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Film has gone through a drastic evolution since it began in the 1880s. There were 5 main stages regarding the evolution of film in the US. The Silent Period lasted from 1895 to 1929. This period brought the first films to the US. These films were black and white and featured no sound, other than some possible instrumentals. Silent movies appealed largely to illiterate immigrants because they didn’t have to read, and it was a simple form of entertainment. The Classical Period lasted from 1930 to 1945. This time period was a huge leap forward because sound was introduced to movies. It was a new way to watch movies and people loved it. The Postwar Period, which lasted from 1946 to 1959, was the most historically significant era in the film world. The Transitional Period lasted from 1960 to 1979 and introduced new ideas to cinema that would shape the movies of today. The time period we are in now is known as the Contemporary Period and began in 1980. The Contemporary Period benefitted from technological advancements, and more elaborate films were made using CGI. Each time period had its own movements and iconic directors.


Film has evolved since it began in 1880s. Film has gone from short black and white “stop motion” clips, to full fledged color spectacles with expensive special effects. It has gone from a fascinating gimmick to a new form of art. A lot can happen in the course of a century, and film has definitely changed in drastic ways.

Film is an art. It influences people to change the world and to express themselves. Film gives people insight and inspiration in the darkest of days.

In the late 1880’s various people began experimenting with photo, blending them together to give the illusion of a motion picture. The technology and difficulty to capture that sort of video made motion pictures rare (boyslife.org).

The first movie is a controversial subject. There are many differing opinions. Some believe it was The Horse In Motion, directed by Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. This groundbreaking motion photography was accomplished using multiple cameras and assembling the individual pictures into a single motion picture. It’s something that you could do today, using a few cameras that are set to go off at an exact moment (lavideofilmmaker.com). The movie was created to answer a popular question of the time: Are all four of a horse’s hooves ever off the ground at the same time while the horse is galloping? The video proved that they indeed were and, more importantly, motion photography was born (boyslife.org).

Not all people consider this film the first one, though. Some think the first film was Roundhay Garden Scene, released in 1888. It’s a short clip directed by French inventor Louis Le Prince. While it’s just 2.11 seconds long, it is technically a movie (boyslife.org). According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the oldest surviving film in existence (boyslife.org).

Eventually, films got longer. Brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière became prominent figures in the film world. They created various short films and were among the first filmmakers in history. Their films were unique at the time because instead of lasting a few seconds, they lasted a few minutes. The brothers even infused some comedy into their films. In one scene, a man is watering his garden, while a boy is stepping on his hose. The man, not noticing the boy, wonders why water stops pouring out of it. This slapstick humor would later become more prevalent in films such as Charlie Chaplin.

The Lumière brothers were also iconic in the film world because they devised an early motion-picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe (“cinema” is derived from this name), according to britannica.com. This device was a leap forward because it allowed more people to simultaneously watch films. Previously, only one person at a time could watch .

Originally, the device was invented and patented as the “Cinématographe Léon Bouly” by French inventor Léon Bouly on February 12, 1892. Bouly coined the term “cinematograph”, from the Greek term for “writing in movement”. Due to a lack of money, Bouly was unable to develop his ideas properly and maintain his patent fees, so he sold his rights to the device and its name to the Lumière Brothers. In 1895, they applied the name to a device that was largely their own creation. They made their first film, Sortie de l’usine Lumière de Lyon, that same year (wikipedia.com).

By 1895, the silent film era arrived. The earliest American films were primarily a working-class pastime. Because they told stories without words, they appealed to the large, mostly illiterate immigrant population in the United States (the-artifice.com). After 1900, film became a more middle-class phenomenon, as filmmakers exploited film’s storytelling potential by adapting bourgeois novels, which incorporated middle-class values, for the screen (sparknotes.com).

Until 1914, the major national film industries were located in Italy, France, and the United States. When World War I came, it devastated the Italian and French film industries, allowing American producers to gain the lead on the global market. The major American production companies combined their film technology patents and used their patent leverage to implement block booking on exhibitors (movie theater owners), which forced them to buy lower-quality product along with high-quality product (sparknotes.com).

These exhibitors fought back by buying small production companies, and eventually managed to beat out the major producers because they were quicker to adopt feature-length films, which proved to be more commercially successful than the earlier shorts. From 1907-1913, many production companies moved from New York City to Los Angeles to work in the warm weather that allowed for year-round outdoor production, giving birth to the Hollywood film industry. The costs associated with vertical integration (the combination in one company of two or more stages of production normally operated by separate companies) forced Hollywood studios to seek investment from Wall Street bankers. This development, along with the industrial modes of production pioneered and the bourgeois storytelling conventions introduced, turned Hollywood into a profit-driven enterprise and its films into commercial products (sparknotes.com).

