Friday, February 27, 2009

Early Film Comedy & Comedians

On, check out some early film comedies.

You may wish to inspect any of the following films from actors/directors:
1. Charlie Chaplin
2. Mack Sennett
3. Keystone Kops
4. Buster Keaton
5. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
6. Harry Langdon
7. Harold Lloyd
8. W.C. Fields
9. Florence Turner

If you have time, take a look at any of the actors/directors' work listed on page 3 of your homework. (for example: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Lon Chaney Sr., Oscar Micheaux (first black director) and the films of Alice Guy Blanche.

Charlie Chaplin

"All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl." -Sir Charles Chaplin Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin (1889-1977)
• Born in London, UK to theatrical parents
• Chaplin’s childhood was one of extreme poverty and hardship
• Abandoned by an alcoholic father and left with a mentally unstable mother who was unable to support him, he struggled through life in the poor house and on the streets
• He learnt much of his timing and technique in the employment of impresario Fred Karno (1866-1941) whose troupe he left during an American tour in 1913
• Offered a contract by Keystone Films
• After 1914, he convinced Keystone producer Mack Sennett to allow him to direct his own films - often wrote, directed, acted and composed his own musical scores for his films
• In many silent shorts, he established the grammar and ground rules of screen comedy using his physical dexterity and pantomime skills to create expertly choreographed, visually humorous entertainment that mixed irreverence, romance, and pathos (feeling)
• Co-founder of United Artists in 1919
• Married Oona O’Neill (daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill)
• His left-wing sympathies caused him to emigrate to Switzerland during the 1950’s, McCarthy period
• He published his autobiography in 1964 and was knighted in 1975
• Chaplin died on Christmas day, 1977
• A writer Performer, director, composer and icon, he was a vital figure in the development of the screen comedy Films (incomplete list): Making a Living (1913) Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) The Champion (1915) The Tramp (1915) The Pawnshop (1916) The Rink (1916) A Dog’s Life (1918) The Kid (1921) The Gold Rush (1925) City Lights (1931) Modern Times (1936) The Great Dictator (1940) Limelight (1952) A King in New York (1957) A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

D. W. Giffith & Lilian Gish

D. W. Griffith
1. Born in 1875 to Colonel "Roaring Jake" Griffith, a confederate army colonel and Civil War hero
2. In 1897 Griffith set out to pursue a career in acting and writing for the theatre but was unsuccessful
3. He first acted for Edwin S. Porter at the Edison Co.
4. Later he was hired by the Biograph Company (1908) where he wrote and directed over 450 films
5. He directed the first movie shot in Hollywood: "In Old California" (1910)
6. He was called the ÒFather of film techniqueÓ & "the man who invented Hollywood"
7. With cinematographer G.W. Bitzer, he created and perfected the film devices: the Iris shot the flashback crosscutting He directed the very controversial The Birth of a Nation (1915) Based on Thomas Dixon's stage play "The Clansman" Over 3 hours long, the racist epic included a cast of hundreds Contained many new film innovations:
Special use of subtitles It's own musical score with orchestra
Introduction of night photography
Used a "still shot"
Used an "Iris shot"
Used parallel action Used panning and tracking shots
Used close-ups to reveal intimate expressions of actors Used fade outs and cameo-profiles
Used high-angles and panoramic (extreme) long shots
Used cross cutting between two scenes to create excitement and suspense
9. A year later his masterpiece Intolerance (1916) was made as a reaction to the censorship of Birth of a Nation
10. In 1919 he established the film company United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and William S. Hart

Overall, Griffith directed over 500 films He retired in 1931 and died in Los Angeles in 1948.
In 1975 his picture was on a post stamp. But by 1999, The Director's Guild of America's National Board renamed the prestigious D.W. Griffith Award (first given in 1953 to such directors as Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, and Cecil B. DeMille) because of Griffith's racism.

