Film Through the Ages
The Birth of Film
It was in the 1890s that film burst onto the cultural landscape with the invention of the movie camera (such as the kinetographic) and the development of 35mm film.
The earliest films were no more than a novelty act – a chance to display the new medium through silent, single shot, usually no more than a minute in length: images of a place, a person or an event to the wonder of a receptive audience.
Pioneers included the Lumieres brothers and George Melies, early innovators with a vision of film’s potential. This innovation can perhaps best be seen through Melies ‘Journey to the Moon’ in 1902.
Cinema’s first boom as a source of mass entertainment came through its huge output of silent movies up to the late 1920s. Although, in fact, the experience was generally anything but silent.
Live music, sound effects and occasionally narration would accompany screenings of films.
Significant movies of the era included DW Griffiths’ controversial saga Birth of a Nation and the existential classic Metropolis from director Fritz Lang.
Sound & Colour – 1930s
The arrival of sound, specifically with Al Jolson in the Jazz Singer (1927) brought a major sea-change in the way films were produced and distributed.
An era of sweeping epics, Gone with the Wind, escapist fantasy and the growth of animation as a mainstream form, Snow White. It also saw the first major steps out of the dark and into a world of Technicolor, seen at its most striking perhaps in the Wizard of Oz.
The Golden Age (1940-1960)
Despite the world being at war this was the era cinema truly matured and began to dominate the cultural landscape until TV began to muscle in.
It was the time of the big studios. Creatively the innovation in filmmaking continued with ground-breaking styles of cinematography: the deep focus approach of Citizen Kane (1941) to the ‘Dolly Zoom’ of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958).
Late 60s / early 70s – The Classic Era
The era that directors cut loose, using all the techniques and effects available to tell their stories, to put their signatures on their movies.
Using keen editing and jump-cuts to heighten tension, with music and audio becoming ever more integral to imagery this was the era of gritty story-telling, visceral filmmaking and movies as social commentary – be it Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate or The French Connection.
When Spielberg released Jaws in 1975 he ushered in a new period of filmmaking. The era of the blockbuster. Heavy on spectacle, rousing scores and cutting edge special effects, these huge budget movies would dominate the industry over the following decade. Topping the pile would be George Lucas’ family friendly Star Wars trilogy and a slew of Spielberg films from ET to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The 90s and Beyond
Whilst the idea of the blockbuster remained throughout (as indeed it still does) the 90s also saw a move back towards films with a more Indy sensibility.
Spearheaded by the movies of Quentin Tarantino films started to take on a more pop cultural style, through its use of music and self-referential dialogue.
Technically, as we moved towards a digital age, film shooting evolved in a number of ways also. Handheld shots came into use in attempts to put the viewer into the scene – from Reservoir Dogs to the Bourne Identity.
Contrastingly, on the larger scale films there was a move to Green Screen special effects and motion capture filming as used for Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the recent Tin Tin movie.