Motion Picture Industry

Motion Picture Industry
Motion Picture Industry

The motion picture industry can be traced back to the 1890s, when Kennedy Laurie Dickson, the chief engineer at the Edison Laboratories, was credited with making celluloid strips containing a sequence of images that, when projected, would show movement.

Thomas Edison himself developed this further, and in 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair he introduced the Kinetograph, the first moving picture camera, and the Kinetoscope, which used a continuous loop of Dickson's film.

The Kinetoscope spread successfully around the United States and Europe. British and European inventors did work on similar systems. Work in Britain was pioneered by Robert William Paul and his partner Birt Acres.

In France Auguste and Louis Lumière invented the cinematographe—a portable motion picture camera, film processing unit, and projector all in one piece of equipment—which quickly became one of the most manufactured items in France.

Until the late 1920s the producers were unable to capture sound and synchronize it with the film, so the early films were known as silent movies, whereby the film was played and sometimes live musicians and live sound effects were used, including human voices off stage. The words of the film appeared on screen, being part of the film itself.

Georges Méliès, a Paris stage magician, started shooting and exhibiting films from 1896, many of his works being science fiction, with A Trip to the Moon (1902) the first film to portray space travel. Gradually, there were films lasting up to 15 minutes, with Edwin .

Porter becoming an early director for Life of an American Fireman (1903) and the first "western" movie, The Great Train Robbery (1903). The first full-length movie was The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), which was made in Australia and ran for 80 minutes.

Filmed mostly at Rosanna, on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, it told the story of the Australian bushranger Ned Kelly and was made by the Tait brothers, costing them £400 to make and netting them over £25,000.

It was shown all over Australia to packed audiences and was also shown in some places overseas. As with many films, it tells the story of an event, although on many occasions it is not a reliable account of the actual historical event.

Very little of the film has survived, although a large number of "stills" were released at the time, which, together with newspaper reviews, allow historians to analyze the film in considerable detail. It was later reissued as Ned Kelly and His Gang with some extra scenes included.

The next major films came out in Europe with Queen Elizabeth, produced in France in 1912, Quo Vadis? in Italy in 1913, and Cabiria in Italy in 1914. Soon longer films started to be produced in the United States with The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), both directed by D. W. Griffith (1875–1948).

In 1907 the Lafitte brothers launched the films d'art ("art films"), which were aimed at introducing wealthier people to the cinema, many of them at the time regarding films for the working class and the theater for the higher social classes.

Early Film Stars

The outbreak of World War I held up feature film production, but it did result in newsreel films being made. These were shown in movie theaters—by 1908 it was estimated that there were 10,000 of these theaters in the United States alone.

After World War I Hollywood in California became the center of much of the world's film production, with an average output of up to 800 feature films each year making up 82 percent of the total world output during the 1920s.

By this time many actors and actresses were becoming famous around the world, with Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977), Buster Keaton (1895–1966), Lon Chaney (1883– 1930), Douglas Fairbanks (1883–1939), Clara Bow (1905–65), Gloria Swanson (1897–1983), and Rudolf Valentino (1895–1926) all being important early film stars.

Valentino became well known through films such as The Sheik (1921), Blood and Sand (1922), and Son of the Sheik (1926), and was the heartthrob of girls throughout the 1920s, with his death at the height of his popularity causing a mass outpouring of grief.

Other famous actors of the silent era were Tom Mix (1880–1940), who entered the film industry in 1918, joining the Selig Company, and was said to be earning up to $30,000 per week—appearing in 270 films from The Trimming of Paradise Gulch (1910) until The Miracle Rider (1935); and Joan Crawford (1906–77), who continued through the silent era into sound films.

Some of these films were controversial, with the British 1928 film Dawn, about Edith Cavell, evoking a storm of protest in Germany. A later film, Nurse Edith Cavell, was produced in 1939. Another early silent film was Ben Hur (1925), remade by M.G.M. in the 1959, and others that became well known were Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1924) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

Hollywood, near Los Angeles, was the base for American-produced films, the main companies including Columbia, M.G.M., Paramount, R.K.O., Twentieth Century Fox, and Warner Brothers. Other famous studio locations were in Britain at Ealing, in France, in Italy, and in Germany. Indian films were largely produced in Bombay.

