Film: The Lost Art – 500 Level Film Class Research Paper
Film or the “Seventh Art” as it is also known is now entering its second century of existence. For the past one hundred years, it has been one of the favorite pastimes among most people. Starting back before of the turn of the century, with the Lumiere Brothers’ travelling “cinematographe” to the colossal IMAX theaters found in most large cities, Film has received
many changes and facelifts throughout these past 100 years.
There is one aspect of film that has not changed throughout its history, and that is the necessity for creativeness and gripping storytelling that sets one film apart from other films. The real driving force behind any movie is not its cast, or its multi-million-dollar budget, but its ability through ingenuity and inventiveness to tell a good story and keep the viewer involved in it.
I believe that film has taken a turn for the worse during the past few years. It seems that all people really want to see is their favorite actors, and more recently, extravagant special effects. These things have kept film in the hands of the big Hollywood Studios, who are the only organizations that have the funds to invest into a large budget film, if there is a large profit to be made of course. That is why I state that film is an art that has been replaced by a very lucrative business.
But film is now on the brink of exciting new advances, as important as the introduction of sound or color. The implementation of digital manipulation of the pictures and sound will put the tools necessary to make a respectable film within the reach of anyone with a computer, a camera, and an idea. Of course there are drawbacks to this, all of which will be discussed later.
Another issue that is making waves is the realm of film is the return to simplicity. A new movement in film, Dogma 95, is staring to make an appearance, primarily with the film Julien Donkey-boy by Harmonie Korine.
Film is going in two directions at this time. One trend leading away from the digital age, with a return to simplicity, and the second embracing the computer age as the next important step in the evolution of film.
The purpose of this paper is to inform the reader of the new technologies that are changing film as we know it. The changes are happening very quickly, and sometimes the biggest achievements are the ones that go by unnoticed by most people. Also I plan to show the other side of the coin, where filmmakers are not accepting these changes, and are forming schools of thought that rely more on creativity or even less to make films, such as Dogma 95.
Most of the arguments brought up n this paper are drawn from personal knowledge I have received in the various Film classes I have attended during my academic career. These are not arguments drawn from certain texts or opinions that were voiced by certain authors. These are my personal opinions that I have formed through a thorough learning and research on the subject over the past three years. As both a fan and a student in the realm of film, I believe that I make educated and sound arguments as any scholar can also make.
Most of the previous research I have made in this realm has been through classes and lectures I have attended. I believe there is no better way to study film than to actually sit and watch a large selection of film from different periods and nations. Can an art critic call himself an art critic if they have only read about the paintings and never actually seen them? As I have moved from the US to Greece recently, I could not bring the texts I used in my classes here, and therefore cannot properly credit them in my bibliography. These texts were from a wide variety, including texts on Foreign (Non-American) cinema, On the business of film, and on the fabled Hollywood studio systems of the forties and fifties.
For this paper, the bulk of my research was done on the Internet, mainly to confirm dates, names of films, and casts and crews. As far as researching the new technological advances in cinema, the Internet was also very useful in providing me with information concerning these advances. As the speed at which this technology is progressing is very fast, it would almost seem foolish to publish a book on it, because the technology it dealt with would most probably become obsolete before the text hit the printing press. Therefore, I realized that to make the most informed decisions and arguments, I had to rely on information gathered off the Internet.
It seems to me like the need for this paper to be written was to represent film within the context of Electronic Media, as it is the first media to use moving pictures, and led the way for greater inventions such as television to be accepted into our everyday lives. You need to know how to walk before you can run.
Throughout this paper I will refer to films from the US. This is done on purpose, not to ignore other national cinemas, but to reinforce my arguments about the two directions in which film is moving. I would like to note the many gifts countries such as Germany, France, Italy, and Russia have offered to the evolution of film, as all film today is in some way a product of radical new ideas brought forth by these countries. A good example is the invention of montage editing. Had it not been, for Lenin’s backing of film for his purposes of nation building, films such as The Battleship Potempkin would never have been made, and the jump-cut probably would have taken a little longer to get “invented”.
The Film industry has come a very long way since its birth before the turn of the century. Up until World War II, film was in its infancy, serving many purposes along with its primary goal of entertainment and art. Lenin used film as a tool for nation building, creating a national identity through historical features such as The Battleship Potempkin. Hitler and the Americans harnessed the power of moving pictures to fit their needs as they fought a war, and used it to promote their ideals and their war machine through propaganda. But it wasn’t until the 1950’s that film established itself in a form that it has kept almost intact until the present day: The studio system.
Hollywood is known for it Walk of the Stars, The Mann Chinese Theater, and the various studios that have their lots in Southern California. All these attractions and fabled locations are all part of the same story, that of a large, lucrative, industry that is the film industry. Before the studios moved out to California in the 1920’s, the area that is now Los Angeles was nothing more than an arid desert with a low population and a water problem.
During the fifties, the large studios that had managed to maintain their share of the market had achieved what was known as “vertical integration”. This meant that every aspect of the film, from the person who wrote it, to the theater it was shown in was owned by the studio. This was a very dull time I believe for film, as each feature was seen as a product, and every part of the “machine” that made it was replaceable. The studios even owned the “talent” or actors, and they had no say over which movie they starred in, if the producer wanted Bogart, the producer would get Bogart. In the end what you got was an industry that set up things like the Academy Awards to get publicity, and a star system that kept the public interested in the studio’s stars, which meant they would pay to see the new movies.
