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American Film

Invention & Silent Films

Though they seem like they've been around forever, moving pictures, or 'movies', didn't begin rolling out until the late 1800s, thanks to the efforts of inventors like Muybridge, Edison and the Lumiere brothers. Those early days were fraught with patent wars over the emerging industry, and lacked any presiding association or location. Movie tickets cost a nickel, Hollywood was a simple country village and actors were given $8 a day and no onscreen credit1.

In 1910, ex-stage actor, now director David Wark Griffith set forth with his actors to film Hollywood’s first movie, 17-minute long In Old California, a Spanish colonial adventure2. His films because great successes as they were among the first to feature real narrative effort as well as editting cuts to imply time passing or simultaneous events; emotive, suspenseful close-ups and lighting, and an acting style called photographic realism which favoured more realistic portrayals of character over the exaggerated gestures of the stage1. Hollywood sprouted up rapidly after that, and film culture blossomed with it, giving rise to celebrity actors, fan magazines, burgeoning studios (Universal and Paramount) and the first feature-length films.

A still from Buster Keaton's iconic 1920 film, Convict 13

The next few decades of cinema saw a shift out of the Victorian morals to the looser, shinier outlook of the Roaring Twenties. Though many think of silent films as simplistic, slapstick shorts, this mask of innocence often covered more complex social issues such as the power of authority, the changing role of women, sources of crime and corrupt politicians1. Censorship became an issue during these times too, with many objecting to the risque humour onscreen and the perceived moral degradation of Hollywood, as the industry experienced its first string of scandals (including false rape and manslaughter charges against Fatty Arbuckle, mentor to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin).

Sound, The Depression & War

Sound arrived to the film industry just before the Great Depression set in, championed by Warner Brothers as means for a newcomer studio to get ahead1. Its expansive popularity led to new genres like the musical, gangster films and witty, rather than slapstick, comedy. However, it also led to a homogenizing of the theatre experience, as many of the social-centric working class picture houses could not afford to upgrade to exhibiting films with sound, thus closing in on the programmed, screen-centric model we know today.

The Great Depression gave rise to the social problem movie. After years of gangsters and street workers, censorship re-asserted itself in the form of the Breen Ratings Office and films became both more creative and subtle in their risque humour (stylization and the screwball comedy have their roots here), and also more optimistic. Especially after the New Deal, protagonists were more likely to be a poor, good-hearted boy or government man who won the girl and saved that day against all odds. It is difficult to say if movies at this time were mere escapism, or a rope of hope for a starved and desperate population to hold onto.

The use of cinema in maintaining population of morale remained an issue throughout WW2. Though slow on the uptake, Hollywood leapt to produce war movies starring American soldiers after Pearl Harbour. However, fear of censorship was real and many studios created ‘educational’ films alongside their tales of spies, and racially diverse soldiers coming together in victory1.

Infographic from the documentary Why We Fight, directed by Frank Capra, released during WW2

Transformation into Modern Cinema

Post-war Hollywood had troubles all its own: tickets sales slumped upon the return of veterans who prefered to get degrees and start families; television reared its head; many pillar members of the industry retired; foreign countries stepped back from Hollywood in an effort to bolster their own domestic film industries; HUAC frightened many, including Disney, away from producing anything not staunchly anti-communist, and a Supreme Court decision stopped picture studios from owning theatres. There were points of excitement still though - primarily, the beginning of the film noir genre, the growing youth culture encouraging science fiction films, colour, and a different Supreme Court decision that let films be protected by the First Amendment, replacing censorship with our modern rating system1.

From the 60s onwards, films began to tap more and more into the rising attendance of young people. Though social problem movies (now with a focus on immigration and racial divides) were far from over, rom-coms, slashers, sports/dance movies and blockbusters sprouted up in startling quantities. In 1985, the Department of Justice overturned an anti-trust ruling, allowing entertainment companies and figures like Sony, Time Warner and Rupert Murdoch to buy major studios1. It is interesting also to note the shifting view of the Vietnam veteran as portrayed in films from jungle-crazed madman to a victim of a war no-one won.

Spielberg's 1975 Jaws is often regarded at the first summer blockbuster

Modern Hollywood has inherited and evolved many positive and negative traits; often which is which depends on who is asked. More children/family entertainment movies have been produced with the last few decades than ever before, the industry has never been as open to fresh independent talent and diversity both in front and behind the cameras is steadily increasing. Unfortunately, ticket sales are on the decline again as of late. Paired with an average movie production cost of $140 million3 means studios are taking fewer and fewer risks, thus the stream of semi-brainless action flicks made to appeal primarily to teenaged boys. A glance over any new releases list will turn up many films that do fit this mold, however, and we have seen that Hollywood goes through phases; so far, it has proved very hard to kill.



1. Mintz, S. & McNeil, S. (2013). Hollywood as History. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 3/04/14].

2. French, P. (2010). How 100 years of Hollywood have charted the history of America. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 3/04/14].

