history of cinema essay

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History of cinema essay

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But this data set is partial. Although the cinema is a relatively young medium, invented only a little over a century ago, many films have already been lost or destroyed. For decades, movies were seen as products with temporary commercial value, and companies did little to ensure their preservation.

Even when film archives began to be founded in the s, they faced the daunting task of collecting and sheltering the thousands of films that had already been made. Archivists had to choose what they could afford to retain. Moreover, the nitrate film stock, upon which most films up to the early s were shot and printed, was highly flammable and deteriorated over time. Deliberate destruction of films, warehouse fires, and the gradual decomposition of nitrate stored in bad conditions have led to the loss of many titles.

In the frame below, from Willy Reilly and His Colleen Bawn , an Irish film from , severe nitrate deterioration has obliterated the most important figures. According to rough estimates, only about 20 percent of silent films are known to survive. Many of these are still sitting in vaults, unidentified or unpreserved due to lack of funds.

More recent films may be inaccessible to the researcher as well. Films made in some small countries, particularly in Third World nations, were not made in many copies and did not circulate widely. Small archives may not have the facilities to preserve films or show them to researchers. In some cases, political regimes may choose to suppress certain films and promote others.

Finding reliable copies to study is a major challenge for the historian whose questions center on the films. Historians also rely on print sources. These may be published sources, such as books, magazines, trade journals, and newspapers, or unpublished ones, like memoirs, letters, notes, production files, scripts, and court testimony. Historians of film technology scrutinize cameras, sound recorders, and other equipment.

A film studio or an important location might also serve as a source of evidence. Usually historians must verify their evidence. Often this depends on using the sort of descriptive research we have already mentioned, such as combing primary documents, checking filmographies and reference works, and the like. The problem of verification is particularly acute with film prints. Films have always circulated in differing versions. In the s, Hollywood films were shot in two versions, one for the United States and one for export.

These could differ considerably in length, content, and even visual style. In addition, many old films have deteriorated and been subject to cutting and revision at the hands of censors or distributors. Even modern restorations do not always reproduce the original release version. Historians try to be aware of the differences among the versions of the films they are studying. The fact that there are different versions can itself be a source of questions.

Historians generally distinguish between primary and secondary sources. As applied to film, primary usually refers to sources most directly related to the research questions the historian is asking. For example, if you were studying Japanese cinema of the s, the surviving films, interviews with filmmakers or audience members, and contemporary trade journals would count as primary material. Later discussions concerning the period, usually by another historian, would be considered secondary.

There are distinct types of explanation in film history. A standard list would include:. Industrial or economic history: focusing on business practices. Aesthetic history: focusing on film art form, style, genre. Technological history: focusing on the materials and machines of film.

This sort of inventory helps us understand that there is not one history of film but many possible histories, each adopting a different perspective. Typically, the researcher begins with an interest in one of these areas, which helps him to formulate his initial question. Not all questions the historian may ask will fall neatly into only one of these pigeonholes. If you want to know why a film looks the way it does, the question may not be purely aesthetic; it might be linked to the biography of the filmmaker or to the technological resources available when the film was made.

A study of film genres might involve both aesthetic and cultural factors. We propose that the student of film history think chiefly in terms of questions, keeping in mind that some interesting questions are likely to cut across categorical boundaries. Finding an answer to a historical question may involve both description and explanation, in different mixtures.

The techniques of descriptive research are specialized and require a wide range of background knowledge. For example, some experts on early silent cinema can determine when a film copy was made by examining the stock on which it is printed. Historical explanation also involves concepts that organize the evidence produced by specialized knowledge. Here are some of them. Chronology Chronology is essential to historical explanation, and descriptive research is an indispensable aid to establishing the sequence of events.

The historian needs to know that this film was made before that one or that event B took place after event A. But history is not mere chronology. A chronology stops short of explanation, just as a record of high and low tides gives no hint as to why tides change. History, as we have already seen, centrally involves explanation.

Causality Much historical explanation involves cause and effect. Historians work with conceptions of various kinds of causes. Individual Causes People have beliefs and desires that affect how they act. In acting, they make things happen. It is often reasonable to explain a historical change or a past state of affairs in light of the attitudes or behavior of individuals. This is not to say that individuals make everything happen or that things always happen as people originally intended or that people always understand just why they did what they did.