One of the most prominent figures in US silent film was Charlie Chaplin. Between 1914 and 1918, Chaplin became the first international film star when he wrote, directed, and starred in short films as “the Tramp,” a silly figure with baggy pants, big shoes, funky mustache, snazzy suit, and cane. For Chaplin, comedy was a way to examine the impact of social conventions and taboos on personal freedom and happiness. His “Tramp” character had lots of charisma: sensible, brave, and wise but also flirty, vulnerable, and socially awkward. Chaplin’s criticism of leaders, moral and political issues, and material and psychological divisions between classes and genders reached its high point in later feature-length works, such as City Lights and Monsieur Verdoux (sparknotes.com).

Film was making a name for itself. The idea of pictures coming to life was fascinating on a deep level. This kind of thing was universally recognized and respected. Movies with sound arrived on the scene. The era between 1930 and 1945 was called the Classical Period and was a monumental leap forward for the film world.

The transition from silent to sound films caused great change in the film industry, requiring costly renovation of production studios and movie theaters, ending the careers of many silent film stars, and making it more difficult to sell films abroad. Hollywood took some time to overcome the artistic and technical challenges of sound film production, and the result was several years of bland output. For European filmmakers, production costs were expensive because Hollywood studios owned the patents to the new sound technology and licensed it at an expensive price. This allowed the US to continue to be dominant in the film world (sparknotes.com).
By the mid-1930s, Hollywood entered a period of unmatched success and prosperity, with five major studios (Paramount, Warner Brothers, MGM, RKO, and Twentieth Century Fox) and three minor studios (Universal, Columbia, and United Artists) introducing unique styles, genres, and stars. In 1934, under pressure from religious organizations such as the Legion of Decency, Hollywood implemented a Production Code that censored the content of its films, filtering out portrayals of lewd sexuality, bad language, graphic violence, and drug use. During World War II, Hollywood contributed enormously to the war effort through the production of propaganda films (sparknotes.com).

Despite the shift in film themes, the industry was soaring. Then World War II came. The period between 1946 and 1959 was known as the Postwar Period (britannica.com).

The war affected American filmmakers and audiences, leading to the production of dark, morally ambiguous and socially critical films in the film noir style. The US made various films depicting the USSR’s idea of communism in a negative light. This anti-Communist sentiment flourished as the U.S.’s former ally the Soviet Union became its primary enemy. In the 1949 movie The Red Menace, an ex-GI named Bill Jones becomes involved with the Communist Party USA. While in training, Jones falls in love with one of his instructors. After a duration of being true followers of communism, they realize their mistake when they witness party leaders murder a member who questions the party’s principles. When they try to leave the party, the two are marked for murder and hunted by the party’s assassins (wikipedia.com). New York Times journalist Bosley Crowther points out that the characters in the film are highly overdramatized and villainous to an unrealistic extent. She implies that this discredits the accuracy of the film. Nevertheless, the film was released to the American public, infusing them with skewed information.

Another 1949 propaganda film, The Woman on Pier Thirteen, previously known as I Married a Communist, shares similar themes. In this film, Brad Collins, former stevedore, is rising fast in a shipping company when local communist agitators use his former Party affiliation to extort his help in stirring up trouble. When Brad resists, communist femme fatale Christine works through his brother-in-law Don. But Brad’s new wife Nan sees that her husband and brother are under pressure; when she investigates on her own, party boss Vanning takes ruthless action (wikipedia.com). Again, communism is being portrayed in a negative light and as a threat to Americans. Communist leaders are being shown as evil and bloodthirsty. HUAC was formed to combat the “threat”of Communism. This organization tried professionals suspected of having Communist ties.

As a result of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings, many of Hollywood’s most talented actors, directors, and screenwriters were blacklisted by the studios because of suspected ties to the Communist Party. Some moved to Europe, some continued to work by using colleagues’ names as fronts, and others saw their careers and lives ruined (sparknotes.com).

In response to competition from the new medium of television, Hollywood made films that showcased cinema’s distinctive qualities: stereophonic sound, large screen size, and color images, benefiting from the emergence of widescreen technology and better color film stock. By the mid-1950s, the blacklist and new technologies led Hollywood to concentrate on apolitical, spectacular films such as biblical epics, westerns, and musicals. A 1948 Supreme Court decision forced Hollywood studios to end their vertical integration policies, making the marketplace more competitive and increasing opportunities for independent and foreign producers (sparknotes.com).

The Postwar Period is when many of the most influential directors of all time arose. People like Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, directors who are still well known today, got their start in this era. These directors would go on to be the inspiration for many modern day directors.

Orson Welles is very well known because he was one of the youngest directors of all time. In 1940, Welles signed a $225,000 contract with RKO to write, direct and produce two films. The deal gave the young filmmaker total creative control, as well as a percentage of the profits. At the time, this was the most lucrative deal ever made with an unproven filmmaker. Welles was just 24 years old (biography.com). Unlike many of his contemporaries, Welles gained international recognition mostly on the basis of only that film, which was Citizen Kane (1941). The film is full of technical innovations, including crane shots, overlapping dialogue, multiple audio tracks, purposely grainy film stock, and low-angle photography. It explores themes that Welles would revisit throughout his career: the corruption of power and wealth, the fine line between desire and obsession, the precariousness of knowledge, and the limits of ego and ambition. Welles’s use of deep focus, long takes, and special lighting influenced a generation of filmmakers working in the postwar film noir and realist styles. Though rejected by audiences and undermined by studio executives throughout his career, Welles still managed to make several more highly acclaimed films, including The Lady from Shanghai (1948) and 1958’s Touch of Evil (sparknotes.com).

