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Cinema is a form of art and technology which started with primitive experiments in the late eighteenth century and within 20 years it had spread to all parts of the world. Apart from entertainment people used cinema in education and scientific research. The history of cinema is from the turning of the original invention on celluloid to movies or cinema.
There is no single event that defines the beginning of cinema but it can be traced to attempts to present images in a sequence. The earliest event would be in 1798 with Etienne Gaspard Robertson’s’ phantasmagoria.
The Phantasmagoria shows were common in the late 18th century where showmen used lanterns to project horror images onto walls. Etienne was a Fleming showman that used the phantascope projector behind a translucent screen to portray the horror images in 1763-1837 according to The Magic Lantern Society (5).
The experiments in the 18th and 19th century aimed at creating persistence of vision. This was a smooth continuous flow of similar images from a film passed in front of light with high speed to create an illusion of movement.
The early cinema films were moving snap shots made from one shot that were just a few minutes long. By 1905, the movies were about ten to fifteen minutes long and there was variation of the camera angle to tell a story or theme. In 1906, the Australians produced a film “The story of the Kelly gang” that was about an hour long.
Cinema became specialized events that required venues for exhibition of the films. The first film and projection development happened simultaneously in France, Germany and USA around 1895.
Two French inventors Auguste and Louis Lumières assembled a group of cameramen that went around taking shots viewed all over the world in 1896. Around the same time, Thomas Edison was popularizing the projector in the United States of America.
It became possible for anyone with the knowledge and capital to venture into cinema. In 1908, a French company ‘Pathé –Frères’ introduced a network of distribution of short films and comics scenarios all over the world. This essay discusses the historical dimensions based on different national cinemas between 1890 and 1985 (Roberta 13).
The pioneers of cinema in France were Pathé -Frères who were involved in the mass production of film and cinema equipment.
They constructed cinemas across major cities and other companies either followed their lead or found a niche in the industry like Leon Gaumont and Éclair who started the manufacture and distribution of apparatus and then opened a studio in America (1910-1913). Louis Aubert’s company gave exclusive contracts to release movies made by Italians and Dutchmen in France.
The first public viewing of a film made by the Lumières brothers marked the beginning of cinema in France before the 1900’s.There was a historical reenactment of episodes of the Transvaal war which premiered on the new years’ eve of 1900 which was filmed by Lucien Mognet and released by Charles Pathé.
During the Paris World Fair, the Lumières brothers projected a 25 minute program that contained various short films. According to Lanzoni (26) French cinema dominated world markets and this continued till the beginning of the First World War and the emergence of Hollywood.
The Lumière brothers developed the Cinématographe and first filmed the workers leaving the factory in March 1895.They actually believed that cinema was a dying art therefore they did not put too much emphasis on developing it and concentrated on production and sale of cinema equipment.
The French were the first to organize their own film industry and cinema stopped being a fair or a show attraction but a separate event with specialized venues. Pathé – Frères’ and Leon Gaumont were responsible for film making distribution, equipment manufacture and construction of cinemas halls like the 3000 capacity Gaumont Palace in Paris.
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There was an invention of genres as the audience got tired of the same type of films to include comedy, historical reconstruction, science fiction, melodrama, crime series and documentaries. For instance, the comedy genre made Max Linder a true movie star according to Abel (112).
He started his first film with Pathé- Frères and then got a contract with Hollywood’s Essanay Studios. Melodramas and Serials genre gained popularity around the same time and most of the production companies concentrated on these genres in the 1930’s.
Some of the famous works done at that time include ‘A Trip to the Moon’ by Georges Méliès who was the first film maker to use special effects in 1902.
This is the cinema of United States which is located in South California. The first movie was made by a Biograph Company known as In the Old California. After the success of making of the movie many other companies followed suit and moved to California.
They wanted to avoid paying the fees imposed by Thomas Edison who owned patents in the movie making business. The climate in South California was milder and had reliable sunlight and it made it possible to film outside all year round. These companies set up a system that came to dominate cinema in the whole world.
In the studio system production, publicity, distribution and exhibition of the films were done in factory like studios. This system was replicated in other places in the world so as to compete with the rising American market. By 1925 the system was now known as the Hollywood system that produced some of the icons like Charlie Chaplin (Maltby 21).