It is simply to say that historians may justifiably appeal to what individuals think and feel and do as part of an explanation. Some historians believe that all historical explanation must appeal to person-based causes sooner or later. This position is usually called methodological individualism. A different, and even more sweeping, assumption is that only individuals, and exceptional individuals at that, have the power to create historical change.

This view is sometimes labeled the Great Man theory of history, even though it is applied to women as well. Earlier generations of film historians, for example, were inclined to treat D. Griffith as the most important figure in the U. More recent historians have developed a counterargument, thanks to the greater availability of films by other directors and a more comparison-based method.

These scholars claim that Griffith developed certain tendencies that were already present, pushing them to a new level of expression. Moreover, his most original techniques were not picked up by others, so in some respects other directors had more influence on standard editing practice. As an individual Griffith remains important, but he is probably not the Great Innovator that people once considered him.

Group Causes People often act in groups, and at times we speak of the group as having a kind of existence over and above the individuals who compose it. Groups have rules and roles, structures and routines, and often these factors make things happen. When we say that Warner Bros. Some historians assert that any historical explanation must, sooner or later, ground itself in group-based causes.

This position is usually called holism, or methodological collectivism, as opposed to methodological individualism. Several sorts of groups are important to the history of cinema. Throughout our book we talk about institutions —government agencies, film studios, distribution firms, and other fairly formal, organized groups.

We also talk about more informal affiliations of filmmakers. These are usually called movements or schools, small assemblies of filmmakers and critics who share the same interests, beliefs about cinema, conceptions of film form and style, and the like. Pudovkin, Esfir Shub, and many others—are a classic instance of a movement. In these instances, the filmmakers often insisted that they shared no consciousness of belonging to a movement.

Still, historians often find common trends in the films, in the production circumstances, and in the local film culture, and these factors justify treating the filmmakers as a group, even if not a full-fledged movement. Influence Most historians use some notion of influence to explain change. Influence describes the inspiration that an individual, a group, or a film can provide for others. Members of a movement can deliberately influence a director to make a film a certain way, but a chance viewing of a movie can also influence a director.

Influence does not mean simple copying. You may have been influenced by a parent or a teacher, but you have not necessarily mimicked his or her behavior. The result may be quite different from the initial work that stimulated it.

The contemporary director Jean-Luc Godard was influenced by Jean Renoir, although their films are markedly different. Sometimes we can detect the influence by examining the films; sometimes we rely on the testimony of the filmmaker. A body of work by a group of directors may also influence later films. Soviet cinema of the s influenced the documentary director John Grierson.

The Hollywood cinema, as a set of films, has been enormously influential throughout film history, although all the directors influenced by it certainly did not see exactly the same films. Influences are particular kinds of causes, so it is not surprising that influences may involve both individual activity and group activity. Trends and Generalizations Any historical question opens up a body of data for investigation. Every historian omits certain material.

For one thing, the historical record is already incomplete. Many events go unrecorded, and many documents are lost forever. Further, historians inevitably select. They unweave the tangles of history and create a more coherent pattern. A historian simplifies and streamlines according to the question he is pursuing. One principal way historians go about such simplification is by postulating trends. Most Hollywood films of the s were made in black and white, but most Hollywood films today are in color.

On the whole, there has been a change, and we can see a trend toward the increasing use of color film stock between the s and the s. Our task is to explain how and why this trend occurred. By positing trends, historians generalize. They necessarily set aside interesting exceptions and aberrations. But this is no sin, because the answer to a question is necessarily pitched at a certain level of generality.

All historical explanations pull back from the throbbing messiness of reality. Periods Historical chronology and causation are without beginning or end. The child who incessantly asks what came before that or what made that happen soon discovers that we can trace out a sequence of events indefinitely. Historians necessarily limit the stretch of time they will explore, and they go on to divide that stretch into meaningful phases or segments.

For example, the historian studying American silent cinema already assumes that this period within film history ran from about to around The historian will probably further segment this stretch of time. She might break it down by decade, treating the s, the s, and the s. Another possibility is creating periods that mark phases in the development of storytelling style, such as —, —, and — Historians mark out periods according to the research programs they adopt and the questions they ask.

Histories of genres often mark off periods by innovative films, but this is not to deny that more ordinary movies display a great deal of continuity across periods. Similarly, we ought not to expect that the history of technology or styles or genres will march in step with political or social history. The period after World War II was indeed distinctive, because this global conflict had major effects on film industries and filmmakers in most countries; but not all political events demarcate distinct periods in relation to changes in film form or the film market.

