A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects. The process of filmmaking has developed into an art form and industry.
Films are cultural artifacts created by specific cultures, which reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them. Film is considered to be an important art form, a source of popular entertainment and a powerful method for educating – or indoctrinating – citizens. The visual elements of cinema give motion pictures a universal power of communication. Some films have become popular worldwide attractions by using dubbing or subtitles that translate the dialogue into the language of the viewer.
Films are made up of a series of individual images called frames. When these images are shown rapidly in succession, a viewer has the illusion that motion is occurring. The viewer cannot see the flickering between frames due to an effect known as persistence of vision, whereby the eye retains a visual image for a fraction of a second after the source has been removed. Viewers perceive motion due to a psychological effect called beta movement.
The origin of the name "film" comes from the fact that photographic film (also called film stock) has historically been the primary medium for recording and displaying motion pictures. Many other terms exist for an individual motion picture, including picture, picture show, moving picture, photo-play and flick. A common name for film in the United States is movie, while in Europe the term film is preferred. Additional terms for the field in general include the big screen, the silver screen, the cinema and the movies.
The history of film is the historical development of the medium known variously as cinema, motion pictures, film, or the movies.
The history of film
The history of film spans over 100 years, from the latter part of the 19th century to the present day. Motion pictures developed gradually from a carnival novelty to one of the most important tools of communication and entertainment, and mass media in the 20th century and into the 21st century. Motion picture films have substantially affected the arts, technology, and politics.
Moving images were produced on revolving drums and disks in the 1830s with independent invention by Simon von Stampfer (Stroboscope) in Austria, Joseph Plateau (Phenakistoscope) in Belgium and William Horner (zoetrope) in Britain.
On June 19, 1878, under the sponsorship of Leland Stanford, Eadweard Muybridge successfully photographed a horse named "Sallie Gardner" in fast motion using a series of 24 stereoscopic cameras. The experiment took place on June 11 at the Palo Alto farm in California with the press present. The exercise was meant to determine whether a running horse ever had all four legs lifted off the ground at once. The cameras were arranged along a track parallel to the horses, and each camera shutter was controlled by a trip wire which was triggered by the horse's hooves. They were 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by the horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second. Étienne-Jules Marey invented a chronophotographic gun in 1882, which was capable of taking 12 consecutive frames a second, recording all the frames on the same picture. He used the chronophotographic gun for studying animals and human locomotion.
The second experimental film, Roundhay Garden Scene, filmed by Louis Le Prince on October 14, 1888 in Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, UK is now known as the earliest surviving motion picture.
On June 21, 1889, William Friese-Greene was issued patent no. 10131 for his 'chronophotographic' camera. It was apparently capable of taking up to ten photographs per second using perforated celluloid film. A report on the camera was published in the British Photographic News on February 28, 1890. On 18 March, Friese-Greene sent a clipping of the story to Thomas Edison, whose laboratory had been developing a motion picture system known as the Kinetoscope. The report was reprinted in Scientific American on April 19. Friese-Greene gave a public demonstration in 1890 but the low frame rate combined with the device's apparent unreliability failed to make an impression.
As a result of the work of Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge, many researchers in the late 19th century realized that films as they are known today were a practical possibility, but the first to design a fully successful apparatus was W. K. L. Dickson, working under the direction of Thomas Alva Edison. His fully developed camera, called the Kinetograph, was patented in 1891 and took a series of instantaneous photographs on standard Eastman Kodak photographic emulsion coated on to a transparent celluloid strip 35 mm wide. The results of this work were first shown in public in 1893, using the viewing apparatus also designed by Dickson, and called the Kinetoscope. This was contained within a large box, and only permitted the images to be viewed by one person at a time looking into it through a peephole, after starting the machine by inserting a coin. It was not a commercial success in this form, and left the way free for Charles Francis Jenkins and his projector, the Phantoscope, with the first showing before an audience in June 1894. The Louis and Auguste Lumière perfected the Cinématographe, an apparatus that took, printed, and projected film. They gave their first show of projected pictures to an audience in Paris in December 1895.
After this date, the Edison Company developed its own form of projector, as did various other inventors. Some of these used different film widths and projection speeds, but after a few years the 35-mm wide Edison film and the 16-frames-per-second projection speed of the Lumière Cinématographe became standard. The other important American competitor was the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, which used a new camera designed by Dickson after he left the Edison Company.
At the Chicago 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Muybridge gave a series of lectures on the Science of Animal Locomotion in the Zoopraxographical Hall, built specially for that purpose in the "Midway Plaisance" arm of the exposition. He used his zoopraxiscope to show his moving pictures to a paying public, making the Hall the first commercial film theater.
