Thursday, April 10, 2008

whatcha watching

Georges Méliès was definitley somewhat of a genius. I was fascinated by the movies he created, I can only imagine what the people felt back in the 19th century. He was the first director, producer, and he even starred in most of his films. I am curious to find out why most of the early story lines were based on satan. I would think that might be considered to be going against the church. People came from all over, just to spend a few seconds watching the ocean ripple.

FX, 1897

Georges Méliès brought to a new medium an uncanny amount of manipulation that could easily be seen as the forerunner of all special effects today. While we may use more sophisticated means of film manipulation through devices such as computers, most could be traced to one of these director's brilliant ideas.

Splicing film has become easier and more exacting, but is still just an advancment on the splicing that Méliès pioneered in a time when it was much more difficult. Most computer generated creatures and effects are nothing more than fancy substitution tricks, and the original blue/green screen was Méliès' black velvet.

Action. Action. We Want Action!

Action was a huge part in early film. It gave excitement, suspense, and every film go-er wanting more. The more action and movement there was on a screen, the harder it was for the audience to look away and it was easier to keep their interest.

"When we started we used to give just flashes -- an engine chasing to a fire, a base-running sliding home, a charge of cavalry. Now for instance, if we want to work in a horse race it has to be as a scene in the life of the jockey, who is the hero of the piece -- we've got to give them a story; they won't take anything else -- a story with plenty of action. You can't show large conversation, you know, on the screen. More story, larger story, better story with plenty of action -- that is our tendency." - Studio Manager. 1907.

It was much more exciting to watch all this action instead of conversations amongst actors in the film. People probably would become bored with that and this is why action changed the world of film. People would rather see violence, sports, or a superhero figure because it kept the suspense as to what was going to happen next. Was a building going to blow up and explode? Which baseball team was going to win the championship game? And of course, was that hero going to rise above the villian who wanted him dead? This is why today, when they show coming attractions in movie theaters, they mostly show the actions parts of the film, not the conversations. People want the action and therefore that's what shown to get people to see the action they wanted.

Flashes from the Slums

With the advent of the camera, man could now take a scene and freeze it forever in a frame. But the camera could only take photos of objects that were visible in day light. Photos of landscapes and people dressed in their Sunday bests began to circulate. However seldom, if ever, did photographers travel into the dark underbelly of our cities and capture those couldn't even afford a new shirt let alone a "Sunday best". But with the invention of the flash, photographers could now dive down into the very pit of the slums and emerge with photos that captured the despair and squalor of the lower-class.
"What they saw was three or four figures in the gloom, a ghostly tripod, some weird and uncanny movements, the blinding flash, and then they heard the patter of retreating footsteps, and the mysterious visitors were gone before they could collect their scattered thoughts and try to find out what it was all about." (Jacob A. Riis, Flashes from the Slums, pg 155)
Riis describes how the photographers went about their business in the slums. They didn't politely knock on these folks doors and kindly ask to photograph them. Jacob Riis and other muckrakers of his time would burst into vermin infested lodging houses and snap shots of the poor man that happens to be sleeping there. You can see there's no smiles on their faces, the subjects were given no time to prepare for the surprise visit. Most looks as though they had been sleeping moments before the shot. Flash photography illuminated more then just poorly lit areas, it helped muckrakers expose the truth in our cities. It made the rich and well-fed of the city take notice of the most impoverished citizens and illuminated places that weren't assessable to most.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Social Origins

When a specific media type surfaces it is initially viewed by people with different cultural levels as sub-standard or inferior than existing types, this is evident in the motion picture production more than in any other media form. When photography arose, painters looked at it as the inferior media used by those that could not paint.

Film was affected in a different way in that in order for it to reach a large public sphere the short movies had to appeal to a specific target market. Initial movies main appeal was to the uneducated public that made them so popular depicting things they could easily enjoy.

“The social origins of motion pictures were a critical early influence on their path to development. Whereas newspapers and magazines had begun among the elite and evolved in a more popular direction, movies acquired a lowbrow image at an early point in their history and faced challenges in achieving respectability.” Starr P. 296

In the late 1800’s the elite were concerned with symphony orchestras, museums and other cultural events that they were directly involved in or were able to control. Cultural distinctions were apparent and deeply marked in society. Initially movies were considered a “low culture” activity and in order to make a profit they had to appeal to the “low culture” masses creating the basis to the path to the Nickelodeon.