Cathedrals of Pleasure

Cathedrals of Pleasure

The Rise of Hollywood

The rise of Hollywood signaled the arrival of America’s urban-industrial age, a period when traditional values and established notions of family and community, of the social and political order, and of individual freedom and initiative were radically transformed. Hollywood movies were among the first and were certainly the most widespread and accessible manifestations of an emergent “mass culture” which brought with it new forms of cultural expression.

Read the Article

European and German Cinema at the Twenties

With the perfection of a moving picture camera in 1892, and the subsequent invention of the peep hole kinetoscope in 1893, the stage was set for the modern film industry. Previewed at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago during the summer of 1893, the kinetoscope could handle only one customer at a time.

Read the Article

The Coming of Sound

Meanwhile a secret race to the screen was taking place. Probably the first to project, outside the Edison laboratories, was the late Major Woodville Latham, a hero of the Confederacy, from Virginia, who opened a flickering show at about 140 Broadway in May of 1895. Meanwhile in France, Louis and Auguste Lumière of Lyons, and Robert W. Paul of London achieved the screen, and in Washington, Thomas Armat brought forth a projector commercially shown in Atlanta in September, 1895. All of these machines were based on Edison’s peep show Kinetoscope and used his films primarily.

Read the Article

Russian Revolutionary Cinema

The ethnic nationality and socio-economic class ascribed to villains in Soviet films have in general coincided with those of real enemies under attack by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In addition, screen villains have usually been depicted as motivated by social goals in the realm of political power. Soviet film heroes, on the other hand, as a rule shared the ethnic nationality of Communist Party members and their allies.

Read the Article

The success of Griffith and Aitken

The major figure in the rise of the American film, David Wark Griffith, did not want to make motion pictures. No contradiction proved more ironic for, in the entire history of the American screen, no other director achieved greater success, none won more esteem. This “enigmatic and somewhat tragic” figure, as Gilbert Seldes describes him, secretly cherished the ambition to become famous as an author and counted the moments until he should have sufficient money to quit the “flickers” and write. Ashamed of “selling his soul,” he changed his name on entering the movies, only later to retrieve it and make it as familiar as the term “movie” itself.

Read the Article

The Success of Griffith and Aitken

The Birth of a Nation - The Success of Griffith and Aitken

The major figure in the rise of the American film, David Wark Griffith, did not want to make motion pictures. No contradiction proved more ironic for, in the entire history of the American screen, no other director achieved greater success, none won more esteem. This “enigmatic and somewhat tragic” figure, as Gilbert Seldes describes him, secretly cherished the ambition to become famous as an author and counted the moments until he should have sufficient money to quit the “flickers” and write. Ashamed of “selling his soul,” he changed his name on entering the movies, only later to retrieve it and make it as familiar as the term “movie” itself.

Griffith further developed the art of Melies and Porter, contributing devices of his own that made for greater unity, clarity, and effectiveness. Sensing from the beginning, the need for a body of technique to catch and control the emotions of the spectator, he did more to realize a method and a viewpoint than any other man of his day. Although he was himself a former actor and playwright, he repudiated theatrical conventions and evolved a method of expression peculiar to the screen.

Griffith came to films at that propitious moment when they were in the plastic beginnings of artistic development. To them he brought new elements of form and a variety of resources, and added at least two great productions to American motion picture achievement. The most revered and influential movie creator of his day, and perhaps of all motion picture history, he justified the new medium to the world. His productions became models for directors wherever films were made, and to this day stand not only as important achievements in themselves but as the source of central motion picture developments.

The success of Griffith and Aitken gave rise to great ambitions. Financiers, dazzled by the sums earned in a few weeks by Griffith’s associates, were now willing to entrust vast sums to him. Everyone wanted to make another Birth of a Nation, provoke more riots and draw correspondingly big profits. Griffith formed an alliance with the two most successful directors of the day, Mack Sennett and Thomas Ince and, with Aitken, formed the Triangle Corporation. Griffith, who had always taken especial pains in selecting his actors, was yet unable to avoid the European errors which had been responsible for the Films d’Art. The new firm immediately set about trying to sign up America’s most famous actors. Into this company came Douglas Fairbanks and William S. Hart, but even more important were Mack Sennett and Charlie Chaplin.

The public was all prepared to bless Triangle’s efforts, for in the United States the same thing was happening that had happened in France in 1908. A part of that public which is regarded as the élite had condescended to interest itself in the new art. Now these people, as usual, believed that good films could only be made by employing well-known and popular actors and employing them in productions which would be costly and in which, therefore, only the most elevated sentiments could be expressed. A special cinema was rented for these people, the Knickerbocker Theatre in New York, in which they paid theater prices and warmly applauded the new films.

