Ch 5 Cinema

Paul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in the cinema classic Casablanca. The theme of fighting for freedom against the Nazis is set against an intriguing romantic triangle.

Cinema clobbers the senses, influencing the way people perceive each other and their environment like no other medium. From the Lumière brothers to the Cohn brothers, from Hollywood to Bollywood, from the Oscars to the Cannes Film Festival, the story of cinema parallels the social revolutions and political struggles of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Cinema on this site

Discussion questions

  1. Hot or not?  Is cinema considered a hot medium, according to McLuhan? Why or why not?
  2. Racism in the movies:  Compare the overt racism of Birth of a Nation to the  racism in Jazz Singer.  Are there differences?  Consider the context of the times as well as the modern perspective. Also consider documentaries like: Small Steps, Big Strides; Reel Injun; and The Slanted Screen.
  3. Women in the movies: Why have directors like Alice Guy-Blaché been forgotten?
  4. Anti-heroes:  What is an anti-hero? Why did the simpler portrayals of heroes before World War II give way to more nuanced and often grittier depictions of people in heroic roles in the 1960s and 70s?
  5. Anti-Trust and lack of trust: What broke up the Hollywood studio system? What was HUAC?
  6.  Curves in the road: How did Hollywood studios miss the curve in the digital road in terms of special effects?

People and events

Thomas Edison, George Eastman, Auguste & Louis Lumiere, George Melies,  Oscar Micheaux, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Orson Welles, Walt Disney, Leni Riefenstahl, Frank Capra, Clark Gable, Dalton Trumbo,

Early film censorship, Edison Trust, MPAA code, silent film era, “talkies,” animation, Golden Age, Propaganda, Citizen Kane, HUAC hearings, special effects blockbusters, end of the mass audience

Documentary videos 

  • The Story of Film by Mark Cousins, (available on Netflix),  2011. Very highly recommended as an overview of the people and struggles of a complicated time in Hollywood. The film innovation, people, industry, technology. Described as a bold 15-part love letter to the movies begins with the invention of motion pictures at the end of the 19th century and concludes with the multi-billion dollar globalized digital industry of the 21st. A course on cinema history in its own right.  
  • The Battle Over Citizen Kane   Highly recommended documentary about the battle between newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and radio producer Orson Welles, especially over the 1941 Hollywood movie  Citizen Kane. The documentary describes the heyday of Yellow Journalism of the 1890s, the radio scare of Oct 31, 1938 when Welles broadcast the War of the Worlds, and the tight-knit studio system of Hollywood in its “golden age.”
    • New information on Hearst’s attack on Welles surfaced in 2o16, according to this Guardian article.  “Don’t go back to your hotel,” Welles was warned on day in 1941.  “They’ve got a 14-year-old girl in the closet and two photographers waiting for you to come in.”
  • Small Steps, Big Strides — A terrific 1998 documentary about African American actors from the early days of silent film to the present.  Features incredible dance scenes with the Nicholas Brothers and Bill Bojangles Robinson, the quest for respect with actors like Sidney Poitier, Harry Bellafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, James Earl Jones, and many others. Also reviews films like Emperor Jones, Island in the Sun, Lilies of the Field.
  • Reel Injun — A 2009 Canadian documentary film directed by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond, Catherine Bainbridge, and Jeremiah Hayes.  It explores  Hollywood stereotypes of native Americans.   Excellent.  (On Netflix)    
  • The Slanted Screen — A 2006 film by Jeff Adachi about the rise, fall, and rise again of Asian-American actors.  Insightful, straight-up documentary of actors and films from silent heart-throb Sessue Hayakawa to semi-stereotypical Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies,  to the 2002 breakthrough film, Charlotte Sometimes.
  • Side by Side — The history of Hollywood’s digital transition, with interviews from major directors discussing both technology and its impacts.  Narrated by Keanu Reeves.(On Netflix).
  • Unknown Chaplin — 1983 documentary that illuminates Chaplin’s methods. Excellent.
  • Great Directors, 2010 — Angela Ismailos  interviews David Lynch, John Sayles, Catherine Breillat, Bernardo Bertolucci, Ken Loach and other film directors.  Many of the directors were rebels who documented and reacted  to social repression.  (On Netflix).
  • Ray Harryhausen, Special Effects Titan, 2011 — Good overview of pre-digital special effects techniques with lots of superstar Hollywood director cameos. (On Netflix).
  • Trumbo – Documentary about the life and times of blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. The video is adapted from his son Christopher’s 2003 play, and is based on letters Trumbo wrote during the devastation wrought by the ‘Red Scare’ in mid-20th century.
  • Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff. A great 2010 documentary about cinematography in Black Narcissus, African Queen, War and Peace, the Red Shoes, and others.
  •  The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl — A disturbing  1993  documentary film about the life of Nazi film director Leni Riefenstahl. Way too long but makes a vital ethical and moral point: Filmmakers, writers, directors, journalists and others in the media are directly responsible for their own creations.  There is no such thing as ‘just following orders’ in the creative arts and humanities.
  • How Walt Disney cartoons are made.  Documentary by Disney studios around 1939.  Embedded in a Nov. 2013  Atlantic article about Disney’s skewed vision of women.
  • Disney — American Experience. Terrific documentary.
  • For the love of movies,  2009.  A documentary about movie reviewers like Roger Ebert, Gene Siskal,  Kenneth Turanand more.    
  • Every frame a painting – High quality YouTube channel for cinematic analysis.
  • Seven hundred free movies on line (Open Culture).   Many good ones.
  • Top 20 documentaries — Interesting take starting with Lumiere brothers.
  • Ten German Expressionist films from the post WWI era.   (Open Culture).

