Film History

United States

Synch Sound

Approx. 1926 - 1927

In the late 1920s, Warner Bros and Fox realized they could gain a competitive advantage over competitors by pre-recording music and eliminating cost of hiring live musicians. Only synch music at first, not synch dialogue

The Jazz Singer released


First film with synch dialogue, not just synch music

Great Depression

1929 - 1939

Because of the economic hardships, attendance falls. Several companies go bankrupt. Theaters compensate by opening concession stands and showing double features to try and attract audiences.


1930 - 1940

New kind of rom-com: eccentric or "screwy" couple behaving childishly. Noticeably different from the sophisticated romantic comedies-- old-fashioned conception of marriage as a duty-> couples having fun together. Fast-paced, witty dialogue (enabled by synch sound), equality in relationship, "comedy of remarriage." No children because they are children themselves.

US has fully converted to all-sound


Production Code released

July 1934

MPPDA must approve all US films-- strict production code. Films couldn't show crime or sin sympathetically, explicitly show or defend drugs, alcohol, sex or adultery, or acknowledge homosexuality or mixed-race relationships in any way.

The Awful Truth


Jerry and Lucy: wealthy, behave childishly, have a dog but no children, break up and then reunite. Dan is Lucy's "false partner," an exaggerated representation of conventional behavior. Implicit, not explicit, representation of sex due to production code.

Battle of Midway


Lighter, portable cameras, "voice of god" narration-- goal was overcoming feeling of remoteness from war



Kenneth Anger directed; camp humor, self awareness. Part of the psychodrama genre: drama of psychological revelation, often erotic and motivated as a dream. Build up to a climactic, revelatory encounter (fireworks going off). Unlike surrealism, psychodramas are very personal, about the filmmaker's own psychology.
Unconscious expression uninhibited by the limitations of reality.

Decline in moviegoing

1948 - 1969

due to advent of television.

Paramount Decision


Supreme Court declares studios are guilty of monopolism-- Majors forced to divest of theater chains. Theaters are now free to show indie/foreign films. Theaters also don't need approval from the MPAA any more-- production code erodes



Directed by Robert Drew. Inaugurated the Direct Cinema genre-- no voice of God, subjectivity of cold documentaries (Battle of Midway, Nanook). Enabled by new tech: lightweight cameras, zoom lenses, synch sound.

Direct Cinema

1960 - Approx. 1969

First Ratings System


No more production code-- liberalization of cultural values increasingly reflected in films. More sex and violence.

New Hollywood

Approx. 1967 - Approx. 1979

Period of personal auteurism, using European conventions of art cinema. Not rebelling against hollywood, but updating it.
Conventions: Alienated protagonist/antihero, dead time, open endings, ambiguity and subjective reality (drawn from Italian Neorealism-- wandering through an inhospitable environment).
More serious themes: alienation, distrust of the government, anti-consumerism. More "realistic"-- more sex and violence.
Filmmakers: Coppola, Malick, Allen, Scorsese


1969 - 1971

Theater attendance is very low-- companies produce low budget films aimed at a college-age audience with high returns: The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Bonnie and Clyde-- quick money to keep from collapsing.

Synthetic Documentary

1969 - Present

Direct cinema footage combined with interviews, voice-over, archival footage, music. Example-- Michael Moore, Errol Morris
Radical skepticism about ability of documentary to be "non-fiction"



Hollis Frampton. Structural film: emphasis on structure of the film itself. In (nostalgia), the description of a photograph precedes the photograph. Effect is that viewer must consider the past, present, and future all at once. Also metaphor for Frampton's transition from photographer to filmmaker



First real blockbuster

Hollywood Blockbusters

1975 - Present

New Hollywood films begin taking in massive profits: The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars. Studios can make a couple big-budget blockbusters a year and be set for profits for that year.
Used expensive stars and special effects (Star Wars excluded), relied on pre-sold material like comic books, and used heavy advertising.
Experimentation discouraged to minimize risk of losing money-- regurgitation of already-popular material. End of New Hollywood

Taxi Driver


Vigilante film-- Hollywood Art Film-- borrows conventions from art cinema:
Alienated protagonist (Edmund from GY0), inhabiting an alienating environment, dead time
Expressionism: lurid, distorted color to reflect Travis' distorted mental state
Like Edmund, Travis becomes "corrupted" by his environment and takes on its values.

Star Wars


The Thin Blue Line


Errol Morris; the truth is difficult, but not impossible to know. Offering differing, maybe conflicting, interpretations of reality.
Led to overturning of Adams' conviction
Editing: Rebuttal pattern-- accusation against Adams, then Adams or somebody else rebuts it
Interrotron device to maintain eye contact with interviewer/interviewee-- gets people to admit things they'd never normally admit.
Reenactments are made to look artificial: emphasizes unreliability of prosecution and witness testimonies.
The viewer is placed in the position jury/detective, and must discern the answer from a pile of details.