Hollywood was able to emerge and rise very fast mainly because of the collapse of the Motion Pictures Patent Company. This company was made up of some American and European manufactures in 1908 that came together and inflated prices of the equipments that only they could manufacture.
Some of the members left the company like Carl Laemmle, William Fox, Adolph Zukor who started Paramount and Marcus Loew (MGM). These independent movie makers started making long complicated narratives that set them apart from the Company. In 1913, they moved away from New York to California to establish Hollywood and dominated the cinema worldwide.
The production system involved mass production of popular films and distribution. They adapted Europe’s feature films and produced them like the Dante’s Inferno (1911). The advertising and publicity of the movies was mainly through the stars where production companies poached stars from each other and from the theatre stage.
Later on, they stated developing their own stars that would identify with their brand like Mary Pickford by Adolph Zukor. He made her the biggest star in 1917 and soon rival companies followed suit.
These stars then broke away to form United Artist that produced some movies like ‘The Mark of Zorro’ in 1920, ‘Robin Hood’ in 1923, ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ in 1921 and ‘The Gold Rush’ in 1925 according to Smith (83).The movies were still silent films and there was an attempt to include sound with the pictures.
The production system evolved with studio bosses being able to schedule production of movies a year in advance (Bordwell et al. 85).The production and distribution companies grew with Adolph’s Famous players now Paramount being the largest film company in the world and was listed n the New York Stock exchange in 1920 (Balio 35).
Movies have been in Japan as early as 1897 but there were some prehistoric Magic Lanterns that dominated late 19th century. There are various genres namely ‘Jidaigeki’ which was done between 1603 and1868, ‘Anime’ and ‘Kaiju’ which were monster films as well as the ‘Samurai’ cinema.
The Lumière brothers’ camera crew was the first to film in Japan in 1897 and two years later the first Japanese film was viewed (Schrader & Donald 9). The first movies were ghost films and documentaries. Most of the movies were influenced by traditional theatre like the ‘Bunraku’ and ‘Kabuki’.
The narrative films were accompanied by music scores and were known as ‘Benshi’. The floating nest of the grebe was a film of the Kabuki play shown using the magic lanterns colored apparatus. In 1905, war films became popular and this led to the production of fake documentaries which brought a clear distinction of fiction and nonfiction forms of art and film.
Before 1908, there were no studios and the films were made outdoors according to Komatsu (230). These outdoor films had painted backdrops and a studio was built in January 1908 by Kenichi Kawaura after his American visit to Edison studio.
The establishment of the first cinema was in 1903 in Asakusa Tokyo known as Electric theatre replacing the Vaudeville Halls. By 1912, the movies had a heavy French influence and were in diverse genres like trick film, comedy, scenery and the traditional Kabuki. Mukojima studio in Tokyo was built by Nippon Katsudoshashin Company which was a trust formed by Yoshizawa, Yokota, Pathe and Fukuhodo.
They specialized in production of the new school films which were films based on contemporary subjects and issues from newspapers and magazines. The old school films featured sword fights and historic costumes while new school featured contemporary situations.
Development of film producing companies continued and by 1914 there were about 9 companies. The period between 1920 and 1923 witnessed a great change in Japanese Cinema as new school became modern drama and the production system similar to the one in Hollywood was established.
The film companies started employing actresses to replace the oyamas male in female roles (Komatsu 34).
In the 1930’s silent films were still in production in Japan and the first full length sound film was Fujawara Yoshie no furasato. In this period the government became more involved in the industry and passed the film law which encouraged production of propaganda and cultural films. In the 1940’s, the cinema industry was adversely affected by the World War II rendering a lot of people jobless.
The government used this medium to show its citizens the strength of the empire thus most films in this period had patriotic and military themes. In the history of cinema around the world there are actors or actresses that have shaped the evolution of cinema to what it is presently. This essay also explores the life and work of Cecil B.Demille and Buster Keaton.
Buster Keaton (1895-1966)
He was one of the best silent comedians of the silent era who started acting with his parents while still a baby in vaudeville acts. He did acrobats at age 5 and in 1917 the family act split and he went to work in New York. He studied how to make films and in 1921 he was in about 20 short films which he directed.
