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Notes on the History of Film

The first public exhibition of projected film happened on December 28, 1895 at a cafe in France when the Lumiere Brothers famously projected their footage of a train. The Lumiere family was already involved in the film for photography business, and the two brothers were pivotal in the early development of the technology.

There were many other necessary inventions before that could happen.

D.W. Griffith’s pioneering film Birth of a Nation helped spur growth in the previously declined Klu Klux Klan.

In film, the screen in blank 1/3rd of the time. It appears otherwise to to the persistence of vision.

Jewels/Marie — First person to use flexible film stock and intermittent motion. Edison ripped him off.

Edison’s version: Kinetoscope. With a 20 seconds max run time.

Edward K. Dixon

Edison’s employee that did a lot of it.

Created 35 mm film stock with 4 perforations, which remains the standard for film today.

Eventually got fed up with Edison and tried to do his own thing.

Didn’t work out really.


Black Mariah

Edison’s first film studio

Called such because it looked like a car of the day.

Could turn in order to follow the sun.

Big, black and became primitive pretty quickly.


Many early films were of a genre called “actualities.” That is, of real things. Popular actuallies included footage of famous people, such as famous dancers. Footage of strong men. Etc.


First 10 years of film: lots of back and forth. Edison gets patents.


Lathom Loop

Most important invention to make movies longer.

Edison bought the patent.

This helped give rise to the Motion Picture Patents Company.


Cinema spread quickly internationally.



Exported films and technology world wide.

Stopped producing films in 1905.

Very important production company for previous 10 years.

But got left behind. And decided to focus on the technology, cameras and film stock instead. Which really had always been their strong point.

The Lumiere’s failed to see the potential of film as an art form.

They created the cinematograph, which at the time was a very innovative camera. It was far smaller and lighter than Edison’s camera. Portable even. Plus in was a projector as well as a camera.

Edison’s camera shot at 46 frames a second. The Lumiere’s shot at 16. (Today most theatrical films shoot at around 24 frames per second.)

Edison rented cameras, whereas the Lumiere’s sold them.  

Selling them helped cinema spread more quickly.


Edison bought out vitascope, which was one of his main competitors.


George Melies

Previously a magician.

From the theater world.

Started actually telling stories with film.

A Trip to the Moon

Father of Special Effects.

Famously discovered them accidently due to a camera jam.

Carriage seemed to disappear!

First to start tinting and coloring films.

Opened first public theater in 1896, the year after the Lumiere brothers debuted the technology.

Tried to buy a camera from the Lumiere brothers but they wouldn’t sell, saying it was just a gimmick.

So he built his own camera.

Great innovator, but got left behind.


Edison finally got the patent for the latent loop, ending his conflict with his rival. Together they formed the Motion Picture Patents Company, creating the first big oligopoly in the film industry.

They controlled who could be part of the American film industry and who couldn’t.

They let George Melies in, even though he was pase, out of respect for how important he had been. And besides, he didn’t pose a serious threat by that point.


Edwin S. Porter

The Great Train Robbery

An epic at the time.

740 ft./12 minutes

The first (sort of) close up.

Innovative use of editing.

1903 onwards shot became important.

First movie with criminals and violence.

Violence was very shocking and controversial at the time.

No intercutting yet.

Did, however, have cuts between scenes with no fades, and the scenes didn’t run till the end, necessarily, as would have been the case for stage plays and film as well up until that point.

Interesting/thoughtful camera placement.

Even 2 pans!

Life of an American Fireman

Precursor to Great Train Robbery.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin — 1903

Porter introduces first intercuts.


As of 1910 the European film industry was still bigger than that of the United States. French company Pathe was a major player. It began as a camera manufacturer that eventually got into production and theater ownership as well, making it the first vertically integrated film company. Eventually, however, they recognized the volatility of the production industry, especially at  the time, and decided to focus exclusively on manufacturing.  



Budget for Buster Keaton’s The General in 1927.

HUGE budget at the time.

Became one of the biggest flops in film history.


France created stars. 


Zoetrope” image provided by The Film Museum

Notes on the Soviet Montage Movement in Film


  • Russian revolution, then Bolsheviks vs. Mensheviks.
    • Bolsheviks win.
    • Bad times for film.
      • Shortage of raw film stock.  
  • Lev Kuleshov started a film school.
  • Lenin called film the most important art.
    • Art of the masses.
    • Wanted to use it as propaganda tool.
  • In 1918 only six films were produced by the Soviet government.
    • They were pretty inefficient.
    • But lots of systematic experimentation.
      • Bolsheviks figuring out how best to use medium.


