Development of classical film language is particularly associated with Hollywood film industry as the leading film producing center in the world. Before summarizing this development, I would like to mention one interesting detail in historicising cinema. The first movie in film history was filmed by Lumierre Brothers in 1895 (Workers Leaving the Lumierre Factory). However, when we have a look at the films made between 1895 and 1910, we see that they lack some narrative attributes in terms of story telling. Besides, 1920’s have been the period of cinema which was characterized as modernist, but not classical. Classical development of film language comes after the modernist period, and has been established during 1930’s and 40’s in Hollywood. It is interesting to see that in film history, unlike any other developments in art, classical mode of language comes next to the modernist one.
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In order for cinema to possess a classical language, it is necessary for it to be continuously industrialized and commercialized, which we observe within the characteristics of Hollywood. Let us begin with the first period of development of classical film language.
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First Period, 1895-1927: The times of early development, the rise of Hollywood. There are lots of things to say about this period but maybe the most important one is the actor, writer, producer, director, David W. Griffith. He was a gifted director, known as the father of narrative film. In his films a fully developed narrative film language can be observed. He directed over two hundred films from 1908 to 1931. His first productions were short films, in which he developed new cinematic techniques. His breakthrough film was “The Birth of a Nation” (1915). With this movie, the idea of narrative cinema was first established. The very idea of narrative cinema is simply telling a story. The Birth of a Nation lasted more than two hours and was the longest film that had ever been produced. In fact, it was very hard to keep the attention of audience in the cinema hall for such a long time. Griffith overcame this problem by using sophisticated cinematic techniques, which were parallel editing, suspenseful editing, crosscutting and continuous development. With Griffith, a standardized film language was established. On the other hand, The Birth of a Nation was highly an ideological film, and problematic in the way which contains racist tendencies. At this point, Griffith’s personality was highly debatable. Nevertheless he was a great director, and he may as well be announced as the early founder of classical mainstream cinema and Hollywood linear continuity style.
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Second Period, 1930’s-1940’s: The Studio Era. As I mentioned, 1920’s were characterized as modernist period of cinema. Modernist films were silent, directors such as Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein created stylistic expressions to create new images and an avant-garde kind of film language. With the introduction of sound to cinema, films were perceived on a realistic medium. For many directors in Hollywood and Europe, it was as clear as that with sound one could have the chance to capture full reality. Additionally, sound cinema enabled the development of narrative film language because by the help of sound, stories could have been depicted more efficiently. With sound, it was aimed to achieve illusion of reality. Here is the paradox: Sound seems as an achievement, a progress in film language. However, the sound prevented directors to produce more creative films. Genres occurred, and we can see the repetition of structure in films. During this period, avant-garde or modernist cinema was marginalized, but went on. On the other hand, Dziga Vertov was against the introduction of sound to cinema, he never used it in his films. He was continuously determined to develop new ways of filmic representations based only upon images. Thus, avant-garde cinema at this period was more creative compared to Hollywood cinema. During 1930’s and 40’s Studio Era, we observe an oligopolistic control over cinema. Business was owned by several companies. There was a large scale, and an efficient system of production. We can also talk about vertical control of three main functions in cinema: Production, distribution and exhibition. There were five major (20th Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) and three minor companies (Universal, United Artists, Columbia). During this period, directors in Hollywood worked under these studios. They couldn’t decide on actors, screenwriters, editing process, and even endings of films. Film would have been shot with several alternative endings, in accordance to the expectation of audiences. The most appreciated ending was chosen. In this kind of a process, the main idea is to gain profit as much as possible. Here, there seems to be the organisation of film as kind of a proto-culture industry. Thus the film language was standardized and classical Hollywood film language was created during this period. This language was mainly based on certain principles: Conventional narrative cinema-story telling, synchronization of image and sound, invisible editing and individual heroes. As a result of certain film types, the concept of genre has occurred. Interestingly, one of the main reasons why cinema was such popular during war time was actually an issue of genre. At this period, there were several major genres such like western, film-noir, melodrama, musical, romantic comedy. By these genres, studios were especially trying to attract attention of women in society, as men were on duty abroad. During this period, women particularly in American society entered social sphere, while they became independent from their domestic duties. When it comes to 1950’s, Hollywood has found itself into crisis, which signalled the beginning of a new era.
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Third Period, 1950’s: This was a period of crisis in Hollywood, mainly because of three factors: Television, post-war transformation of U.S society, Paramount antitrust decrees. 1950’s was a period when families were reunited, consolidated and suburbanization has started in U.S.A. People began to spend more time with their families, and the spread of TVs have drastically decreased the general interest in cinema. Additionally at 1948, anti-monopolistic policies were held against major studios. Production, distribution and exhibition of films have been separated and the vertical control of sectors in film business was demolished. During this period, studios in general decided to give up their interests in exhibition sectors. Nonetheless there were two remedies that enabled the survival of studios. Firstly, drive-in’s and auto-theatres were established throughout the country. People had the opportunity to watch movies in their cars. Secondly, and the most importantly, there was the development of technicolor films. From this time on, motion pictures were filmed with advanced colouring techniques, while TVs were still black and white. As this innovation in film production happened, we witness the beginning of a new era, which is characterized as “New Hollywood Cinema”.
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Fourth Period, 1960’s, early 1970’s: New Hollywood Cinema. The main character of this period was that studios were reduced only to their producing and distributing functions. Thus a more independent mode of filmmaking has born. Additionally, a new generation of directors and actors emerged such as Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese, and as actors Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson. The filmmaking process was held independent from intervention of studios. Leading actors during this period were mostly different from classical Hollywood stars, in the way which they mostly played the “antiheroes”. They were not only images that elicit emotions, but also they drew attention of audiences with their superior acting abilities. Several films produced during this period were not roughly genre films; they accomplished transitions within different genres. Besides, the movies approached radically to cinematic plot in the way that they visualized stories based on extreme stories like sexuality and drug abuse. In addition, compared with classical Hollywood cinema, not always there were happy endings in movies. In this way, we can observe that 1960’s Hollywood cinema was substantially influenced by European cinema of this period, especially by the French New-Wave in particular. On the other hand, I would also like to note that new Hollywood didn’t position itself as opposed to classical Hollywood at all. Consequently, this new era symbolized a kind of richness in between genres and Classical and European cinemas, and in terms of creative filmic representations, which constituted the most inspiring era of Hollywood. However, this era ended through mid 1970’s, with the revival of film industry in U.S.A.
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Fifth Period, Late 1970’s and onwards, The Blockbuster Era: This era witnesses the partial revival of Hollywood studio system. Blockbuster film was a concept, defining high budget films which aim to make large profits when screened. The story is simple in terms of creative narrative, but the films included sophisticated video effects. The films of blockbuster era began to be promoted with huge advertisement campaigns. The studios were producing not as much films in numbers as classical Hollywood era. However, they were designating their products efficiently. Two important examples for this kind of films are the “Jaws” (1975) directed by Steven Spielberg, and Star Wars (1977) directed by George Lucas. In this sense, Hollywood was turned into powerful multi-dimensional entertaining machine; based on a successful blockbuster film, studios began to produce video-games, soundtrack albums, toys for children. Films became cultural commodities that may be reproduced into different consumption materials. Popular examples for this kind of differentiation are Disney and Jurassic Park. Today, Hollywood is managed by a few multinational media giants, which work in several branches of culture industry, apart from cinematic productions.
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