"We do not fear censorship, for we have no wish to offend with improprieties or obscenities, but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue - the same liberty that is conceded to the art of the written word - that art to which we owe the Bible and the works of Shakespeare."
D.W. Griffith (1915)

"If in this work we have conveyed to the mind the ravages of war to the end that war may be held in abhorrence, this effort will not have been in vain." - D. W. Griffith (1915)

Hepworth Manufacturing Co.

Cecil Hepworth (1874 –1953)

How It Feels to be Run Over (1900)
Explosion of a Motor Car (1900)
Rescued by Rover (1905)

• Hepworth was an English film director, producer and screenwriter, he was among the founders of the British film industry and continued making films into the 1920s.
• His father was a famous magic lantern showman.
• He became involved in the early stages of British filmmaking, working for both Birt Acres and Charles Urban, and wrote the first British book on the subject in 1897.
• With his cousin Monty Wicks he set up the production company Hepworth and Co. — later renamed the Hepworth Manufacturing Compnay, then Hepworth Picture Plays.
• In 1899 they built a small film studio in Walton-on-Thames. The company produced about three films a week, sometimes with Hepworth directing.
• Rescued by Rover (1905) was a huge success at the box office, starring a collie in the title role. The film is now regarded as an important development in film grammar, with shots being effectively combined to emphasise the action. Hepworth was also one of the first to recognize the potential of film stars, both animal and human, with several recurring characters appearing in his films.
• The company continued making popular films into the 1920s.
• The company went public to fund a large studio development but lost money and closed.
• Tragically, all of Hepworth's original film negatives were melted down.

Monday, February 23, 2009

a viewing guide to early cinema and directors

On the link to your left, please view and take notes on the following film makers:

1. Birt Acres
2. Cecil Hepworth
3. R. W. Paul

Then go to YOUTUBE.COM and take a look at these films:

1. Edwin S. Porter's: The Life of an American Fireman (first documentary - 1903
2. Rough Sea at Dover by Birt Acres
3. Alice in Wonderland (1903) by Cecil Hepworth
4. Anything by R. W. Paul
5. Anything by George Melies

Edwin S. Porter & George Melies

Edwin S. Porter

The Great Train Robbery (1903)
The Dream of the Rarebit Fiend (1906)

• Porter started as a projectionist and mechanic
• Became director and cameraman for Thomas Edison the Edison Manufacturing Co.
• Influenced by the story films of Georges Méliès
• Porter made important films such as Life of an American Fireman (1903) and The Great Train Robbery (1903). The latter was perhaps the cinema’s first Western.
• The GTR was groundbreaking for its use of "cross-cutting" in editing to show simultaneous action in different places. The film was also shot out of sequence.
• In these films and others, Porter helped to develop the modern concept of continuity editing. (The goal of continuity editing is to make the work of the editor as invisible as possible, and shots should flow together naturally to appear continuous.)
• He is often credited with discovering that the basic unit of structure in film was the shot rather than the scene (the basic unit on the stage), paving the way for D.W. Griffith's advances in editing and screen storytelling.
• Porter left Edison in 1909 to form his own production company which he eventually sold in 1912.
• He died on April 30, 1941 in New York City.

George Melies

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

• Georges Melies, a professional magician by training. In 1895, Méliès saw a demonstration of the Lumière brothers' Cinematographe in Paris, the first public display of motion pictures. After unsuccessful attempts to purchase a system from the Lumières, Méliès rushed home to build his own camera-projector.
• Little over a year later, Melies was filming his own creations. He discovered that he could use stop-motion photography to render trick visual effects. Melies was also the first to use techniques such as the fade-in, the fade-out, and the dissolve to create the first real narrative films.
• He started his own film company: The Houdin Theater.
• Melies made over 500 films, but his most famous, Voyage dans la lune, Le (1902) (Voyage to the Moon) made him a fortune.
• Melies, trained in classic theater, conceived all of his films in terms of fully played-out scenes.
• Just before WWI his film career was over. He tried briefly to revive the Theatre Houdin, but died penniless at 77.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Academy of Motion Pictures - History

The Academy Awards®, known as the Oscars®, are the oldest, best known and famous film awards. The awards have been presented annually (the first ceremony was held in May, 1929) by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), based in Beverly Hills, California (founded in 1927).