William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, chief engineer with the Edison Laboratories, is credited with the invention of a practicable form of a celluloid strip containing a sequence of images, the basis of a method of photographing and projecting moving images. Celluloid blocks were thinly sliced, then removed with heated pressure plates. After this, they were coated with a photosensitive gelatin emulsion. In 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair, 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 back lit by an incandescent lamp and seen through a magnifying lens. The spectator viewed the image through an eye piece. Kinetoscope parlours were supplied with fifty-foot film snippets photographed by Dickson, in Edison's "Black Maria" studio (pronounced like "ma-RYE-ah"). These sequences recorded both mundane incidents, such as Fred Ott's Sneeze, and entertainment acts, such as acrobats, music hall performers and boxing demonstrations.
Kinetoscope parlors soon spread successfully to Europe. Edison, however, never attempted to patent these instruments on the other side of the Atlantic, since they relied so greatly on previous experiments and innovations from Britain and Europe. This enabled the development of imitations, such as the camera devised by British electrician and scientific instrument maker Robert W. Paul and his partner Birt Acres.
Charles Francis Jenkins, wanting to display moving pictures to large groups of people, invented the first patented film projector. In 1894, his invention, called the Phantoscope, was the first to project a motion picture. At about the same time, in Lyon, France, Auguste and Louis Lumière invented the cinematograph, a portable camera, printer, and projector. In late 1895 in Paris, father Antoine Lumière began exhibitions of projected films before the paying public, beginning the general conversion of the medium to projection (Cook, 1990). They quickly became Europe's main 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, a modified Jenkins' Phantoscope, within less than six months. The first public motion-picture film presentation in Europe, though, belongs to Max and Emil Skladanowsky of Berlin, who projected with their apparatus "Bioscop", a flickerfree duplex construction, November 1 through 31, 1895.
That same year in May, in the USA, Eugene Augustin Lauste devised his Eidoloscope for the Latham family. But the first public screening of film ever is due to Jean Aimé "Acme" Le Roy, a French photographer. On February 5, 1894, his 40th birthday, he presented his "Marvellous Cinematograph" to a group of around twenty show business men in New York City.
The films 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
In the silent era of film, marrying the image with synchronous sound was not possible for inventors and producers, since no practical method was devised until 1923. Thus, for the first thirty years of their history, films were silent, although accompanied by live musicians and sometimes sound effects and even commentary spoken by the showman or projectionist.
Illustrated songs were a notable exception to this trend that began in 1894 in vaudeville houses and persisted as late as the late 1930s in film theaters. In this early precursor to the music video, live performance or sound recordings were paired with hand-colored glass slides projected through stereopticons and similar devices. In this way, song narrative was illustrated through a series of slides whose changes were simultaneous with the narrative development. The main purpose of illustrated songs was to encourage sheet music sales, and they were highly successful with sales reaching into the millions for a single song. Later, with the birth of film, illustrated songs were used as filler material preceding films and during reel changes.
In most countries the need for spoken accompaniment quickly faded, with dialogue and narration presented in intertitles, but in Japanese cinema it remained popular throughout the silent era.
It was around 1910 that the actors in American films, who up to this point had been anonymous, began to receive screen credit, and the way to the creation of film stars was opened. The appearance of films longer than one reel also helped this process. Such films were extremely rare, and almost entirely restricted to film versions of the life of Christ, which had reached three reels in length in the first few years of cinema. They were always shown as a special event in special venues, and supported by live commentary and music. A unique addition to this style of presentation was The Story of the Kelly Gang, made in Australia in 1906. This was a four-reel version of the career of this famous (in Australia) outlaw, and was incomprehensible without explanation. More multi-reel films were made in Europe than in the United States after 1906, because the MPPC insisted on working on the basis of one-reel films up until 1912. However, before this, some MPPC members got around this restriction by occasionally making longer stories in separate parts, and releasing them in successive weeks, starting with Vitagraph's The Life of Moses in five parts (and five reels) at the end 1909. In other countries this film was shown straight through as one picture, and it inspired the creation of other multi-reel films in Europe.
Pathé-Frères set up a new subsidiary company in the United States called Eclectic in 1913, and in 1914 this began production of features at the Pathé plant in New Jersey. The French Éclair company was already making films in the United States, and their production of features increased with the transfer of more film-makers when the French industry was shut down at the beginning of World War I.
Up to 1913, most American film production was still carried out around New York, but because of the monopoly of Thomas Edison's film patents, many filmmakers had moved to Southern California, hoping to escape the litany of lawsuits that the Edison Company had been bringing to protect its monopoly. Once there in Southern California, the film industry grew continuously.