The common ordinary public, however, which cared nothing for art and tragic emotions and great gestures, proved unenthusiastic. As they also were less polite and much less prejudiced by tradition than the French public, they simply declared that the “great actors” acted very badly. In any case, an actor who is a celebrity in New York may very well be unknown in Alabama. So it turned out that the large public very quickly learned to avoid these elegant actors and to keep away from Triangle’s films. The firm was so well financed that it would have been able to continue awhile but that it was hoist with its own petard.

Many film stars were already earning big salaries. In order to sign up the famous stage actors it had been deemed wise to offer them even larger sums. The film people quickly realized that they were better “box office” at worse pay than these stage grandees. They demanded increases, and Triangle was under the necessity of paying two sets of actors at top prices, one set engaged on long contract and no good at all, the other very good indeed but continually demanding more money. Exhibitors refused to pay the high rentals demanded, and it was not long before Triangle passed out of existence.

Next Page: Modern Industrial Buildings

Russian Revolutionary Cinema

Battleship Potemkin - Russian Revolutionary Cinema

The ethnic nationality and socio-economic class ascribed to villains in Soviet films have in general coincided with those of real enemies under attack by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In addition, screen villains have usually been depicted as motivated by social goals in the realm of political power. Soviet film heroes, on the other hand, as a rule shared the ethnic nationality and socio-economic class of Communist Party members and their allies.

They were portrayed as strong, active and capable of resistance to the villains. As Communist control over Soviet film content stiffened with the passage of time, the Party periodically required changes in the characterizations of film heroes and villains to keep pace with new developments in the domestic and foreign policies of the Bolshevik regime. Quantitative content analysis of Soviet films provides evidence that these demands have guided film-makers in the U.S.S.R. for many years.

“Of all the arts”, said Lenin, “for us the cinema is the most important.” The energy of the Russian Revolution was closely attached to the impact of rapid industrialization, and nowhere were the effects of that conjunction more firmly felt than the arts. For a brief period in its early years, the October Revolution produced an atmosphere in which, it seemed, the nature of perception itself had changed. Revolutionary artists endorsed the polemical purposes of new art forms for the people – poster art, popular theater and poetry, but most of all film.

Newsreels not only spread the new regime’s propaganda message but also revealed the vast diversity and resources of the Soviet Union to its people for the first time.In their technique, too, Soviet filmmakers enthusiastically adopted the machine esthetic.

For purposes of content analysis a sample of heroes and a sample of villains in Soviet films have been classified as to their ethnic nationality, socio-economic class, motivation, age, and sex. Motivation was divided into goals, in terms of a personal-social dichotomy, and into areas such as politics, economics, romantic love, family, and culture. Classification was based on total judgments which considered all clues pertaining to heroes and villains. The units chosen for analysis were complete full-length feature films produced between 1923 and 1950.

A chronic shortage of filmstock during the Civil War made necessity the stepmother of Lev Kulushay’s inventive theory of montage,but he took the main part of his inspiration the automobile-factory assembly line. He maintained that two film pieces of any kind, edited together, inevitably combined into a new concept arising out of their juxtaposition. Soviet filmmakers used montage to produce a cinema which rejected Hollywood’s conventional construction of space and time and celebrated the fragmentary perception of modem life in the metropolis.

Practically all Soviet films discussed in available English-language publications were included in the two samples, provided that an adequate description of their content was obtainable. The titles of over 400 Soviet films were found by perusal of books, magazines and newspapers in the English language, but information about the villains depicted was available for only 130 films, and about heroes for only 240. The representativeness of these samples cannot be determined. It is estimated, however, that they are based on about 10 and 20 per cent, respectively, of all feature films produced in the Soviet Union during the period 1923-1950.

In Strike (1924), Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October (1927), films which mythologized the Revolution for the general public in Soviet Russia, Sergei Eisenstein assembled his images in dynamic collision. He insisted that a film should be constructed in the spectator’s imaginatidn, through an association of ideas generated by the clashing of shots.

Next Page: The Success of Griffith and Aitken

The Coming of Sound

The Jazz Singer - The Coming of Sound

Meanwhile a secret race to the screen was taking place. Probably the first to project, outside the Edison laboratories, was the late Major Woodville Latham, a hero of the Confederacy, from Virginia, who opened a flickering show at about 140 Broadway in May of 1895. Meanwhile in France, Louis and Auguste Lumière of Lyons, and Robert W. Paul of London achieved the screen, and in Washington, Thomas Armat brought forth a projector commercially shown in Atlanta in September, 1895. All of these machines were based on Edison’s peep show Kinetoscope and used his films primarily.

