing in works like Life of an American Fireman and the first movie Western, The Great Train Robbery (both 1903). Porter arguably discovered that the basic unit of structure in a film is the shot, rather than the scene (the basic unit of structure in a play).

These developments helped establish the medium as more than a passing fad and encouraged the boom in nickelodeons, the first permanent movie theaters. There were 10,000 in the U.S. alone by 1908 (Cook, 1990). The previously anarchic industry increasingly became big business, which encouraged consolidation. The French Pathé Frères company achieved a dominant position worldwide through methods like control of key patents and ownership of theaters. In the U.S., Edison led the creation of the Motion Picture Patents Company, which achieved a brief, virtual monopoly there, using not just aggressive business tactics but sometimes violent intimidation against independent competitors (Parkinson, 1995).

 

Rise of the feature film and film as art

The standard length of a film remained one reel, or about ten to fifteen minutes, through the first decade of the century, partly based on producers' assumptions about the attention spans of their still largely working class audiences.

Australia's The Story of the Kelly Gang (also screened as Ned Kelly and His Gang) is widely regarded as the world's first "feature length" film. Its 80 minute running time was unprecedented when it was released in 1906. In 1906 Dan Barry and Charles Tait of Melbourne produced and directed 'The Story of the Kelly Gang.' It wasn’t until 1911 that countries other than Australia began to make feature films. By this time Australia had made 16 full length feature films.

Soon Europe created multiple-reel period extravaganzas that began to push the envelope of a film's length further. With international box office successes like Queen Elizabeth (France, 1912), Quo Vadis? (Italy, 1913) and Cabiria (Italy, 1914), the feature film began to replace the short as the cinema's central form.

Leading this trend in America was director D.W. Griffith with his historical epics The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). Unprecedented in scale, they also did much to fix the developing codes of editing and visual storytelling that remain the foundation of mainstream film grammar. The former film was also notable as perhaps the first to inspire widespread racial controversy.

Along with a boom in high-toned literary adaptations, these trends began to make the movies a respectable diversion for the middle class and gain them recognition as a genuine art form with a secure place in the emerging culture of the twentieth century.

 

Hollywood triumphant

Until this point, the cinemas of France and Italy had been the most globally popular and powerful. But the United States was already gaining quickly when World War I (1914-1918) caused a devastating interruption in the European film industries. The American industry, or "Hollywood," as it was becoming known after its new geographical center in California, gained the position it has held, more or less, ever since: movie factory for the world, exporting its product to most countries on earth and controlling the market in many of them.

By the 1920s, the U.S. reached what still stands as its era of greatest-ever output, producing an average of 800 feature films annually [1], or 82% of the global total (Eyman, 1997). The comedies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the swashbuckling adventures of Douglas Fairbanks and the romances of Clara Bow, to cite just a few examples, made these performers’ faces iconic on every continent. The Western visual norm that would become classical continuity editing was solidified and exported everywhere - although its adoption was slower in some non-Western countries without strong realist traditions in art and drama, such as Japan.

This explosion was vitally intertwined with the growth of the studio system and its greatest publicity tool, the star system, the engines of American film for decades to come and the models for many other movie industries. The studios’ efficient, top-down control over all stages of their product enabled a new and ever-growing level of lavish production and technical sophistication. At the same time, the system’s commercial regimentation and focus on glamorous escapism discouraged daring and ambition beyond a certain degree, a prime example being the brief but still legendary directing career of the iconoclastic Erich von Stroheim in the late teens and the ‘20s.

 

World film at the peak of the silents

But even now, the dominance of mainstream Hollywood entertainment wasn’t as strong as it would be, and alternatives were still widely seen and influential.

Germany was America’s strongest competitor. Its most distinctive contribution was the dark, hallucinatory worlds of German Expressionism, which advanced the power of anti-realistic presentation to put internal states of mind onscreen, as well as strongly influenced the emerging horror genre.

