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Posts Tagged ‘Film History’

Frame by Frame Video: Documentary Films

Friday, November 9th, 2012

I have a new Frame by Frame video episode out today, directed by Curt Bright, on documentary films.

Click here, or on the image above, to see the video.

Curt and I have done a lot of Frame by Frame videos, but we’ve never really delved into the world of non-fiction filmmaking, until now. In this video, I very briefly highlight some of the key documentary filmmakers in the history of the medium, along with some of their most important works, so this should be a handy guide for further viewing for those who aren’t familiar with this area of cinema. You’ll notice that I jump around in time a lot in the video, highlighting documentarians of both the past and present, roughly arranged according to the themes they were attracted to.

For the record, in the image above, David (left) and Albert (far right) Maysles, two of the most prominent filmmakers of the 1960s in this area, are working on a film about Truman Capote (center), who had just published his groundbreaking “non fiction novel,” In Cold Blood. This video is just an introduction to the documentary presence in cinema, and lists only the major players — with some left out for reasons of space — but the still runs a full 7 minutes. Enjoy, and thanks to Curt Bright for doing such a superb job of editing the piece.

Documentary films hold up a mirror to life that we simply can’t ignore.

A Short History of Film, Second Edition

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

A Short History of Film

Second Edition

Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster

Rutgers University Press

A history of world cinema that makes its past as vibrant as its present—now revised and updated through 2012.

Praise for the previous edition:

“This is the film history book we’ve been waiting for.” —David Sterritt, Chairman, National Society of Film Critics

“Highly recommended for all collections.” —Library Journal (starred review)

The second edition of A Short History of film provides a concise and accurate overview of the history of world cinema, detailing the major movements, directors, studios, and genres from 1896 through 2012. Accompanied by more than 250 rare color and black and white stills—including photographs of some of the industry’s most recent films—the new edition is unmatched in its panoramic view of the medium as it is practiced in the United States and around the world as well as its sense of cinema’s sweep in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster present new and amended coverage of film in general as well as the birth and death dates and final works of notable directors. Their expanded focus on key films brings the book firmly into the digital era and chronicles the death of film as a production medium.

The book takes readers through the invention of the kinetoscope, the introduction of sound and color between the two world wars, and ultimately the computer generated imagery of the present day. It details significant periods in world cinema, including the early major industries in Europe, the dominance of the Hollywood studio system in the 1930s and 1940s, and the French New Wave of the 1960s.

Attention is given to small independent efforts in developing nations and the more personal independent film movement that briefly flourished in the United States, the significant filmmakers of all nations, and the effects of censorship and regulation on production everywhere. In addition, the authors incorporate the stories of women and other minority filmmakers who have often been overlooked in other texts.

Engaging and accessible, this is the best one-stop source for the history of world film available for students, teachers, and general audiences alike.

WHEELER WINSTON DIXON is the James Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. His many books include Death of the Moguls: The End of Classical Hollywood, 21st-Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster), A History of Horror, and Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia (all Rutgers University Press).

GWENDOLYN AUDREY FOSTER is a professor of film studies in the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and with Wheeler Winston Dixon, Editor in Chief of Quarterly Review of Film and Video. Her many books include 21st-Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (co-authored with Wheeler Winston Dixon) and Class-Passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture.

Second edition available in paper, hardcover and Kindle March, 2013 from Rutgers University Press.

Global Cinema Journal Collection (1904-1946) Online

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

The Media History Digital Library has a new and valuable resource available to scholars: their collection of international film journals from 1904 to 1946, all online for the first time.

As the site notes, “the history of media is a global history – involving the exchange of workers, styles, and technologies across national borders. French publications, such as Cine-Journal and Cinéa, reveal the important contributions of French filmmakers to film history. However, these French periodicals also contain advertisements for American films and demonstrate the popularity of certain global stars, such as Charles Chaplin and Sessue Hayakawa (both of whom had careers that criss-crossed national borders).