Communication was slow then. When the showmen of New York began to demand a screen machine, the Edison agents, Raff & Gammon of New York, investigated Armat’s invention, named it the Vitascope, and made a deal at West Orange to have it manufactured and offered as an Edison device–because the market looked to Edison, who was indeed the father of the motion picture.

The revolution wrought by sound had given rise to a new galaxy of stars and introduced new types of pictures. Many of the familiar figures of the movie world continued in the talkies their success in silent films; a few staged remarkable come-backs after a period of eclipse while they adapted themselves to an unfamiliar technique.

Actors and actresses of the legitimate stage, who had often scorned the pantomime of the silent film, made their hopeful way to California in droves, and a good many of them remained. Singers and dancers, for whom the talkies represented an entirely new opportunity, were suddenly in great demand. In a whirl of expanding energy, Hollywood exploited all the means at its disposal to reach the still broader market for popular entertainment now opening up.

By 1920 the industry had embarked on a second phase of monopoly control. It was organized not around patents but around the economies of scale permitted within large companies involved in production, distribution and exhibition. Under its president, Adolph Zukor, Paramount developed some of the basic mechanisms of monopoly control such as block booking, by which exhibitors could buy films only in groups, whether they wanted all the films or not.

Other companies, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Fox, enlisted Wall Street finance in following ZukoI’s example. In 1922 they formed a trade association, the Motion Pichýre Producers and Distributors of America, Inc. (MPPDA). As its president, and “spokesman for the industry”, they hired Will H. Hays, then Postmaster General, and the man who had run Warren Harding’s successful presidential campaign in 1920.

The diversity of pictures that sound made possible was the most characteristic feature of the movies in the 1930’s. They were filling the democratic role that the theatre itself had played a century earlier, and nightly programs often showed a startling resemblance to those of the popular playhouses of that earlier day. As well as straight theatre, the movies offered a modern equivalent for the equestrian melodramas, elaborate burlesques, and variety shows which had once had such wide appeal.

At firstrun houses there might be seen in quick succession a classical play filmed with all the artistry the producers now commanded, an extravagant girl-and-music show, a detective thriller, a bloodand-thunder western melodrama, a sophisticated comedy, and a slap-stick farce. A single show, again like those of mid-century, invariably included one of these main features; one or more specialities, which might well be a singing or dancing act (the news reel was an innovation for which the theatre had had no parallel); and a comedy short, which took the place of the nineteenth-century afterpiece.

While the Hays Office, as the MPPDA was popularly known, was most famous for its involvement in film censorship, it was also much less publidy involved in a wide range of political and legal activities on behalf of its members.

The major companies cooperated with each other on such major issues as censorship, legislation and the introduction of sound. Wamer Bros pioneered sound movies as part of a planned program of expansion which included extensive theater purchases. In August 1926 they assembled their first package of sound films, containing six musical performances and the John Barrymore feature Don Juan, which had recorded musical accompaniment.

Initially uncertain of the long-term profits in sound, the larger companies agreed to spend a year jointly investigating all the available systems.

Meanwhile, Wamers continued to produce short sound films featuring the biggest stars of vaudeville, including Al Jolson. In 1928 the other companies opted for the Vitaphone system used by Wamers. In order to exploit RCA’s rival Photophone system which they had rejected, David Samoff, head of RCA, organized a series of mergers to create the last of the great Hollywood companies, RKO (Radio Keith Orpheum). A year later, RCA took over the Victor Talking Machine Company, making itself the first entertainment media conglomerate, with interests in broadcasting, recording, movies and vaudeville.

The feature films derived from plays of the legitimate stage ranged from Camille to Petticoat Fever, from Pygmalion to Idiot’s Delight. Historical romances were elaborately produced: Disraeli was a favorite picture one year, and in another Cimarron, a story of Oklahoma pioneering. Gone With the Wind was a sensation at the close of 1939. Well-known classics were adapted to the screen, with such notable successes as Captains Courageous and David Copperfield. New possibilities opened up with animated cartoons. The “Silly Symphonies” had a great success, and one of the most popular pictures in 1937-38 was the cartoon fairy-tale (photographed in color) of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Next Page: Russian Revolutionary Cinema

European and German Cinema at the Twenties

European and German Cinema at the Twenties

With the perfection of a moving picture camera in 1892, and the subsequent invention of the peep hole kinetoscope in 1893, the stage was set for the modern film industry. Previewed at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago during the summer of 1893, the kinetoscope could handle only one customer at a time. For a penny or a nickel in the slot, one could watch brief, unenlarged 35-mm black-and-white motion pictures.