The assassination of President Kennedy was a wrenching event, but it had little effect on activities in the film world. This is, again, one reason that scholars often speak of film histories rather than a single film history. Significance In mounting explanations, historians of all arts make assumptions about the significance of the artworks they discuss. Most historians assume that the films they discuss have significance on any or all of the following three criteria:.

Intrinsic excellence: Some films are, simply, outstanding by artistic criteria. They are rich, moving, complex, thought-provoking, intricate, meaningful, or the like. At least partly because of their quality, such films have played a key role in the history of cinema.

Influence: A film may be historically significant by virtue of its influence on other films. It may create or change a genre, inspire filmmakers to try something new, or gain such a wide popularity that it spawns imitations and tributes. Since influence is an important part of historical explanations, this sort of film plays a prominent role in most histories. Typicality: Some films are significant because they vividly represent instances or trends.

They stand in for many other films of the same type. The films of Robert Bresson are usually considered exceptionally good, but for a long time they influenced no other filmmaking. But of course in some cases the criteria can combine. Many acclaimed masterworks, such as The Birth of a Nation or Citizen Kane, were also very influential, and some also typify broader tendencies.

Although the book surveys the history of world cinema, we could hardly start with the question What is the history of world cinema? That would give us no help in setting about our research and organizing the material we find. Instead, we have highlighted three major questions. How have uses of the film medium changed or become normalized over time?

In addition, any balanced conception of how the medium has been used must also consider film modes documentary, avant-garde, fiction, animation and genres for example, the Western, the thriller, or the musical. So we also examine these phenomena. All such matters are central to most college and university survey courses in film history. A central purpose of our book is to survey the uses of the medium in different times and places. Sometimes we dwell on the creation of stable norms of form and style, as when we examine how Hollywood standardized certain editing options in the first two decades of filmmaking.

At other times, we examine how filmmakers have proposed innovative ways of structuring form or using film technique. How have the conditions of the film industry—production, distribution, and exhibition—affected the uses of the medium? Films are made within modes of production, habitual ways of organizing the labor and materials involved in creating a movie. The classic instance of industrial production is the studio system, in which firms are organized in order to make films for large audiences through a fairly detailed division of labor.

Another sort of industrial production might be called the artisanal, or one-off, approach, in which a production company makes one film at a time perhaps only one film, period. Still other modes of production are less highly organized, involving small groups or individuals who make films for specific purposes. In all these instances, the ways in which films are made have had particular effects on the look and sound of the finished products.

An avant-garde film, made on a low budget by an individual filmmaker, is more likely to be a personal expression than a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. The ways in which films are exhibited have also affected film history. For example, the major technological innovations associated with the early s — wide-screen picture, stereophonic sound, increased use of color — were actually available decades earlier. Each could have been developed before the s, but the U.

Only when attendance dropped precipitously in the late s were producers and exhibitors pushed to introduce new technologies to lure audiences back into theaters. How have international trends emerged in the uses of the film medium and in the film market? In Film History we try to balance the consideration of important national contributions with a sense of how international and cross-cultural influences were operating.

Genres are vagabond as well. The Hollywood Western influenced the Japanese samurai film and the Italian Western, genres that in turn influenced the Hong Kong kung-fu films of the s. Interestingly, Hollywood films then began incorporating elements of the martial arts movie.

Just as important, the film industry itself is significantly transnational. At certain periods, circumstances closed off countries from the flow of films, but most often there has been a global film market, and we understand it best by tracing trends across cultures and regions. We have paid particular attention to conditions that allowed people to see films made outside their own country.

Each of these how questions accompanies a great many why questions. For any part of the processes we focus on, we can ask what conditions caused them to operate as they did. Why, for instance, did Soviet filmmakers undertake their experiments in disturbing, aggressive narrative? Why are more films produced now with international investment than in the s or s? Historians are keen to know what factors made a change occur, and our general questions include a host of subquestions about causes and effects.

Recall our five general explanatory approaches: biographical, industrial, aesthetic, technological, and social. If we had to squeeze our book into one or more of these pigeonholes, we could say that its approach is predominantly aesthetic and industrial.

It examines how types of films, film styles, and film forms have changed in relation to the conditions of film production, distribution, and exhibition within certain countries and within the international flow of films. But this summary of our approach is too confining, as even a cursory look at what follows will indicate. Sometimes we invoke an individual — a powerful producer, an innovative filmmaker, an imaginative critic. Sometimes we consider technology. And we often frame our account with discussions of the political, social, and cultural context of a period.