"Except for the early years of the institution, the awards honored films made during the previous 12-month calendar year. Films also had to be over 40 minutes long to qualify as feature-length. Until 1954, the Oscars were presented mostly on a Thursday evening. From 1955 to 1958, they were presented on a Wednesday. From 1959 until 1998 the Oscars were, with a few exceptions, presented on a Monday night. Only since 1999 has the Awards ceremony taken place on a Sunday (traditionally in March). In 2004, the ceremony was moved even earlier to improve ratings and to be more relevant to the awards 'season'.

Comments About the Awards Themselves:

The establishment of the Academy (and its awards system) has had a major effect and influence upon the film industry, due to the enormous boost a nomination or award (for a film or actor) creates, by giving prestige and bottom-line profits to a studio or performer.

Studios have often engaged in expensive marketing and advertising campaigns to sway votes. The Academy has, with limited success, tried to limit the influences of pressure groups and promotion, box office gross receipts, and studio public relations and marketing on voting results. It has also attempted to limit votes for melodramatic sentimentality, atonement for past mistakes, personal popularity, and "prestige" or epic scale, but those influences have often had a decided effect upon the outcome of some of the poll results.

Unfortunately, the critical worth, artistic vision, cultural influence, and innovative qualities of many films are not given the same voting weight. Especially since the 80s, moneymaking 'formula-made' blockbusters with glossy production values have often been crowd-pleasing titans (and Best Picture winners), but they haven't necessarily been great films with depth or critical acclaim by any measure." See Tim Dirk's site for "The Worst Academy Awards Oscars" for more information.

"Like any other awards, recognitions, or "best" lists, the top nominees and winners do not necessarily reflect or objectively measure the greatest that cinematic history has to offer. Many of the most Deserving Films of All Time (see Films Without Awards) did not win Academy Awards® (and in some cases were not even included in the nominees). In addition, Top Box-Office Films aren't always guaranteed awards success either. And certain Film Genres (notably westerns, science fiction, and comedy) as well as independent films are not represented in balanced numbers throughout Oscar history." - Tim Dirks

Post your comments here about the award winners for 2008.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pathe Brothers

Charles Pathé (1863-1957), French motion-picture magnate, who, in the early 20th century, was the first to create a system for mass-producing motion pictures.

• Pathé began his career as an importer and merchant of the phonograph in France.
• He extended the business to include projectors and films, creating the company Pathé Frères in 1896.
• By 1901 he concentrated on film production, together with French director and producer Ferdinand Zecca.
• Pathé made films rapidly and reinvested the profits back into the business to improve the technical quality of his films.
• By 1905 the company was employing numerous production teams of scriptwriters, set builders, cameramen, directors, and actors, making short films in an assembly-line process.
• Pathe Company opened in New York in 1904 as a subsidiary of Pathe Freres (Bros.) in France and boasted a catalogue of 12,000 titles.
• In 1909, Pathe was asked to join Edison in forming the Motion Picture Patents Company to try to shut out smaller studios.
• In 1911, Pathe issued Pathe Weekly which was the first US newsreel.
• The upcoming of WWI took its toll on the company. Pathe ceased production in the US in 1914.
• In 1915, the Pathe Freres temporarily moved its headquarters to New York and changed its name to Pathe Exchange, Inc.
• In 1923, Pathe Exchange sold for 26 million Francs and came under the control of Merrill Lynch.
• In 1926, Joe Kennedy buys controlling interest in Pathe Exchange, and soon becomes president and a director.
• In 1930, Pathe Exchange merges with PDC, K-A-O and DeMille to become RKO

Friday, February 6, 2009

Important Dates in Film History

1878 – Senator Leland Stanford hires Edweard Muybridge to photograph a galloping horse to determine whether all four of its legs ever leave the ground simultaneously.

