Friday, November 2, 2007


The history of early American Cinema has continued to sustain an interest film studies because the technologies that emerged throughout this period has enabled the development of film aesthetic and form elements.
The blog has covered a range of aspects to screen, colour and sound technologies, which had significant social, cultural, economic and industrial impacts on cinema. The Hollywood system would not have existed without the evolution of these technologies.
One of the interesting aspect to the history of film technology is the shift of major players with Fox and Warners Bros. overtaking the key studios at the time because they were willing to take the risks.
There is a great deal of information linked into the postings from a range of websites, but the wikipedia entries are detailed and precise, particularly about widescreen. For those skeptical of wiki, I would recommend following up any of the books recommended or cited in the blog postings.

Landmark Film - Rebel Without A Cause

The iconic film, Rebel Without A Cause (1955) offers the opportunity to view male adolescent identity crisis in widescreen. This film is highly noted for the babyboomer's heathrob 'James Dean', who play Jim Stark, an adolescent being torn apart by his suburban middle class parents. The intensity of this melodrama is enhanced by the width of the cinemascope, which creates a balance between the teen rebellion narrative and spectacle.
The famous 'chicken run' and fight sequences take advantage of the widescreen's ability to show more action and spatial flexibility, which heightens the tension between Jim Stark and Buzz. However, the mansion and astronomy sequences in cinemascope produce a far greater range of emotional undertone to the story.


The development of cinemascope shifted the requirement of three frames to a single frame to produce a large image through the use of anamorphic lenses. The lens could condense the wide image onto a thin film frame. To avoid distortion a similar anamorphic lens was used to project the image in the desired width on to screen.
Fox Cinemascope was produced as a reaction to Cinerama and 3-D, but the Cinerama remained unscathed by the development. Instead the conflict arose between Fox and Paramount VistaVision competing to be the industry standard. VistaVision technology focused on the negative by producing a finer-grained and wider film negative surface removing the aspect ratio conversion upon projecting the image to screen.

Book Review - The Classic Hollywood

The Classic Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960
Authors: David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kirstin Thompson
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Year: 1985

There is a tendency for academic texts to become outdated, but this book is one of the exceptions. When Bordwell and Thompson or Staiger for that matter are attached to any film book, there is definite certaintity it will be user-friendly. The book provides an overview of the different socio-cultural, economic and industrial factors involoved with the developed of classic cinema. The authors pay a great deal of attention to the significance of technology within the context of other factors and the relating importance between the different technologies. There are a lot of pages, which may dishearten some potential buyers. Therefore, a possible first choice would be the first chapter of Bordwell and Thompson's Film Art: An Introduction, New York:McGraw-Hill, 2005.

Landmark Film - The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz (1939) is probably the most renowned imaginative journey with the exception of Alice in Wonderland. However, this film was the first technicolor journey directed by Victor Fleming (1883-1949) who also directed Gone with the Wind. In presenting the fantasy the black and white images are shifted to technicolor when Dorothy and Toto are sweft away in the tornado. There is no absolute certainty that colour was essential to the success of these two films mentioned. However, it is difficult to imagine an audience appreciate the bright red colour of Dorothy shoes or the yellow brick road in black and white images.

Landmark Film - Gone with the Wind

It is impossible to discuss the impact of colour technology in early cinema without discussing the film Gone with the Wind (1939). Apart from being one of top earning US film, it established the arrival of colour. David O. Selznick (1902 - 1965) was an advocate for colour, particularly the three-strip technicolor system. Prior to Gone with the Wind, Selznick had produced the first feature film in three-colour technicolor Becky Sharp (1935) to a luke a warm reception. The epic film was made only four years later, but the scenes were visually more powerful and more demanding. This is evident in the famous Atlanta burning sequence that required seven technicolor cameras.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Technicolor - The Colour Process

In 1936, Adrian Klein claimed the film industry would not collectively convert to technicolor because there was no real evidence to suggest that an audience would be more inclined to watch a film in colour. Therefore, the additional cost could not be quantified. From a general perspective Klein assumption was correct, which is evident by colour formally came into play in the 1950s to compete against the popularity of television. However, there was not an autonomous switch to colour with the first genres to regularly use colour being more spectacle oriented genres including fantasy, western, musical and animation.
The delay in using colour came from the dominant position held by Technicolor, who was an industry leader of colour film in the United States. The company protected its market position through strict secrecy and contracting out the equipment and operators placing great restrictions on the production process while refusing to directly challenge the studio's control over the production sphere.
There were three main changes to the industry between the period of the 1940s to the 1950s enabling the growth of colour film production:
  1. In 1947 Technicolor were successfully charged with restraint of trade through a anti-trust suit;
  2. In 1949 Eastman Kodak opened a range of new commercial processes through his development of the single strip colour process and printing film stock;
  3. The film industry needed to find ways to compete with the pressures of television

Further information about Technicolor can be located in:
Steven Neale's Cinema and Technology: Image, Sound, Colour
London:MacMillan, 1985, pp 129-144