Defining Characteristics:

  • Focus on editing rather than individual shots in and of themselves.
  • Artists as engineers.
    • Filmmakers were seen as architects.
    • Responsible for spreading the Soviet message.  



  • Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  • Man with a Movie Camera (1929)



  • Lev Kuleshov
    • Kuleshov effect.
      • Actor with blank expression
      • Cut with different things (ie- food, daughter, dead body) seems to have different emotion.
      • Supposed to show the power of the cut.
  • Sergei Eisenstein
    • Battleship Potemkin
  • Dziga Vertov
    • Man with a Movie Camera
  • Vsevolod Pudovkin
    • Film Language (book)


Read more about the Soviet Montage movement. 


To Watch:


Battleship Potemkin

Man With a Movie Camera




named” photo provided by **AB**

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Notes on the French Impressionist Movement in Film

Defining Characteristics:

  • Focus on internal experience/internal meaning.
  • Most stories ended unhappily.
    • Which was one of the factors that limited its widespread appeal.
  • Editing to affect feeling.
  • Distortion (to portray experience) primarily through camera work rather than manipulation of mise-en-scene.
  • Subjective camera
    • “Unchained camera”
    • Camera position/movement to convey emotion.
    • May show how something feels rather than how it actually is.   



  • Impressionism was a direct response to realism.



  • Abel Gance
    • Napoleon (1927)
  • Dulac
    • The Smiling Madame Beudet (1923)



  • Ran 1919 — 1929.


To Watch:




The Smiling Madame Beudet




Cavalcade de Moret, France c. 1920s” image provided by James Morley

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Notes on German Expressionist Movement in Film

Defining Characteristics:

  • Focus on externalizing the internal experience, especially through intentionally stylized mise-en-scene elements.

– Elaborate, stylized sets.

– Distortion (to portray experience) primarily through mise-en-scene rather than camera work.  

– Painted backgrounds.

–  Acting is understated.

  • Except in Nosferatu (1922)

          -Iris as a motif.

– Distortion

– Camera angles for mood and tone

– More rhythmic editing.

– Close ups.

– More stylized acting.

– Expressive lighting

– Some common subject matter.

– Dread and horror.

-First time these things had been seen in movies.

-Especially Nosferatu

– Insanity.

– Criminals

– Editing was not the main focus in German Expressionism.

– Kammerspiel Films

-Subset of German expressionism focused on everyday life in modern times rather than period pieces about vampires and monsters.



After World War I Germany banned American movies for a period of five years, which gave it’s own previously depressed film industry the chance to blossom.

  • A lot of theaters in need of movies.
  • German production boomed.
    • In just a few years went from about 25 German production companies to over 300.  
  • The Germans successfully sold movies to England and France, even though they weren’t supposed to be able to under the Treaty of Versaille.
    • First German Expressionist showing in England was done as fundraiser for nonprofit, so they let it slide. Then the gates were opened.
  • Hyperinflation spurred film industry.
    • Cheap to make movies.
    • Little incentive to save money.
      • Might as well go to movies!
  • Germany needed there own distinct style in order to differentiate themselves from the Americans.
  • Expressionism was a direct response to realism.  



  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
    • First German Expressionist Film.
      • The one that started it all.
    • Established themes, sets.
    • Very theatrical.
  • Nosferatu (1922)
    • More fluid than The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
    • But kind of slow.
    • Acting is meh.
    • Shots have good composition.
    • First vampire movie.
      • That’s why there’s so much exposition.
        • Most people didn’t know much about vampires before this movie.
  • The Last Laugh (1924)
    • Arguably one of the most influential movies ever in terms of filmmaking.
  • Metropolis (1927)
    • Dir. Fritz Lang felt his movie was butchered by the studio.



  • Robert Wiene
    • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
    • From a family of actors.
    • Initially studied law.
  • F.W. Murnau  
    • Nosferatu  (1922)
    • The Last Laugh (1924)
  • Fritz Lang
    • Metropolis (1927)
  • Alfred Hitchcock
    • Not a defining director of the movement itself (nearly all of his work was after), but first entered the film industry during the Expressionist movement and was very influenced by it.
  • Tim Burton
    • Became successful many years later.
    • Was very influenced by German Expressionism.  