Surrealism/Experimental Film

1920 - 1930

Declines as a result of greater costs of sound film and the political turmoil: new totalitarian regimes and extremist governments repressed experimentation in the film industry. many experimental filmmakers turned to other more accessible trends in order to make social critiques-- documentary, eg

Un Chien Andelou


Surrealism: unexplained shifts in time and space and character goals, recurring objects that are never explained
Breton: "Conscious psychic automatism"

Zero for Conduct


Banned in France upon first release, because it represented adult authority as repressive and hypocritical and also hints at child [homo]sexuality.
Surrealist influence: celebrates the uninhibited and liberated creativity of children; dream/fantasy mixed with reality (pillow fight scene)

Triumph of the Will


Riefenstahl argued that it wasn't propaganda as it didn't contain any voiceover or reconstruction-- it was merely a documentation of a historical event. However, many techniques in the film create excitement or reinforce Nazi ideology-- close-ups on important details such as the swastika or long shot of crowd-- mass and unity Nazism

The Crime of Monsieur Lange


Left-wing themes: vilifying the capitalistic businessman antagonist-- profits off the money and hard work of others; exploits workers. Valorizes organization of the working people (cooperative of the publishing company; inn workers protecting Lange. Use of deep focus and staging, long takes, and framing independent of character movement --> unifies individuals into groups

Popular Front

1936 - 1937

French Communist, Socialist, and left-wing parties joined together as a result of the economic and political instability of the time. Introduced reforms such as the 40-hour workweek.

World War II

1939 - 1945

Italian Neorealism

1945 - 1951

Non professional actors were more authentic-- actor from culture being depicted
Italian studios had been destroyed, so location shooting used instead-> many onlookers, which increased authenticity. Argued as being almost documentary-like.
Meant to encapsulate the drama of everyday life. Lots of dead time, but events in the story separated by ellipses-- not always explained what happens.
Many narratives about regular people trying to survive in the aftermath of war. Classical goal-oriented protagonist, but now the goal is simply to survive.

Germany Year Zero


corruption of children; showed that Germans also suffered after WWI but also criticizes persistent Nazism.
Importance of the ruined city landscape-- lots of time spent showing the cityscape-- deep focus and staging. Edmund is the archetype of the alienated protagonist, wandering aimlessly through an inhospitable environment.

Marshall Plan

1948 - 1952

Required that countries open their markets to US goods- especially films, in order to help restore Hollywood dominance. In response, most Western European countries adopted protectionist measures: quotas, taxes, govt grants to stimulate domestic industry-- cultural exception. The international co-production returns. The result is that most countries end up with stable film companies.

Cahiers du cinema founded


Auterism, intellectualism

New Wave

1958 - 1967

Also in Europe and Japan.
Decline in audience because of television, so more experimentation to bring people back. Young people were the largest group of moviegoers. Also there was an awareness of the history of film-- film schools, film magazines. More homage and influence from older filmmakers. Inaugurated by Truffaut and the 400 Blows

The 400 Blows


Directed by Truffaut. Payed homage to Vigo (Zero for Conduct), Italian Neorealism (Rossellini, Germany Year Zero), Hitchcock.
Theme of repression and imprisonment of children in the cruel adult world-- appealing to the youth audience.
Borrows many conventions from Italian Neorealism: open ending, episodic narration, dead time. Noticeable influence from Germany, Year Zero (Antoine's run-- Edmund's walk) and Zero for Conduct. Truffaut focused on the details of everyday life, using a spontaneous mixture of light-hearted and serious.

Czechoslovakia liberalization

1963 - 1967

film industry expands some due to decreased censorship-- period of "market socialism;" Czech New Wave film movement.



Jean-Luc Godard; influenced by Brecht
Alienation effect: remove empathy so that the audience can think critically about the film. Characters express awareness of being watched.
Similar to the Exterminating Angel: Bourgeoisie are ruthless and greedy, but lower classes aren't better.

Prague Spring

January 1968

Czech Communist party taken over by reformers-- some banned films are released, filmmakers free to make more politically critical films

May '68

May 1968 - June 1968

Uprisings in France; students rebel against authoritarian state-- institutions of the state such as schools are instruments of pacification. Police brutally suppress students and workers strike in support. Ends in June when Charles de Gaulle returns to power.

Warsaw Pact

August 1968

Invasion-- reforms reversed and films critical of the USSR are banned. End of Czech New Wave; many filmmakers emigrate.

Decline of European Cinema

Approx. 1980 - Present

Due to Hollywood's return to power. Films funded by TV production companies, but this makes them less experimental and more accessible. Also more women filmmakers.



