Silent Movies Essay, Research Paper While films made during cinema's early days may appear archaic, awkward, or even unintentionally funny to some modern viewers, they were part of a revolution in entertainment that was never before equaled and perhaps may never be equaled again. Later innovations such as television and the internet (so far more of an information medium than an entertaining one) owe their acceptance, if not their very existence, to the initial discovery that people are endlessly fascinated when a narrative story moves before their eyes, even without the physical presence of the actors and settings.
Silent Movies Essay, Research Paper
While films made during cinema's early days may appear archaic, awkward, or even unintentionally funny to some modern viewers, they were part of a revolution in entertainment that was never before equaled and perhaps may never be equaled again. Later innovations such as television and the internet (so far more of an information medium than an entertaining one) owe their acceptance, if not their very existence, to the initial discovery that people are endlessly fascinated when a narrative story moves before their eyes, even without the physical presence of the actors and settings. The creation of cinema — barely imaginable before the mid-1890s — is impressive enough. What's even more suprising is that far more than a handful of films made in the years between 1895 and 1930 solidly hold up as entertainment today. The wacky fantasy of Georges M?li?s' 1902 A Trip to the Moon still enchants, director King Vidor's social commentary in 1928's The Crowd still cuts to the heart, and Abel Gance's startling 1927 epic Napoleon used a widescreen triptych effect that no one successfully used again until Woodstock 42 years later. It's too bad that early cinema has been mostly left to historians because there is so much soul that escaped the combustion of the nitrate stock on which it was originally shot (and sadly, there is so much more that was lost).The time in which cinema was born was pretty revolutionary in itself: southern and eastern Europe were suffering hard economic times, resulting in millions of immigrants coming to the United States. The Ottoman Empire was falling, and the Spanish-American War was on the horizon. Social upheaval in the wake of the Industrial Revolution resulted in the creation of child labor laws and the women's suffrage movement; meanwhile, the Sherman Antitrust Act was being developed to limit the spread of monopolies. To take their minds off world events, people went to circuses or county fairs; the well-off attended the theater, the middle class had vaudeville, and rural villagers had medicine shows. At home, one could relax with a stereopticon viewer or a dime novel. Thomas Edison had recently invented the phonograph and these odd sound machines could be heard in penny arcades. Edison wanted to find a visual accompaniment to his invention, and in 1888, he gave the project to his assistant W.K.L. Dickson. They originally intended to combine motion pictures with sound, even though film did not ultimately feature synchronized sound until the late 1920s. While Dickson's efforts did not bring sound and picture together permanently (though attempts were eventually made a few years later), he did create the Kinetograph, which used a perforated celluloid film strip. The images shot were not originally meant to be projected, they were shown, peep-show style, in an arcade device called, logically, a Kinetoscope. These snippets lasted mere seconds and titles such as "Fred Ott's Sneeze," "The Gaiety Girls Dancing" and "Dentist Scene" were self-explanatory. Edison initially showed no interest in screening these minuscule shorts in front of a group of people, but others did, and the first notable theatrical projection of a group of films occurred on December 28, 1895 in Paris, France; the producers were Auguste and Louis Lumi?re. This first showing made only 35 francs, but earnings quickly ran into the thousands per week. The Lumi?res believed that cinema was a passing fad, so they grasped for quick profits with worldwide sales of their films and camera, the Cin?matographe, which was much lighter than the unwieldy 500-pound Kinetograph. They were not particularly inventive, however, and soon their position as France's premier filmmakers was overtaken by the more inventive Georges M?li?s.When Edison heard of the Lumi?res' success, he was quick to jump on the bandwagon and began projecting films himself. He bought out a projection machine made by amateur inventor Thomas Armat which used a loop (called "the Latham loop" after its inventors, the Latham brothers) that enabled longer films to be screened. Edison then took full credit for the machine, called it the Vitascope and ran his first show at Koster and Bials Music Hall in New York City. The date was April 23, 1896. By then, Dickson, unhappy with the lack of credit he received at Edison, had joined Biograph, one of the new film companies that had sprung up. Films soon became part of vaudeville shows, in addition to the arcades at which they were already a popular attraction.For the film industry to grow, however, the films themselves needed to become more sophisticated. The Edison pictures were shot in a studio called "the Black Maria" and generally had a simple black backdrop. The Lumi?res could take their