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Essay: The Birth of World Cinema: the Lumière Brothers, Edison and More

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The history of world cinema began in 1895 in Paris when the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière had put a projecting camera, which they had invented and patented several months before, in front of the family’s photographic factory in the industrial city of Lyons. Then they shot a few minutes’ worth of film which was showing the factory’s employees leaving their afternoon shift. On December 28, 1895 that film (entitled “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”) was shown before the audience of the Grand Café, which had paid to see this motion picture. Thus the era of The Early Narrative Film (1895-1913) began. The narratives of the films during this era had adapted a little bit from vaudeville and melodrama. Scenes were filmed in full shot, cutting was limited to a very great degree; staging was used to depict plot and character relationships. The introduction of the visual style known as “classical continuity” was a clear improvement on the older filming style.

The cinematograph (cinématographe in French), used by the Lumière brothers, was a combination of a camera and a projector. They got the idea for their invention from Thomas Edison’s kinetograph and kinetoscope. In 1889 George Eastman came up with the idea of perforating the sides of a roll of celluloid to allow it to be moved mechanically by a camera. Edison incorporated Eastman’s design into kinetograph and kinetoscope apparatuses. A few years later Edison and his team invented the kinetophonograph, which was a device capable of showing film and producing sound simultaneously.

Edison and his assistant W. K. L. Dickson opened the world’s first real film studio, Black Maria, in 1893. The studio released dozens of short films to U.S. audiences during the following years. In 1908 Edison and other industry leaders established the Motion Picture Patents Company. This company legally controlled the technology and raw materials which were needed to make and show movies. That was the first movie monopoly. In order to avoid this monopoly a lot of movie-makers headed for the West Coast.

Around the year 1910 the first independent American studios and production companies began to emerge – Fox, Paramount, and Metro Goldwyn, Biograph, Famous Players, Inceville, Keystone etc. This sudden increase in the amount of studios and companies resulted in intense competition and innovation. Moviemakers started experimenting with new techniques and longer films. There were significant breakthroughs in editing, narrative technique, parallel action and so on. Numerous technological and conceptual advances were made. Hollywood and its suburbs became hugely popular filming destination after D. W. Griffith made several films there. That was the era of Maturation of the Silent Films (1913-1917). In Sweden and Denmark this period is known as a “Golden Age” of film.  The Swedish film director, screenwriter and actor Victor David Sjöström integrated innovative approaches into mainstream directing. The French film actor, director and producer Léonce Joseph Perret’s unconventional directing methods contributed to the integration of new flexible approaches to directing. In the United States David Wark Griffith was the most prominent director whose films were masterpieces of literary narrative and innovative visual techniques. The revolutionary artistry of his filmmaking had a profound influence not only in the United States but also all over the world.

During the era of Classical cinema In the Silent Era (1917- late1920s) the small independent studios grew into major ones. By the year 1920 American moviemaking became one of the four largest industries in the country. Almost all film-making was moved to the West Coast because of the cost-effective climate. In general, the culture of Hollywood from the very start can be characterized by the struggle between major studios and smaller independents. This tendency continued in subsequent decades.

The initial isolation of the United States from the World War I was the factor that ensured the total worldwide dominance of the American film industry in this period. While the cinema businesses in most European countries were suffering an inevitable downturn, in the United States a lot of economic resources were directed towards the film industry so that it could thrive. The Hollywood studio system was quickly growing into an international giant that devoured much of the world’s directorial and acting talent.

The era of Classical cinema In the Sound Era (late 1920s-1950s) began with the release of the film “Jazz singer” in 1927 as sound was introduced through including sound segments of an actor’s singing, as well as very little sound dialogue. At the beginning the synchronization technology was too primitive for dubbing. That is why American sound productions were at first rejected in foreign-language markets. By the mid 1930s the advanced synchronization already allowed dubbing.

Gradually, the underlying economic, commercial, and aesthetic forces in the United States began to shape the film industry and it went through a dramatic growth period. The studio system that had arisen during the silent era quickly evolved into a worldwide economic power. The triumph of the studio system, the consolidation of the genres, the specific directors, the coming of synchronized sound as well as the famous stars are the distinguishing features of Hollywood’s golden age.

