The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview


Origins and Survival



The history of cinema did not begin with a 'big bang'. No single event -- whether Edison's patented invention of the Kinetoscope in 1891 or the Lumière brothers' first projection of films to a paying audience in 1895 -- can be held to separate a nebulous pre-cinema from cinema proper. Rather there is a continuum which begins with early experiments and devices aimed at presenting images in sequence (from Étienne Gaspard Robertson's Phantasmagoria of 1798 to Émile Reynaud's Pantomimes lumineuses of 1892) and includes not only the emergence in the 1890s of an apparatus recognizable as cinema but also the forerunners of electronic image-making. The first experiments in transmitting images by a television-type device are in fact as old as the cinema: Adriano de Paiva published his first studies on the subject in 1880, and Georges Rignoux seems to have achieved an actual transmission in 1909. Meanwhile certain 'pre-cinema' techniques continued to be used in conjunction with cinema proper during the years around 1900-5 when the cinema was establishing itself as a new mass medium of entertainment and instruction, and lantern slides with movement effects continued for a long time to be shown in close conjunction with film screenings.

Magic lantern, film, and television, therefore, do not constitute three separate universes (and fields of study), but belong together as part of a single process of evolution. It is none the less possible to distinguish them, not only technologically and in terms of the way they were diffused, but also chronologically. The magic lantern show gradually gives way to the film show at the beginning of the twentieth century, while television emerges fully only in the second half of the century. In this succession, what distinguishes cinema is on the one hand its technological base -- photographic images projected in quick succession giving the illusion of continuity -- and on the other hand its use prevailingly as large-scale public entertainment.


Films produce their illusion of continuous movement by passing a series of discrete images in quick succession in front of a light source enabling the images to be projected on a screen. Each image is held briefly in front of the light and then rapidly replaced with the next one. If the procedure is rapid and smooth enough, and the images similar enough to each other, discontinuous images are then perceived as continuous and an illusion of movement is created. The perceptual process involved was known about in the nineteenth century, and given the name persistence of vision, since the explanation was thought to lie in the persistence of the image on the retina of the eye for long enough to make perception of each image merge into the perception of the next one. This explanation is no longer regarded as adequate, and modern psychology prefers to see the question in terms of brain functions rather than of the eye alone. But the original hypothesis was sufficiently fertile to lead to a number of experiments in the 1880s and 1890s aimed at reproducing the so-called persistence of vision effect with sequential photographs.

The purposes of these experiments were various. They were both scientific and commercial, aimed at analysing movement and at reproducing it. In terms of the emergence of cinema the most important were those which set out to reproduce movement naturally, by taking pictures at a certain speed (a minimum of ten or twelve per second and generally higher) and showing them at the same speed. In fact throughout the silent period the correspondence between camera speed and projection was rarely perfect. A projection norm of around 16 pictures ('frames') per second seems to have been the most common well into the 1920s, but practices differed considerably and it was always possible for camera speeds to be made deliberately slower or faster to produce effects of speeded-up or slowed-down motion when the film was projected. It was only with the coming of synchronized sound-tracks, which had to be played at a constant speed, that a norm of 24 frames per second (f.p.s.) became standard for both camera and projector.

First of all, however, a mechanism had to be created which would enable the pictures to be exposed in the camera in quick succession and projected the same way. A roll of photographic film had to be placed in the camera and alternately held very still while the picture was exposed and moved down very fast to get on to the next


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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823


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