lighter cameras on location to a train station, or even just to the entrance of their own factory. But all of these films consisted of just one, static shot. Efforts were made to string a series of shots together to tell a story, but exhibitors were initially given the option to show the shots as separate films. The man who did the most for film's narrative qualities during this time was French magician-turned-filmmaker Georges M?li?s. M?li?s was not the first to move plot through a series of shots, but his films, with their quirky, dream-like bent, were definitely the most delightful. The first film he released solely as a multi-shot picture was Cinderella in 1899. A Trip to the Moon, made three years later, was M?li?s' best and best-known picture. Although M?li?s never moved his camera — his films were famously static — or edited within a scene, he did use some special effects that were very sophisticated for the time, such as stop-motion and cutting to make characters suddenly appear and disappear. Back in the U.S., Edison filmmaker Edwin S. Porter was inspired by M?li?s to use a series of shots to tell a story. He did M?li?s one better in 1903's The Great Train Robbery, in which he cut between scenes, making the simple 12-minute story more gripping. Porter's early development of this cross-cutting, or parallel editing, would prove key to developing forms of storytelling unique to the new art of cinema. It also enabled studios to reduce the use of narrators who stood in the movie theater and verbally explained a film's actions to audiences for whom movies were still a new and strange phenomenon. In 1907, Porter also advanced the medium of film in an indirect but significant way: he hired an out-of-work actor named D.W. Griffith to star in his picture Rescued from an Eagle's Nest. Griffith turned in only a fair performance but later proved more valuable as a filmmaker. In addition to M?li?s, Porter was also influenced by British cinema, which was developing at a fast clip during this time. The Brighton school of filmmakers — so known because they lived in or around the southern English beach town — created some very entertaining pictures. 1900's The Big Swallow by James Williamson shows a man supposedly swallowing the camera, while G.A. Smith's 1903 comedy Mary Jane's Mishap cuts to medium shots of a maid. The continuity is terrible, but the intention of developing a film's capacity to tell an extended story is nevertheless there.In 1905, cinema began to show its real profit potential with the creation of the nickelodeon, named after the original Pittsburgh theater. The distributor — the middleman between the theaters and the film producers — began to rise in prominence. Money-making potential was high and countless entrepreneurs with more pluck than sense entered the business of making pictures. Films were stolen and duplicated, camera equipment was copied without permission. Lawsuits abounded (Edison, especially, was an infamous litigator), that is, when filmmakers weren't getting hired guns and taking the law into their own hands. Finally, on the first day of 1909, the Motion Picture Patents Company was formed. It consisted of U.S. companies Edison, Biograph, Vitagraph, Essanay, Selig, Lubin and Kalem, the U.S. offices of two French companies, Path? (at the time the biggest film company in the world) and Star (M?li?s' company), and distributor George Kleine, who imported foreign films to the States. Its intent was to monopolize the film industry by refusing to sell camera equipment or patents to anyone who was not a member. The MPPC also made a deal for exclusive use of Eastman Kodak's film stock. Those who fought against the MPPC called it the "film trust," which in fact it was, and some independent distributors bypassed the organization by going into the production business themselves. The two most successful were Carl Laemmle with his IMP company (Laemmle eventually headed Universal Studios) and William Fox, with his Greater New York Film Rental Company (he later formed the Fox Studios). Laemmle, especially, was vocal in his anti-MPPC feelings, and he persistently attacked it with ads in trade magazines.While the business of film was getting uglier, cinema was continuing to develop creatively. While the MPPC was fighting against pictures with longer running times, the French and Italian film industries were expanding their art. Luigi Maggi had already made the six-reel Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei (The Last Days of Pompeii) in 1908. This and other historical dramas led to the nine-reel epic spectacular Quo Vadis? in 1912. In France, former music hall performer Ferdinand Zecca was making films involving comedy chases, which undoubtedly influenced Mack Sennett's slapstick movies in the States. Max Linder's comic shorts would be influential for Charles Chaplin. Louis Feuillade's first serial, Fantomas, was a forerunner to The Perils of Pauline in the U.S., and his haunting photography and sets later influenced the likes of Abel Gance and Ren? Clair. Gaumount, the studio for which Feuillade worked, also had Alice Guy-Blach?, the first woman director, and cartoonist Emile Cohl, the father of pre-computer animation. The Soci?t? Film d'Art, as its name implies, tried to raise cinema to a high art by filming prestigious plays and novels with stage stars. Works by playwrights and authors such