1880 – Muybridge projects photographs of a galloping horse in succession with a device known as the Zoogyroscope – later known as the Zoopraxiscope.

1889 – Augustin Le Prince patents a motion picture camera using film carried by paper.

1890 – After perfecting the camera and projector, Le Prince mysteriously disappears from a Paris-bound train. He is never seen again.

1895 – Auguste and Louis Lumiere patent and later demonstrate the Cinematographe in Paris, France. Their first film showing is “The Arrival of a Train at Le Ciodad” Coincidence?

Film Invention

The following are important events, inventions, and their inventors that helped create the film industry. We played with many of these devices in class. You should be familiar with them.

Magic Lantern: Invented in the 17th century by Athanasius Kircher. The magic lantern projected pictures on a screen.

Thaumatrope: Invented by Dr. John Ayrton Paris in 1824; utilized the theory of “persistence of vision”

Fantascope, Phenakistiscope (“spindle viewer”), Fanatoscope: invented by Belgian nventor Joseph Plateau. Daedalum (Horner 1834)/Zoetrope (Lincoln 1867)

Daguerreotype: Invented in 1839 by Louis-Jacques-Monde Daguerre. The process of capturing images on silvered, copper metal plates - the beginning of photography.

Celluloid: Invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt. Strips of thin film which could be developed with pictures.

Praxinoscope: Invented in 1877 by Charles Emile Reynaud. A film projector.

Light Bulb: Invented by Thomas Edison in 1879.

One of the first pioneers of “film” was the artist/inventor Eadweard Muybridge: 1830 - 1904. He used several cameras to take a sequence of shots Film was cut into strips and used in a praxinoscope. Muybridge invented his Zoopraxiscope, photos printed on a glass disc that rotated, to create the illusion of moving images.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Film Invention

Please complete and turn in your response to last class's question concerning film (the personal essay). Take no more than 20 minutes to do this please. Meanwhile, get started on researching and answering the fill-in questions on the Film History Before 1920 sheet. Note the longer project for questions: 25-50. More details on this in class. The question sheet is due Friday (next class), but the presentation may be pushed to Tuesday. It all depends on how dilligently you work as a class.

The link to Tim Dirks' website is located on the link bar on the side of this page.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

100 Best Films of All Time - A response

Please go to the link: Film History. For this class, this website by film historian Tim Dirks, will provide you with a lot of excellent information. We will be using the link throughout our course as a reliable source of information.

Today, I'd like you to spend some time reviewing the top 100 movies of all time. Please read Dirk's information, take a look through the list and note the following:

1. Which films on this list have you personally seen?
2. Which films on this list have you heard about, but never had the chance to see?
3. If a movie looks interesting to you, please jot down its title in your journal.

After reading through the list, make some personal observations. How "literate" are you when it comes to "best" or top films of all time? Does there seem to be a pattern or genre bias in this list? How does our own culture, socio-economic status, gender, or age affect the way we approach films? Were you surprised to see these films on this list? If you were to write this list, what movies would you put on it that were not included (feel free to indicate your top ten favorites of all time)?

What genre of film do you prefer? Examine why. Go ahead and look through the various lists of top films--you may finally find some you know.

Write a short personal essay trying to answer all these questions (due at the end of class).

Film Journal - Requirement

1. View a film--any film--of your choice. Then, single out a particular scene. A scene is one setting or location, usually shot for no more than one minute. Make a detailed list of the particular labors required to produce this scene. You may wish to divide your list into the following categories: Set design, costume, special effects, lighting, acting, camera, sound, etc. Of course, you ought to notice labors needed to produce the images and sounds that viewers actually experience, but dig deeper. What sorts of invisible laborers were required before the scene could be realized? For example: who put the props on the set and who was responsible for buying or making the props in the first place? Did caterers make sure that people on the set were fed? And who called the caterers? Once the scene was shot, what sorts of labors made it possible for you to witness what was filmed? You may wish to view the end credits of the film as well to help you get an idea who was involved. From your list, make an observation in 1-2 pages (double-spaced) about the amount of work (and who may be involved) in the short scene that you studied. Write an essay in which you discuss your list and what you came to understand about the particular scene shot. What observations did you make and how has this changed (or not changed) your appreciation of the film?