  • Ran 1920 to 1927


How it Ended

  • Inflation ended, so relative production costs went up.
  • Murnau and Lang went overboard and company went bankrupt.
  • Hollywood lends them money.
    • Lures Murnau and others to Hollywood
    • When Hitler came to power in the 1930s, German filmmakers flooded to America.


Read more about German Expressionism in film. 


Movies to watch:


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Last Laugh (Silent)





G. W. Pabst’s Diary of a Lost Girl and the Miracle of Louise Brooks” still provided by bswise

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Western Art I — Study Guide #2




  1. Dipylon Krater, 5-2
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Geometric
    4. Provenance Dipylon Cemetery, Athens, Greece
    5. Date 750 BC
    6. Material Pottery
  2. Kroisos, Kouros from Anavysos, 5-9
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Archaic
    4. Provenance Anavysos, Greece
    5. Date 530 BC
    6. Material Marble
  3. Peplos Kore, 5-10
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Archaic
    4. Provenance Athens, Greece. Found at the Acropolis.
    5. Date 530 BC
    6. Material Marble
  4. Amphora by Exekias, 5-20
    1. Title
    2. Artist Exekias
    3. Period Archaic
    4. Provenance Attica, area around Athens. Found in Etruscan tomb.
    5. Date 530 BC
    6. Material Black figure pottery
  5. Athena, Herakles and Atlas, 5-33
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Classical
    4. Provenance Part of Zeus at Olympia Temple
    5. Date 470 BC
    6. Material marble
  6. Kritios Boy, 5-34
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Classical
    4. Provenance Athens, Greece. Part of Acropolis.
    5. Date 480 BC
    6. Material Marble
  7. Doryphoros by Polykleitos, 5-40
    1. Title
    2. Artist Polykleitos
    3. Period High Classical
    4. Provenance Polykleitos was from Argos, Greece. Popular Roman reproduction from Pompeii, Italy.  
    5. Date 450 BC
    6. Material Original was bronze, surviving Roman copy is marble.
  8. Parthenon, 5-1, 5-42 – 5-45
    1. Title
    2. Artists Phidias, Ictinus, Callicrates
    3. Period High Classical
    4. Provenance Athens, Greece.
    5. Date 448 – 432 BC
    6. Material white marble, caustic paint, ivory and gold for statue of Athena.
  9. Panathenaic Frieze, 5-50
    1. Canceled.
  10. Nike, from Temple of Athena Nike, 5-56
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period High Classical
    4. Provenance Athens, Greece. Acropolis. (Roman Roman Reproduction)
    5. Date 410 BC
    6. Material marble, high relief.
  11. Hermes by Praxiteles, 5-63
    1. Title
    2. Artist Praxiteles
    3. Period Late Classical
    4. Provenance Found at Temple of Hera, Olympia, Greece.
    5. Date 340 BC
    6. Material Marble
  12. Altar of Zeus, Pergamon, 5-78, 5-79
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Hellenistic
    4. Provenance Pergamon, Turkey
    5. Date 175 BC
    6. Material Marble
  13. Laocoon Group, 5-89
    1. Title
    2. Artist 3 Known Artists
    3. Period Hellenistic
    4. Provenance Rome, Italy
    5. Date 1st century AD.
    6. Material Marble
  14. Apollo of Veii, 6-4
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Etruscan
    4. Provenance Veii, Italy.
    5. Date 510 BC
    6. Material Painted terracotta
  15. Capitoline Wolf, 6-11
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Etruscan (babes added later)
    4. Provenance Rome
    5. Date 500 BC
    6. Material Cast bronze.
  16. Temple of Portunus, 7-3
    1. Canceled.
  17. Cubiculum, Boscoreale, 7-19
    1. Canceled.
  18. Augustus of Primaporta, 7-27
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Imperial
    4. Provenance Primaporta, Italy.
    5. Date Sometime after 20 BC
    6. Material Marble, copy of bronze original.
  19. Pont-du-Guard, 7-33
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Imperial
    4. Provenance Nimes, France
      1. Spans Guard River
    5. Date 16 BC
    6. Material limestone
      1. Voussoir Arches
  20. Colosseum, 7-36, 7-37
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Imperial
    4. Provenance Rome, Italy
    5. Date 80 AD
    6. Material Concrete core covered in travertine. Timber flooring covered in sand. Marble seats for VIPs. Upper seating probably wooden benches.  
      1. Seated 50,000 people.
      2. 76 barrel vaults
  21. Vespasian, 7-38
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Imperial
    4. Provenance Rome
    5. Date 80 AD
    6. Material Marble
  22. Arch of Titus, 7-40
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Imperial
    4. Provenance Rome, Italy.
    5. Date 80 AD
    6. Material Concrete and marble.
      1. Composite columns.
        1. Ionic and corinthian combined.
  23. Pantheon, 7-49 – 7-51
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Imperial
    4. Provenance Rome, Italy.
    5. Date 120 AD
    6. Material concrete, marble.
      1. Corinthian columns.
  24. Base, Column of Antoninus Pius, 7-57, 7-58
    1. Canceled.
  25. Tetrarchs, 7-73
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Late Imperial
    4. Provenance Traced to Constantinople, looted in 1204.
    5. Date 305 AD
    6. Material Porphyry
  26. Arch of Constantine, 7-75
    1. Canceled.
  27. Old Saint Peters, 8-9
    1. Canceled.
  28. Santa Constanza, 8-11 – 8-13
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Christian
    4. Provenance Rome, Italy.
    5. Date 350 AD
    6. Material Concrete, plain brick facade. Glass mosaics on interior walls. Spolia (reused building materials.)
  29. Good Shepherd Mosaic, 8-17
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Christian
    4. Provenance Ravenna, Italy
    5. Date 425 AD
    6. Material Glass mosaic
  30. Diptych of the Nicomachi and Symmachi, 8-25
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Christian
    4. Provenance Rome, Italy
    5. Date 400 AD
    6. Material Ivory, originally with wax on inside.
      1. High classical style.
  31. Vatican Vergil, 8-20
    1. Canceled.