as Victorien Sardou and Goethe were filmed, stage stars such as Sarah Bernhardt and members of the Com?die Fran?aise were featured, and the pictures ran several reels in length. They were basically just filmed stage plays, with static photography and overdone acting, but they were quite popular into the early teens, and they helped to demonstrate that audiences would sit through a motion picture that lasted longer than one reel.A wealth of artistic innovations came out of Europe, but it took D.W. Griffith to put them all to effective use. For all his faults — his attitude was hopelessly Victorian, overly sentimental and melodramatic, and he was arguably a bigot (unfortunately his feelings towards African-Americans were not unusual at the time) — Griffith gave birth to narrative cinema as we know it today, with the combined use of photographic techniques, acting geared specifically for film, and editing to enhance drama within a scene and between scenes. What Griffith really understood was the art of storytelling, and he used purely cinematic techniques, such as the close-up, tracking shots and rapid intercutting to do it. Along with his cameraman Billy Bitzer, he is also responsible for inventing flashback and soft-focus lighting. Griffith also had an eye for talent, and he discovered or aided the careers of silent stars Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Robert Harron, Blanche Sweet, Constance Talmadge, and many, many others. He also bought Anita Loos' initial screenplays, the first being The New York Hat, with its biting commentary on small town life. One person whose talent he didn't fully acknowledge was Mack Sennett — Griffith was slow in allowing him to direct comedies for his company, and in 1912 Sennett left to form his own studio in Los Angeles.Griffith's clever use of various innovations weren't always received gladly by his bosses at Biograph (the studio he went to after that one film he made for Porter). Only after the success of such films as After Many Years (1908), with its subjective camerawork, The Lonely Villa (1909), with its cross-cutting, and The Lonedale Operator (1911), where Bitzer mounted the camera on a moving train, did the executives at Biograph concede that Griffith was doing something right. The company's one sticking point was film length. Biograph, an MPPC company, wanted Griffith to stick to the one reel. In 1911, he had made Enoch Arden as a two reeler, and several more were to come in 1912. But after hearing about Quo Vadis? he wanted to go further, and the result was 1913's finely crafted four-reel Judith of Bethulia. Biograph, horrified at this extravagance, tried to "promote" Griffith out of directing. Griffith's response was to take his services — and most of his stock company — to Mutual, where, after a series of four quickly shot films, he made Birth of a Nation (1915), the Civil War saga that was the culmination of everything he had to give to cinema. The film, based on a play called The Clansman, made millions, while stirring up controversy because of its negative depiction of the newly freed slaves. The recently created NAACP protested, and many whites were equally upset. Griffith's extravagant 1916 spectacle Intolerance started, in part, as a protest against his being called a racist. Intolerance was the biggest film of Griffith's career, although not the most successful either artistically or financially (in fact, it lost money at the box office). The ambitious and revolutionary project had four stories intercut with each other: ancient Babylon, the crucifixion of Christ, the 16th-century St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in France, and the modern era. Notably, several of the eight assistant directors Griffith used became famous directors in their own right: Erich von Stroheim, Allan Dwan, Tod Browning, and W. Christy Cabanne. Ultimately Intolerance was too much for audiences to handle, although it influenced filmmakers for the rest of the silent era and beyond. After Intolerance, Griffith's features were often hit and miss; 1919's Broken Blossoms is arguably the most flawless of any Griffith film, and Way Down East is perhaps the ultimate melodrama. In the '20s, with lackluster pictures such as That Royle Girl (1925) and The Sorrows of Satan (1926), Griffith ceased to be an influential force in film. Although not as innovative, films were also being made outside of the U.S. and Europe. An epic Argentinean feature, Nobleza Gaucha (Gaucho Nobility), was directed by Eduardo Martinez de la Pera, Ernesto Gunch, and Humberto Cairo in 1915. This tale, involving cowboys of the pampas, was seen throughout Latin America. Early Japanese cinema was a blend of Western technology and Eastern theater: Men traditionally played female roles on stage, and this was carried into cinema until the early '20s. It was also popular in Japan to have a lecturer narrate while the film was running. This practice had been relatively popular the world over until 1910, when it was discontinued, except in Japan, where it rose to a high art. These lecturers, called benshi, continued on until sound came to the country in the '30s. Films were made in China and Australia during the first two decades of the 20th century. Even India made movies during this time. Dadasaheb Phalke is universally acknowledged as "the father of Indian cinema," beginning in 1913 with Raja