Soviet and Indian Film

In the Soviet Union the early directors included Yakov Protazanov, whose films included Father Sergius (1917– 18) and Aelita (1924). Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948) perfected a technique that became known as the dialectical or intellectual montage, whereby nonlinear and often clashing scenes provoke different emotional reactions in the audience. His films included The Battleship Potemkin (1925), Strike (1925), October (1928), Alexander Nevsky (1938), and Ivan the Terrible (1944 and 1946).

The Indian film industry also started early, with Dadasaheb Phalke, considered by many as the "Father of Indian Cinema," producing many feature length silent films, with Raja Harishcahndra (1913) being the most famous early Indian film.

In Japan the earliest film was The Cuckoo (1909), produced by Shisetsu Iwafuji, with an early well-known one being Souls on the Road (1921). Sessue Hayakawa (1889–1973) appeared with his wife in The Typhoon (1914) and as the villain in Cecil B. De Mille's The Cheat (1915), acting in Tokyo Joe (1949) alongside Humphrey Bogart and then playing other major roles in the 1950s.

With the ability to introduce accurate synchronization of sound and sufficient amplification for it to be heard in cinemas, the Hollywood studio Warner Brothers introduced Vitaphone in 1926, and in 1927 their The Jazz Singer had the first piece of synchronized dialogue and singing in a feature-length film.

The Lights of New York (1928) was the first all-synchronized sound feature film, again produced by Warner Brothers. Quickly other studios started to produce these films, with Alfred Hitchcock's detective story Blackmail (1929) being the first sound feature in Britain.

The Broadway Melody (1929) was the first classic-style Hollywood musical, with French director René Clair producing Under the Roofs of Paris (1920) and Le Million (1931). Paramount produced the first film version of Somerset Maugham's The Letter in 1929, and the story was produced again by Warner Brothers in 1940.

Production increased with the gangster film Little Caesar (1931) and others on a similar theme such as The Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932), based on the life of Al Capone. Other Hollywood films of this period included A. E. W. Mason's The Four Feathers (1929), Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Vicki Baum's Grand Hotel (1932), Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (1932), King Kong (1933), Cecil B. de Mille's Cleopatra (1934), Charles Dickens's The Tale of Two Cities (1936), Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Alexandre Dumas's The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), and Rudyard Kipling's The Light That Failed (1939).

There were 28 Sherlock Holmes films starting with The Return of Sherlock Holmes in 1929, with the most famous probably being Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) starring Basil Rathbone.


There were also a number of other films that were followed by many sequels: the Charlie Chan films from 1929 that continued until 1981; The Mysterious Fu Manchu (1929), The Return of Fu Manchu (1931), The Daughter of Fu Manchu (1931), The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), and eight more films ending in 1980; Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and many other Tarzan films to the 1960s; and "The Saint" films from The Saint in New York (1938), which continued up until 1959 when a French-language film Le Saint mene la danse was released.

Perhaps the film that had the most versions made was Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, which was first produced in Britain in 1917 but saw American versions made in 1919, 1933, and in 1949. The height of the U.S. film industry was probably in 1939 with The Wizard of Oz and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. In the latter Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh starred in the romantic film about life in Atlanta before, during, and after the American Civil War.

During World War II there were a large number of war films and ones on related spy themes, including Went the Day Well? (1942), The Way Ahead (1944), and In Which We Serve (1942), which starred Noel Coward and was directed by David Lean.

Other British films of the prewar and early wartime period include Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1934); R. D. Blackmore's Lorna Doone (1935); John Buchan's The 39 Steps (1935), starring Peggy Ashcroft (1907–91); Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), directed by Alexander Korda; Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), starring Charles Laughton (1899–1962) as Captain Bligh and Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian; The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936); Ryder Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1938); Marie Antoinette (1938); George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara (1940), starring Rex Harrison (1908–90); Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1940); Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941); and Jane Austen's Jane Eyre (1943).