2. View a film of your choice and write a short essay in which you speculate on possible answers to this question: Who is conceivably the author of this film? Who deserves the title? Again, speculate. How does film--like other electronic media (like, say, a CD or a video game)--reveal authorship to be an “outdated” concept, and a concept that has, in our age of electronics, become problematic? How does this change or alter the way in which you view film authorship? What does it mean to you as a potential writer of film?

3. To show us exposition or to describe a character, the camera often shows us a room or personal belongings of a character in a movie as a way of communicating to the audience. For example, in the film Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, to give us information about the film's main character, even before we see him, the camera pans and tracks, showing us Ferris' bedroom. We see all kinds of stuff, and this stuff is arranged in telling ways. There's a similar shot in Silence of the Lambs, when Clarice Starling (Jody Foster) inspects items in the bedroom of a murdered girl.

The point: We notice character (or a character’s personality) is constructed through elements of the mise en scene: in this case, out of the collage or mix of stuff that the set designer arranged for the camera. As viewers we project a personality onto the screen based on what we see (and also by what we do not see). If you call this process of generalization "stereotyping," you are right. The fact is, without culturally shared stereotypes, films probably wouldn't make sense to us. Such stereotyping is a lot more subtle than assuming that if a cowboy is wearing a white hat, he must be the good guy. There are students in school who can and do size up people in seconds based on a person’s hairstyle or by the style of clothes the person wears.

Part A. Examine a film character and watch them in their opening scene or a scene which “develops” them. What information about the character is given through mise-en-scene? What foreshadowing or clues does the camera provide for us as viewers? Finally, do we stereotype correctly – or is the director manipulating us by putting us in that position?

Part B. In this assignment as a way to experiment with mise en scene, choose a character, any character. He or she can be "real" or "invented." S/he could be a student (of any age), a business person (any job), a criminal (any sort), an alien (any nationality or species), etc. And then, I want you to try out the role of set designer. Your task is to create a very detailed description of this character's bedroom. You can do this in the form of a list, an inventory of the stuff you'd bring onto the set and arrange for the camera. But your goal is simple. We in the film crew have to be able to shoot this room using your instructions, your list. And we have to be certain that the film audience will have a certain sense of the inhabitant's personality. In effect, it's your job to construct a personality for the film's character through staging.
In your journal entry, give readers a complete inventory or an in-depth description of a bedroom--list or paragraphs, your choice. Do not tell us anything about the character that inhabits this room! For example, don't say, "This is the room of a kindergarten student, a girl, living in a town somewhere in central Pennsylvania. Her mother is a real estate agent; her father is a civil engineer." I would like for your classmates to guess the character you've invented based on what you give us. In other words, I want you to approach the work of your classmates inductively--like detectives, scientists, and FBI agents. Show us the character and his/her personality through a description of the character’s room.

4. View a documentary film of any sort. In a paragraph or two summarize the documentary – what is the main focus or theme of the film? Next, describe the structure of this film. Is the movie told in a straight forward narrative? Is it a series of interviews, or short clips which slowly reveal the main point? Finally, can you tell what the director/writer want to make the audience feel about the subject? How has the director/writer presented the documentary according to his/her own point of view? How does the documentary artist choose particular parts of the story to present his or her interpretation? How may the artist be biased and how is this bias shown to us through the parts of the film the director chooses to show us? Do you think the film is mostly subjective or objective? Are you being manipulated by the director/writer? How can you tell?