Harishchandra (King Harishchandra), a feature-length film based on the legend the Mahabharata. Phalke continued to make films until the thirties.When Europe went to war in 1914, film production slowed down, which gave the United States the opportunity to surpass its competitors. In the years between 1908 and 1914, America's film industry had undergone massive changes which enabled it to take over as the world's main supplier of motion pictures. By this time, the MPPC had lost most of its power for two reasons:Its stubborn refusal to acknowledge that feature films were the future and its fight to keep the names of its stars secret. By the time World War I had broken out, both of these battles had been lost. Not only was Griffith's Judith of Bethulia a success, other filmmakers were establishing themselves with features. In late 1913, entrepreneurs-cum-producers Samuel Goldwyn and Jesse Lasky had sent new director Cecil B. DeMille (along with the more experienced Oscar Apfel) out west to make features beginning with The Squaw Man. DeMille, Apfel and their crew wound up in Los Angeles, a town already popular amongst independent film companies because it kept them far from the wrath of the MPPC. When the organization fell under the intense scrutiny of the Justice Department in 1913, the film companies stayed, and more continued to come to L.A. and its environs such as Edendale, Santa Monica, and, of course, Hollywood, because of its year-round sun (at this point still the film industry's main lighting source) and varied landscape (it was possible to shoot films there that were supposed to take place anywhere from Scotland to the Sahara). One of the earliest big filmmakers to take advantage of southern California's assets was Thomas Ince, who founded "Inceville" there in 1912.As for the star system, it was inevitable that the public would demand to know the identities of their favorite motion picture actors such as "Little Mary" (Mary Pickford) and "the Biograph Girl" (Florence Lawrence). Producers knew that once the stars of their films became known, they would ask for astronomical raises in salary, so they held off as long as possible. Carl Laemmle was the first who was willing to take the bad (bigger salaries) with the good (bigger profits), and he stole Lawrence from Biograph and billed her under her own name. Other independents snatched up stars from MPPC companies for the same reasons, and soon not only were actors being publicized, so were directors like Griffith and J. Stuart Blackton (a holdover from cinema's earliest days). There were stars for every taste, from vamps like Theda Bara, to virginal beauties like Lillian Gish, "emotional actresses" like Norma Talmadge, to cowboy stars like William S. Hart, handsome leading men such as Wallace Reid, and rural types such as Charles Ray. Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios gave the world Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Ben Turpin, and got Chaplin started in his film career. Now that film acting had become a profitable and relatively respectable endeavor, stage stars tried out the new medium, but few could get a grip on the demands of the silent screen. One who did was the brilliant John Barrymore. Surprisingly, one of the biggest screen stars of the '10s was Geraldine Farrar, who first rose to fame as an opera diva. Standing head and shoulders above them all were Mary Pickford, who, at the behest of her audience, played little girl roles until she was well over 30; Douglas Fairbanks, the epitome of the all-American male, who turned swashbuckler in the '20s; and the biggest star of them all, comedian Charles Chaplin, whose poignant tramp character had a massive worldwide appeal that was not seen again until Beatlemania in the early '60s. These stars could do no wrong; divorce was a horrible scandal back then, but when Mary and Doug dumped their spouses to marry each other, the world was on their side. When Chaplin showed a preference for underaged girls as married partners, barely anyone batted an eyelash. Ultimately, these three, along with Griffith, eschewed producers completely, preferring to form their own studio, United Artists, in 1919.While the stars were basking in their positive press, the studio chiefs, or moguls, as they became known, were jockeying for as much power as they could grab. Most of them were first or second-generation Jewish immigrants who applied their street smarts in the realm of business to fight their way to wealth. The fiercest were Adolph Zukor of the Famous Players Company (which merged with Jesse Lasky's Feature Play Company under the distribution of Paramount in 1916) and Louis B. Mayer whose Metro Pictures Corporation merged into MGM in the '20s. Zukor instigated "block booking," the practice of forcing exhibitors to rent films in "blocks," which combined a few titles featuring top stars with lesser-quality pictures. Obviously this system was easily abused, so in 1917, 26 of the largest first-run exhibitors combined to form First National so that they could produce their own films. They scored a coup by acquiring distribution rights to Charles Chaplin's films in 1918 (this contract kept him from releasing a picture through his own United Artists until his financially unsuccessful 1923 picture A Woman of Paris). First National also created their own stars — one of them was Colleen Moore, who