In the United States films on war themes included Desperate Journey (1942), pitting Errol Flynn against the Germans; Casablanca (1942), starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman (1915–82), and Claude Rains; Mrs Miniver (1942); Forever and a Day (1943); Objective Burma (1944); and Going My Way (1944), starring Bing Crosby.

There were also a number of other great successes, including John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941), starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor (1906–87), and Sidney Greenstreet (1879–1954); Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles (1915– 85); A. J. Cronin's The Keys of the Kingdom (1944); and Howard Spring's Fame Is the Spur (1947).

Mention should also be made of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1942), which starred Sabu (Sabu Dastagir, 1924– 63). The impact of Walt Disney on the movie industry began with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), and Bambi (1941).

In Europe film production during the 1920s and 1930s saw large numbers of films produced, although not on the level being produced in Hollywood. In France there were many French-language films, with actors Maurice Chevalier (1888–1972) and Jacques Tati (1908–82) being the best known abroad.

Others include Jean-Louis Barrault (1910–94), who appeared in Les Enfants du Paradis (1944); Charles Boyer (1897– 1978); Danielle Darrieux (b. 1917), who appeared in La Ronde (1950); and Michèle Morgan (b. 1920), who starred in La Symphonie Pastorale (1946). Of the many German film producers and directors of the period, Leni Riefenstahl became the most famous with her Triumph of the Will (1936).

Elisabeth Berner (1898–1986) was born in Poland and trained in Vienna, becoming the favorite actress of the German stage director Max Reinhardt and appearing in his first film, Der Evandelismann (1923).

Another German film star was Conrad Veidt (1893– 1943), who was born in Potsdam and after also acting at Max Reinhardt's theater, starred in silent films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), The Student of Prague (1926), and The Hands of Orlac (1926).

When the Nazis rose to power he wanted to leave Germany because of his Jewish wife. Eventually, he was allowed to move to Britain, where he became a British citizen, playing German roles in Nazi Agent (1942) and Casablanca (1942).

Mention should also be made of Vienna-born Luise Rainer (b. 1910), who played a key part in The Good Earth along with Paul Muni; and Anton Walbrook (1900–67), also from Vienna, who starred in Gaslight (1940). Also from Europe were Swedish actress Greta Garbo (1905–90) and German singer and actress Marlene Dietrich (1901–92).

In Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore the Shaw brothers dominated the film industry, and the Cathay Film Company was also formed covering British Malaya and Singapore. Mention should also be made of two film actresses who rose to important political positions, both by marriage.

In 1937 a film actress, Jiang Qing, left the Chinese city of Shanghai to join the Chinese Communist Party, marrying its leader, Mao Zedong, in the following year. In Buenos Aires actress Evita Duarte (later Evita Perón) starred in a number of films before meeting and then marrying Juan Perón, who went on to become president of Argentina.

After World War II the British at Ealing Studios produced a number of important films, including Whisky Galore! (1948), Passport to Pimlico (1949), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and Graham Greene's The Third Man (1949).

Mention should also be made of Italian films, one about the wartime resistance to the Germans in Rome in Open City (1945), directed by Roberto Rossellini (1906–77), who married Ingrid Bergman; and Bicycle Thieves (1948), directed by Umberto Scarparelli.

A number of Italian actors found work overseas, with Paul Henreid (1908–92), from Trieste (then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), going to Hollywood, where he starred in Casablanca.

In the United States some important films were produced in the late 1940s, but it was not long before the House Committee on Un-American Activities turned its attention to Hollywood resulting in many actors, writers, and directors leaving for Europe, including Charlie Chaplin, Morris Carnovsky (1897–1992), and Dalton Trumbo (1905–76), and many more unable to get work. It also saw others like Ronald Reagan (1911– 2004), president of Screen Actors Guild, and later president of the United States, rise to prominence.