Category Archives: Notes

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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