excelled at modern college girl characters, known in the '20s as "flappers."The film industry of one European country flourished during the war years: Germany. It was slower to develop than France, Britain, and the U.S., but there was one innovator in the early days: Oskar Messter. He contributed to the invention of the projector's Maltese cross system of movement, and in 1897 he had begun a studio in Berlin. Messter used artificial lights on his sets — he was one of the first to do this — and by 1909, he was producing feature films, beginning with Andreas Hofer, which was directed by Carl Froelich. Future stars such as Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, and Lil Dagover made their film debuts for Messter. But German exhibitors relied strongly on films exported from other countries. With World War I, however, most of these countries became hostile enemies. Only neutral Sweden and Denmark provided Germany with pictures, and this wasn't enough to fill the gaps left by the French, British, and Americans, so in 1917, the German government founded the conglomerate Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft (UFA). With subsidies and government organization, German production exploded, and after the war, the liberal bent of the new Weimar republic provided a healthy atmosphere for artistic experimentation, aided in 1919 when national censorship was eradicated. At first Germany focused on elaborate costume dramas. Ernst Lubitsch, later known for his sophisticated, sexually-charged comedies, excelled at the form, and made Carmen (1918), Madame DuBarry (1919), and Anna Boleyn (1920), among others. But more important was the Expressionist movement, best exemplified by 1919's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which still has a chillingly haunting quality today. This is due mostly to its vividly bizarre sets, created by Expressionist artists Hermann Warm, Walter Rohrig, and Walter Reimann; its narrative style was basically conventional. But its dark psychological twists and moodiness were fresh, and this attitude complemented its stunning visuals. F.W. Murnau directed Nosferatu during this period, Paul Wegener made Der Golem (actually a remake of an earlier film), and Paul Leni did Das Wachsfigurenkabinett. Fritz Lang created some of the movement's most unforgettable films, such as 1921's Der Mude Tod and Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler. Lang studied architecture before becoming a filmmaker, and it shows in his work, especially in his most famous film, Metropolis (1926), with its stark visions of a totalitarian future.Murnau crossed over from Expressionism to a more intimate, realistic approach called Kammerspielfilm in Der letzte Mann, which features Emil Jannings as a foolishly proud doorman. (The decadent and almost documentary-like Variete (1925) by Ewald Andre Dupont was a further step towards stark realism). But Murnau didn't stick around to see German film style develop an even more grim and cynical tone in the late '20s (G.W. Pabst's work best exemplifies this approach). He, along with many other German film figures, emigrated to the United States. When Germany's postwar runaway inflation was brought under control, exporting was halted, which seriously damaged the German film industry. Several big American studios, including Paramount and MGM, moved in to gain control. Ultimately, however, the debt-ridden UFA came under the influence of right-wing financier Alfred Hugenberg, chairman of the German National Party. In the mid-'20s, just before and after these events, Murnau, Lubitsch, Jannings, Veidt, actress Pola Negri, Leni, Michael Curtiz (then known as Mihaly Kertesz), and many others came over to the U.S. to make films there. This migration also affected the Swedish film industry, which had strong ties with Germany, and the U.S. also received the benefit of talents such as actress Greta Garbo and directors Victor Seastrom and Mauritz Stiller (although the latter was severely misused by MGM). Back in Germany, "street" films, which focused on ordinary, "real life" types of characters, predominated for the rest of the decade. Along with Pabst's Die freudlose Gasse (1925), there was Bruno Rahn with 1927's Dirnentragodie and Joe May with 1929's Asphalt. Pabst's final silent films, Die Buche der Pandora and Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (both starring beautiful American actress Louise Brooks) were commentaries on society's decadence. By the '30s, the political and social tone of rising Nazism had put a damper on the country's creative arts. By then France was undergoing a creative resurgence with the likes of Abel Gance and the avant garde movement with Rene Clair and Louis Bunuel.Hollywood was the dominant force in cinema all through the '20s. The studios and the star system were working at a powerful clip to create product that was both profitable and well-made. But it didn't go off without a few glitches. Conservative middle America was suspicious of the freewheeling lifestyles of the newly rich stars and their fears were realized in September of 1921, when aspiring starlet Virginia Rappe died in the aftermath of a wild party held by comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in a San Francisco hotel room. Arbuckle was accused of murdering her. He was innocent, but was nevertheless prohibited from making films until shortly before his death in the early '30s. Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter (Paramount's answer to Mary Pickford) suffered the same fate when they were questioned in the 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor (Normand was completely innocent, but to this day, questions still surround Minter's involvement). A year after that, matinee idol Wallace Reid died of drug addiction. The public was horrified and demanded control. To keep state government from censoring films, the industry brought in their own man, former postmaster general Will H. Hays, as a self-censoring measure. In reality, Hays did little to censor actual film content (at least until the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934), but his office did keep an eye on the private affairs of the stars. Knowledge about an actor's less-than-pristine past or present could keep his or her salary demands under control. Potentially stifling in the area of actual filmmaking was the demand that cinematic sinners pay for their wrongdoings. Some filmmakers flourished under this stricture, however, most notably the flashy showman Cecil B. DeMille. His titillating tales of domestic foibles like Adam's Rib (1922) always ended on a morally happy note, and when he loaded his pictures with lurid sex and violence, as he did in The Ten Commandments, well, his source for material was impeccable; after all, it was the Bible. Lubitsch, meanwhile, used subtle sexual innuendo to create his own style. Perhaps because of her sexy onscreen persona, Clara Bow somehow managed to get away with a scandalous personal life.Spectacle certainly helped make the '20s Hollywood's golden era. Douglas Fairbanks' action adventures such as Robin Hood (1922), and the grandly graceful and poetic Thief of Bagdad (1924) were events as much as they were motion pictures. Sometimes, however, directors ran rampant; Rex Ingram ran the costs of Ben Hur (1925) sky high, and the studio (MGM, who had acquired the film when it merged with Goldwyn) replaced him with Fred Niblo. An infamous money spender was Erich von Stroheim, who stopped at nothing to create his brilliant visions. One of Hollywood's few real geniuses, he was always fighting with the studios over costs and film length. Universal fired him from The Merry Go Round and had a much lesser director, Rupert Julian, complete it. The original version of Stroheim's classic Greed (1924) ran 42 reels, nearly ten hours in length. MGM cut it to ten reels, destroying some of its most powerful dramatic effects. The Wedding March (1928) was supposed to be the first of two films; the second was never completed. Still, for both sheer beauty and frightening ugliness, decadence and purity, Stroheim had no peers. Even comedies in the '20s were spectacular. Chaplin's 1925 classic, The Gold Rush, was years in the making. In 1926's The General, Buster Keaton destroyed a train and a bridge in what was perhaps the most expensive single shot up to that point in film history (the picture itself, now considered a classic, was a box office failure). Harold Lloyd — actually the biggest moneymaker out of any comedian in the '20s — kept his costs under control, but his stunts, such as climbing the side of a building in 1923's Safety Last were grand. And the stars lived lavishly. Gloria Swanson was as well-known for setting fashion trends as she was for her larger-than-life dramatic films. Fairbanks and wife Mary Pickford entertained royalty at their Beverly Hills mansion, Pickfair. The moguls were an impressive lot themselves, from boy wonder Irving Thalberg who made his mark at Universal and then MGM to Louis B. Mayer and his paternal (some may say "daddy dearest") care of his stars, to Joseph Schenck, a powerful player, both in the ivory towers and at the card table, who married Norma Talmadge. There were those in Hollywood, however, who didn't particularly care to live up to their images. In spite of his lavish lifestyle, sex symbol Rudolph Valentino was known to be down-to-earth. John Gilbert, who became the idol of millions of women after Valentino's death in 1926, favored unsympathetic characters over being known as a matinee idol. Still, the public was entranced when he and Greta Garbo fell in love, both on screen and in real life in Flesh and the Devil.If Hollywood was basking in the joys of Capitalism, the Soviet Union was proving to be a viable artistic entity. If German cinema had gotten off to a slow start, the pace of Russia's film industry was initially a mere crawl. It more than made up for lost time, however, with the emergence of geniuses such as Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin. It is interesting to note that during World War I, the tsarist regime established a committee which encouraged the production of propaganda favorable to the tsarist government. When the Provisional Government took over in March, 1917, and the Bolsheviks took over from them in October, they all did the same thing. Under Lenin's regime, a state film school was founded in Moscow, the first of its kind anywhere. This was a necessity; up until then, any filmmakers Russia had were Capitalists who defected when the Communists took over. The country's first filmmaker of note was Dziga Vertov, who started off shooting newsreels and through that learned how to create drama out of documentary events. Vertov's crowning