Interesting links

History and top film lists

  1. Roger Ebert’s Top 100 Great Movies
  2. One hundred most influential people in the films and Hollywood 101
  3. Fifteen greatest international films
  4. Brief history of cinema
  5. Smithsonian salute to cinema
  6. Robert Yahnke’s Cinema History outline and Film Teaching Resources
  7. Newsreels of the 1930s (list of topics at U.Va).
  8. Tim Dirks Classic American Films website
  9. Yahoo Greatest Films websites
  10. Academic Info Film History  
  11. Domitor  is an  international society for the study of early cinema,  from its beginnings to 1915.
  12. LA Times has a movie blog,  Hero Complex,   including this article on John Dykstra, special effects guru who created the look of the original Star Wars.
  13. Making sense of film – George Mason History Matters.
  14. Eisenstein’s “Film Sense” (review)
  15. Moving image source pages

Cinema and conflict

  1. Charlie Chaplin goes to war 
  2. How I filmed the war, by Geoffrey Malins, 1920. (E-book)
  3. The greatest speech ever made — a take on Chaplin from The Great Dictator
  4. Images that rally: Why We Fight (US, 1942)
  5. Images that injure: Birth of a nation (US, 1915) and the black protest
  6. Images that injure: The Eternal Jew (Germany,1940)
  7. Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film: “The Great Dictator”   — BBC Witness program

Cinema history: Silent movies

  1. The Projection Box is a web site devoted to magic lanterns and precurors of cinema.
  2. Eadweard Muybridge made some of the first motion studies that laid a foundation for cinema technology.
  3. Étienne-Jules Marey, an early aviation theorist inspired by Eadweard Muybridge, developed a camera “gun” to take successive shots of animals in motion in 1881.  It’s considered the first motion picture camera.
  4. Thomas Edison’s Black Maria was a movie production studio in New Jersey in the 1890s.  Most of the films were produced for Edison’s Kinetoscope, a one-person movie viewing system developed in 1893.
  5. Lumiere Brothers developed the first motion pictures for theatrical exhibit in 1895. Focused on photographic technology, August Lumiere said:  ““Our invention can be exploited for a certain time as a scientific curiosity, but apart from that, it has no commercial future whatsoever.”    
  6. Alice Guy-Blaché was the first woman director, and alongside Melies, one of the first professional directors.  A documentary about her life is in progress.
  7. George  Melies    was a theatrical producer who attended the Lumieres first film exhibition.  He saw an enormous commercial future, and offered to buy the Lumiere’s technology but instead launched a career of film making on his own.
  8. Betzwood Studios of Philadelphia, PA was among the leaders of independent film studios in the early silent film era.
  9. Northeast Historic Film group preserves and presents regional films in the Northeastern US.   (Thumbs up!)

Cinema history: From the Golden Age

  1. Making the transition from silent films to talkies — LA Times, Oct 21, 2013. Neil.Vanderbilt.flipped.closeup.34
  2. The first anti-Nazi documentary produced in 1934 by US filmmaker Neil Vanderbilt, was lost until 2013 when it was discovered in Belgium.  Vanderbilt sizes up Adolph Hitler as “a strange combination of Huey Long, Billy Sunday, and Al Capone…”  (a politician, a preacher and a gangster).   Vanderbilt also had the wit, and the conscience, to ask Hitler directly about Jews.  Unfortunately, the interview is recreated in a clumsy way, but it was based on what actually occurrred.  Vanderbilt also sadly warns of another war brewing in Europe. Great article by Linda Greenhouse in the New Yorker, May 21, 2013.
  3. Battle over Citizen Kane   Also the unofficial Geocities Battle over Citizen Kane site, Also a site about Orson Wells
  4. Jacques Cousteau’s Silent World — BBC Witness program
  5. William L. Shirer wrote Ghandi: A Memoir in 1980, inspiring the 1982 movie Ghandi. Shirer’s book is also noteworthy for what it says about a correspondent who drew inspiration from his association with the great religious leader — an inspiration he would need as he faced the Nazis as an AP and CBS correspondent in Berlin in the late 1930s.
  6. Hollywood and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee
  7. Things got so out of hand with HUAC, even Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” was suspected as communist propaganda.
  8. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by Walter Benjamin
  9. Bollywood (wikipedia article)
  10. Ghostbusters, Animal House, Groundhog Day, Caddy Shack and more — the story behind the comic classics of the late 20th century.
    Comedy First,”  — a New Yorker article by Tad Friend.
  11. Unidentified silent film archives — The Atlantic, June 5, 2013, and the Nitrate Interest Film Group site.

Cinema and law

  • United States v. Motion Picture Patents Co., 1915 — US Supreme Court rules that  the MPPC’s acts went “far beyond what was necessary to protect the use of patents or the monopoly which went with them” and was therefore an illegal restraint of trade under the Sherman Antitrust Act.
  • Mutual Film  Corp. v. Industrial Commission of Ohio,   236 U.S. 230, 1915,  The First Amendment does not apply to film.
  • Burstyn  v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495, 1952 —  Also referred to as The Miracle decision, the Burstyn case ended cinema censorship in the United States by overturning on First Amendment grounds a New York education law which allowed a censor to forbid the commercial showing of a motion picture film it deemed to be “sacrilegious.”
  • Freedman v. Maryland, 380 US 51, 1965 Film did not have to be submitted to Maryland Board of Censors for review.  Referring to Speiser v. Randall, 357 US 513, the court said: “Where the transcendent value of speech is concerned, due process certainly requires … that the State bear the burden of persuasion to show that the appellants engaged in criminal speech…. Only a judicial (rather than ex parte censorship decision) can ensure the necessary sensitivity to freedom of expression.”