Take, for example, our central question: How have uses of the film medium changed or become normalized over time? This is a question about aesthetic matters, but it also impinges on factors of technology.

Similarly, our second question — How have the conditions of the film industry affected the uses of the medium? In the early era of cinema, films circulated freely among countries, and viewers often did not know the nationality of a film they were seeing. In the s, however, war and nationalism blocked certain films from circulating.

In addition, the circulation of U. In sum, we have been guided, as we think most historians are, by research questions rather than rigid conceptions of the type of history we are writing. And what we take to be the most plausible answer to a given question will depend on the strength of the evidence and the argument we can make for it — not on a prior commitment to writing only a certain kind of history.

Our answers to historical questions are, however, not simply given in a list or summary. Like most historical arguments, ours takes a narrative form. Historians use language to communicate their arguments and evidence to others. But historical explanations require a more complicated crafting. Sometimes historians frame their explanations as persuasive arguments. To take an example already cited, a historian investigating the development of sound by Warner Bros.

Then he might set forth the reasons for believing his alternative interpretation. This is a familiar form of rhetorical argument, eliminating unsatisfactory beliefs before settling on a more plausible one. Narrative history, as it is called, seeks to answer how and why questions by tracing the relevant circumstances and conditions over time. It produces a chain of causes and effects, or it shows how a process works, by telling a story. For instance, if we are trying to answer the question How did the Hays Office negotiate with firms to arrive at an agreement about an acceptable film?

Or, if we are seeking to explain what led the Hays Office to be created, we might lay out the causal factors as a story. Film History: An Introduction follows tradition in creating a large-scale narrative, one that includes several stories within it. We divide film history into six large periods — early cinema to about , the late silent era — , the development of sound cinema — , the period after World War II —s , the period running from the s to the s, and the contemporary era s-the present.

These divisions reflect developments in 1 film form and style; 2 major changes in film production, distribution, and exhibition; and 3 significant international trends. An alternative organizational pattern is that of the topical history.

Topical history treats an idea or theme rather than a story. The historian must decide, at various levels, between narrative organization and topical organization. That is, your chapters could proceed in chronological order to trace the changes in the industry between and the early s. Or each chapter could deal with events occurring across the entire period, but in different spheres — production, censorship, journalism, exhibition, and the like.

In another topical layout, you could organize the book around key films or film policies that had an impact on different spheres of German life. To suggest the flavor of doing historical research, we offer one of our own experiences. Of the directors widely considered to be among the greatest, Ernst Lubitsch has had relatively little of substance written about him.

Murnau and especially Fritz Lang, have received more attention. Perhaps this has been the case because Lubitsch has no one thematic concern underlying his work. Murnau and Lang also are linked to the German Expressionist movement, while Lubitsch worked outside it. His habit of moving between vast historical epics and broad comedies for his German films makes him hard to pin down. But why is he important? Apart from his being a great director, though, why is Lubitsch significant?

Biographical History 2. Technological History 5. Chronology 2. Influence 3. Periods by positing trends, historians generalize 5. Significance Methodological Individualism: all historical explanations must appeal to person-based causes sooner or later ie Warner Bros. More curious History and Cinema are two ways of conceiving the actions that seek to organize time recognizing him some feeling. Taking from the reality of their condition panoptic and chaotic, Cinema and History are building and redirecting hypotheses and testing possibilities and perspective.

The similarity with what is characterized as experiences transform the cinema synonymous with the term "real-truth" and move history for a search Traits of a leader vary from being dedicated and altruistic to having courage and making sacrifices.

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Explain the factors that contributed to the success of the Plymouth colony. The Plymouth colony was successful. The people cultivated great harvests and had firm economic foundations in fur, fish, and timber. Capable leaders such as William Bradford also helped to keep order within the colonies. The Puritans large and mutual devotion to God provided for a tight-knit unity.

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School was defiantly a big part of Franklin he was very dedicated to his studying. Franklin made a proposal that was very important to exposed the stimulus on a new education republic. Franklin was a very educated man who became successful from being ambitious and having common sense. Franklin was a very religious man. He believed in One God who he said ought to be worshiped. Franklin also believed in morals and that when conducting these respectful morals and religion for the Jesus of Nazareth.

Who would you say is the quintessential American of our time? There were three men who established examples of quintessential American as well such as; Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Patrick Henry was a displayed and very passionate man. Thomas Jefferson was the complex literary thought and George Washington was the staid reserve.

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