The newborn Soviet cinema was the most radically innovative. There, the craft of editing, especially, surged forward, going beyond its previous role in advancing a story. Sergei Eisenstein perfected the technique of so-called dialectical or intellectual montage, which strove to make non-linear, often violently clashing, images express ideas and provoke emotional and intellectual reactions in the viewer.

Meanwhile, the first feature-length silent film was made in India by Dadasaheb Phalke, considered to be the Father of Indian Cinema. The film was the period piece Raja Harishchandra (1913), and it laid the foundation for a series of period films. By the next decade the output of Indian Cinema was an average of 27 films per year.

The cultural avant gardes of a number of countries worked with experimental films, mostly shorts, that completely abandoned linear narrative and embraced abstraction, pure aestheticism and the irrational subconscious, most famously in the work of Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel. In some ways, in fact, this decade marked the first serious split between mainstream, "popular" film and "art" film.

But even within the mainstream, refinement was rapid, bringing silent film to what would turn out to be its aesthetic summit. The possibilities of cinematography kept expanding as cameras became more mobile (thanks to new booms and dollies) and film stocks more sensitive and versatile. Screen acting came into its own as a craft, leaving behind its earlier theatrical exaggeration and achieving greater subtlety and psychological realism. As visual eloquence increased, reliance on intertitles decreased; the occasional film, such as F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh (Germany, 1926) even eschewed them altogether. Paradoxically, at about this point, the silent cinema came abruptly to an end.

 

The Sound Era

Experimentation with sound film technology, both for recording and playback, was virtually constant throughout the silent era, but the twin problems of accurate synchronization and sufficient amplification had been difficult to overcome (Eyman, 1997). In 1926, Hollywood studio Warner Bros. introduced the "Vitaphone" system, producing short films of live entertainment acts and public figures and adding recorded sound effects and orchestral scores to some of its major features. The real turning point came in late 1927, when Warners released The Jazz Singer, which was mostly silent but contained the first synchronized dialogue (and singing) in a feature film. It was a gargantuan success, as were follow-ups like Warners' The Lights of New York (1928), the first all-synchronized-sound feature. The early sound-on-disc processes such as Vitaphone were soon superseded by sound-on-film methods like Fox Movietone, DeForest Phonofilm, and RCA Photophone. The trend convinced the reluctant industry that "talking pictures", or "talkies," were the future.

 

Industry impact of sound

The change was remarkably swift. By the end of 1929, Hollywood was almost all-talkie, with several competing sound systems (soon to be standardized). Total changeover was slightly slower in the rest of the world, principally for economic reasons. Cultural reasons were also a factor in countries like China and Japan, where silents co-existed successfully with sound well into the 1930s, indeed producing what would be some of the most revered classics in those countries, like Wu Yonggang's The Goddess (China, 1934) and Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born, But... (Japan, 1932). But even in Japan, a figure such as the benshi, the live narrator who was a major part of Japanese silent cinema, found his days were numbered.

Sound further tightened the grip of major studios in numerous countries: the vast expense of the transition overwhelmed smaller competitors, while the novelty of sound lured vastly larger audiences for those producers that remained. In the case of the U.S., some historians credit sound with saving the Hollywood studio system in the face of the Great Depression (Parkinson, 1995). Thus began what is now often called "The Golden Age of Hollywood," which refers roughly to the period beginning with the advent of sound until the late 1940s. The American cinema reached its peak of efficiently manufactured glamour and global appeal during this period. The top actors of the era are now thought of as the classic movie stars, such as Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and the number one box office draw of the '30s, child performer Shirley Temple.

 

Creative impact of sound

Creatively, however, the lightning-paced transition was a difficult one, and in some ways, film briefly reverted to the conditions of its earliest days. The late '20s were full of static, stagey talkies as artists in front of and behind the camera struggled with the stringent limitations of the early sound equipment and their own uncertainty as to how to utilize the new medium. Stage performers, directors and writers flooded the cinema as producers sought personnel experienced in dialogue-based storytelling. Many major silent filmmakers and actors were unable to adjust and found their careers severely curtailed or even suddenly over.