Agnes Varda. Employs art cinema conventions:
Realism: nonprofessional actors, location shooting, dead time (Italian Neorealism)
But also anti-realism: Direct address (Brechtian reflexivity), associated with Godard and Weekend.
"Feminist Citizen Kane--" begins with the protagonist's death, we then find out more about them through other people's testimonies. But there are also many shots of Mona walking alone-- independent access to her
Mona is an object of fantasy to both men and women. The film is as much about how Mona is perceived as it is about Mona herself.

Beyond the West

Japanese film flourishes

1930 - 1937

Rivals Hollywood, dominating the domestic market, until 1937-- war with China. Govt makes films more patriotic and nationalistic; experimentation and social critique is discouraged.

I Was Born, But...


Ozu: films about contemporary life. Focused on the ordinary, mundane parts of life, finding humor and significance in everyday situations. Frequently used repetition with reversals or changes as a technique (parallelism)
I Was Born But: theme of parallel power dynamics in the adult and child worlds. In the child world power depends on size-- in the adult world, depends on wealth/status.
Repetition theme: 2 trips to school, breakfasts, and visits to the boss's house.
When the sons express anger at their father for submitting too much to his boss, he responds by beating them-- uses strength the way children do. In the end, the sons learn sometimes you have to compromise power out of necessity-- father's submission to his boss paralleled with sons' relenting hunger strike out of need to eat.

Golden Age of Mexican Cinema

1935 - 1955

Dominated Latin American cinema (after Hollywood). Popular genres included the melodrama, musical, and cowboy film.

Sisters of the Gion


Mizoguchi: like Ozu, films about contemporary life, but also historical and sword fight films. Made many melodramas about "fallen women-" critiqued exploitation of women.
Sisters of the Gion: One sister has a more traditional and sentimental conception of what a geisha's role should be-- duty of looking after men. The other sister sees men as exploiters-- unsentimental, tries to advance herself through manipulating men. Neither sister is able to improve her condition by the film's end.
Mizoguchi's style: intentionally partially obscuring the action-- esp emotional scenes. Lots of long takes used. The purpose of this is to dedramatize the situation, allowing the viewer to rationally and critically reflect better.

Senegal gains independence from France


The Exterminating Angel


Bunuel-- Surrealist element. The primitive and irrational sublimated in civilized behavior and religion. The idea that we are civilized is an illusion. Motif of dinner party-- base need of eating disguised as civilized behavior. This primitivism is universal-- not just confined to the Bourgeois, though Bunuel generally attacked that class in his movies.
Dinner guests are unable to leave bc they are trapped in their own irrationality. The sheep symbolize humans' herd-like behavior, acting without thinking-- lambs go to the slaughter into the house and church

Simon of the Desert


Simon is "free" even though he can't move around because he has the power to renounce worldly pleasures and resist temptations. He is surrounded by insincere priests who use him for their own ends. In the end, Simon is transported to the modern day where he learns that his holiness is irrelevant, much as we might wish we had it

Hong Kong film industry boom

Approx. 1970 - Approx. 1999

Hong Kong dominates its domestic market-- Hollywood films do not. Many are also distributed abroad. Bruce Lee and the kung fu film are huge internationally in the 1970s.
By the 1980s, action/swordfight movies have declined in popularity. Comedies, thrillers, and gangster films replace them.



Director: Ousmane Sembene. Wanted to communicate his ideas to an illiterate mass audience.
Even after independence, many African countries remained under the influence of colonial powers-- films were European financed. Sembene changed from making French films in French to his native language of Wolof. Role of filmmaker = griot-- traditional African oral storyteller.
Xala criticized neocolonialism: African elites profiting off of dependence from Europe. Ell Hadji does not produce or create anything, but imports goods from abroad-- analogous to lack of economy in Africa. Agriculture is the only really productive sector of the economy, but its profits are stolen by a thief who buys western clothes and takes Ell Hadji's place in the Senegalese government. Allegorical: African elites steal from workers to import goods from abroad and don't create anything themselves. Impotence: Can't produce sexually-> can't produce economically.

In the Mood for Love


Wong Kar-Wai, big on the romantic melodrama. Art cinema combined with commercial cinema-- In the Mood for Love is a romantic melodrama with big-name stars, but some art cinema conventions:
intentional obscuring of cheating spouses, other events, tons of dead time, sense of alienation, loneliness, longing, slow motion-- "cinema of time"
motifs of cigarette smoke, clocks, symbolizing time passing
Ambiguity of structure (Godard debt)
"glimpse" style: focusing on a detail of environment or body-- fragments of a scene
Apertures: shooting characters through doorways, windows, reflections, glass (French impressionism)-- resembles an indistinct memory-- "looking through a dusty window pane"