The coming of sound brought an end to his career and those of many silent film comedians. During the silent era he was in various films and appeared in his first full length film in The Saphead in 1920. He worked with Roscoe Arbuckle at the Tallmadge Studios in New York City and became his second director.
He later got his own production unit ‘Buster Keaton’ which made comedies. He performed various stunts for making of full length movie like the Steamboat Bill Jr. in 1928. Other full length features were Our Hospitality in 1923, The Navigator in 1924 and Sherlock Jr. in 1924.
His career and personal life went downhill after 1932 and he joined MGM but only appeared in 2nd rate movies and until when he appeared alongside Charlie Chaplin in 1951 in the Limelight.
With the introduction of sound the actors had to shoot one scene in three different languages like English, Spanish and German and Keaton kept on complaining about having to shoot a lousy scene thrice and in three languages (Keaton 3).
He joined Columbia pictures in 1936 to star in two reel comedies which directed by Jules White and audience welcomed his return to the screen with Columbia comedies. He died in 1966 of Lung cancer in Woodlands California and left a legacy in comedy during the silent era and with sound films.
He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for television and motion pictures. A documentary Buster Keaton: a Hard Act to Follow in 1987 won two Emmy awards in an accurate representation of his life.
Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959)
He was born to a playwright and an actress in Ashfield, Massachusetts and tried acting and playwright which did not work out. He decided to try directing following an invitation from Jesse Lasky and Sam Goldfish.
After convincing Jesse to try producing movies and abandon the theatres and the produced the first movie The Squaw Man in 1914 (Birchard 4). By the end of that year he had made five other films. He tried on the plots of old stage dramas and experimented with lighting, and cutting (Smith 74).
He was very innovative and able to transform an ordinary sequence of shots with a clever cut to show a drift in the characters thought. In 1915 he directed ‘The cheat’ which became such a hit in France.
His ‘Joan of Arc’ was poorly received as it was his first attempt at this type of film and after that he made moderns comedies in 1918. Five years later he made the ‘Ten Commandments’ which was a great hit and after the ‘Biblical epic’ he left Paramount and formed his own company.
Cinema Corporation of America produced Kings of Kings in 1927 and soon the company closed and he joined MGM where he left and went back to Paramount pictures.
In conclusion, cinema evolved a great deal between 1895 and 1945 from the use of primitive magic lanterns to silent era films that led to sound or colored films. In about 50 years cinema changed worldwide and it has been evolving ever since.
Abel, Richard. French Film Theory and Criticism: A history /Anthology. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. Print.
Balio, Tino. Grand design: Hollywood as Business Enterprise. London: University of California Press, 1993. Print.
Birchard, R.S. Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. 2004, Print.
Bordwell, David, Staiger, Janet and Thompson, Kristin. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: London: University of California Press, 1985. Print.
Keaton, Buster. My Wonderful World of Slapstick. United Kingdom: Allen & Unwind, 1967. Print.
Komatsu, Hiroshi, Japan before the Great Kanto Earthquake in the Oxford History of World Cinema. Massachusetts. Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.
Lanzoni, Remi. F. French Cinema: from its beginning to the present. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005. Print.
Maltby, Richard. Hollywood Cinema. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
Roberta, Pearson. Transitional Cinema, in the Oxford History of World Cinema. Massachusetts: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.
Schrader, Paul and Donald, Richie. A hundred years of Japanese film: A concise history with a selective guide. Japan: Kondansha International, 2001. Print.
Smith, George. N. The Oxford History of World Cinema. Massachusetts. Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.
The Magic Lantern Society. History of the Lanterns. 15 Nov. 2009. Web.
The Squaw Man ( 1914); The Virginian ( 1914); Joan the Woman ( 1917); The Whispering Chorus ( 1918); Old Wives for New ( 1918); The Affairs of Anatoly ( 1921);The Ten Commandments ( 1923); King of Kings ( 1927); The Sign of the Cross ( 1932).
Cleopatra (1934); The Plainsman ( 1937); Union Pacific ( 1939); Unconquered ( 1947);Samson and Delilah ( 1949); The Greatest Show on Earth ( 1952); The Ten Commandments ( 1956).
Short films. The Butcher Boy (with Roscoe Arbuckle) (1917); Back Stage (with Roscoe Arbuckle) (1919); One Week (1920); Neighbors (1920); The Goat (1921); The Playhouse (1921).