American Cinema 1890-1909: Themes and Variations (Screen Decades: American Culture/American Cinema)

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If, for example, I depict action passing between two rooms, I must make it cinematically plausible that they share a boundary in a single building. Figure 5. Recall also our discussion in Chapter 5. Obviously, the possibility of spectator confusion in such situations should not be underestimated. The filmmaker may, for example, intend for it to be occurring at the same time. In so doing, of course, the filmmaker will render dramatic time discontinuous : the time during which an action takes place will no longer reflect the linear sequence that he would produce by arranging all of the components of a given line of action one after the other in a self-contained sequence.

Using this model, explains Abel, the filmmaker. When he arrives to find ten eager candidates, he flees in panic, pursued by his prospective brides, who persist in the chase despite physical obstacles in a series of contiguous locations. A similar strategy involved the extension of a situation to accommodate a greater variety of gags. Un Achat embarrassant ,.

Gaumont, Gasnier in , reworks a popular comic premise in two nicely balanced parts Figure 9. Louis J. Particularly interesting in this respect is the next-to-last sequence of three shots in which the horse is shown returning to his stable Figure 9. The two matching cuts create a nearly perfect sense of continuous action; in particular, the reverse angle in the third shot reproduces fairly unobtrusive movement between two contiguous spaces separated by a wall. A medium shot is cut in to show how absorbed they are in their game, and they pay no attention when, in another full shot , servants bring in food.

A dog enters and begins lapping up the food, but a second cut-in medium shot reminds us that the players are oblivious to the world around them. The third part of the film climaxes at a lake where, seen in a high-angle medium shot , the players finish their game while standing up to their shoulders in water. Both are composed of multiple parts, and in both, the part clearly functions as the parameter of the gag: in each case, the structuring principle of the part allows the filmmaker to present the gag in the kind of detail needed to get optimum comic effect. Note, too, the inherently narrative relationships of the parts: 1 While a delivery man goes inside, his horse eats a whole bag of oats, 2 resulting in a surge of energy that sends the horse on a rampage through the town 3 before, ironically, it ends up safely in its own stall.

The result is narrative structure. Un Drame dans les airs ,. He calls the model of transformation that emerged in this genre the compound model and argues that its most important feature is the manipulation of frame changes to articulate action both within and between shots. A cut to a degree reverse-angle shot takes us outside the prison wall, where, in a low-angle long shot , we see the convict in the back of the frame just as he emerges from the window.

Once the cut to the reverse-angle shot has been made, the camera follows the convict from the window to the ground—not by cutting but by tilting downward. When it does so, it also discovers a prison guard in the foreground of the frame, and we know that the convict can continue his escape only by subduing the guard. Now the camera tilts upward, back to the window from which the convict had jumped, where another guard is sounding the alarm.

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The upward or downward movement of the camera along an imaginary vertical line running through the camera head is called a tilt shot see Figure 9. As the action proceeds, the audience is invited to experience a certain anxiety about the threats posed to sympathetic characters who have become vulnerable. Events typically revolve around a clearly defined battle between good and evil and inevitably climax with the triumph of good in the form of harmony restored. In the end, the threat to moral, social and domestic order is overcome and stability restored. The conventions of the French melodrama were adapted from the theater and centered around threats to the conventional bastions of harmony and stability, especially the family.

In the French melodrama, the threat was typically to a literal or figurative family, and triumph over that threat usually entailed the restoration of the patriarchal family. We will have occasion to expand this understanding of melodrama in Chapter His one great diplomatic accomplishment was the formation of a League of Nations as a mechanism for avoiding future wars.

In a bitter defeat at home, however. Congress rebuffed the plan, fearing it would en- tangle the United States in international conflicts without pressing national interest. Casting an influence over every aspect of life in America, the war years offered enhanced employment opportunities to Blacks and women, while also bolstering the fortunes of unions that helped support the war effort. Federal bureaucracy increased during this period, including the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Popular culture channeled patriotism through songs like George M. Cohan's "Over There" and through the resonant work of magazine illustrators, the most famous of whom was Norman Rockwell; his iconic work for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post first appeared in I9I6.

Rockwell's combination of realism and nostalgia for the simple pleasures of a premodern era remind us again of the transitional nature of this period. By the same token, changes to the ways Americans ate and dressed during the s demonstrate as clearly as any other social shifts the combined influence of modernity and World War I on the decade.

Whereas still saw women's fashions favoring the hourglass sil- houette produced by the constricting corset and layered, ornate clothing, the influence of the New Woman as a model of increased freedom and vital- ity prompted the adoption of looser, more comfortable garments as the decade wore on. Numerous developments affected fashion trends. Similarly, the growing acceptance of athletics as part of a middle-class existence encouraged in part by the active lifestyles of celebrities, including movie stars translated into a more liberal conception of casual clothing.

The normalization of automobile travel also dictated the adoption of garments for riding that per- mitted one to ride in the open air. And the scarcity of materials during the war years led to simpler, more relaxed clothing styles for both sexes and a reduced palette of colors. Advertising played a role in transmitting fashion trends all the more readily to the national populace and certainly led to the popularization of cosmetics and other beauty aids. A parallel trend toward lighter diets and increased convenience defined the way Americans approached eating and food preparation during the decade.