By the end of the fifties, the two most major advancements in technology had made film almost what it is today. These advances where the introduction of sound and color in film. After that, the shift towards “auteur” cinema, and the importance of the director started making its appearance. This meant that people were tired of the same formulas being served to them everyday, and wanted to see new and exciting things on their screens. The height of this movement, “high concept filmmaking” was during the 1970’s with such classics as Apocalypse Now and Jaws making their appearances in the spotlight.
The next step was a few years in the coming, but it would open up unlimited doors for anyone with a little imagination. In the early nineties, (but also a little before that in small scenes) movies started making their appearance that relied on computer animation and special effects. This technology is considered the next step in cinema, and is thought by many to be as important as the introduction of sound.
Computer animation means that one day, when the technology reaches that point, the director will be able to show people anything they can imagine. I cannot give any examples of this, but just think of anything you would like to see on your screen, and one-day it will be possible. But this technology has repercussions to it too.
As you read this there is incredible technology in use at the major film studios, but it is still very expensive to use. This means that it will not be today that a studio executive will give the green light to a 20 year old director to use the production team at Industrial Light & Magic (the most prestigious and sought after special effects company in the industry). This means that the “good stuff” will remain in the hands of established filmmakers, who are probably running out of fresh ideas.
As a business, the film industry has to turn a profit, otherwise a film is not made. But how could new ideas surface, if a studio will not approve something radical because of the risk involved in producing it? A good example of how studios sometimes do not realize the talent and ingenuity that is at their disposal is the story of Stanley Kubrick and his first major film Spartacus. He was assigned to work on it as a young director, which would be malleable in Kirk Douglas’ hands. This of course was not true as Kubrick had a reputation of being very tough to work with and always got things done hi own way. The point is that had the big studio heads not looked for a “malleable” director they could do what they pleased with, Kubrick probably would have never gotten the recognition and the break, he deserved to establish himself among the best filmmakers ever.
That is why I truly hope that these new advances are made available to everybody someday, as it would be a shame to miss out on any future Kubricks because they are thought to be too “risky”. That is the beauty of computer assisted special effects and “digital cinema” as it is also known, it is that it will be made available to anyone who wishes to buy it, and will have the ease of use of a word processor or photo manipulation application.
Due to the nature of film, other advances in its technology are really nothing very special. Film is a projected image that provides the illusion of movement. There are really no “new” advances, just improvements on current ideas. Such as C-Reality and Rascal, which are digital equivalents of film scanners and color correctors.
All these new technologies are great, but what happens when we get so wrapped up on the technical side of film, that we forget about the artistic, creative end of the equation? We get unimaginative films such as Independence Day or Titanic. These films represent the pinnacle of technological achievement, but are nothing more than a technology showcase. The real art of telling a good story is lost.
A new wave has started making its way on the screen. That is cheap, story driven features that are built around sound characters, and a good story. Film such as The Blair Witch Project, or Swingers lead this pack of otherwise called “independent”” films. These movies do not use special effects, just good plots, interesting characters and very ingenious directing. This movement is becoming very established as people are getting tired of big explosions and meaningless dialogue.
The newest and most imaginative idea out there is the Dogma 95 school of filmmaking. Its most popular release was Julien Donkey-Boy, a story about a schizophrenic and the effect the disease has on the patient’s family. The interesting thing about this film is its lack of lighting (natural light only), professional actors (only amateur actors), and script. It looks like a home movie, but it is not. It is Harmonie Korine’s way of talking about his schizophrenic uncle, which influenced him to make this film. Is this the new wave in film?
Absolute simplicity and minimalism?
Or is it the digitally enhanced world of your wildest imagination?
It has occurred to me that maybe film is going to follow two different paths, and maybe become two different things. Many of the changes that film is going through will require filmmakers as well as viewers to let go of some things they though sacred for the sake of the medium. A similar story happened in the Adult film industry during the early eighties. Video replaced film because it was cheaper, and many directors thought that it was insult, but they went on making their movies. Also just as in Dogma 95, highly paid professional actors were replaced by amateurs doing it for fun. As always the adult film industry led the way in a revolution that will take over the whole of the film industry, legitimate or not.
This split in the film industry is inevitable, and I welcome it with open arms. It will provide us with more of a choice than we had before, as the technology will hopefully be put in the hands of more aspiring filmmakers. Even if it is not, those with the drive to make a film, will be able to make one cheap, with virtually little resources. The only thing I hope for is that the tradition of telling a good story does not go out with the “old school” of the film industry.
To get a well rounded idea of the film industry I suggest watching many movies, preferably in a movie theater, but on video will do. A good way to go about choosing what to see would be to purchase a book on films, and watch what they recommend. Make sure you see the films I mention in this paper. (Be careful with Julien Donkey-Boy as it is a very disturbing movie). Also make sure to watch movies that are made outside the US, to get a more rounded perspective on film, which is an art that evolved out of many countries, not just one.
In short, I discuss the history of the Hollywood film industry, to give the reader an idea of where cinema came from. From there on, I discuss the many new technologies that are taking cinema in a whole new direction. There is also another direction that cinema is going in, and that is one of minimalist proportions. No sets, no famous stars, just a good story, and interesting characters.
Baxter, John. Stanley Kubrick: A Biography 1997, Harper Collins Publishers. Great Britain.
Jones, Chris & Genevieve Jolliffe The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook. 1996, Cassel, Wellington House, London, UK.
Crabtree, Sheigh. “SMPTE NYC 99: Cintel Telecines Span the Divide” 12/01/1999
Wyatt, Roger B. “Welcome to Digital Cinema Today” 1999, http://tech- head.com/cinema.htm