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

Website Review - is a great British based website to understand the broadscope of technology in early cinema from a global context as opposed to an American perspective. In a simple layout the site provides an overview about the development of technology in cinema based on the inventions and pioneers. There is an alphabetical index combining all the information about this early cinema technology, which function particularly well with the timeline. However, contact details have been provided to assist the user with queries, which is an additional perk to the site.
The resources is relatively small, but there is generally a great deal of repetition in published texts about early cinema technology. Therefore, the quality is far more important than the quantity, but the user should note that the resources are predominantly British. This offers a slightly different historical perspective to the United States by presenting a more aesthetic connection to technology as opposed to the business and industrial relationship with technology reflected in the United States cinema history.

Landmark Film - Jazz Singer

The narrative of Singin' In the Rain is driven by the introduction of 'talkies', which features a scene discussing the impactand popularity of the first feature-length film, Jazz Singer (1927). This intertextual reference is symbolic in two ways:
  • Warner Bros. film was successful and placed pressure on other studios to change to talkies; and
  • The film has a tendency to be falsely consider the 'historic moment' of when sound in film was invented.

The sound in Jazz Singer was predominantly made up of singing with only a few sequences of synchronised dialogue and produced on vitaphone sound-on-disc system. While the film extended on the use of sound in Don Juan, but sound was still at an infantile stage. However, the success of the film enourage the major studio who were Paramount, Lowes and First National to follow Warner Bros. By 1928, the sound on disc was replaced with sound being photographed straight on to the film.

A little trivia: the sound was processed on the left hand side of the film.

Fox Movietone

Fox Studios is a major player in contemporary cinema, but started out as a minor studio in the 1920s with a great deal of ambition. While Warners Bros. went down the pop video direction, which established musical genre, Fox produced newsreels using movietone sound system. The studio wanted to differentiate with Warners, but utilise sound technology, which established newsreel cinema that has played a significant role in documentary cinema.
The introduction of sound in Warners Bros. production was a primary focus, whereas sound was an element of a huge acquisition by Fox in the 1920s. This led to an extensive vertical integration project where Fox purchased theatre chains, distribution rights and production including German director F.W. Murnau, who made Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) a highly artistic film using synchronised music and sound effects track including intertitles.

Star Quality - Smeck Goes Pop

The visual impact of postmodernity came to life in the 1980s with retro fashion and major shifts in pop culture from the multiplex screening 'high concept' films marketed at teenagers to the shopping mall culture. The 'pop' in culture was most evident in music through the evolution of MTV and other music programs. The music video became a phenomenon, where music was no longer judged on the song alone, but the images that came with it. As a decade, the 80s have been more ridiculed than the invention of bell-bottoms in the 70s, which has become a 'most-have' fashion item of women's contemporary fashion. The music clip has tendency of being linked to the 80s, but the integration of music and images was explored from the beginnings of sound. In 1926, Warners established a program of short films starring vaudeville stars, inparticular the multi-talented musician Roy Smeck (1900-1994). The format provided the stars with opportunity to display their talent through a routine or song to a broader audience in provincial places the stars could not financial access. The short film operated in a similar fashion to the pop video by promoting and selling talent.

Colour - The Early Processes

The use of colour was desired, but the process remained complex where colour was added onto the black and white images. One of the earliest procedures was hand colouring by large groups of employees painting the film frame by frame, which is a similar industrial process of early animation drawings. Another way was creating an emotional atmosphere to the film by dyeing sequences, which is evident in Robert Weine's German expressionist film Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920). In Nosferatu (1922) the colour is used to provide a internal explanation about the characters, which is exemplified by green reflecting Ellen's mental instability. However, the development of sound conflicted with the tinting process because it had a tendency of bleeding onto the audio track.
The additive colour process was introduced, which used red/green filters on a rotating colour wheel in sync with the film. It was projected onto the film removing the issue of bleeding, but the prcoess was highly unstable.
The subtractive process was more successful and predecessor of technicolor where coloured images were produced on the celluloid and projected onto the screen using white light.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


As mentioned in a previous posting Cinerama is one of the key forms of widescreen introduced in the 1950s, which offered a participatory experience similar to competing recreation including golf and bowling. Cinerama developed a strong relationship with tourism through presenting travelogues, which provided the audience to view different places around the world and encourage travelling. However, the form was problematic in dealing with narrative because the technology could not deal with close-ups and the optical restrictions with focal length limited varying because only lens could be used.

There is an extensive and well written history of cinerama in wikipedia providing a chronological account of the technological developments involved with the forms.

Widescreen Films - A New Experience

The widescreen film became a special theatrical event in the 1950s through three key developments:

  • Films being booked as blockbusters to a small number of first-run theatres as opposed to standard distribution.
  • The theatres were refurbished creating a more spectacular experience
  • The total experience between the widescreen and refurbishment created a form of participatory recreation where the audience were active contributor in the process.

These changes to cinema becoming a theatrical event were significantly important because there was a decline in box office after World War II and a greater emphasis placed on leisure time creating a broader range of competition.

