The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History

By Lewis Jacobs | Go to book overview

V
SOCIAL: FIRST AMERICAN STORY FILMS

THE refinement of motion picture form through editing made it possible for film makers to dramatize the moment, to give it perspective and interpretation. The popularity of stories ended the production of the trifling one-minute "report" or "incident" films that had filled the movie repertory in earlier years. Whatever movie makers saw, heard, or read they now quickly converted into crude, straightforward action pieces. Half-remembered anecdotes, newspaper headlines, cartoons, jokes, domestic affairs, social issues, economic tribulations--all sorts of everyday American ideas and activities--found their way to the screen. No occurrence was too trivial to be filmed so long as it could be made into a story. Unabashed in their still limited capabilities, movies during these years concentrated on dramatizing reality.

It is significant that despite the popularity of Melies' "magical," fantastic films and the desire of American film makers to emulate them, the Americans rarely left their own backyards and streets even when they were technically able to do so. Fairy tales, fantasies, story-book romances, were far removed from their immediate interests. Subject matter was derived from American life--from the exploits of the policeman and burglar, cowboy and factory worker, farmer and country girl, clerk and politician, drunkard and servant girl, storekeeper and mechanic.

To represent the common man in the arts was still a novel if not a daring venture. Even in literature, to depict the man of the streets as a protagonist or even as a human being was to invite censure. Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, and Jack London

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