The U.S. film industry survived and was even thriving during the

Great Depression of the ’30s. The major studios succeeded in keeping the masses entertained during a lot of social upheavals between the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945. They owned a large number of theatres in cities and towns across the nation which showed their films. In 1938 the eight largest film studios underwent legal proceedings with regard to violations of the Sherman-Antitrust Act. As a result in 1940 they signed a consent decree.   

In the late 1940s there was a certain decline in the studio system due to the rapid spread of television and a federal anti-trust action which separated the production of films from their exhibition. In addition, the widespread of cinema in a number of countries made international distribution a fairly taxing process. Eventually, the film industry compartmentalized itself into three inseparable categories – production, distribution, and exhibition.

By 1949 all major film studios had yielded to the pressure and given up ownership of their theatres. They also decreased the annual film production and were striving to produce types of entertainment which could not be offered by television. The most prominent ones were the introduction of wide screen and the anamorphic technology. In 1952 the Twentieth Century-Fox bought the anamorphic lens, which was developed by the French inventor Henry Chrétien, and began shooting films with much wider shots than ever before. In 1952 the Supreme Court of the United States stated that motion pictures were a form of art and as such they were entitled to the protection of the First Amendment. As a result US laws could no longer censor films. As a consequence foreign films could already be released in American theatres without censorship.

The era of Post Classical Cinema (1950s – 1980s) is characterized by new methods of storytelling and innovative drama approaches. The starting point for these incoming genres and techniques can be found in film noir, which indicates an anxiety about cultural values in the middle of a wealthy but spiritually empty society. Another typical feature of this era is the quick spread of independent films which began in the 1960s with Stanley Kubrick and Woody Allen. In addition, there was a sudden increase in the aesthetic impact of foreign films on producing and directing of American movies. The rise of the film festival was an important factor in this increasing cinema internationalization. By the mid-1970s more than 50 percent of American movies were not made in the United States due to the economic embargoes against U.S. films.

During the era of Modern Cinema (1980s-present) home video was fully exploited as a new business. A lot of films found success in the video market. The division of American films into two categories (blockbusters and independent films) has been rising steadily. The independent film industry has become much more influential worldwide. On the mainstream movie market there has been a boom in consumption of foreign-language films and documentaries. DVDs, which allow extra scenes, extended versions, commentary tracks, have become very profitable for film industry. The development of digital cinematography has led to the explosion of digital films. The production of three-dimensional stereoscopic films has begun. The combination of a 3D film with physical effects that occur in a theatre in synchronization with the film resulted in the appearance of the 4D film.

2. The Business Market

According to the statistics  that provides data on leading film markets worldwide from 2007 to 2014, which are ranked by the number of films produced, India was the first largest market in 2014 with 1,966 movies produced that year. It is followed by the Unites States (with 707 movies produced in 2014) and China (with 618 movies produced in 2014).

According to another statistics  the global box office for all films released in each country around the world reached $36.4 billion in 2014, which was up 1% over 2013’s total. The reason is the increase in international box office ($26.0 billion) which was up 4% from 2013. This growth was driven mainly by the Asia Pacific region (+12%). The same statistics shows that:

• In 2014, the Asia Pacific region ($12.4 billion) increased 12% compared to 2013.

• Chinese box office increased 34% in U.S. dollars to $4.8 billion. Thus it became the first market outside U.S./Canada to exceed $4 billion in box office revenue.

• Latin America box office increased 2%, which is less than in previous years due to decreases in larger markets such as Mexico (-5%) and Argentina (-20%).

• Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) box office decreased 3% from 2013, due to decreases in larger European markets such as Germany (-7%) and the U.K. (-1%).