The move to filming in California had begun when Selig, one of the MPPC companies, sent a production unit there in 1909. Other companies, both independents and members of the MPPC, then sent units to work there in the summer to take advantage of the sunshine and scenery. The latter was important for the production of Westerns, which now formed a major American film genre. The first cowboy star was G.M. Anderson (“Broncho Billy”), directing his own Western dramas for Essanay, but in 1911 Tom Mix brought the kind of costumes and stunt action used in live Wild West shows to Selig film productions, and became the biggest cowboy star for the next two decades.
Most of the major companies made films in all the genres, but some had a special interest in certain kinds of films. Once Selig had taken up production in California, they used the (fairly) wild animals from the zoo that Colonel Selig had set up there in a series of exotic adventures, with the actors being menaced or saved by the animals. Essanay specialized in Westerns featuring “Broncho Billy” Anderson, and Kalem sent Sidney Olcott off with a film crew and a troupe of actors to various places in America and abroad to make film stories in the actual places they were supposed to have happened. Kalem also pioneered the female action heroine from 1912, with Ruth Roland playing starring roles in their Westerns.
Minor curiosities were some of the films of Solax directed by Herbert Blaché and his wife Alice Guy. They left American branch of the Gaumont company in 1912 to set up their own independent company. The distinguishing feature of some of their films was a deliberate attempt to use resolutely theatrical-type light comedy playing that was directed towards the audience. This went against the trend towards filmic restraint already visible in what were called “polite” comedies from other film companies.
In France, Pathé retained its dominant position, followed still by Gaumont, and then other new companies that appeared to cater to the film boom. A film company with a different approach was Film d’Art. This was set up at the beginning of 1908 to make films of a serious artistic nature. Their declared programme was to make films using only the best dramatists, artists and actors. The first of these was L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise (The Assassination of the Duc de Guise), a historical subject set in the court of Henri III. This film used leading actors from the Comédie Francaise, and had a special accompanying score written by Camille Saint-Saens. The other French majors followed suit, and this wave gave rise to the English-language description of films with artistic pretensions aimed at a sophisticated audience as “art films”. By 1910, the French film companies were starting to make films as long as two, or even three reels, though most were still one reel long. This trend was followed in Italy, Denmark, and Sweden.
Although the British industry continued to expand after its brilliant beginning, the new companies that replaced the first innovative film-makers proved unable to preserve their drive and originality.
He vast increase in film production after 1906 inevitably brought specialist writers into film-making as part of the increasing sub-division of labour, but even so the film companies still had to buy stories from outsiders to get enough material for their productions. This introduced a greater variety into the types of story used in films. The use of more complex stories derived from literary and stage works of the recent past also contributed to developments in script film construction. The general American tendency was to simplify the plots borrowed from novels and plays so that they could be dealt with in one reel and with the minimum of titling and the maximum of straightforward narrative continuity, but there were exceptions to this. In these cases the information that was difficult to film and lacking in strong dramatic interest was put into narrative titles before each scene, and this was also mostly the custom in European films of the more seriously intended kind. Motion pictures were classified into genres by the film industry following the divisions already established in other media, particularly the stage. The main division was into comedy and drama, but these categories were further subdivided. Comedy could be either slapstick (usually referred to as “burlesque farce”), or alternatively “polite comedy”, which later came to be referred to as “domestic comedy” or “sophisticated comedy”. D.W. Griffith made a small number of the latter type of film in his first two years at Biograph, but had little interest or aptitude for the genre. From 1910 he let Frank Powell, and then Mack Sennett direct the Biograph comedies. Sennett left in 1912 to set up the Keystone Company, where he could give his enthusiasm for the slapstick comedy style derived from the earlier Pathé comedies like le Cheval emballé (The Runaway Horse) full rein. In Europe the more restrained type of comedy was developed in substantial quantities in France, with the films of Max Linder for Pathé representing the summit of the genre from 1910 onwards. Linder's comedy was set in an upper middle-class milieu, and relied on clever and inventive ways of getting around the embarrassments and obstacles arising in his single-minded pursuit of a goal. Quite often a goal of a sexual nature.
D.W. Griffith had a major influence on the simplification of film stories. After he had been at Biograph for a year, Griffith started to make some films that had much less story content than any previous one-reel films. In The Country Doctor, the action is no more than various people, including the doctor, hurrying backwards and forwards between the doctor's house, where his child is sick, and a neighbouring cottage, where another child is also sick. By 1912 and 1913, there are beginning to be many films from many American companies that rely on applying novel decoration to the story, rather than supplying any twists to the drama itself to sustain interest.
Alongside the Hollywood tradition, there has also been an "underground film" tradition of small-budget, often self-produced works created outside of the studio system and without the involvement of labor unions.