Some publications themselves were transnational creations. American and Canadian film enthusiasts were among the readers of Home Movies & Home Talkies, the British magazine for amateur filmmakers. Meanwhile, J.P. Chalmers—publisher of the American trade paper Moving Picture World—also published Cine-Mundial for the Spanish language market. As a global history, media history has also been greatly influenced by the course of international events. The increased number of American film advertisements in Cinéa (1921-1923) compared to Cine-Journal (1908-1912) speaks to the global market dominance of the American film industry that occurred due to the devastation of European lives, economies, and film industries during World War I (1914-1918).

The Italian journal Cinema championed film as an art form, and it contains articles by future art cinema icons, such as Michelangelo Antonioni. However, no film or publication exists in a political vacuum. Just look at the masthead and see the name of Cinema’s editor-in-chief: Vittorio Mussolini, son of the nation’s dictator Benito Mussolini.”

Definitely worth a look for inside information on international cinema from the first half of the 20th century.

Hollywood Blacklisting

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Left to right: Danny Kaye, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and others protest at the HUAC Hearings.

I have a new video out today in the Frame by Frame series, directed and edited by Curt Bright, which I wrote and appear in, on the Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s. About the Blacklist, the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, one of its most celebrated personages, had this to say in 1970, when the Blacklist had begun to wane: “The blacklist was a time of evil, and no one on either side who survived it came through untouched by evil. Caught in a situation that had passed beyond the control of mere individuals, each person reacted as his nature, his needs, his convictions, and his particular circumstances compelled him to. There was bad faith and good, honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, selflessness and opportunism, wisdom and stupidity, good and bad on both sides. When you who are in your 40s or younger look back with curiosity on that dark time, as I think occasionally you should, it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims. Some suffered less than others, some grew and some diminished, but in the final tally we were all victims because almost without exception each of us felt compelled to say things he did not want to say, to do things that he did not want to do, to deliver and receive wounds he truly did not want to exchange. That is why none of us – right, left, or center – emerged from that long nightmare without sin.”

You can see the entire 10 minute video by clicking here, or on the image above.

Neil Roughley’s Sam Newfield Filmography

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Sam Newfield made a helluva lot of feature films!

Film historian Neil Roughley has been doing research into the incredibly prolific career of film director Sam Newfield, who is, as Roughley says on his impeccably researched website, “the most prolific feature film director of the American sound era.”

As he adds in his prefatory remarks, “because of his amazing output, no Newfield filmography will ever be complete. The following is an attempt to accurately catalog all of his known features and shorts. Originally online in 1998 and last updated in 2001, I have finally revised the filmography with more accurate information and notes, plus the addition of images. The entire filmography has been revamped from the ground up, and is still a work in progress to some degree.

Although somewhat unorthodox, order is now based on the Production Code Administration (PCA) certificate number instead of the earliest release date. This method generally adheres to the release order anyway, and provides a more accurate and indisputable chronology as the films became available for general distribution. A film could be certified and held back, of course, which was not uncommon; or, rarer, a film could be completed but not submitted for certification until later. Some films were previewed before certification, too. This method, however flawed, provides a balance between production order and release, although exceptions do exist.”

This is an amazingly detailed work of scholarship; check it out by clicking here, or on the image of Sam Newfield above.

Film Reviewing and Film Criticism

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, for some key film criticism and theory books as selected by a group of panelists for the British film journal Sight and Sound.

They’re not the same thing. Film reviews are served up by daily critics, who no matter how knowledgeable they are, are writing for a day-by-day audience, who want a plot outline, a brief overview, and then some opinion on the film at hand, advising readers whether to see the film or not.

Film criticism and theory, in contrast, “unpacks” a film to see what makes it tick, and uses various theoretical approaches, such as feminist film theory, or auteurism, or structural film theory, or numerous other approaches — far too many to list here — to take the film apart in detail, and see how it works.

Film reviews are mainly an opinion pieces, but film criticism proceeds from a large base of historical, critical and theoretical information, and offers a detailed understanding of the director’s history, past projects, the history and practice of the genre in question (if it’s a genre film), of others working in the field, possible precedents for the film, shot structure, editing, choreography, lighting, acting styles, camera movement, framing, deep focus, costumes, and whatever else might apply; it deconstructs the film in detail.