For a long period of time the film industry’s internationalism, broadly defined, has been very much influenced by Americentrism. By the 1930s, almost all of the first-run metropolitan theatres in the United States were owned by “the Big Five studios” – MGM, Paramount Pictures, RKO, Warner Bros. and 20th Century-Fox. Nowadays, the major film studios are the so called “the Big Six studios” –  Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony Pictures, NBCUniversal and Disney.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (more commonly known as MGM) flourished for decades as one of the world’s entertainment leaders. It was founded in 1924 when three smaller studios merged. From the end of the silent film era through the late 1950s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the dominant motion picture studio in Hollywood and one of the world’s entertainment leaders. However, it lost considerable amount of money during the 1960s since it was responding to the changing environment very slowly – it was the last studio to convert to sound pictures, it was “recycling” existing movie sets, as well as costumes and furnishings, it did not own an off-site movie ranch etc. In the 1980s and early 1990s the studio incurred large amounts of debt. It suffered a series of different owners which only made things worse. In the end due to the debt load from business deals it could not survive as an independent motion picture studio. In 2004 it was acquired by a partnership consisting of Sony Corporation of America, Comcast, Texas Pacific Group, Providence Equity Partners and other investors.

Warner Bros. was established in 1903 by the four Warner brothers (Albert, Sam, Harry and Jack L.). It started small. During the next 20 years the company slowly expanded as the brothers were producing and distributing their own films. In 1927 they released “The Jazz Singer” which was the first motion picture featuring synchronized music and dialogue. This film was an important breakthrough because it signalled the beginning of the era of “talking pictures”. During the years mergers and acquisitions have helped Warner Bros. amass a diverse collection of movies, cartoons and television programs. At present, as one of the major studios, it is a division of Time Warner. As of 2015, Warner Bros. is one of the three studios (along with Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Universal Studios) which have released a pair of billion-dollar films in the same year.

Founded in 1915 by William Fox, Fox Film Corporation became 20th Century-Fox in 1935 after a merger with Darryl F. Zanuck’s two-year-old 20th Century Productions. In 1977 it produced the film Star Wars, which unprecedented success turned the company into international financial giant. At present, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation is a subsidiary of 21 Century Fox. For the period from 1995 to 2015 it was one of the top-grossing distributors (along with Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures and Universal) , with a market share of 11.3% for the year 2015.  

Nowadays Paramount Pictures Corporation is a subsidiary of the media conglomerate Viacom. It was founded in 1912 as Famous Players Film Company. Paramount is the fifth oldest studio in the world, which has succeeded in surviving for such a long period of time. In 2014 it became the first big studio which took decision to distribute its major films solely in digital form.  

Sony Pictures Entertainment is a subsidiary of Sony Entertainment Inc., which is a subsidiary of Sony Corporation, and includes Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group, Sony Pictures Studios, Sony Pictures Television. Sales and operating revenue of Sony Corporation for the second quarter ended September 30, 2015 was 15,773 million U.S. dollars.  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment was the second studio (after Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) which announced future Ultra HD Blu-ray Disk releases.

NBCUniversal is a division of Comcast Corporation. It is one of the three majors (along with Disney and Time Warner) with holdings in every key entertainment sector – films,

characters, television stations, publishers, theme parks, and recording labels.

The Walt Disney Company is a diversified entertainment and media enterprise with five major business segments: media networks, parks and resorts, studio entertainment, consumer products and interactive media. Disney’s portfolio of brands includes some of the most popular, well-respected and well-liked brands in the world. All over the globe Disney is universally acknowledged to be one of the best entertainment and information leaders, which pioneered the branding of content through using various forms of merchandising.

3. The Role of Internet in the Distribution

With the growth of the Internet, distribution of films is now an integral part of the film industry business.

Digital video is a very important commodity with respect to e-commerce. Online movie downloads comprise a considerable part of Internet multimedia revenue. There are a lot of digital video file formats which enable content to be experienced on various hardware devices (the MPEG-* video standards, .wmv, .asf, .qt, .mov, .ram, .rm, .avi etc.).

The average file sizes of movies (compressed) are as follows:

• a DVD movie – 4 GB;

• a 1080p (HD) movie – 8-15 GB;

• a Blu-ray Movie – 20-25 GB;

• a 4k movie – 100+ GB.

Uncompressed formats are larger than the ones listed above.

Nowadays the online film distribution platforms (such as iTunes, Netflix, Amazon etc.) are widely used since they allow a film to be seen by a massive amount of people through DVDs rental service or purchases.

