America – history of the cinema
The second recorded instance of photographs capturing and reproducing motion was the American Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)captured and reproduced a series of photographs of a running horse, in Palo Alto, California, using a set of still cameras placed in a row. this achievement led inventors everywhere to make similar devices that would capture such motion and Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) was among the first to produce the kinetoscope.
The origins of American movie making take place in New York but by 1912, most major film companies had set up production facilities in Southern California near or in Los Angeles in proximity with Mexico, because most of them worked with equipment without having the rights, and to avoid the fees imposed by Thomas Edison.
In early 1910, director D.W. Griffith (1875 – 1948) with his acting troupe, which included actors Blanche Sweet, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickfor and Lionel Barrymore started filming in a friendly village near Los Angeles, Hollywood. The movie was a In Old California a biography of California when it still belonged to Mexico, soon followed by the epic Birth of a Nation in 1915.
In the early 20th century, many Jewish immigrants found employment in the U.S. film industry and started to exhibit short films in storefront theatres called nickelodeons, as the admission price was of a nickel (five cents). These men were the earliest producers founders of movie studios still famous nowadays: Samuel Goldwyn (1879 – 1974,) and Louis B. Mayer (1882 – 1957) with the Metro Goldwin Mayer; William Fox (1879 – 1952) with The 20th Century Fox), Carl Laemmle (1867 – 1939) with the Universal Studios, Adolph Zukor (1873 –1976) with the Paramount Pictures, , and the Warner Brothers (Harry, Albert, Samuel, and Jack) with their Warner Bros..
Other moviemakers arrived from Europe after World War I: directors like Ernst Lubitsch (from Germany 1892 –1947) well known as director of the 1939 Ninotchka with Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock (from Britain 1899 –1980) already famous for his British thrillers like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) , Fritz Lang (1890 –1976), from school of Expressionism, already popular in Germany for Metropolis (1927) and M (1931) and Jean Renoir (1894 –1979) who had shot Grand Illusion (1937). Among the émigré actors were Rudolph Valentino, Marlene Dietrich, Ronald Colman, and Charles Boyer.
[A curiosity about Fritz Lang: the director escaped to America, worried about his Jewish origins, even if Joseph Goebbels offered him a position as the head of German film studio UFA. His wife, Thea Von Harbou, on the contrary, remained in Germany where went on with her career as a director and screen writer for the government. ]
In the late 1920s, with The Jazz Singer, the production of sound movies started. The success was enormous but new problems arose: many stars lost their jobs because they did not have pleasant voices or did not remember the lines and because it was difficult for other countries to understand English speakers. Soone of the solutions was creating parallel foreign-language versions of Hollywood films. Studios were opened in France, and, meanwhile, actors and directors from foreign countries were sent to make films in America. Unfortunately they were not successful because of the poor quality of the actors and of the directors in comparison with the American ones. Only the Spanish-language crews gave good results thanks to directors like Luis Buñuel (1900 –1983), Enrique Jardiel Poncela (1901 –1952), Xavier Cugat (1900 – 1990) and Edgar Neville (1899 –1967).
Between the late 1920s to the late 1950s, the Golden Age of Hollywood, were produced 400 movies a year, which were seen by an audience of 90 million Americans per week.
The main trends were Western, slapstick comedy, musical, animated cartoon, and biographical . the most important director names were Cedric Gibbons (1893 –1960; Pride and Prejudice, 1940; An American in Paris, 1951), Cecil B. De Mille (1881 – 1959; The Ten Commandments 1923) ), and Henry King (1886 –1982; The Song of Bernadette, 1943 ), Orson Welles (1915–1985; Citizen Kane, 1941), Howard Hawks (1896–1977; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953, starring Marilyn Monroe and Rio Bravo, 1959, with John Wayne; Only Angels Have Wings, 1939) and Frank Capra (1897–1991; Arsenico e vecchi merletti, 1944)
Each studio had its own style and cast of actors. An example: for the Warner Bros as script writers often worked famous future winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) and William Faulkner (1897–1962) and actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
In the 1930s the MGM dominated the film screen and created the Hollywood star system with his top actors who included Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Jeanette MacDonald and husband Gene Raymond, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly.
The year 1939 witnessed the production of the most successful films of all time like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz both by Victor Fleming (1889 – 1949), Stagecoach by John Ford (1894 –1973) and Wuthering Heights by William Wyler (1902-1981). Two years before had appeared Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a long cartoon movie which signalled to the world a new enterprise created by the genius of Walt Disney, the Animated Company. Also other movies were produced: Casablanca (1942) by Michael Curtiz (1886 –1962); Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable , directed by Frank Lloyd (1886-1960) and City Lights City Lights (1931), written, directed and played by Charlie Chaplin (1889 –1977).
Like in Britain, the American cinema suffered a slow down during the 1940s because of the advent of television and because of a federal antitrust action [an antitrust law, is a law that maintains market competition by regulating anti-competitive conduct] that separated the production of films from their exhibition as the large companies also had their own theatres where to show their productions. The studios tried to adapt to the new situation and started making spectacular entertainments that could not be offered by television and sold some films to television.
On the other hand, an help to film making industry came with the abolition of strict censorship: motion pictures were a form of art and were protected by the First amendment.
The late 1950s and 1960 saw the advent of a form of cinema called New Hollywood, a term used to define the changing methods of storytelling such as scrambled chronologies and “twist endings”. First example were the film noir, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) by Nicholas Ray (1911-1979), A. Hitchcock’s Psycho, Bonnie and Clyde(1967) by Arthur Penn (1922 – 2010) and Easy Rider (1969) a road movie written and produced by Peter Fonda (1940 – ) and directed by Dennis Hopper (1936 – 2010).
Artists of New Hollywood continued their work in the 1970s under the label movie brats. Among the most well known were Francis Ford Coppola(1939) with Apocalypse Now (1979), George Lucas(1944) with his first movie of the Star Wars saga (1977), Francis Ford Coppola (1942) with Taxi Driver (1976); Brian De Palma (1940 – ) with Carrie (1976); Roman Polanski (1933-) with Macbeth (1971) and Chinatown (1974); William Friedkin (1935) with The Exorcist (1973 – ); Steven Spielberg (1946 – ) with Jaws (1975) and Michael Cimino (1939 – ) with The Deer Hunter (1978).
The 1980s and 1990s saw the opening of a new business, the home video. Consequently there was the birth of an innovative generation of film makers, the ones who made deliberately reference to previous productions in their movies. They created independent, low budget films dealing with topics often irreverent, playing with the usual Hollywood conventions. Examples are Quentin Tarantino (1963 – ) with Reservoir Dogs (1991), followed by Pulp Fiction (1994); P.T. Anderson (1970 – ) with Magnolia (1999), Spike Lee (1957 – ) with Do the Right Thing (1989 – ), Steven Soderbergh (1963 – ) with Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989 – ), Kevin Smith (1970 – )with Clerks (1994 – ).
In the 21st century with the rise of DVD the studios are producing packaging with extra scenes, extended versions, interviews and commentaries.
As to the cinema the use of three dimensional video and of the technique permitted by computers have made the movies even more spectacular. These form the so called blockbusters, commercial expensive movies which rely upon star power and massive advertising to attract a vast audience and that challenge the market of the independent movie makers.