AndrĂ© Bazin who is one of the most influential film critic and theorists distinguished an audience’s participation in theatre and cinema by noting theatre as a live experience requiring an active involvement by the audience whereas, cinema separated the performance space. John Belton in Hollywood in the Age of Television, claims that wide-screen cinema formed a “greater illusion of participation” (Belton, 1990:188). While Bazin argues a valid distinction between theatre and cinema, wide-screen does fit into either active vs. passive audience theory, but introduces a new form of participation by drawing the audience into the “space of the picture” (Belton, 1990:188).

In the 1950s there were four key developments in widescreen:

  1. Cinerama
  2. Cinemascope
  3. Eratz Widescreen
  4. Todd-AO
John Belton, "Glorious Technicolour, Breathtaking Cinemascope, and Stereophonic Sound" in Tino Balio (ed), Hollywood in the Age of Television (Boston: Unwin, 1990) pp 185-211

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Landmark Film - Intolerance

The role of technology is not only through the actual invention of sound, screen and equipment, but the way of using these elements. D.W Griffith's Intolerance (1916) is considered a pioneering film through the technical development of continuity editing, which is a standard conventional approach to filmmaking. This film is not only regarded for its editing, but also the integration of camera shots creating a far more interesting image construction. The film demonstrates the visual potential between the filmmaker's imagination and technology.

The film can be purchased at

In Australia, the film can be purchased online through EzyDVD for $19.83 plus shipping:

Webiste Review - American Widescreen Museum

The American Widescreen Museum provides a range of information on range of non-current technology used in cinema. Although, do not be is a very busy site heavily using bright red and yellow. If one is capable of adjusting their eyes to the brightness there is some wonderful information on widescreen, cinematography, colour and sound films.

The AWSM provide a series of poster and image galleries:

  • Classic Posters Gallery - includes 20s & 30s precode posters, David O. Selznick classics and Gone With the Wind;
  • Unusual Posters - There a six pages of posters categorised under witty titles by the studios who released the films including MGM and Columbia (megascope) and pioneers including Eastman Kodak;
  • Hi Resolution Images - Is presented in two series based on technology development

Series 1 - Superscope, Cinerama, Cinecolor, Scanoscope, Todd-AO, Technicolor, DeLuxe Labs, Kinemacolor, etc.
Series 2 - Rectified Todd-AO, CinemaScope 55, 28mm Amateur, 35-32 Dual Rank, Iwerks QUATRO, VistaVision 8 Perf, MGM Camera 65, etc.

The image oriented site provides examples of different technological developments in cinema and briefly explains the problematic aspects of them without overburdening the reader with endless pages of details. After all, for an informal account wikipedia provides a great overview and there are many formal texts available in libraries and bookshops around the world. However, the site demonstrates the importance of understanding the history of images by looking at a sample of these images.

There is a clear understanding that cinema is highly dependent on technology, particularly Hollywood, which is evident in animation, science fiction, special effects...and well pretty much every technical element in filmmaking. However, the site highlights the cultural impact of technology at a relatively chaotic period of cinema.

Landmark Film - Don Juan (1926)

The film was first vitaphone production. While it is not regarded as a landmark film in the context of D.W. Griffith, the replacement of the orchestra with a sound recording was the beginnings of the recorded sound evolution and a strange achievement in the failure of the vitaphone system. However, the popularity of the Don Juan probably had very little to do with the shift of technology. Donald Crafton in The Talkies:American Cinema Transition to Sound 1926 - 1931 states the film grossed $790,000 in 36 week run at Warners (Crafton, 1999:102). While this film was successful, it was not long after that the vitaphone system was being removed some theatre owners.

Warners & Sound

The first studio to take sound seriously was Warners Bros. At the time they were not a major, which is evident by the absence of vertical integration. The studio operated without international distribution and their films were released to small independent theatres, which made sound a lucrative opportunity in competing against the major players by reducing the costs of orchestral accompaniment.
To assist the implementation of sound Warners Bros. approached finance company Goldman Sachs and managed to convince the firm of the potential of sound, which lead to the joint venture between Warners Bros and Western Electric. In 1926, they established Vitaphone to produce sound films and market sound equipment.


Sound has played an important role in motion pictures from the beginning, which is evident by the fact that silent cinema was not actually silent at all. While the film was silent they were accompanied by a range of sound sources. To hide the noisy sound of the operation of projectors the sound sources predominantly used in pre 1920s cinema were the following:
  • In small sized theatres - pianist/organist;
  • In medium sized theatres - actor/musicians/noise making machines behind the screen;
  • In prestigious theatres - orchestral accompaniment.
Prior to the 1920s there had been attempts to synchronise sound and images, but they were unsuccessful. The most known example is Thomas Edison who invented the Kinetophone (1894). A viewer would look through the peep hole where images would projected over a light source that was connected to a sound source. In 1913 Edison presented a modified version where sound and cinematic images were synchronised on screen, but it was highly flawed.

