Film History Lecture prepared 11/28/08 by John M. Grace I.A.T.S.E. member and film instructor D.A.T.A. Charter High School Albuquerque, New Mexico
Film History As the quote suggests, as we moved into the 1900s, the influence of film was starting to be noticed - and condemned. If nothing else, the fear that motion pictures would ruin the country's morals spoke to the power and influence of film. "Films represent this country's greatest force for evil and debauchery." A fundamentalist preacher , 1917
Film History By 1910, Nickelodeons were attracting 26-million viewers each week. Just five years later that number had doubled. The popularity of films soon attracted the attention of big companies that saw the potential for big profits, and what better way to insure big profits than to try to create a monopoly.
Film History Led by Thomas Edison, several companies formed a trust called the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC). The plan was to use their combined patents to control things such as the production of raw film stock, projection equipment, and film distribution and exhibition; in other words, almost everything in the motion picture industry.
Film History Independent (nonaffiliated) film companies tried to compete at their own risk. MPPC people raided the independent studios; equipment was smashed and employees were threatened. Their strong-arm tactics aside, the MPPC did establish standards and create an international motion picture industry.
Film History Among the other things that the MPPC did to hold on to control (and profits) was to forbid the use of actor's names in film credits. It was assumed that if audiences became familiar with leading characters that the actors would achieve a star status and demand more than the minimal wages they were earning.
Film History In 1915, one of the most important films in the history of motion pictures was released: D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation . The three-hour film was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. It cost less than $110,000 to make and earned more than $18 million proving the profit potential of motion pictures.
Film History Even though Birth of a Nation represented a quantum leap in film techniques, because of its racist theme it was highly controversial. The film was said to have, "a flawed, sentimental attachment to the Old South." (Griffith was from the South.) Among other things, violent, anti-Negro Ku Klux Klan members emerged as heroes.
Film History The showing of the film resulted in race riots in major cities and inspired the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in the South. If there was any doubt about the influence of this new medium the issue was settled with Birth of a Nation . Even today, some colleges that planned to screen the film have met with major opposition.
Film History Griffith's second film, Intolerance , had a message of love, tolerance, and the futility of war. It cost 20 times as much to make as Birth of a Nation and was a financial flop. Not only was it ahead of its time in terms of technique, but people didn't want to hear a message about tolerance - especially when the US was preparing to go to war.
Film History Films were originally shot on the East coast of the United States - and many films were shot outside to compensate for the slow speed of the film in those days. The weather back East often didn't cooperate, but out West, there was sunshine and wide open spaces for making films - not to mention a very big ocean and lots of picturesque mountains.
Film History Independent film companies fighting the stranglehold of the MPPA trust, moved to the West Coast - primarily to Hollywood, where they were much farther away from MPPA control. Once the independent film companies were established in California, they started turning out films that were as good or better than films produced by MPAA members.
Film History Hollywood was named by a real estate agent who moved to the Los Angeles area from the East Coast and who had brought with him a volume of holly trees. Not being concerned with botany and climatic differences, he planted them, thinking that he would introduce a new species of trees. They all died.
Film History Not to be deterred, he still named the area "Hollywoodland" and put up a large sign on the side of a mountain to advertise the area. Later the name was shortened to "Hollywood". Holly trees or no holly trees, the area ended up being an ideal site for early motion picture studios.
Film History While the MPPC didn't want to list the names of actors in their films, the independent studios on the West Coast recognized the advantage in developing popular stars that audiences would pay to see time and time again. The fact that this would draw audiences away from rival MPPC films didn't escape their notice.
Film History One of the first actors to be promoted in this way was Florence Lawrence who is credited with being the first movie star. Two other well-known names from this early era are Mary Pickford, known at the time as "America's Sweetheart”, and Charlie Chaplin, the little tramp.
Film History If you walk along the "Walk of Fame" on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, you will see their names engraved on bronze stars embedded in the sidewalk. They are just two of scores of film, radio and TV notables spanning almost a century of history who are commemorated in this way.
Film History Do the names Harold Lloyd, Ben Turpin, and Buster Keaton ring a bell? They are a few of the comedy masters of the silent film era and their names are also honored on the Walk of Fame. Millions of U.S. immigrants and people around the World who didn’t speak English could still enjoy their physical humor.
Film History The first 20th Century superstar was Charlie Chaplin, the undisputed comic genius of silent comedy. He started out making $150 a week, and by 1917 was making more than $1M a year. His character was first displayed in the film, The Tramp , in which he played a vagabond in baggy pants and a bowler hat.
Film History There was more than just simple humor in his work; Chaplin used his films to convey messages about good and evil in society - and especially the disparity between the rich and poor. Although Chaplin's work was very popular, some of the rich didn't appreciate his pointing out social problems of the early 1900s.
Film History Sometime later, the perceived threat of Communism would loom in the United States and Senator Joseph McCarthy would capitalize on this fear by initiating a Communist "witch hunt," referred to as the McCarthy Hearings. Chaplin, who was born in Britain, was one of McCarthy's targets.
Film History The threat of Communism was very real. Communist infiltration had reached high levels in the U.S. government. After months of investigations and the outlay of huge sums of money by the U.S. government, no Communist plot was exposed by the hearings and many lives were ruined in the process.
Film History Many people attended the meetings out of curiosity never dreaming that they could also be named as Communists, and that just being there would land them in jail or spell the end of their professional careers. The fear of Communism was so great that the individual freedoms on which the US was founded were pushed aside with impunity.
Film History McCarthy aimed his investigation at people in the film business and everyone feared they might suddenly be branded a Communist or a Communist sympathizer. How did you spot a Communist? Consider this description: Communist writers can be spotted because they portray bankers and senators as villainous characters.
Film History Studio heads were upset because they felt that writers and actors were getting too much power. During the hearings a Warner Brothers executive said that when film writers made fun of America's politics they were engaging in Communist propaganda. He further stated that movies sympathetic to "Indians and the colored folks" were also suspect.
Film History Some famous members of the film community that were under attack ended up being branded The Hollywood Ten. This group of nine screenwriters and one director were singled out and subpoenaed. On a matter of principle, they refused to answer questions about their political views. All 10 were given prison sentences and some were fined up to $10,000.
Film History Studio heads, fearing economic consequences of using people tainted by the hearings, blacklisted 214 of Hollywood's most talented people. As a result, these people could not work in the industry for more than a decade. One of the blacklisted writers wrote a script under a pseudonym that won an Academy Award.
Film History Eventually, Edward R. Murrow, a famous CBS radio and TV newscaster, did a TV documentary on the McCarthy-led paranoia. Even though this resulted in Murrow being put at the top of McCarthy's Communist enemy's list, his exposé (tellingly revealed in McCarthy's own recorded words) marked the beginning of the end of the senator's political career.
Film History It was not until 20-years after the McCarthy hearings that Charlie Chaplin - by then recognized as one of the greatest film talents of the 20th century - returned to the US to receive an honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards Ceremony. Chaplin received one of the longest standing ovations in the history of the Academy Awards.