  1. Amphora
    1. Particular vessel shape.
    2. Wide mouth, bulbous body that flares to point.
    3. Used for storing liquids.
    4. Be able to draw.
    5. Amphora by Exekias
  2. Amphitheatre
    1. “Double theater”
    2. Like the Colosseum
  3. Arena
    1. Literally sand.
    2. Upon which gladiatorial combat took place.
    3. Like the Colosseum.
  4. Apotheosis
    1. When a mortal is transformed into a God.
    2. Like Column of Antoninus Pius
  5. Black figure/red figure
    1. Decoration on Greek pottery where coloring is result of firing process.
    2. Archaic.
    3. Amphora by Exekias
  6. Caryatid
    1. Female sculpture used as column.
    2. Like the Caryatid Porch in Athens.
  7. Contrapposto
    1. Relaxed standing
    2. Weight on one foot.
    3. Torso turned slightly.
    4. Kritios Boy
  8. Coffering
    1. A design made up of inset squares or other geometric shapes.
    2. Can be used to decrease the weight of a dome.
    3. Like the Pantheon.  
  9. Capitol
    1. The building from which the government leads
    2. Something related to the Capitoline hill.
    3. Like the US Capitol building
  10. Constatinie
    1. Roman Emperor
    2. Originally one of the Tetrarchs.
      1. Son of one of the original Tetrarchs.
      2. Killed the other 3 tetrarchs and took power for himself.
    3. Legalized the practice of Christianity.
    4. Made Constantinople the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.
  11. Entasis
    1. A style in which the shaft of columns appear to swell under the weight of a building.
    2. Can be very slight or very dramatic.
    3. Parthenon
  12. Encaustic
    1. Paint in which the pigment is mixed with melted wax.
    2. Kouros from Anavyssos
  13. Engaged column/pilaster
    1. Engaged column
      1. Decorative only
      2. Romans liked them.
      3. Like a relief sculpture of a column.
    2. Like Colosseum
  14. Isocephaly
    1. Means “same head”
    2. All heads placed at same level in a composition.
    3. Typically for art placed on building.
    4. Visual level in harmony with building.
    5. Like Pantheon frieze
  15. Kore
    1. Archaic statue of young woman.
    2. Peplos Kore
  16. Kouros
    1. Archaic statue of young man.
    2. Kroisos Kouros
  17. Kylix
    1. Vessel for drinking wine at parties.
    2. Difficult to drink from.
      1. Controls drinking habits.
  18. Oculus
    1. “Eye”
    2. The round central opening of a dome.
    3. Pantheon
  19. Peripteral
    1. Building surrounded by columns
    2. Pantheon
    3. Lincoln Memorial
  20. Personification
    1. Representing idea/concept in form of human.
    2. Statue of Liberty
  21. Terracotta
    1. Orange, low fire ceramic material.
    2. Prefered material for Etruscan sculptures.
    3. Means cooked earth.
    4. Terracotta Army
  22. Tondo
    1. Round in Italian
    2. Means round composition in any medium.
    3. Inside of many kylixes
  23. Veristic
    1. Hyper naturalistic portraiture.
    2. Roman Republican portraiture.