3. Ralph (). What is the average budget for a Hollywood movie?. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 3/04/14].

Jaws photo credit: Jeremy Thompson

Boyz in the Hood Research

Notes on a narrative analysis of Boyz in the Hood are supplied briefly. Also, choose 3 critical articles (one each from a film magazine, film online site and book) on the film you have a chosen and discuss whether you agree or disagree with their analysis.

Themes within A Clockwork Orange

How is hypocrisy and the conflict of the Individual vs. Society delt with in A Clockwork Orange? What is the filmmaker trying to say about humanity?

A brief overview of large studio CGI production pipeline.

The Big Studio Pipeline CGI effects can be executed by a small boutique studio employing 10 to 20 artists or by a huge corporate studio such as Disney. Since the first edition of this book many small effects houses have disappeared. The majority of blockbuster visual effects today are created in house by the major film studio

Movie insights

Good Luck And Good Night A. Why do you think George Clooney made the film in B&W instead of color. What effect does B&W have upon the tone of the film? Is there a technical reason for making that way? B. In the film , as in real life at that time, everyone is smoking. How does Clooney use cigarette smoke in the film? (I

Analysis of the film, "Primary Colors"

1) How is the American political system portrayed in the film? 2) Is the portrayal realistic? In what ways is it and is it not? 3) Was the ending expected? What might have been an alternative ending that would have fit? 4) Is there a bias or slant to the film? 5) What do the filmmakers want the public to take away

Editing, Sound, and Music in Saving Private Ryan

Based on the movie "Saving Private Ryan" answer the following: 1. How does the cinematography positively or negatively affect your opinion of this film? 2. How does the mise-en-scene affect your perception of the film? 3. How does the use of sound affect your perception of the film? 4. How does the use of music affect you

Romantic Musical Cinema/Films

Please help describe the influences that romantic musical films have. Include a brief description of: (1) the romantic era (2) romantic musical films and, (3) emotional feelings

Themes from "National Velvet" are briefly summarized.

In looking at this film and the theme of perseverance and self affirmation, what examples would support this theme as far as from the characters of the mother and father and Mike Taylor? Also, with Velvet, besides her determination in Pi, are there any other examples related to her?

Silcence Of the Lambs

1. How does the cinematography positively or negatively affect your opinion of this film? 2. How does the mise-en-scene affect your perception of the film? 3. How does the use of sound affect your perception of the film? 4. How does the use of music affect your perception of the film? 5. How does the editing of the f

Pick a short scene from "Much Ado About Nothing" and discuss the provided questions about set and costume design, props, blocking, et cetera from a director's point of view.

Pick a short scene from Much Ado About Nothing (no longer than 5 minutes in actual reading or performance time), and explain how you would direct the scene if you were the director of the show. This means you must address issues like set and costume in order to determine how your actors will move (blocking) through the scene. So

Film, Pay Day, is briefly explicated.

Film - "Payday" (1972) Starring Rip Torn (available through Netflix or Blockbuster online) I am looking for information as to the underlying theme of this film. I would like the theme explained, as I had trouble with the clarity of it. I don't want a retelling of the plot, as I have seen the movie, I am simply trying to p

Reaction notes to Boys Don't Cry, The Movie

I need a different view on the movie, Boys Don't Cry, in answer the following: 1. In the movies Boys Don't Cry, most of the action takes place in Nebraska. Do you believe that most of middle-America would have a problem with transgender folks? If so why or why not. 2. It is clear that educational status and socio-economic cl

Movie Reviews-

ACTION/ADVENTURE 1. Apocalypse Now 2. Saving Private Ryan 3. The Great Escape 4. Full Metal Jacket 5. Braveheart 6. Gladiator 7. Heat 8. Kill Bill 9. The Bourne Ultimatum 10. Fight Club 11. Blood Diamond 12. Trainspotting 13. Scarface 14. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels 15. Glory 16. A Dog Day Afternoon 17.

Death of a Salesman is examined in terms of elements.

Your strategy meeting with the project managers was very efficient. They have asked if you would be able to take part in the creation of the presentatin itself. In working with the head project manager, you decide that you will create the first portion of this presentation that will focus on the Death of a Salesman. You have a

Pleseantville - Transitional Changes

I'm working on a powerpoint presentation on the movie pleseantville comparing the effects of color versus black-and-white used in the two films. I'm stuck in coming up with the slide for Providing transitional changes. Can someone help me come up with information for that one... o Contributed to the expression of eac

Help with a compare/contrast on Gangs of New York is given.

These areas are investigated: I am writing a compare/contrast on Catch Me if You Can and Gangs of New York. Below is the list of questions from my teacher. I have (Analysis of the Narrative: Story, Plot, and Meaning and Analysis of Theatrical Elements; How does the filmmaker use these theatrical elements to communicate hi