This awkward period was fairly short-lived. 1929 was a watershed year: William Wellman with Chinatown Nights and The Man I Love, Rouben Mamoulian with Applause, Alfred Hitchcock with Blackmail (Britain's first sound feature), were among the directors to bring greater fluidity to talkies and experiment with the expressive use of sound (Eyman, 1997). In this, they both benefited from, and pushed further, technical advances in microphones and cameras, and capabilities for editing and post-synchronizing sound (rather than recording all sound directly at the time of filming).

Sound films emphasized and benefited different genres more so than silents did. Most obviously, the musical film was born; the first classic-style Hollywood musical was The Broadway Melody (1929) and the form would find its first major creator in choreographer/director Busby Berkeley (42nd Street, 1933, Dames, 1934). In France, avant-garde director René Clair made surreal use of song and dance in comedies like Under the Roofs of Paris (1930) and Le Million (1931). The trend thrived best in India, where the influence of the country's traditional song-and-dance drama made the musical the basic form of most sound movies (Cook, 1990); virtually unnoticed by the Western world for decades, this Indian popular cinema would nevertheless become the world's most prolific. (See also Bollywood.)

The rhythms of street-smart slang energized American gangster films like Little Caesar and Wellman's The Public Enemy (both 1931). Dialogue now took precedence over slapstick in Hollywood comedies: the fast-paced, witty banter of The Front Page (1931) or It Happened One Night (1934), the sexual double entrendres of Mae West (She Done Him Wrong, 1933) or the often subversively anarchic nonsense talk of the Marx Brothers (Duck Soup, 1933). 1939, a major year for American cinema, brought such films as like The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind.

 

The 1940s: the war and post-war years

The need for wartime propaganda saw a renaissance in the film industry in Britain, with realistic war dramas like Forty-Ninth Parallel (1941), Went the Day Well? (1942), The Way Ahead (1944) and Noel Coward and David Lean's celebrated naval film In Which We Serve in 1942, which won a special Academy Award. These existed alongside more flamboyant films like Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946), as well as Laurence Olivier's 1944 film Henry V, based on the Shakespearean history Henry V.

The onset of US involvement in WWII also brought a proliferation of movies as both patriotism and propaganda. American propaganda movies included Desperate Journey, Mrs Miniver, Forever and a Day and Objective Burma. Notable American films from the war years include the anti-Nazi Watch on the Rhine (1943), scripted by Dashiell Hammett; Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Hitchcock's direction of a script by Thornton Wilder; the George M. Cohan biopic, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), starring James Cagney, and the immensely popular Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart. Bogart would star in 36 films between 1934 and 1942 including John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941), one of the first movies now considered a classic film noir.

The strictures of wartime also brought an interest in more fantastical subjects. These included Britain's Gainsborough melodramas (including The Man in Grey and The Wicked Lady), and films like Here Comes Mr Jordan, Heaven Can Wait, I Married a Witch and Blithe Spirit. Val Lewton also produced a series of atmospheric and influential low budget horror films, some of the more famous examples being Cat People, Isle of the Dead and The Body Snatcher. The decade probably also saw the so-called "women's pictures," such as Now, Voyager, Random Harvest and Mildred Pierce at the peak of their popularity.

1946 saw RKO Radio releasing It's a Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra. Soldiers returning from the war would provide the inspiration for films like The Best Years of Our Lives, and many of those in the film industry had served in some capacity during the war. Samuel Fuller's experiences in WWII would influence his largely autobiographical films of later decades such as The Big Red One. The Actor's Studio was founded in October 1947 by Elia Kazan, Robert Lewis, and Cheryl Crawford, and the same year Oskar Fischinger filmed Motion Painting No. 1.