Technological innovations in the realm of kitchen appliances and cookware permitted a wider range of meal choices, while lifestyle changes rendered the eating habits of an earlier era outdated. Breakfast, in particu- lar, became a meal defined by both convenience and lighter foods. Packaged breakfast cereals proliferated during the decade as companies like Kellogg's, Quaker, and Post profited from the assumed health benefits of their prod- ucts. Of course, not all convenience foods conferred healthiness onto their consumers: snacks of various kinds became popular ways to satisfy ap- petites between meals, and World War I only increased the appeal of choco- late bars and chewing gum, not to mention cigarettes.

Overall, the lifestyle changes introduced during the s are evidence of a nation constantly involved in the process of redefining itself in light of the influence of tech- nology and media, among other modernizing forces. The decade began with a relatively new structure imposed by the recently established Motion Picture Patents Company alternately known as the MPPC or the Trust in its attempt to monopolize production.

Strictly speaking, the MPPC was set up as a patent pooling organization, but it was designed to drive out of busi- ness all producers and distributors who were not members. The Trust desired to restrict the market only to those producers who were part of the original cartel, organizing exchanges small-scale distributors working within defined territories and exhibitors in the process, by issuing licenses allowing them to show Trust films and use Trust-produced equipment.

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The Trust also chose to disregard a substantial number of peripheral exchanges and exhibitors that were unlicensed and therefore, they assumed, would wither away. Ignoring this portion of the market would prove to be a fatefuUy unwise business decision. Although its chief aim was to profit by eliminating competition, to its credit, the MPPC injected some much-needed supply stability into what had become an industry growing too quickly on the demand side. An estimated 12, nickelodeon theaters clamored for films.

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The Trust initiated numer- ous improvements that allowed exchanges and exhibitors to plan their own business practices with more confidence. Chief among these was the estab- lishment of a 1,foot format standard, regular release schedules, and more attentive control over the quality of prints in circulation. In I9I0, the MPPC moved to extend its monopolistic designs by creating the General Film Company, a parallel organization that systematically purchased every licensed exchange, effectively placing a large sector of the distribution sec- tor under its control.

As vigorously as the MPPC pursued its goal of total market control, it could not keep pace with the burgeoning market. Intense demand for films allowed for the emergence of an opposing faction, the Independents. These producers, who primarily courted those exchanges and theater owners who remained unlicensed and those licensees who chafed against Trust control , emerged almost as soon as the MPPC made its intentions known, and by there were several Independents already in operation, includ- ing the New York Motion Picture Company, Powers, Nestor, and, most important in terms of later developments, Carl Laemmle's Independent Moving Picture Company, commonly known as IMP.

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Nineteen ten saw the creation of more Independent firms of substance, including Thanhouser, Reliance, Solax, and the American Film Company. Many of these compa- nies established themselves by hiring away personnel from established Trust firms, particularly the most prized asset, actors.

This poaching of act- ing talent by upstart companies demonstrates that "picture personalities" were fast becoming one of the cinema's most identifiable and promotable ingredients. The various fledgling Independent producers soon realized that they would need to organize themselves in a manner similar to the Trust if they were to survive. The Sales Company was sufficiently suc- cessful in its efforts that it managed to provide twenty-one reels a week to its exchanges by June, while the Trust was guaranteeing thirty Bowser The basic structure of Trust versus Independents would prevail for sev- eral years, and this version of limited competition within a climate of strong demand led to an increasingly powerful production sector.

Limiting the presence of foreign films on domestic screens also tipped the balance. While films from France in particular had dominated the U. As Eileen Bowser has pointed out, the combination of cur- tailed access to the American market by foreign film companies and an improving rate of productivity led to a growing percentage of American films circulating within the market: "By the end of 1 9 12, national produc- tion accounted for well over 80 per cent of the American market, at least according to the number of film titles released not copies sold " Bowser American domination of its own market was the economic foundation upon which its subsequent success in many other countries was built.

Pro- ducers could sell their films at a relatively low price to ensure competitive- ness elsewhere.

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Ironically, the Independent faction experienced its own internal divi- sions by the time it had reached parity with the Trust. The Sales Company's domination of Independent distribution was shaken by the formation of the Mutual Film Corporation in , a breakaway firm that soon attracted numerous companies that had previously leased their films through Sales. Uni- versal would remain a vital force within the industry, much more so than the MPPC, which found itself attacked on numerous fronts.


Competition from the Independents eroded the Trust's early domination of the market, and the growing popularity of features caught at least some of its members off-guard. Beset by government legal attacks for violation of antitrust leg- islation , the Trust was officially dissolved by court decree in It was effectively defunct by that time anyway, a victim of ever-changing market forces.

The robust demand for films during this decade spurred producers to find ways to ensure a steady flow of product. The reforms introduced by the MPPC went some way to ensuring supply would meet demand, but changes to the mode of production aimed further at increasing efficiency and, hence, productivity. It is during the decade of the s that one sees concerted efforts toward increased rationalization of production duties, leading to the ascendancy of the producer as the central organizing figure. Investing con- trol in the position of a central producer introduced the concept of mana- gerial oversight to film production: no longer did directors have the same autonomy that previously they had enjoyed.

Scripts became blueprints for budget-based decision making and delegation of duties.