What is Tuscan Order?


Similar to Doric Order, except columns smooth instead of fluted, and they have bases.


What in Corinthian Order?


Like the Ionic Order, except capital is different. Can be viewed the same from all four sides.


For extra credit, know styles.


Early classical:

-Not dynamic.

-Not revealing.


Classical Greek Art (Early classical?)


-More naturalistic

-Not completely frontal


Standards for classical

-Long straight nose

-Cupped prominent chin

-Strong prominent jaw

-Edge between eye sockets and forehead well defined.

-Full, rounded lips.

-Very smooth skin.

-The flesh itself is smooth.


High Classical


-More naturalistic

-More pronounced contrapposto

-Striding controposoto.

-Poses more naturalistic.

-More revealing clothing for females.

-Much more realistic drapery.

-Drapery used as element of design.


Late Classical

-Begins around 300 BC

-Corinthian order emerges.

-Female nudity in figure sculpture becomes acceptable.

-Little less muscular.

-Hair is more realistic.

-High relief, not just linear pattern.

-Softer features across whole body.

-A little more interest in expression.

-More three dimensional viewing experience.




-Signature s curve of upper torso leaning into engaged leg.

-Late classical.



-More naturalistic

-More emotion

-Less rule oriented

-Longer hair (including facial hair)

-Eyes set back further in head.

-Deep undercutting creates dark shadows.


-Super human bodies.

-More chaotic composition


Photo Credit

Western Art I — Study Guide


  1. Hagia Sophia, 9-5 – 9-8
    1. Title
    2. Artist Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus
    3. Period Early Byzantine
    4. Provenance Constantinople, modern day Turkey.  
    5. Date 532 – 537
    6. Material brick with stucco
      1. Uses pendentives  
  2. San Vitale, 9-1, 9-10, – 9-12
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Byzantine
    4. Provenance Ravenna, Northern Italy.
    5. Date 548
    6. Material Veined marble in interior. Gold ground (glass) mosaics.
  3. Justinian and Attendants, 9-13
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Byzantine
      1. Mainstream Byzantine Style
    4. Provenance Ravenna, Northern Italy
    5. Date 550 (confirm this)
    6. Material mosaic (glass?)
  4. Virgin and Child Icon, 9-18
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period Early Byzantine
    4. Provenance Monastery of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai, Egypt.  
    5. Date 600
    6. Material wood panel encaustically painted.
  5. Removed
  6. Removed
  7. Removed
  8. Matthew, Ebbo Gospels, 11-14
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  9. Palace Chapel of Charlemagne, 11-17, 11-18
    1. Title
    2. Artist Odo of Metz
    3. Period Carolingian
    4. Provenance Aachen, Germany.
    5. Date 800
    6. Material Stone (as opposed to early Christian brick)
  10. St. Michaels, Hildesheim, 11-22, 11-23
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  11. Hildesheim Doors, 11-24, 11-25
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  12. Otto III, Gospel Book of Otto III, 11-29
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  13. Removed
  14. Removed
  15. San Miniato al Monte, 12-27A
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  16. Saint-Sernin, Christ is Majesty, 12-8
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  17. Tympanum sculpture, Moissac, 12-11
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  18. Bayeux Tapestry, 12-37, 12-38
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  19. Bury Bible, 12-35
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  20. Chartres Cathedral, 13-1, 13-5, 13-13, 13-14
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  21. Chartres, Royal Portal Jamb Figures, 13-6, 13-7
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  22. Removed
  23. Reims Visitation Group, 13-24
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  24. Chartres Virgin and Child Window, 13-16
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  25. Psalter of St. Louis, 13-34
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  26. Virgin of Paris, 13-26
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  27. Salisbury Cathedral, 13-39 – 13-41
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  28. Death of the Virgin Tympanum, 13-46
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  29. Pieta, 13-50
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material
  30. Orvieto Cathedral, 14-12
    1. Title
    2. Artist
    3. Period
    4. Provenance
    5. Date
    6. Material


byzantine crescent” photo by fusion-of-horizons

Western Art I — Vocab


Charlemagne crowned first Holy Roman Emperor.





