The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

exploitation and economic hardship. Nevertheless, Grierson relegated the people who did the actual work to his film's periphery, even as he synthesized the familiar narrative of a production process with modernist aesthetics. The film enjoyed a strong critical success, suggesting the extent to which the British documentary had lost its way in the years since the First World War, but also the potential for renewal in the 1930s and beyond.

During the 1920s, documentary film-makers struggled either at the margins of commercial cinema or outside it altogether. Despite the comparatively inexpensive nature of documentary production, even the most successful films did little more than return their costs. The general absence of profit motive meant that documentarians had other reasons for film-making, and often had to rely on sponsorship (as Flaherty did with Nanook), or self-financing. Although conventional travelogues had a long-standing niche in the market-place, outside the Soviet Union there was little or no formal or institutional framework to support more innovative efforts at production.

Despite their low returns, in the industrialized nations non-fiction programmes were shown in a wide range of venues. In the United States, films such as Nanook of the North, Berlin: Symphony of a City, and The Man with the Movie Camera enjoyed regular showings at motion picture theatres in a few large cities and so were reviewed by newspaper critics, with varying degrees of perspicacity ( Berlin was considered to be a disappointing travelogue by New York critics). Films such as Manhatta were sometimes shown as shorts within the framework of mainstream cinema's balanced programmes, and avant-garde documentaries were often shown at art galleries. In Europe, the network of ciné clubs provided an outlet for many artistically and politically radical documentaries. Cultural institutions and political organizations of all types screened (and occasionally sponsored) documentaries as well. Even in the Soviet Union, prominent documentaries quickly departed town-centre theatres for extended runs at workers' clubs. Because most non-fiction programmes generally had some kind of educational or informational value, they penetrated into all aspects of social life and were shown in the church, the union hall, the school, and cultural institutions like the Museum of Natural History ( New York). By the end of the 1920s, then, documentary was a broadly diffused if financially precarious phenomenon, characterized by its diversity of production and exhibition circumstances.


Aitken, Ian ( 1990), Film and Reform: John Grierson and the Documentaty Film Movement.

Barnouw, Erik ( 1974), Documentaty.

Brownlow, Kevin ( 1979), The War, the West and the Wilderness.

Calder-Marshall, Arthur ( 1963), The Innocent Eye: The Life of Robert J. Flaherty.

Cooper, Merian C. ( 1925), Grass.

Flaherty, Robert J. ( 1924), My Eskimo Friends.

Hall, Stuart ( 1981), The Whites of their Eyes.

Holm, Bill, and Quimby, George Irving ( 1980), Edward S. Curtis in the Land of the War Canoes.

Jacobs, Lewis (ed.) ( 1979), The Documentary Tradition.

Musser, Charles, with Nelson, Carol ( 1991), High-Gass Moving Pictures: Lyman H. Howe and the Forgotten Era of Traveling Exhibition, 1880-1920.

Vertov, Dziga ( 1984), Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov.

Cinema and the Avant-Garde


Modern art and silent cinema were born simultaneously. In 1895 Cézanne's paintings were seen in public for the first time in twenty years. Largely scorned, they also stimulated artists to the revolution in art that took place between 1907 and 1912, just as popular film was also entering a new phase of development. Crossing the rising barriers between art and public taste, painters and other modernists were among the first enthusiasts for American adventure movies, Chaplin, and cartoons, finding in them a shared taste for modern city life, surprise, and change. While the influential philosopher Henri Bergson criticized cinema for falsely eliding the passage of time, his vivid metaphors echo and define modernism's attitude to the visual image: 'form is only the snapshot view of a transition.'

New theories of time and perception in art, as well as the popularity of cinema, led artists to try to put 'paintings in motion' through the film medium. On the eve of the First World War, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, author of The Cubist Painters ( 1913), explained the animation process in his journal Les Soirées de Paris and enthusiastically compared Le Rythme coloré ('Colour rhythms', 1912-14), an abstract film planned by the painter Léopold Survage, to 'fireworks, fountains and electric signs'. In 1918 the young Louis Aragon wrote in Louis Delluc's Le Film that cinema must have 'a place in the avant-garde's preoccupations.


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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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