So there’s a world of difference here, and it seems to me that sometimes people get the distinction blurred; anyone can have an opinion, and give you a thumbnail review of a film, or a book, or anything else; but it’s just their point of view.

In order to really understand a work of art (or even a commercial film, or perhaps I should say, especially a commercial film – they really need careful discussion), you need to really examine it, in an absolutely detailed fashion, and have the background in history, theory and criticism to really understand what’s going on. That’s the beginning of film criticism, and the beginning of a real understanding of the film (digital or otherwise) medium.

The Ghosts of Hollywood

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Here’s a sad, sweet little film shot in the early 1930s about the collapse of backlot Hollywood from the silent era — more than a little nostalgic, but an interesting glimpse into a world that existed before CGI, when one actually had to build a set in order to get the image on screen.

Click here, or on the image above to see the entire, ten minute film.

Top 75 Lost British Films

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

From the lost film Sleep is Lovely, 1968

While film may seem eternal, in fact it’s highly ephemeral, as this list of 75 lost British films compiled by the British Film Institute clearly indicates. Some of the films on the BFI list are from the 1970s, and one would think that films of such relatively recent vintage would be readily available, but no — they’re lost, negatives and all prints. In most cases, only stills and press materials survive. They may eventually turn up in a vault somewhere, or in someone’s attic or bedroom closet, but for the moment, these films are only memories — moving images that once had life, but now exist no more.

This list, in itself, is one of the best arguments one can make for the essential nature of film preservation. Without proper archival care, all films will cease to exist eventually. Our job is to keep them with us, as part of our shared cultural heritage. The films on this list are all British productions, but such a list could easily be expanded to include films around the world — films that are now just memories. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever, and you can’t bring them back — so we must act now.

3,000+ Issues of Boxoffice Magazine Online — Free as Pdfs

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Boxoffice is one of the film industry’s most respected business journals, and they’ve recently put more than 3,000 back issues of the magazine online, free, as pdfs. Better still, they post five new back issues of the journal every week. It’s a fascinating look back at film history, and right now covers the years 1925 -2010, with a few years missing in the middle, but nothing major.

As the site says: “Welcome to the home for nearly 3000 back issues of Boxoffice Magazine, the theatrical film business’ premier trade publication since 1920. Each week we post five issues from our vast archive which covers everyone from John Barrymore to Drew Barrymore. (Before 1933, Boxoffice was published under different names in various parts of the U.S.)

Have a question? Looking for something specific? Just write us at thevault@boxoffice.com

Once, you had to go to a library and spend days digging through the stacks to find what you wanted; now, here it is, all at your fingertips, the complete commercial history of American film in the 20th century, and the start of the 21st. This is what the web was made for; free access, no ads, a complete and unabridged historical record. Essential reading, and lively browsing, as well.

Man Ray’s Return to Reason

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Salvador Dali and Man Ray, photographed in Paris by Carl van Vechten, June 16, 1934

One of the earliest cinematographic poets, Man Ray was a still photographer, painter, sculptor, who created a series of dazzling Dada films which still delight and amuse the viewer. Here’s a link to one of my favorites: Le Retour à la Raison (Return to Reason, 1923), 2 minutes in length, silent, which consists of random live images intercut with “Rayographs,” made by sprinkling salt, pepper, thumbtacks, pins and other materials directly on the film in the darkroom, then exposing it to controlled amounts of light.

As Man Ray said of the making of the film, “Acquiring a roll of a hundred feet of film, I went into my darkroom and cut up the material into short lengths, pinning them down on the worktable. On some strips I sprinkled salt and pepper, like a cook preparing a roast, on other strips I threw pins and thumbtacks at random; then I turned on the white light for a second or two, as I had done for my still Rayographs. Then I carefully lifted the film off the table, shaking off the debris, and developed it in my tanks. The next morning, when dry, I examined the work; the salt, pins and tacks were perfectly reproduced.”

“I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive. I photograph the things that I do not wish to paint, the things which already have an existence.” (Undated interview, circa 1970s; published in Man Ray: Photographer, 1981.)

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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In The National News

National media outlets featured and cited Wheeler Winston Dixon on a number of topics in the past month. Find out more on the website http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/