The kinetoscope provided a source of inspiration to other inventors; and, more importantly, its successful commercial exploitation convinced investors that motion pictures had a solid financial future. Kinetoscope parlors had opened in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and scores of other cities all over the country by the end of 1894. The kinetoscope spread quickly to Europe as well, where Edison, revealing his minimal commitment to motion pictures, never even bothered to take out patents.

By 1909 motion pictures had clearly become a large industry, with three distinct phases of production, exhibition, and distribution; in addition, directing, acting, photography, writing, and lab work emerged as separate crafts.

Europeans were daring but decadent, sensual but seIf-destructive, charming but dangerous and even evil. They sought, in other words, to do exactly what Hollywood recognized was not permitted to Americans in the new culture of consumption: to enact their desires rather than to sublimate them. While Parisians and Londoners might not recognize themselves easily in such Hollywood-constructed Babylons, a good deal of European silent cinema enacted aspects of the American fantasy. Toppled from its position of world dominance by the war, the French cinema retreated into the parochial concems of Parisian high culture. In films like L’Inhumane (1924) and Le Brasier Ardent (1923) it revealed a concem with seIf-conscious experiment, often in a Cubist-inspired style.

In European countries, notably in France, where pioneer work in moving pictures was even more advanced than it was in the United States, developments followed a quite different course. There was nothing comparable to the nickelodeon madness of this country. Instead of appealing to a mass market, the movies essayed the rôle of sophisticated entertainment. Although foreign producers at first made far better films, their efforts to maintain artistic standards lost them the world-wide market that American producers eventually built up because their pictures had a universal appeal.

American movies would never have become the outstanding popular entertainment they are to-day had foreign precedents been followed, while a limited market would also have prevented their attaining the technical perfection which has been Hollywood’s real contribution to this world-wide amusement. Moving pictures became a leading feature of American recreation because they represented the culmination of the democratizing influences in the field of urban entertainment which had been at work for over a century.

In the interval, the German film developed quite independently in isolation. No foreign films were shown. The former favorites vanished, all save Henny Porten, Lotte Neumann and the exceptionally gifted Asta Nielsen. New figures came into prominence –Werner Krauss, Emil Jannings, Paul Wegener and Pola Negri.

Wegener directed as well as acted; so did Richard Oswald, Eichberg and Lubitsch. Eichberg earned much praise for his Let There Be Light and Ferdinand Lassalle; Wegener for his romantic and Hoffmannesque Student of Prague, in which the German preoccupation with the macabre and fondness for occultism mixed with science are already evident. They were also evident in Nordisk Homunculus.

As for Jannings, he made his screen debut in a Lubitsch film in 1915, then appeared in a version of Daudet Fromont Jr. and Risler Sr., directed by Robert Wiene in 1916. Next he was seen in Arthur Robison terrifying A Night of Horror and in Lubitsch Marriage of Louise Rohrbach ( 1917). Many German and Scandinavian films sought to contrast the complacency of bourgeois life with the precarious yet imaginatively richer community of artists, entertainers and prostitutes.

The decadence that Hollywood imagined was echoed in many of these films, with their assumption that passion’s choice of love-object is arbitrary and often, as in C.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1928), linked to a wish for seIf-destruction. In other respects German cinema shared with the French a greater concern for technique – the almost constantly mobile camera of F.W. Mumau’s The Last Laugh (1925), for example – than for character, psychology or politics.

Many of the contradictions of European cinema derived from its attempts to define a commercial position for itseIf, both within its own culture and in the world market, in the face of the dominance of Hollywood products and styles. But they also resulted from unresolved tensions about the uncertain status of cinema in Europe. lts commercial appeal and its melodramatic plots, frequently derived from pulp fiction, denied it elitist “artistic” value on any quasi-literary grounds of narrative or thematic complexity. lnstead, directors like Murnau or Fritz Lang achieved their cultural status as artists in the way that painters did, through displays of technical virtuosity.

For many foreign audiences, the lure of Hollywood movies had much to do with the physical genius of Americans. In Eric Rhode’s phrase, “They held the secret of movement, and Europeans went to American movies to learn the secret.” In the process, they found themselves seduced into desiring the American things they saw on the screen. Using the maxim, “Trade Follows the Films”, the movie industry and the State Department promoted Hollywood as an advertiser of American culture.

For Hollywood the European film industries were a source of talent, a means by which they could import new ideas and faces. Directors such as Murnau and Emst Lubitsch, and stars such as Pola Negri and Greta Garbo were lured by American money and facilities. There they found that Hollywood’ s narratives did not have time for the complex characterization of the realist novel or naturalist drama; nor did they draw attention to their techniques.

Next Page: The Coming of Sound