The arch over a medieval doorway



Nave in middle

Isles on side

Apse on one side

Old St. Peters








Chi-Rho monogram






Flying buttress




Mendicant friars



parchment = sheep

vellum = cow





Architectural style that replaced French high gothic

Shining (huge windows)





Surface, door way





Sonargaon Folk Arts & Crafts Museum” photo by SAM Nasim

History of Cinema — Study Guide

Big 5:



Warner Bros.




Little 3:

  1. Columbia
  2. Universal
  3. United Artists


MGM was considered “the studio of the stars” and produced a lot of high profile films often based on literary works and with A list casts.

Warner Bros. was known for it’s gangster films, including it’s James Cagney movies like White Heat.

Paramount was known for it’s comedies.

United Artist was probably the closest thing to independent in the studio era. They tended to give their artists a little more freedom. Founded by artists, for artists.

Universal produced some great early horror films.


  1. In 1950 the Production Code was introduced to Hollywood. The idea was to have one single organization telling Hollywood what could and could not be said, done and implied in movies. The goal from the studio’s perspective was to keep the federal government from introducing their own censorship board, to calm anger and boycotts in the Religious community and to preventing expensive recutting of their films to customize for individual local censorship boards.


In practice, however, the early years of the Production Code were quite ineffective. Studios still did whatever they wanted, and in fact released some of the most sensational gangster and sex films that had been done to date.


The League of Catholic Decency organized a selective boycott that began attracting protestants and other non-Catholic social activists. The censorship boards were as prevalent as ever, there was increased fear of Federal intervention and the leaders in MPPDA (the organization responsible for managing the Production Code) were fighting for more real power over the industry.


In 1954 the Production Code Administration came into existence. This gave the censors actual power over Hollywood. Member studios could be fined $25,000 for noncompliance. But far worse than the fine was trying to release a film with the stigma of not having a PCA seal of approval. It was simply not done.


For several decades every movie released in the US was subject to the whims of Joseph Breen and others at the Production Code Administration.


Eventually, however, the public fear that had given PCA it’s power faded away. A few movies were released without the PCA seal, and the stigma died. The PCA’s reign of terror over Hollywood ended.


MPPDA eventually became MPAA and today, in addition to its lobbying efforts, gives movies ratings: G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17.


  1. Jean Renoir is considered by many the greatest filmmaker ever. His father was a famous Impressionist painter, who, who according to Jean, had a tremendous influence on his career as an artist.


Just before he was born Renoir’s aunt on his mother’s side came to live with them. She was his nanny was was largely responsible for raising him. As a child she used to take him to puppet shows, which had a major influence on him as a storyteller. She made a point of discussing the shows with him and pushing him to dislike the cliche.


At that time she was also intrigued by the recent advent of the motion picture and look little Jean Renoir to his first movie at a very young age.


During World War I Renoir was shot in the leg. For an extended period of time he was immobile and had nothing to do but watch lots and lots of movies. After the war his Father encouraged him to try his hand at ceramic making, but he wanted to try filmmaking instead.


It took some time before his films achieved any financial success. After his Father died there were some hard years during which time he gradually sold off his Father’s paintings in order to fund his movies.


Then, about ten years after he first began filmmaking, he finally began achieving success. Before too much longer his films were being watched around the world.


During World War II he enlisted to aid the war effort. He was sent to Italy to teach filmmaking in a cultural exchange intended to help preserve diplomatic relations with Mussolini’s government. Renoir left the country just before Italy entered the war on the opposite side.


Eventually he made his way to the United States, though his films there were not quite as successful as his earlier films made in France.


He also did a documentary in India at one point.


He is remembered today for a wide variety of respected films including Rules of the Game and Holiday.


