The History of Film

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jakob-owens-199505-unsplashHere at TV4Education, we have a lot of interest in film, and in particular, its development into a digital medium that all of us are so frequently exposed to today.

 

The development of film has had a significant impact upon the way we learn and our worldview, often forming the contextual backbone for much of our culture- either via immortalising historical moments or perpetuating them in the first place. Stop and consider for a moment just how many of our contemporary culture’s touchstones are either captured by, or initiated from, film (be it photography or the moving image).

 

Furthermore, we spend an immense amount of time in front of a screen- a 2017 study by Nielsen found that the average American household watches a collective 7 hours and 50 minutes of television per day (this doesn’t account for other screen-related activities, such as social media, utilising streaming services, YouTube, etc.). Australian statistics read fairly similarly- the quarterly review from Oztam found that the average Australian home now has 6.2 screens per household, the majority of which have internet capabilities, and as individuals, we spend approximately 26.4 days per annum watching television (again, this doesn’t account for screen-related activities outside of this).

 

The verdict is in, and like it or not, Western society as a whole is consuming vast quantities of visual and digital media everyday, with this only being on the rise. It stands to reason that with these rapid changes, the way that we learn and interact is changing too. Or perhaps it is merely being catered to better than ever before- according to Dr. Lynell Burmark, images are directly processed by our longterm memory, whereas words are filtered first by our short term memory, which only retains approximately 7 pieces of information. Additionally, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and is processed 60,000 times faster than text.

 

Visual and digital media is more accessible than ever before- the click of a button and you can access information or virtually any subject from all over the globe. But in proportion to how much time we collectively spend consuming visual media, we tend to know comparatively little about its origins.

 

Film has changed a huge amount since its arguable genesis in the 1890s. Prior to this there were a number of precursors to film- be it the camera obscura, magic lanterns, stroboscopic animation devices or even shadow puppetry. Humanity as a whole has always had a fascination with the moving image.

 

The oldest surviving film in existence is the Roundhay Garden Scene by Louis Le Prince, made in 1888. At first appearance this film seems somewhat insignificant- it is a mere 2 seconds long, monochromatic and silent. Nonetheless, it captures something that photography and portraiture alone can’t capture- kinetic movement. Though this initial example lacks narrative, that was soon to come, and kineticism was to be a powerful part of story telling and our absorption of visual information, giving audiences the ability to see the subject moving from place to place and not only within the pages of a book or a theatre stage.   

Initial films from this time period were seen as vaudeville entertainment, generally lasting under a minute and far more absorbed with the technology of the moving image than the story or information that image was attempting to convey- predominantly a novelty at this point. However, from there, film developed at a breakneck pace. In the span of a decade, cinema became a way to bring stage performances to the masses, in addition to travelogues, the latter of which catered beautifully to the Victorian fascination with exoticism. It wasn’t long before film was considered to be a medium in its own right, rather than a temporary curio, developing its own metalanguage of cinematography, with one of the first films with more than one shot being Robert W. Paul’s 1898 ‘Come Along, Do!’. And no surprise either- film clearly touched upon the power of visuals, something that was far more universal than a vocal language, though that too would come to be incorporated into the scope of cinema.

 

It wasn’t long before film turned from being a novelty to being considered serious business, with the first film-exclusive theatre, ‘The Nickelodeon’, opening in 1905. By 1910, film actors were being credited for their roles, and the films that they were starring in became increasingly longer, featuring narrative flow and character arcs.

 

In America, film companies quickly tried to find a unified base, initially splitting the year between Fort Lee and Jacksonville, before congregating to Hollywood by World War 1. By now there was a huge global influx for this noveau industry, with the United States, Italy Germany, France and Britain leading the way, in addition to smaller, less centralised film hubs such as Denmark and Russia.

 

Whilst the film industry was on the rise, the commencement and duration of World War 1 brought about a significant transition for the industry, with many companies and countries’ industries either collapsing entirely or vastly reducing their scale of production. This shift toppled the French and Italian monopoly as the the center of film production, with America / Hollywood coming to the forefront in their wake. By the 1920s, Hollywood was producing over 800 films per annum, over 80% of the total global film production. Additionally, going to the cinema was quickly becoming a weekly necessity, with approximately 50 million Americans attending every week. With the vast amounts of people coming to seem films every week, Hollywood began to create their own culture, implementing the ‘star system’ and garnering a huge amount of control over the public presentation and lives of their actors.

 

The development of the industry once again picked up in the post-war environment, with the first film with sound being released in 1927. Within two years, Hollywood had almost entirely shunned the silent film, and whilst the change was markedly slower in the rest of the world, the impact of sound was evident and the apparent immersion into film was nigh on complete. The inclusion of sound gave birth to the musical film in addition to the modern horror film, with the release of King Kong, Dracula and Frankenstein in the early 1930s. In addition to this, the invention of technicolour in 1916 positively revolutionised the industry, evident in multiple films from the period, such as the Wizard of Oz or America’s first animated feature, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’

 

Much of this development happened in the lull between the post WW1 environment, with the industry shifting yet again in the 1940s- Britain once again gained a foothold on the industry via their influx of wartime propaganda films, with America following suit with films such as Casablanca (1942) and reflecting the disillusionment of the war via the cynicism of film noir, such as the Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946).

 

Post World War 2 left no breathing room, with the Cold War commencing soon afterward. The threat of communism loomed large over the industry, with many members of the Hollywood film industry, including Charlie Chaplin and Dalton Trumbo, being blacklisted. Notably, this time period of the early 1950s was largely impacted by the commonplace introduction of the television into the home, with many film studios turning to satire or spectacle (as demonstrated by influx of 3D films and alien themed science fiction) the to keep audiences.

 

That is not to say that television toppled the film industry, far from it. However, the rise of screen time only catapulted from here, with the average American household watching nearly an hour and a half more television by 1959 than they did at the beginning of the decade. Couple that with the fact that Americans are now spending almost 24 hours per week online, with streaming service Netflix boasting over 137 million subscribers as of 2018, little over a decade after the company moved into online video streaming in 2007 and only being available worldwide since 2016. With this in mind, Netflix users had streamed over 42.5 billion hours of video via the service as of 2015, with their userbase currently spending over 100 million hours per day watching content. It seems that watching content has moved from being an event or outing to being an extension of our day to day lives, with accessibility and portability being the order of the day.

 

The way that we interact and learn has changed over the years, with our visual bias being catered to more and more as the years go by. Additionally, there is a growing expectation from consumers for a sense of immediacy with visual media, hence the requirement of portability- we want content that will fit into our lives, that we can access anywhere, anytime, on any device. As technology is viewed more and more as an extension of our day to day lives, it is a necessity that is just as flexible as we are.

 

Here at TV4Education, we endeavour to do just that- to provide you with great content that you can access 24/7, regardless of device or location. Because education should be easy, and TV4Education helps to achieve that.

 

Here’s a list of TV4Education resources in relation to this subject. If you use the SmartSuite version of TV4Education, just search for the titles below on your site:

TV4Education:  The Hollywood War

TV4Education: Looking for Truffaut

Tv4Education: The Story of Film- An Odyssey- The 1930s- The Great American Movie Genres (S01E04)

Curated YouTube: The History of Cutting- The Birth of Cinema and Continuity Editing

Curated YouTube: The History and Science of Color Film: From Isaac Newton to the Coen Brothers

Curated YouTube: The Changing Shape of Cinema: The History of Aspect Ratio

YouTube: Movies are Magic: Crash Course Film History #1

YouTube: The History of Cinema- Silent Era

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