History of Film and Cinema: A Brief Overview

Over the past few decades, we have seen cinema grow from a novelty to the most popular medium of art and entertainment in the world. Movies have become the new medium of storytelling, giving viewers the opportunity to experience interesting, hilarious, bizarre and even impossible things from a third person perspective.

Projector & Reel


Along with the growth in technology, the world of filmmaking has also grown at an exponential rate. However, the whole concept of capturing moving pictures is not very old. The birth of cinema can be traced back to the year 1890, when the first motion picture camera was invented. A sequence of moving pictures that lasted less than a minute, with no camera movements, visual effects or sound, was recorded. However, the novelty of bringing movies pictures to audiences worldwide caught on in many countries across the world, especially for the tourism industries, which saw this as a revolution in the world of travelogues. By the early 20th century, movie theatres had become as popular a recreational destination as cabarets.

Early 20th Century

Until the late 1920s, films were made without sound, color or much motion. Filmmakers were experimenting with bettering their work, which lead to the invention of panning shots by Robert W. Paul and of film studios and other visual effects by Georges Melies, George Smith and Cecil Hepworth. Movies were also slowly moving from single-shot short films to a greater number of shots and set ups to denote the passage of time, a change in location etc., until 1906, when the first feature length film, the Story of Kelly Gang was made in Australia.

The next few years saw the global commercialization of filmmaking. Filmmaking had taken the USA and the European countries by storm. A few Asian countries such as Russia were also participating. Various filmmakers moved to California, which led to the first signs of Hollywood as we know it today. In opposition to this, a movement amongst the French film industry sought to preserve the dignity of filmmaking by making only "art films", that is, serious films with a message.

World War I

The First World War had direct implications upon the film industry. Severe economic crisis in every participating country meant that the film industry suffered huge losses and various production companies shut down altogether. Narrative dramatic films gained popularity during this time, pioneered by American filmmaker D. W. Griffith. Satirical comedy in its earliest form also took place at this time. However, advancements in technology continued to take place. Experiments with lighting, camera positions and post-production editing had led to the discovery of most of the basics of filmmaking as we know it today.

Post World War I, European film industry was left bankrupt, giving the monopoly to the American Hollywood, which has ever since retained its position at the top of the film industries across the world. For the next few years, they saw a monopoly, releasing 800 feature films annually, including various classics.

Sound Cinema

In 1927, a legendary instance took place in the release of the Jazz Singer, the first ever sound film. This was done by expertly synchronising sound recorded on a phonograph with the recorded video. The idea naturally spread like wildfire and pretty soon "talking pictures" or "talkies" took over Hollywood. Since other film industries took a while to integrate this, Hollywood continued to flourish in monopoly.

Over time, this trend caught up all over the world. Renowned filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock came into the limelight at this time, by refining the sound systems and improving the quality of cinema. Walt Disney also gained prominence amongst the world of animation at this time.

World War II and Aftermath

During the Second World War, the governments of all the states had realized the potential of mass communication and especially of films as a medium of reaching the people. Thus, propagandist cinema glorifying the armed forces began to be made and promoted on a large scale.

The Cold War era saw a change in the trends amongst cinema. Hollywood saw a slight decline and movies of a more sinister, paranoid theme started to be made. Movies also began to be made questioning the politics and governance of the nations. This was also a time of great controversy for many internationally famous actors.

Notably, during this time, non-English film industries came to the limelight. These mainly included Indian, Japanese and Chinese films. Various Chinese and Japanese movies also gained fame, especially for their action scenes depicting the martial arts, and became the inspiration for many more movies to be made in the future. Interestingly, many of these movies, made on older video cameras, would have been lost today if it had not been for the technology to convert 16 mm film to DVD.

Hollywood continued on a decline for the next few years as other film industries grew, although it did make a few classics such as the Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. Foreign cinema, especially British and French, gained fame in the USA. There was a change in the customs amongst filmmakers, brought about by these foreign filmmakers. Censorship decreased and this led to movies featuring scenes of casual sex and violence such as the James Bond series. Hollywood, which had been known for its patriotic cinema, became disillusioned with its governance and began to use their power to raise questions.

New Hollywood

In 1967, Hollywood released Bonnie and Clyde, marking the beginning of the New Hollywood. At the same time, the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray wrote the script to The Alien, the iconic script that inspired movies such as E.T. The New Hollywood movement was basically a decline of the production code system and the subsequent entry of the film rating system. The style of American filmmaking underwent a sea change, as plots began to have more bizarre themes with plot twists at the climax, characters became more morally ambiguous and the overall lines between right and wrong began to blur. Sexual and violent content became increasingly acceptable.

The years that followed, until today, led to the growth of VCRs and thus movies could be bought to one's home. Although initially objected against, VCR manufacturers soon found a way to allow filmmakers to gain credits for their movie sales. Thus, VCRs, and, eventually, other sources of watching films at home like television, compact disks and the internet, became a major source of income for the filmmakers.

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