achievement was 1928's The Man with a Movie Camera, which was supposed to show everyday life in Moscow, but in reality was about filmmaking itself, manipulating point-of-view and using a dazzling number of special effects. Vertov's ability to turn documentary into poetry created an influence that is still felt today. One pre-revolutionary filmmaker who stayed was Lev Kuleshov. Kuleshov founded a workshop which included Eisenstein and Pudovkin. Somehow, in 1919, a copy of Intolerance managed to bypass the foreign blockade; it fell into Kuleshov's hands and he and his students studied every frame. It turned out to be the biggest influence that Soviet silent cinema had, and Eisenstein transcended Griffith when he made Battleship Potemkin (1925). As a true son of the revolution, Eisenstein preferred to claim the masses as heroic instead of just one particular individual, and his films glorified the Communist cause (they couldn't have been made any other way; Eisenstein, however, wholeheartedly felt sympathetic to his subject matter). In his 1924 picture Strike!, workers overcame their evil bosses; Potemkin was about the unsuccessful 1905 revolt against the tsar. The climatic sequence of the massacre on the Odessa steps is perhaps the most stunning montage of shots ever created, and viewing it is still a film school requirement. It is clear from these two films, and from his next, October (Ten Days That Shook the World) that Eisenstein was in love with filmmaking. This eventually caused him trouble with the government, which began to complain that he favored form over ideology. This kind of criticism was inevitable, and Pudovkin got it, too. Although Pudovkin's up-close and personal approach was 180 degrees away from Eisenstein's cool intellectuality, his talent at structure and editing was just as skilled. 1926's Mother was a dramatic tale of a politically naive woman during the 1905 revolution, and The End of St. Petersburg in 1927 centered around specific characters who are caught up in the Bolshevik Revolution. But as impressive as these filmmakers are, only Ukrainian Alexander Dovzhenko transcended communist politics with Earth (1929). Its story concerns the conflict between landowners and peasants, but in reality it is about the constantly changing, endlessly fascinating cycle of life and death. Predictably, Soviet critics called it "counter-revolutionary." Not long after Stalin came into power in 1928, it was commanded that creativity take a back seat to propaganda, and after much promise, Soviet cinema went into a decline.While Russian cinema was creating its silent masterpieces, American cinema was undergoing a revolution that combined picture and sound, and the rest of the world would soon follow. When the part-silent, part-sound The Jazz Singer (1927) created a sensation, it was clear that all-sound pictures were on the horizon, no matter the expenses of wiring up every theater in existence. Even the stock market crash of 1929 wouldn't slow the coming of sound films. But with its last gasps, American silent cinema was creating some of its most impressive works. Victor Seastrom starred Lillian Gish in The Wind, King Vidor and Marion Davies made one of the best-ever comedies about Hollywood, Show People. Two of Buster Keaton's masterpieces, Steamboat Bill, Jr. and The Cameraman were made during this time. Wings, the winner of the first Academy Award for best picture, made a star out of Mary Pickford's future husband, Charles "Buddy" Rogers and proved that Clara Bow could be more than just a sexpot. But an era was winding down to an end and most of Hollywood knew it. Some careers came to an end, but generally this was because stars like Gloria Swanson, Colleen Moore and Ramon Navarro had already had their day. Others such as the Talmadge sisters didn't really give sound films a chance, or, like Harold Lloyd, made wrong choices. Still others, most notably John Gilbert and Buster Keaton wrote their own epitaphs by clashing too violently with the studio (both of them hated, and were hated by, Louis B. Mayer). Other stars and directors, like Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Frank Capra were on the rise and would see their greatest successes with sound films. But at the end of the '20s, it was clear that cinema's shining youth was giving way to something else new, different, and not necessarily better.With the coming of sound, film took one step forward and three steps back. The beautifully fluid cinematic movements ground to a halt as cameras were locked into soundproof boxes. Directors frantically sought out stage actors in vain attempts to have them speak in "pear-shaped tones," the result, more often than not, being stilted and pretentious performances. Players had to hover around hidden microphones, stunting their ability to move naturally. This static approach was a necessity for a few years, until sound technology could reach a proficiency that could come close to what had already been achieved visually. Pantomime was dead, and slapstick comedy never truly recovered. When cinema found its voice, it lost some of its universal appeal, its mystical feel, and sadly, some of its fun and spontaneity. In spite of attempts by big business and politics to control early filmmaking, its art flourished and grew; that is the legacy left by silent cinema.
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