American Cinema of the 1910s: Themes and Variations

American Cinema of the 1910s: Themes and Variations

American Cinema of the 1910s: Themes and Variations

American Cinema of the 1910s: Themes and Variations

Synopsis

It was during the teens that filmmaking truly came into its own. Notably, the migration of studios to the West Coast established a connection between moviemaking and the exoticism of Hollywood.

The essays in American Cinema of the 1910s explore the rapid developments of the decade that began with D. W. Griffith's unrivaled one-reelers. By mid-decade, multi-reel feature films were profoundly reshaping the industry and deluxe theaters were built to attract the broadest possible audience. Stars like Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks became vitally important and companies began writing high-profile contracts to secure them. With the outbreak of World War I, the political, economic, and industrial groundwork was laid for American cinema's global dominance. By the end of the decade, filmmaking had become a true industry, complete with vertical integration, efficient specialization and standardization of practices, and self-regulatory agencies.

Excerpt

The Birth of a (Modern) Nation

The 1910s represents a turning point for American society, a period that saw many of the key transformations that helped shape the United States into a modern nation. By the decade’s close, America’s global supremacy as a supplier of commercial goods was secured, in part due to the disruptions caused by World War I. Progressivism, the dominant political movement of the era, guided social policy and legislation with the goal of taming the mayhem of unchecked modernization. An enhanced sense of American identity was promoted by the spread of national distribution and communication networks that disseminated everything from mass circulation magazines to nationally branded consumer items, trends and fads like the wristwatch, the Raggedy Ann doll, and the Ouija board, and —of particular significance for a shared notion of Americanism—the movies. A host of new products, from Oreo cookies to the Frigidaire and the Model T, demonstrated how technological innovation continued to affect daily life. The horrors of World War I, the first highly technologized war, underscored that fact in a grim way. Liberalization within the social sphere brought the introduction of Planned Parenthood and the nation’s first no-fault divorce law (in Nevada). In popular culture, ragtime music, the fox-trot dance craze, and lavish revues like the Ziegfeld Follies signaled the weakening grip of Protestant moral austerity and the growing importance of amusements emphasizing stimulation and fun. In the realm of high culture, American artists in various fields participated in the modernist experiment, with figures as diverse as painter Joseph Stella and writers Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein redefining the boundaries of aesthetic expression. Stein, tellingly, related her stylistic innovations to a quintessentially modern and American mode of constant change encapsulated in the moviegoing experience. If the movies were indeed representative of American modernity during this decade, it was arguably the ever-changing nature of motion pictures and . . .

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