Development of The Cinema: From Science To Art -- Part II

Nickelodeons And Hale's Shows
                    Harry Davis, a real-estate operator opened the famous nickelodeon or five-cent theater. Harry was a excellent show man and opened his nickelodeon with The Great Train Robbery in 1905. The immediate success of Davis's theater inspired speculators all over the United States to start similar shows, and it was not long before these nickelodeon's sprang up everywhere.

                    At the same time, in Europe, story-pictures continued for the most part to be shown in concert halls. During this time the famous Hale's tours were conducted with great success from 1903 to 1909. These consisted of panoramic and traveling shots of scenes in various countries, projected onto a screen at the end of a room which was arranged like the interior of a railway carriage. The spectators were given a illusion of a tour through some distant land, the screen variously showing the railway track and spectacular views of well-known beauty spots.

                   Out of the Nickelodeons, concert halls, and Hale's tours there developed the first cinemas, which carried the profitable business and caused an increased demand, for story-pictures. This led to the formation of film studios. This led to create longer-story films; and there grew up around the latter many names which were to become world-famous.

The Dawn of New Era In Cinema

                       In 1908, D.W. Griffith, a stage-actor, was engaged by the American Biograph company of New york as a scenario-writer and actor, and his great influence on the cinema was to manifest itself during the next ten years. At this time, one-reeler Westerns, with their Cowboys and Indians, were especially popular with the ever-increasing film public. American Biograph had been entangled in a long, arduous patents battle with Edison for years. It was reorganized and was attempting to regain the quality its films had lost during the distracting patents war. Griffith strode to Biograph at this precise moment, and within a year was supervising all of the Biograph’s film production, directing the greater part of the films himself.

                 From 1911 to 1914, the whole film industry developed with astounding rapidity. But the most sensational pictures now began to came from Europe, and had considerable influence on the American producers. From Italy came a series of big productions or feature films, including a version of Homer's Odyssey, Faust, Three Musketeers; but the forerunner of every spectacle film, was Quo Vadisf, a mammoth production of 1912, eight thousand feet in length. Since the day when American producers first saw Quo Vadisf, cinema audiences of the world have presented with super-spectacle after super-spectacle.

Racist Masterpiece

                 With the out-break of war in 1914, film production virtually came to end in Europe. The road was left to America to secure for herself the supreme commercial control which she still holds. That they made the best of their opportunity is only to their credit. At the time, Griffith's reply to European movie spectacles came with "The Birth of Nation."  Based on the novel 'The Clansman' by Thomas Dixon, the movie shows the consequences of civil war in the life of two brothers, and the birth of Ku Klux clan. 

              Birth of A Nation was called 'racist masterpiece,' because it expressed hatred towards African-Americans and glorified the Ku Klux clan, which lynched 54-Africa Americans in United States, in the year 1914 alone. What today's movie-lovers viewing Griffith’s distorted view of Reconstruction tend to forget is that he was portraying the commonly accepted view of that period in American history. It was the first movie to be shown in White House, and the president Woodrow Wilson reportedly remarked : “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all too terribly true.”

              The Birth of a Nation is justly credited with being the single motion picture from the medium's formative years that established film as a means for political propaganda, as a method of artistic self-expression and a form of mass entertainment that would soon become one of the country's major industries. Its popularity also appears to have affected other filmmakers' approaches to directing and editing.

Intolerance (1916)
                After both the public controversy and overwhelming success surrounding The Birth of a Nation, Griffith decided to direct Intolerance, a huge cinematic experiment, using four separate stories set in separate historical eras, cutting back and forth from one to the other. The unusual structural technique was way ahead of its time. Intolerance was not a huge failure at the box office, but it was not the kind of overwhelming success that The Birth of a Nation had been, and Griffith’s stature as the most famous, admired film director was untarnished. 

The European Film Industries After War

                   After the war, the predominant country in Europe to attempt producing pictures on anything like big scale was Germany. Let's leave Soviet Russia out of the matter for a moment, for although they started to build an industry at an early date, they were not concerned with the outside market. They made films with a purpose of her own people. 

                  Superb as many of the early German productions were, they failed to appeal to a public accustomed to American flashiness. Added to which, Germany, like most other European countries at the time, was financially poor, and to build a healthy film industry very considerable capital is needed. Their films, although far better quality than the American output, failed to secure adequate returns, and Hollywood, quick to recognize the brains behind these productions, began to rob Germany of her directors, technicians, and turn them to her own commercial uses. In Sweden, Denmark, France much the same story can be told. 

                 For some time Sweden tried gallantly to make films of good quality, but again financial failure was the result, one by one her best directors drifted across to Hollywood, where their work steadily deteriorated. Instead of remaining persons of individual taste, they became cogs in the great movie machine of Hollywood. 

                 Then, came the three major stylistic movements in Europe: Expressionism and Surrealism in Germany, Impressionism in France, and the Montage school in the USSR. These film movements have inspired the visual and narrative construction of  all contemporary masters of cinema. What are these film movements?, how and why they come to exist and why certain film movements continue to inspire film artists today?, let's see that in the next part.


The Oxford History of World Cinema : Edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith

Phantom Rides - BFI Screen Online 

Quo Vadisf - Film 


vinay said...

Nice peek through the development of one of the greatest inventions of mankind. :)

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

A great conclusion to your earlier post :) Well done, buddy.

Arun said...

vinay, Thanks for the comment.

@Haricharan, Thank you. Now i am trying to write about the golden era of silent films.

Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury said...

great post!