At present, major film companies partner with the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb (www.imdb.com) in order to promote new films and personalise movie show times. The majors have also started to explore their own online distribution options through MovieLink (http://www.movielink.com ), a joint venture of MGM, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros.; and CinemaNow  (http://www.cinemanow.com ), which is financed partly by Lions Gate and Cisco Systems. Through the above mentioned websites they offer feature-length films, which are already available on DVD, for legal downloading.

Since Internet has become an international medium, film companies have been seeking to avoid being overtaken by the existing Internet services. That is why gradually they have become involved in ownership of online services. There has been a growth in consolidation and centralization of such ownership through a series of large mergers. The most famous one was the AOL–Time Warner Merger in 2001. The possibilities of the resources of this new corporation combined with the Internet and online media are unlimited.

Today, the end result is a corporatized internet promoting the goods, services, and values of major film companies and their subsidiaries.

4. Copyright in the Digital Age

The World Trade Organization (WTO) comprises a number of member-countries (162 members since 30 November 2015 ), including the United States. It monitors the provisions of intellectual property agreements which are signed by the member countries. WTO resolves intellectual property copyright disputes between its member countries. The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) and the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Rights are the agreements of paramount importance. The World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty has extended the Berne Convention’s copyright protection to include computer software (see http://wipo.int; accessed December 26, 2015).

There is not worldwide automatic protection of copyright. That is why national laws of every country and various treaties that a country might have entered with regard to copyright protection should be explored through respective legal counsels (Copyright Circular 38A; available at http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright; accessed December 26, 2015).

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States Copyright law passed on October 12, 1998. It implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization. In general, its purpose is to protect copyright owners from the circumvention of technologies which are used by them to manage the control and use of the digital content of their copyrighted works and to limit the liability of online service providers for infringement.

Digitized copyrighted material allows a user to make high quality multiple copies without incurring an expense. For instance, digitized movies can be reproduced and sent to innumerable others in violation of a copyright owner’s exclusive statutory rights. Reproductions of protected works can be prevented by their copyright owners through using software products that provide technological locks and controls. The DMCA proscribes decrypting digital locks by circumvention access commonly referred to as the anti-circumvention provision [Copyright Act, sec. 1201 (a)(l)(A)].

The DMCA provides copyright owners with the right to use circumvention technology which gives them the ability to direct and control the use of their copyrighted works in respect of:

• how many copies (if any) can be made of the work;

• how long the copyrighted digitized work will last;

• any other control they might want to put on the reproduction of the original copyrighted work.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is an American trade association, founded in 1922, to represent the business interests of its members. It administers the MPAA Film-Rating System, which is an optional scheme and is not enforced by a law. One of its aims is to limit copyright infringement, including the sharing of copyrighted works via peer-to-peer file sharing. It was reported that MPAA’s six major member companies lost US$6.1 billion to piracy.

5. The Future

Digital distribution, which with the advent of the Internet era, could be offered on demand will be on the increase. The cost of digital filmmaking will not offer resistance to the steady progress of digital cinema any more. All movie theatres will convert to digital. Innovations in home entertainment will also push the development of this technology. In practice, there will be a significant rise in the possibilities to re-create a small-scale cinema with a high quality at home. There will be advanced development and exploration of 3D stereographic, IMAX, surround sound systems and haptic technologies, in order to improve the sensorial experiences of the consumers.

Additionally, on-demand television rentals and online rentals will continue to grow. As quality and speed of delivery will improve, a lot of people will begin to order other forms of video in this way rather than renting or purchasing DVD copies. As a result such delivery systems will grow in popularity.

In general, the films will continue to exploit the semiotic relationship between sound, music, image, and narrative to achieve specific ends.

6. Conclusion

One cannot reject the fact that Hollywood films dominate the world market economically. Hollywood sets the norm for mainstream film-making since it is the best at providing the world with the most engaging film aesthetics and narrative structures as well as the most magnetic messages. US film companies succeeded in gaining global dominance in the areas of distribution and exhibition. They are very skilful at adjusting to changing markets and maximising the opportunities of globalisation.

The economic disparity between Hollywood and the rest of the world is stunning. Globalisation in the film industry has been leading unstoppably to Americanisation.

That is why at present the term “world cinema” has to be interpreted as Hollywood designated as being the centre and the rest of the world filmmaking simply exists at the margins of the film industry.

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