In 1943, Ossessione was screened in Italy, marking the beginning of the Italian neorealist movement. Major films to come out of the movement in the forties included Bicycle Thieves, Rome, Open City, and La Terra Trema. In 1952 Umberto D was released, usually considered the last film of the movement.

In the late forties, in Britain, Ealing Studios embarked on their series of celebrated comedies, including Whisky Galore, Passport to Pimlico, Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Man in the White Suit, and Carol Reed directed his influential thrillers Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. David Lean was also rapidly becoming a force in world cinema with Brief Encounter and his Dickens adaptations Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger would reach the peak of their creative partnership with films like Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes.

 

The 1950s

The House Un-American Activities Committee investigated Hollywood in the early 1950s. Protested by the Hollywood Ten before the committee, the hearings resulted in the blacklisting of many actors, writers and directors, including Chayefsky, Charlie Chaplin, and Dalton Trumbo, and many of these fled to Europe, especially the United Kingdom.

The Cold War era zeitgeist translated into a paranoia manifested in themes such as invading armies of evil aliens, (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The War of the Worlds); and communist fifth columnists, (The Manchurian Candidate).

In the post-war years Hollywood also faced another threat. Living rooms were beginning to be invaded by television, and the increasing popularity of the medium meant that some movie theatres would go bankrupt and close. The demise of the "studio system" spurred the self-commentary of films like Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).

In 1950, the Lettrists avante-garde movement caused riots at the Cannes Film Festival, when Isidore Isou's Treatise on Slime and Eternity was screened. After their criticism of Charlie Chaplin and split with the movement, the Ultra-Lettrists continued to cause disruptions when they announced the death of cinema and showed their new hypergraphical techniques. The most notorious film is Guy Debord's Bombs in Favor of DeSade from 1952.

Distressed by the increasing number of closed theatres, studios and companies would find new and innovative ways to bring audiences back. These included attempts to literally widen their appeal with new screen formats. Cinemascope, which would remain a 20th Century Fox distinction until 1967, was announced with 1953's The Robe. VistaVision, Cinerama, boasted a "bigger is better" approach to marketing movies to a shrinking US audience. This lead to the re-emergence of the epic film to take advantage of the new big screen formats. Some of the most successful examples of these Biblical and historical spectaculars include The Ten Commandments (1956), The Vikings (1958), Ben-Hur (1959), Spartacus (1960) and El Cid (1961).

Gimmicks also proliferated to lure in audiences. The magic of 3-D film would last for only two years, 1952-1954, and helped sell House of Wax and Creature from The Black Lagoon. Producer William Castle would tout films featuring "Emergo" "Percepto", the first of a long line of gimmicks that would remain popular marketing tools for Castle and others throughout the 1960s.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954) set the stage for The Blackboard Jungle (1955), and some notable early TV productions like Paddy Chayefsky's Marty and Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men would be turned into critically acclaimed films.

Disney's Sleeping Beauty was released on January 29, 1959 by Buena Vista Distribution after nearly a decade in production.

Across the globe, the 1950s marked the golden era of Indian Cinema with more than 200 films being made. Indian films also gained world recognition through films like Pather Panchali (1955), from critically acclaimed Academy Award winning director Satyajit Ray. Television began competing seriously with films projected in theatres, but surprisingly it promoted moviegoing all the more instead of curtailing it.

 

The 1960s

The 1960s saw the increasing decline of the studio system in Hollywood. Many films were now being made on location in other countries, or using studio facilities abroad, such as Pinewood in England and Cinecittà in Rome. Hollywood movies were still largely aimed at big family audiences, and it was often the more old-fashioned films that produced the studios' biggest successes. Productions like Mary Poppins (1964), My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965) were among the biggest money-makers of the decade, but American films were losing the creative impetus to British and European film makers. The growth in independent producers and production companies, and the increase in the power of individual actors also contributed to the decline in traditional Hollywood studio production.