Rules of the Game in particular is remembered very highly, though at the time in was critically slammed and a box office flop. It is a comedy parodying modern upper class French society. It follows a man, his mistress, his wife, and his wife’s lover and the drama that ensues as they meet each other.


  1. In 1946 Hollywood was at it’s height, financially speaking. That year the studios took in a staggering $120 million. Things went downhill from there.


Hollywood was able to achieve a great deal of financial success during the war time in part because there were few other options from an entertainment standpoint. Nightclubs were mostly shut down, everything from gas, to rubber, to pantie hoes was rationed, and frankly people didn’t have much else to do but go to the movies, even if the movies were bad, which they frequently were.


When the war was over, people no longer felt compelled to go to the theater even if the fare was bad. The wartime success, meanwhile, had given studio executives skewed perceptions of what the people actually wanted, leading the majors to believe the people wanted to watch drool.


Meanwhile television gained popularity, the House Un-American Activities robbed Hollywood of it’s talent, and the censors kept the studios from making sensationalist films that may have attracted viewers.


But what is generally considered the real end of the Hollywood Studio system came in 1948 when the US Supreme Court handed down their decision in the famous U.S. v. Paramount et. al. case. The studios were forced to divest themselves of their theaters and to end block booking.


The studios could no longer guarantee that their bad movies would be able to secure theatrical exhibition, and as a result they switched from making a large number of mediocre movies to a smaller number of higher profile movies. Thus began the switch to modern Hollywood and the end of the Classical Studio Era.


  1. The end of World War II and the fall of Mussolini’s fascism brought about new found freedom in the Italian film industry. On the other hand, with the fall of Mussolini’s government filmmakers found themselves decentralized and lacking the budgets they had previously had. The new generation of films that emerged came to be called Italian neorealism.


Roberto Rossellini’s Open City and De Vica’a Bicycle Thief are two of the most famous films of the movement.


Rossellini’s father was a construction tycoon who built Rome’s first movie theater and gave his son an unlimited free pass, allowing Roberto Rossellini a great deal of exposure to film at a young age.


Rossellini started making pro-facistisisit films when Mussolini was in power. He rose through the ranks quickly as a young filmmaker in part because of his talent, but also in part, some say, because of his close friendship with Benito Mussolini’s son.


Within months of Mussolini’s fall, however, Rossellini had begun work on Rome, Open City, a bitterly critical portrayal of Fascism from the perspective of various working class people struggling to get by during the war, including a tired buy fiery widow about to marry her neighbor, a Catholic priest secretly helping the resistance fighters and a group of children trying to do their part of fight Fascism.


Neo-realism tended to glorify working class people, or at least tell stories from their point of view. The movement tended to be critical of the aristocracy and the past totalitarian government. It tends to be gritty and raw. Rossellini and other Neorealist directors often chose to use non-actors for much of their casting, and to shoot portions of their films on location, in the streets rather than in studios.


These directors were rebelling against the so called “white telephone” films that pre-dated Neorealism, comparatively opulent but contrived Hollywood knock offs. These prior films tended to be about wealthy people, people with things like white telephones that the average Italian movie goer could never hope to afford. These “white telephone” films also tended to echo Mussolini’s social views.


The Neorealists rebelled from all of that and got back to telling stories of the people.    


De Vita Bicycle Thief, about a working class father and son struggling to find their stolen bicycle so the father can complete his job, is another classic example of the neorealist heroic peasant.


Other films where less clear cut in their portrayal of the poor, but “everyday people” always tended to be the focus.


Despite it’s name, Neorealism was always a blend of the real and unreal. Most films used a combination of professional actors and non actors and a combination of footage shot on location, footage shot in the studio, and even sometimes real archival footage, such as in the beginning of Open City.


The movement has influenced modern filmmakers around the world, but showing what can be done in telling stories about real problems “every day” people deal with on a daily basis, as well as what can be done with a production approach that incorporates non-actors and filming on location.   


  1. The French New Wave less unified and homogenous than earlier film styles, but was a collection of directors working in France around the same time who had similar influences, some  of the same ideas about how the medium should progress and to some extent influenced and collaborated with each other.


Many of the most significant to the French New Wave filmmakers were first film critics. They started out writing about auteur theory and what should happen in the film industry, and when the establishment remained dispelling, they took it into their own hands.


