The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview


Abramson, Albert ( 1987), The History of Television, 1880 to 1941.

Cherchi Paolo Usai ( 1994), Burning Passions: An Introduction to the Study of Silent Cinema.

Hampton, Benjamin B. ( 1931), A History of the Movies.

Liesegang, Franz Paul ( 1986), Moving and Projected Images: A Chronology of Pre-cinema History.

Magliozzi, Ronald S. (ed.) ( 1988), Treasures from the Film Archives.

Rathbun, John B. ( 1914), Motion Picture Making and Exhibiting.

Early Cinema


In the first two decades of its existence the cinema developed rapidly. What in 1895 had been a mere novelty had by 1913 become an established industry. The earliest films were little more than moving snapshots, barely one minute in length and often consisting of just a single shot. By 1905, they were regularly five to ten minutes long and employed changes of scene and camera position to tell a story or illustrate a theme. Then, in the early 1910s, with the arrival of the first 'feature-length' films, there gradually emerged a new set of conventions for handling complex narratives. By this time too, the making and showing of films had itself become a large-scale business. No longer was the film show a curiosity sandwiched into a variety of other spectacles, from singing or circus acts to magic lantern shows. Instead specialist venues had been created, exclusively devoted to the exhibition of films, and supplied by a number of large production and distribution companies, based in major cities, who first sold and then increasingly rented films to exhibitors all over the world. In the course of the 1910s the single most important centre of supply ceased to be Paris, London, or New York, and became Los Angeles -- Hollywood.

The cinema of this period, from the mid- 1890s to the mid-1910s, is sometimes referred to as 'pre-Hollywood' cinema, attesting to the growing hegemony of the California-based American industry after the First World War. It has also been described as pre-classical, in recognition of the role that a consolidated set of 'classical' narrative conventions was to play in the world cinema from the 1920s onwards. These terms need to be used with caution, as they can imply that the cinema of the early years was only there as a precursor of Hollywood and the classical style which followed. In fact the styles of film- making prevalent in the early years were never entirely displaced by Hollywood or classical modes, even in America, and many cinemas went on being pre- or at any rate non-Hollywood in their practices for many years to come. But it remains true that much of the development that took place in the years from 1906 or 1907 can be seen as laying the foundation for what was to become the Hollywood system, in both formal and industrial terms.

For the purposes of this book, therefore, we have divided the period into two. The first half, from the beginnings up to about 1906, we have simply called early cinema, while the second half, from 1907 to the mid-1910s, we have designated transitional since it forms a bridge between the distinctive modes of early cinema and those which came later. Broadly speaking, the early cinema is distinguished by the use of fairly direct presentational modes, and draws heavily on existing conventions of photography and theatre. It is only in the transitional period that specifically cinematic conventions really start to develop, and the cinema acquires the means of creating its distinctive forms of narrative illusion.


Various nations lay claim to the invention of moving pictures, but the cinema, like so many other technological innovations, has no precise originating moment and owes its birth to no particular country and no particular person. In fact, one can trace the origins of cinema to such diverse sources as sixteenth-century Italian experiments with the camera obscura, various early nineteenth-century optical toys, and a host of practices of visual representation such as dioramas and panoramas. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, efforts to project continuously moving images on to a screen intensified and inventors/entrepreneurs in several countries presented the 'first' moving pictures to the marvelling public: Edison in the United States; the Lumière brothers in France; Max Skladanowsky in Germany; and William Friese-Greene in Great Britain. None of these men can be called the primary originator of the film medium, however, since only a favourable conjunction of technical circumstances made such an 'invention' possible at this particular moment: improvements in photographic development; the invention of celluloid, the first medium both durable and flexible enough to loop through a projector; and the application of precision engineering and instruments to projector design.

In spite of the internationalization of both film style and technology, the United States and a few European


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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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