There was also an increasing awareness of foreign language cinema in this period. The late 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of the French New Wave with films like Les quatre cents coups and Jules et Jim from directors such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Italian films like Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, and the stark dramas of Sweden's Ingmar Bergman were also making an impact outside their home countries.

In Britain, the "Free Cinema" of Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and others lead to a group of realistic and ground-breaking dramas including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving and This Sporting Life. Other British films such as Repulsion, Darling, Alfie, Blowup and Georgy Girl (all in 1965-1966) helped to break taboos around sex and nudity on screen, while the casual sex and violence of the James Bond films, beginning with Dr. No in 1962 would turn the series into a worldwide phenomenon.

Africans had been denied the right to make movies for decades. In the sixties, however Ousmane Sembène produced several French- and Wolof-language films became the 'father' of African Cinema.

In Latin America the dominance of the Hollywood model was challenged by many film makers. Fernando Solanas and Octavio Gettino called for a politically engaged Third Cinema in contrast to Hollywood and the European auteur cinema.

In documentary film the sixties saw the blossoming of Direct Cinema, an observational style of film making as well as the advent of more overtly partisan films like The year of the pig about the Vietnam War by Emile de Antonio.

By the late 1960s however, Hollywood was beginning to claw back some of the creative impetus with films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Graduate (1967), Midnight Cowboy (1969), and The Wild Bunch (1969). Bonnie and Clyde is often seen as the beginning of the New Hollywood.

 

The 'New Hollywood' or Post-classical cinema

'The New Hollywood' and 'post-classical cinema' are terms used to describe the period following the decline of the studio system in the 50s and 60s and the end of the production code. It is defined by a greater tendency to dramatize such things as sexuality and violence, and by the rising importance of blockbuster movies.

'Post-classical cinema' is a term used to describe the changing methods of storytelling in the New Hollywood. It has been argued that new approaches to drama and characterization played upon audience expectations acquired in the classical/Golden Age period: chronology may be scrambled, storylines may feature "twist endings", and lines between the antagonist and protagonist may be blurred. The roots of post-classical storytelling may be seen in film noir, in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and in Hitchcock's storyline-shattering Psycho.

The 1970s saw the emergence of a new generation of American film makers, like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Brian de Palma. This coincided with the increasing popularity of the auteur theory in film literature and the media, a development which gave these directors far greater control over their projects than would have been possible in earlier eras. This led to some enormous critical and commercial successes, like Coppola's The Godfather films, Spielberg's Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and George Lucas's Star Wars. It also, however, led to some inevitable failures, including Peter Bogdanovich's At Long Last Love and Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate. The latter almost single-handledly brought down its backer United Artists following its release in 1980.

The disaster of Heaven's Gate is generally seen as marking the end of the "New Hollywood". The phenomenal success in the 1970s of Jaws and Star Wars in particular, lead to the rise of the modern blockbuster, with the Hollywood studios increasingly intent on producing a smaller number of very high budget films with massive marketing and promotional backing. This trend had already been foreshadowed by the commercial success of earlier films such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.

The mid-1970s had also seen a big increase in adult cinemas and the legal production of hardcore pornographic films in the U.S. Deep Throat and its star Linda Lovelace became something of a phenomenon and lead to a spate of similar sex films throughout the decade. These would finally die out with the introduction of VCR technology in the 1980s.

The early '70s also alerted English language audiences to the new West German cinema, with Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders among its leading exponents.

The end of the decade saw the first major international interest in Australian cinema. Peter Weir's films Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave and Fred Schepisi's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith gained critical acclaim, while George Miller's violent futuristic actioner Mad Max was a substantial hit in 1979 and marked the beginning of Australian attempts to target the international market.

