Coursework 1- defining moments of cinema pre 1930s.

1. ‘A trip to the Moon’ (1902)


‘Voyage dans la Lune’ or ‘A Trip to the Moon’ is considered to be the first science fiction story in the history of cinema. The black and white silent masterpiece was created in 1902 by French director and magician Georges Melies and based its plot on the story of Jules Verne’s ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ and H. G. Wells’ ‘First Men in the Moon’.
According to Sklar (1993 p. 33) Melies’ film is an example of how the concept of time was perceived in primitive cinema. Time is seen as ‘repeatable, rather than endlessly flowing.’
The film also uses innovative animation and special effects, including the well-known image of the spaceship landing in the Moon’s eye.
‘A trip to the Moon’ was named one of the greatest films of the 20th century ranking #84 in 100 Best Films of the 20th century conducted by Village Voice Critics.

Reference: SKLAR, R., 1993. Film: an international history of the medium. London: Thames and Hudson.

2. ‘The Lonedale Operator’ (1911)


Directed by D.W. Griffith, ‘The Lonedale Operator is a short American drama film which has long been celebrated for its flamboyant and advanced editing. Sklar (1993 p. 54) claims that it is ‘one of the most intricately edited of the one-reel films with ninety-eight separate shots.’
‘The Londale Operator’ displays a wider range of analytical editing technique than any film before. It cuts among three or four separate locations, changes camera position within scenes and uses close-ups which were uncommon at that time.
Through ‘The Londale Operator’ Griffith advanced the narrative style in film and made a distinction between a scene– continuous action in one location- a shot– segment of a scene- and a shot chain– that breaks up the scene into numerous shots. Griffith was the earliest to enphasize an actor’s interpretation of character, performance as well as plot.
For more information on the film plot and cast, have a look at IMDb

Reference: SKLAR, R., 1993. Film: an international history of the medium. London: Thames and Hudson.

3. Cabiria (1914)


Directed by Giovanni Pastrone, ‘Cabiria’ is one of the earliest epic productions in film history. With an enormous length, its original version being listed at 4.000 meters or eighteen reels, the film unites spectacle and narrative in a manner that has made a permanent mark on film style and practices.
In 2006, American film critic Roger Ebert argued that the film was made ‘with limitless scope and ambition, with towering sets and thousands of extras’, while Martin Scorsese stated that Pastrone invented the epic.
‘Cabiria’ is also notable for being the first movie where film character Maciste, also known as Hercule, Goliath or Atlas made his debut. Maciste launched a genre of strongman films that lasted into the 1920s,
Sklar (1993 p. 61) concluded that ‘the awesome splendour of its mise-en-scène is what keeps ‘Cabiria’ remarkably fresh.’

Reference: SKLAR, R., 1993. Film: an international history of the medium. London: Thames and Hudson.

4. Napoleon (1927)


‘Napoleon’ ranks as the most elaborate widescreen project in film history. In his telling of Napoleon’s life, director Abel Gance used montage, rapid editing, effective tinting, hand-held cameras, super impositions, and split screen photography that used three projectors side-by-side. Sklar (1993 p. 180) argues that sometimes 3 separate images appeared altogether whereas, at other times, a central image was flanked by scenes that resembled each other.

Gance’s masterpiece was lost for half a century until American producer-director, Francis Ford Coppola, film historian Kevin Brownlow and others began working to piece together much of Gance’s original work.
CWith a live orchestra playing a new score composed and conducted by Carmine Coppola, a 4-hour restored version of ‘Napoleon’ premiered in 1979 at New York.
In the video above, Kevin Brownlow speaks about how the film was perceived back in the late 1920s and then years later, what the restoration process truly involved.

Reference: SKLAR, R., 1993. Film: an international history of the medium. London: Thames and Hudson.

5. The Jazz Singer (1927)


This was the first feature-length Hollywood “talkie” film which used spoken dialogue as part of the dramatic action. Directed by Alan Crosland, it featured Al Jolson both speaking and singing on screen.

The production of ‘The Jazz Singer’ basically changed the industry’s perception of talking pictures and brought an end to the silent era. The huge yet unexpected demand for the movie caused other studios to begin to produce sound films of their own to capitalize on what they began to see as a trend.

Production head, Darryl F. Zanuck, was presented with a special Oscar at the very first Academy Awards ceremony in May 1929, ‘for producing The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry.’ The film had two nominations in other categories: Best Writing Adaptation (Alfred Cohn), and Best Engineering Effects.

‘The Jazz Singer’ is an historic milestone film and cinematic landmark. ‘It convinced spectators that recorded sound could be more than a short film novelty or a feature accompaniment, that they wanted film to talk.'(Sklar 1993 p. 184)

Reference: SKLAR, R., 1993. Film: an international history of the medium. London: Thames and Hudson.

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