Perhaps the only director more iconic to this era was Alfred Hitchcock. In a career spanning half a century, Hitchcock got acclaim in both his homeland Britain and Hollywood. He directed some of the most memorable films of all time, including The 39 Steps (1935), Vertigo (1958), and North by Northwest (1959). Influenced by German expressionism and Soviet montage, Hitchcock used detailed visual and aural compositions to express his protagonists’ feelings of paranoia and claustrophobia, along with complex editing to create suspense. With a self awareness of society, Hitchcock examined the abnormal perversions and obsessive desires lurking beneath the surface of ordinary lives and communities, enabling him to become an astute observer of America in the 1950s, the decade during which he directed his greatest films (sparknotes.com). He would later be deemed as the “master of suspense”.

By the time 1960 arrived, yet another era of film history began. The time between 1960 and 1979 was known as the Transitional Period. This period had its ups and downs but would eventually shape the modern movies we watch today.

By the 1960s, Hollywood was in decline, unable to keep up with the radical political and cultural developments transforming American society. European films, however, fueled by government funding of film production, achieved unprecedented levels of critical acclaim and box-office success. The sophistication and creativity of these films led to the recognition of cinema as an artistic medium, not simply a form of mass entertainment (sparknotes.com).

In contrast, Hollywood films in the early 1960s seemed devoid of style, boring, and out of touch. Less and less studio productions brought revenue. Hollywood reacted by cutting costs, entering into partnerships with independent and foreign producers, and allowing more flexibility in terms of experimentation (sparknotes.com).

One exception to the low quality films produced in the 1960s was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This film shocked audiences with a twist ending that audiences weren’t used to. The film was quite progressive for its time as well. The twist was that a man was dressing as his mother, taking on her identity, and killing women. Cross dressing, other than for comedy, was not popular yet and the fact that Hitchcock was daring enough to include this in his film, proved again to audiences that he was a force to be reckoned with.

Still, most movies in the early 1960s were of lower quality unil Hollywood underwent another change in 1968. In 1968, the decades-old Production Code was scrapped, and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) began to issue movie ratings, which enabled the industry to make more daring and challenging films. These changes, along with a middle-class migration to the suburbs that left urban movie theaters in disarray, led to new genres such as exploitation and hardcore pornography (sparknotes.com).

More famous directors got onto the scene in the Transitional Period. One of these directors was Francis Ford Coppola. He directed four of the most important American films of the 1970s-The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), The Conversation (1974), and Apocalypse Now(1979). Coppola was also an accomplished producer and writer. Along with George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, and Brian De Palma, he was part of the first generation of filmmakers to attend film school. His training enabled him to combine visceral visual imagery, compelling storylines, and dynamic editing in order to create iconic portraits of American interests, whether at home or abroad. Coppola was renowned for his biting critique of the power dynamics of individual and family ambition amid the corrupting influence of American capitalism and imperialism (sparknotes.com).

John Cassavetes was another memorable director from the Transitional Period. Considered the founding father of American independent cinema, Cassavetes was also a talented actor who accepted roles in Hollywood in order to fund his own films. His commitment to making films outside of the studio system became legendary and influenced a generation of American independent filmmakers. Cassavetes rejected the formulaic plots, essentialist characterizations, and tidy narrative resolutions of Hollywood cinema. His most influential films, Faces (1968), Husbands (1970), and A Woman Under the Influence (1974), feature iconic acting performances that reveal the raw emotional energy of human interaction, chronicling the struggle of characters to express themselves honestly and fully under the pressure of linear social and moral conventions (sparknotes.com).
One of the few filmmakers to connect with the American counterculture was Arthur Penn, whose Bonnie and Clyde (1967) became the emblematic film of its generation. Influenced by the style and politics of the French New Wave and American underground cinema, Penn sought to overturn Hollywood’s staid representational conventions. Bonnie and Clyde incorporates many of the characteristics that would define American cinema for the next decade: romantic anti-establishment heroes, explicit treatment of sexual and psychological issues, a negative portrayal of authority figures and societal institutions, graphic depiction of violence, genre hybridity (often a mixture of comedy and drama), and a refusal to resolve narrative conflicts tidily (sparknotes.com).

By 1980, we reached our time period, the Contemporary Period. Multinational corporations bought and merged many movie studios, ending the period of artistic experimentation in Hollywood. The industry has returned to financial success and global dominance through the development of blockbuster franchises, large-scale marketing campaigns, and content aimed at children. It also has placed increasing emphasis on spectacular special effects in order to draw audiences into movie theaters. CGI was huge in this time period (empireonline.com). The emergence of affordable digital video cameras and the growth of the film festival circuit have expanded the possibilities for independent filmmakers around the world to produce, distribute, and exhibit films