The French New Wave was a rebellion against the cliches and limiting habits of the French film industry prior to that time.  


Two of the most iconic directors of the French New Wave where Truffaut and Godard. They began as friends and collaborators but eventually drifted apart. Truffaut respected more established American directors like Howard Hawks, and, though he subscribed to the avante guard school of though, he still attempted to make films that were actually entertaining.


Godard, however, had little concerned for the taste of the audience. His films could be harsh and jarring in their editing, sound design, and plot. While many directors became more conventional over time, Godard just got weirder and weirder. Today his films are like nonsensical montages of largely found footage.


Truffaut was innovative in his use of improve. Rather than writing complete scripts, he frequently wrote only outlines and then allowed the films to evolve more naturally as he worked with the actors on set.


This approach was highly influential to subsequent generations of American directors, thirsting for a new flavor of acting and realism in film. Bonnie and Clyde is frequently cited as an example of Truffaut’s influence on American filmmaking.   


  1. The idea behind the auteur theory is that the director is (or at least should be) the “author” of a film in the same way that a writer is the “author” of the novel. The film, therefore, should be an expression of the given director’s thoughts, feelings and views on the world.


Originally, only directors who also wrote were considered auteurs, however over time the theory was expanded to encompass directors who did not write as well.


The idea was put forth by European film critics, including several notable critics in France. They spoke highly of certain American directors like Howard Hawks but criticized other directors that in their opinion failed to really articulate their vision and views.


At the time there was some controversy as to whether the director or the writer should be considered the primary creative force behind a given film, or even if films had one creative authors at all.


In the years to come, however, the young modernist directors would help personify and solidify the idea of the auteur.


Fredrico Fellini was one director who was widely recognized as an auteur. He directed a number of notable films including La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963). He was known for his lavish and fun films, often cemi-autobiographical which were increasingly bizarre and surreal. Prior to La Dolce Vita Fellini films were still grounded in fairly straight narrative storytelling. In 1960, Fellini made his controversial La Dolce Vita about empty lust and sex among the elite. Stylistically, it was Fellini moving away from strict adherence to story arc. Three years later when he made 8 1/2, this move was solidified. 8 1/2 is about a successful filmmaker struggling to make his 9th film (it was Fellini’s 9th film) while at a sort of spa. The studio executives want him to do a big budget sci-fi film, and there are constantly people in his face irritating him.


While the film has a story, it doesn’t stick to do. Fellini frequently goes off in what seem to be tangents— bizarre side stories only cemi-related to the main story.  


Kurosowa is among the most globally well known Japanese directors. He is remember for modernist classics like Roshomon (1950) Seven Samurai (1954). Roshmon was the film that truly launched him to global fame. It tells the story of several men from different backgrounds waiting out a rainstorm together and discussing a recent crime in the town. A theif reportedly killed a samurai and raped his wife.


Over the course of the film different individuals, including the dead samurai himself, each tell their conflicting perspective on what happened. It is a study in subjective realism. Even at the end of the film, we never really know for sure what happened.


Seven Samurai was a period piece about a group of noble samurai defending a village from an onslaught of attackers. It follows a number of different significant characters through the film.


Kurosowa is often cited as more western than his Japanese contemporaries, and thus more accessible to American and European audiences.


Ingmar Bergman was another of the great auteur directors of the modernist movement. He is remember for great works of film art as Wild Strawberries (1957) and Persona  (1966). His films were very gritty and intimate, and often autobiographical. Wild Strawberries for example follows his difficult childhood, from tyrannical teachers, to leaving school at a young age, to living on the streets, to juvenile detention centers.   


Michelangelo Antoninni is remembered for movies like L’Avventura (1960), Story of a Love Affair (1950) Il Gido (1959). L’Avventura, one of his best known films, follows a group of wealthy young people on a summer boating trip. When they stop on a rocky island to explore, one of them, Ana, goes missing. Her best friend and her lover set out to look for her. As Ana remains elusive, however, the two searchers become attracted to one another and begin an affair. It is a restless sort of movie about shallowness of the way we as humans live.
All of these directors viewed film as a serious art form. They all sought to say something with the medium in addition to (or instead of) merely entertaining. They all has personal styles and touches that they brought to all (or at least most of their films) and they all attempted to push the limits of what the medium can do.  


Film Forum lobby” photo by Susan Sermoneta