5. Read an article from a newspaper or from a magazine of your choosing (you may also choose to use a short story). Imagine writing a screen play on the news story or article. Briefly summarize the article or attach the clipping to your paper. Then, answer any of the following questions in a journal entry (1-2 pages):
--Whose story would you tell? Around whose basic point-of-view would you build the screen play? Why would you choose this “character”?
--How about depth? Are you going to stick to a primarily objective (just the facts, no opinion) approach? Will you grant viewers access to the subjective (personal opinion) states of any of the film's characters?
--Who do you plan to make this film for? Who is your audience? How might you change the real story to better affect your audience?
--Stories are created in the minds of viewers; they're our response to plot cues. This is especially evident in films that are told out of chronological order--where viewers have to straighten out scenes and mentally order them--in effect, completing or assembling stories. Are you going to tell your version of the story in a straightforward fashion or use flashback or other unusual narrative techniques to get the story across?

6. Watch a narrative film. Create a chart that illustrates the conflicting goals of the characters and values of the director/writer/audience that drive a narrative film of your choice. How does one conflict lead to another? How do these conflicts build upon one another in the film (usually leading to a climax)? How does this film resolve the conflicts that it sets in motion? Finally, does the film keep your interest and if so, is this largely because of the conflict of the main character(s)?

7. Choose a film and watch the main protagonist of the film closely. How does the director portray this character in a positive way so that the audience identifies with him/her? Use specific examples from the film. What effect is the director having on you as an audience member in showing or depicting the protagonist in this way? Is the director successful or unsuccessful and why? Alternatively, you may choose the main antagonist or villain and answer the same question.

8. View an animated movie or short of your choice. What qualities of the film work better as animation as opposed to representation of live characters or actors? Why do you think the film was made as animation instead of being filmed live? What is added or removed in making the film an animated feature? Using your speculative hypothesis (your answer), what evidence in the film is there of the director choosing to make this film an animated one?

9. Watch a film you absolutely hated the first time viewing it. Try to describe what it is about the film that you do not like (this can be technical (how the film was put together physically) or creative (how the film was written as a story), but do not simply state that you didn’t like the film because you didn’t like the film. Try to identify the flaws in the film: if technical, did the director’s choice of film techniques fail? If creative, is the main character not interesting or is there not enough conflict in the story, etc.? Finally, recast and redesign the film to fit your own tastes. Explain what changes would you make if you were the director?

10. Choose a foreign film and watch it. How is watching a foreign film challenging apart from the language barrier and the use of subtitles? In other words, what other challenges or problems might you face as an audience member of a different culture than the one the film was originally intended for? Next, analyze the director’s style. How is the director’s style different from mainstream Hollywood films with your own culture in mind? Finally, is there anything new you learned about a different culture or country by watching this film?

11. Watch three films from the same time period in the same genre. (For example 1970's horror films). What similarities and differences do you detect as you watch the film? Take note of special effects, use of screen shots, theme, acting or camera style. Write a paper on how these movies reflect a). The director b). The culture of the time period c). The tradition of film history

12. Go to the Dryden theatre and watch a film there. You should also compare this experience with a viewing at a standard first-run theatre (Regal, Tinseltown, etc.) and a viewing at a second-run theatre or independent art cinema (The Cinema, The Little Theatre). How does your experience differ from cinema to cinema? How might a specific kind of audience affect your enjoyment of a film? What is unique about each film audience “culture”? Write a reflection or “memoir” of your experience in each cinema. If you can, express an epiphany about film experience.

Welcome to Film Studies!

This course will help develop a greater aesthetic appreciation for film as an art form and as a reflection of society. Film Studies will provide students with an overview of the history, theory, and techniques involved in the art of film making. Students will study the components and history of film, analyze narrative structure, and discuss cultural issues found in a variety of films. Additionally, it is a course in reading and writing about film. Students will learn how to write a screenplay, explore film genre, and participate in various activities which will culminate in their own film script project. Successful films may be given a public screening some time in June of this year, equipment and student willing.

The Murky Middle (Even More Advice)

Aristotle wrote that stories should have a beginning, middle, and end. Middles can be difficult. You might have a smashing opening to a stor...