 

The '80s: sequels, blockbusters and videotape

The shift that occurred in the 1980s from seeing movies in a theater to watching videos on a VCR, is a move close to the original concepts of Thomas Edison. In the early part of that decade, the movie studios tried legal action to ban home ownership of VCRs as a violation of copyright, which proved unsuccessful. That proved fortunate, however, as the sale and rental of their movies on home video became a significant source of revenue for the movie companies.

The Lucas-Spielberg combine would dominate Hollywood cinema for much of the 1980s, and lead to much imitation. Two follow-ups to Star Wars, three to Jaws, and three Indiana Jones films helped to make sequels to successful films more of an expectation than ever before. Lucas also launched THX Ltd, a division of Lucasfilm in 1982 [2], while Spielberg enjoyed one of the decade's biggest successes in E.T. the same year. American independent cinema struggled more during the decade, although Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), After Hours (1985), and The King of Comedy (1983) helped to establish him as one of the most critically acclaimed American film makers of the era.

British cinema was given a boost during the early 1980s by the arrival of David Puttnam's company Goldcrest Films. The films Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, The Killing Fields and A Room with a View appealed to a middlebrow audience which was increasingly being ignored by the major Hollywood studios.

While the 1970s had helped to define the modern blockbuster motion picture, the way Hollywood released its films would now change. Films, for the most part, would premiere in a wider number of theatres, although, to this day, some movies still premiere using the route of the limited/roadshow release system. Against some expectations, the rise of the multiplex cinema did not allow less mainstream films to be shown, but simply allowed the major blockbusters to be given an even greater number of screenings. However, films that had been overlooked in cinemas were increasingly being given a second chance on home video and later DVD.

 

The 1990s: technical advances

The early 1990s saw the rise of a commercially successful independent cinema in the United States. Although the box office was increasingly dominated by effects-heavy films such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) or Titanic (1997), films like Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies and videotape (1989) and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) enjoyed significant commercial success both at the cinema and on home video. The major studios would begin to create their own "independent" production companies to finance and produce such films. One of the most successful independents of the 1990s, Miramax Films, was bought by Disney the year before the release of Tarantino's runaway hit Pulp Fiction in 1994. The same year marked the beginning of film and video distribution online. Animated films aimed at family audiences also regained their popularity, with Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. 1995 saw the first feature length computer-animated feature with Pixar's Toy Story.

In the 1990s, cinema began the process of making another transition, from physical film stock to digital cinema technology. Meanwhile, in the home video realm, the DVD would become the new standard for watching movies after their standard theatrical releases.

 

The new millennium

Peter Greenaway's The Tulse Luper Suitcases takes advantage of new media and high definition technology. The documentary film also rose as a commercial genre for perhaps the first time, with the success of films such as March of the Penguins and Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. A new genre is created with Martin Kunert and Eric Manes' Voices of Iraq, when 150 inexpensive DV cameras are distributed across Iraq, transforming ordinary people into collaborative filmmakers. The success of Gladiator lead to a revival of interest in epic cinema. Home theatre systems became increasingly sophisticated, as did some of the special edition DVDs designed to be shown on them. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was released on DVD in the theatrical versions and in special edition versions intended only for the home cinema audience.

Future: Problems of digital distribution to be overcome -- higher compression, cheaper technology. Content security. Expiration of copyrights, enforcing copyright.

 

Machinima and The Long Tail

One major new development in the early 21st century is the development of systems that make it much easier for regular people to write, shoot, edit and distribute their own movies without the large aparatus of the film industry. This phenomenon and its repercussions are outlined in Chris Anderson's theory, The Long Tail. One of the new systems for this kind of filmmaking is a new process called machinima, which is best exemplified by the comedy series Red vs. Blue and the action/drama series The Codex.

 

The underground

Alongside the Hollywood tradition, there has also been an underground film tradition of low budget, often self-produced works created outside of the studio system and without the involvement of labor unions.


Movie Mania was last Updated On: 05/24/2007     By: Alex Roth

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Movie Mania was last Updated On: 05/24/2007     By: Alex Roth