In general there were three issues to introducing sound in film:
  1. Expense
  2. Amplification
  3. Synchronisation
Sound became a serious matter for cinema through AT & T (telephone) and RCA (radio) who spent a great deal of researching sound for other purposes than film. Eventually, the two firms realised the potential of sound in film, but the big studios were resistant because the industry was profitable without the introduction of new technology. The studios realised the extensive costs involved through retraining cast & crew and purchasing equipment. The leaders in sound came from the smaller studios.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Landmark Film -

George Melies - French Filmmaker

George Melies (1861-1938) is regarded for integrating cinema and theatre to create a spectacle. As a magician, he is most noted for narrative and technical developments, especially pioneering special effects using multiple exposure, time lapse and dissolves. Melies is highly regarded in the context of fantasy and science fiction. His film, Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A trip to the Moon) 1902, is considered one of the first science fiction films. There is a great deal of discussion around Melies and the technological limitation at the time of his filmmaking in comparison to contemporary cinema. However, these technological developments have been enabled through Melies experimenting with the camera.

Film theory is saturated with information about Melies, but the biographic information can be found on FranceFilm Website.

Book Review - Sound Technology and American Cinema

Sound Technology and American Cinema: Perception, Reception and Modernity
Author: James Lastra
Publisher: Columnia University Press
Year: 2000

This film book is a gift to the truly nerdy. While this blog covers span of the early 20th century American cinema, Lastra goes back to the eighteenth century considering sensory theories around the development of photography, phonography and cinema as a leader in establishing modernity. Lastra takes an unique approach to a highly concreted and defined history to appreciate the development and present condition of contemporary society. It is hard imagine this book being an overnight sell-out, but Lastra demonstrates the relationship between cinema and technology are far complex than the general view. Furthermore, Lastra highlights the cultural significance of the relationship between the prototypes technologies and cinema.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Generative Mechanisms

It is considered by Allan and Gomery that there are three primary generative mechanisms in film technology, which are:

  • the importance of the market;
  • the relationship between the film industry, the audience and outsiders;
  • ideology.
Market and Technological Innovation

The relationship between the market and technology is quite complex because temporal social and economic considerations must be factored into the equation of development, innovation and implementation.

In a lot of situations technology there is a game of hit and miss within the market, where social and economic conditions have not been ready for technological developments. For example, this occurred with the widescreen aspect ratio, which was developed in the 1920's, but the industry did not use it until the 1950s.

The other factor involved with the market is product differentiation. A trend in American film industry has been film companies developing their own new technologies to gain a market advantage or to find a niche.

Relationships between industry, audience and outsiders

Industry - utilises technology in developing production practices as opposed to making changes to the look or sound. The industry uses it as a facilitator because film companies are financially cautious through the capital-intensive nature of film production. The nature of the film industry comes down to economic demand, if the audience want it, then the industry implement it. A recent example of this attitude is change from 35mm to digital. In the 1990s there was a lot of discussion about the industry moving to digital, but the audience had no interest in the development. Therefore, most of the industry has continued to use 35mm.

Audiences - historically, have been attracted to the novelty of technological innovations, which has occurred with the initial introductions of sound, colour and widescreen. Although, the novelty quickly wears off, which is evident with 3D that premiered in 1953 and lost popularity by 1954.

Outsiders - this category of innovators are the primary force behind the innovation in film technology. They are indirectly linked to the film industry through the experimenting and developing of technology in testing its limitations. The purposes of these technologies are for non-film-industries, but eventually make their way into the industry. For instance, AT & T (phone company) and RCA (radio company), focused on developing and improving sound technologies for their industries as opposed to the film industry.

If you would like information about generative mechanisms can be located in The Coming of Sound, Douglas Gomery and excerpts can be found in google books.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ways of Viewing Film Technology

There are several ways to view the history of film technology. A popular choice is by thinking about it as a series of Legendary Moments.

For Example:

  1. The Lumiere Projector of 1895;
  2. The invention of film sound in 1927;
  3. The invention of film colour in 1935
This approach views the history of film technology as a sequence of improvements that are combined in the processing of making film more real. Ultimately this option considers each new technological advance as a solution to a specific aesthetic problem in the making of what is happening on screen closer to real.

The approach can be considered as an example of 'teleological history', which is the concept of history goes towards an assumed and clearly defined end. In the context of film technology it would be towards realism.

The use of teleological historiography is very problematic and there is significant evidence that proves the approach fails to properly explain the history of film technology.

A better way to consider the history of film technology is to view it as the effect of a range of complex forces where each new technology developed and distributed can be regarded as an event. Tied into the event is a convergence of generative mechanisms.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Film and Technology

Welcome to the Film and Technology Blog.

Film and technology have a long history, which is evident by the significant changes in the film industry being marked with the implementation of new forms of technology. Although technology is not only relevant to the development of cinema, but to the aesthetic qualities of films and genres. This is most prevalent in the evolution of animation and science fiction. Another important aspect of this relationship is the impact of technological changes in the context of spectatorship. As you can see the relationship between film and technology cover a broad scope and it remains at the cutting edge of cultural advancement.