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.