THE FIVE KEY YEARS OF CINEMA HISTORY… AND THE ADDITIONAL YEARS WE SHOULD BE ADDING
Scholars will tell you, that in the over 100 years in which cinema has been an art form there are five key years that have impacted the trade and propelled it to new heights. I introduce those years and the impact they have made and propose several new years worthy of consideration.
This is where it all began. This year is considered to be the birth year of cinema, at least as we understand it in a modern sense. This year marks the first in which a film was ever projected onto a screen and shown to a mass audience, first on March 22nd at a private gathering and then again on December 28th to the industries first paying audience. The accomplishment is credited to the Lumière Brothers, also know as the Father's of Film Technology (their business acumen led them to buy out the patented held by French inventor Léon Bouly for the cinematograph-- the first all in one film camera and projector.) Of worthy note, in attendance on the evening of December 28th was French filmmaker Georges Méliès who would be the first to notice the cinematograph as more than just a novelty device. He would go on to create over 500 films between 1896 and 1913, including the now historical
Before the true film aficionados begin commenting below, I can assure you that 1903 is not considered by scholars to be the next key year in film history. I am very aware that in 1903 Edwin S. Porter (The Father of Film Narrative) released The Great Train Robbery, which was a major leap forward in its development of: editing techniques (particularly continuity), its unique use of colored stock, and its development of the basic unit of film structure, what we now call "the shot". And even though the Guinness Book of World Records acknowledges Porter as the first filmmaker to employ anaglyph 3D technology, his innovations were novelty at best because he never further developed these advancements over the course of his film career; at least, not in the same way his competitor D.W. Griffith did. Yes, Porter was a remarkable film innovator, but it took Griffith (The Father of Modern Cinema) to fully realize that such advancements could be employed in a manner that would define visually expressive storytelling... a.k.a. the genesis of what we now call "cinema". Faults aside, Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation (1915) is considered to the be the first major motion picture. It changed the game. And it was, for all intents and purposes, the method by
which Hollywood would continue making films until… well, today.
"You ain't heard nothing yet," may not have been the first words (or even sound) ever heard coming from the big screen, but they are, historically speaking, the words with the greatest resonance. The Jazz Singer (1927) was the next game changer in the ever developing film industry of the early 20th century. In a matter of roughly five years "talkies", as they were known, brought the demise of the silent era and by the mid 1930s they reinvigorated a lagging industry eager to embrace new technology to entice audiences back to the theater.
Scholars consider 1939 to be the height of the Golden Age of Hollywood (1927 to 1948), a year in which the industry reached both an artistic zenith while also amassing audience attendance records (which also means it was a very commercially profitable year). Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, are just three of the over 350 films released in this most prolific of industry generations. Hollywood would ride this wave until the fairy tale ended at the conclusion of the Golden Age.
Considered by scholars to be the most notable year in film history, 1948 was chock-full of bad news. The down hill slide begins when major league baseball takes a hold of the nation with the introduction of "night games". If folks weren't at the stadium staring at the diamond in person, they were at home watching it on those new fangled devices known as television sets. Add the ever growing popularity of bowling and the fears beset by Joe McCarthy and the McCarthy Era and you begin to wonder how Hollywood managed to survive it's bleakest period. And believe it or not, that wasn't the worst of it. For it was in this same year that a landmark Supreme Court decision ruled that studios could no longer own their own movie theaters, vacating the monopoly that had held together the financial backbone of the industry.
These five years are, with out argument, considered to be part of the scholarly record. But below I provide a few new years that I propose be considered for inclusion of the
historical Hollywood record as key years of the film industry.
A legitimate contender for the sixth most important year in film history, this year marks the definitive birth of commercially applied CGI (computer graphic imaging), with the release of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. Considering the continued proliferation of this technological advancement and how it has altered the manner in which films are now made, I believe it should be considered another apex year within the industry.
The demise of celluloid and introduction of digital film production would also be another major adaptation made by the industry. Thanks to the writers strike of 2008 the industry made a sweeping transition to digital film technology, and it happened over night. While the various industry unions (WGAE, WGAW, SAG/AFTRA, etc.) were on the other side of the picket line, there was no legal contest to the introduction of this burgeoning technology. Thus it was a remarkably quick transition, but the decision to go digital was primarily made for financial reasons as the technology is inexpensive compared to its celluloid counterpart. These financial benefits also reinvigorated the independent film markets in
an unprecedented manner never before seen.
In 2016 a breakthrough advancement presented itself on the CGI frontier. A video leaked out of the otherwise impenetrable LucasFilm campus in Marin County California, that would change the landscape of filmmaking as we know it. Computer specialists had made a major breakthrough in what is described as real-time computer generated rendering. Filmmakers would now have the ability to film actors in moco (motion control) suits, against a green screen, and be able to view those characters manipulating their CGI environment instantaneously on a playback screen. A glimpse of the video provided below is all one needs to view in order to understand how industry altering such technology was going to be.
It was a remarkable feat with application that would forever change the manner and speed at which films could be made (at least, for those organizations or studios that could
afford the technology). But there were limitations... that is, until 2016.
It was in this year that a project named The Visual Computing Group, specialists in the field of computer animatic real-time facial performance capture technology, developed a software called Face2Face Real Time Face Capture which is capable of manipulating the human facial movement of a target source in real time. (Best demonstrated in the
sample video below).
The end product is, needless to say, both impressive and frightening. But it too was limiting. It wasn't until 2018 when a brand new product was able to take the work of Lucasfilm and that of Niessner Labs and produce a breakthrough amalgamation technology entitled Siren. Real-time human capture and performance. Just watch the video below and consider how effective and seismic these advancements truly are for an industry that is now changing
no longer by the decade, but by the year.
Since 1948 things have certainly been a roller coaster ride for the film industry. This year Hollywood has faced yet another reckoning, the closest to 1948's challenges on both a cultural and historical level. The #MeToo movement seems to be here to stay and with good reason. My hope is that Hollywood, as it has for so many years in the past, will evolve and adapt to this new and necessary reality. Accountability and equality are two steps in the right direction. But I also think that in years to come, scholars will look back on this period- these specific years in fact- as the beginning of a new age of the film industry. Perhaps we'll be able to coin this time as Hollywood's Age of Equality. Let's at least work towards such a reality in hopes that we can look back on this period with enlightenment and that the
industry will emerge stronger than it ever has.
And there you have it. Might you have suggestions for other years worthy of addition to
the list presented? Please subscribe and comment below!