views updated May 18 2018



Cinema, which by now should mean both motion pictures for theaters and films for television, is simultaneously an art and an industry because its means of creation and its systems of distribution involve expensive technology. This has been true since the early nickelodeon days of the public viewing parlor, when five cents illuminated a 50-foot-long scene. Today’s distribution of color television into living rooms at the rate of $105,000 for a 50-second commercial only inflates the problem in terms of the costs involved and the relative quality of the product.

What effect this artistic, social, and economic phenomenon has on the cultural values of both creators and viewers is an international problem of the first magnitude, since cinema is a world-wide language that can be grasped by the illiterate as well as by the educated. Nothing less than the control of men’s minds and emotions is at stake. Since aesthetics, in this case, has become linked both with economics and with political action responsive to the uses of visual communication, cinema is the major cultural force in the second half of the twentieth century.

The relation between those who create the picture and those who pay its costs is a conflict between the front office and the sound stage as old as Michelangelo’s quarrels with the papacy, or as complex as Shakespeare’s efforts to gain the good graces of his patrons. What is unique to cinema is the degree of interdependence between artistry and finance.

The question cannot be dismissed as a matter of preference. What is art to one may indeed be an industry to another, and vice versa. The inseparability of the equation makes it difficult to evaluate. The union of film art and the picture industry is a marriage contracted in hell, lived on earth, and rewarded in heaven.

Problems of film production . A poet needs only paper and pen to be in business; a novelist has the option of adding typewriter and ribbons to these tools; a painter can start work once he has brushes, paints, and canvas; and a sculptor can fashion almost any durable material. A musician is not obliged to own or rent an orchestra to compose a symphony. But a motion picture director requires a fully equipped studio to compose a motion picture. An impoverished painter could steal hair from a cat to make a brush, but a film director will find that cameras, lenses, lights, developing tanks, and editing apparatus are relatively inexpensive compared with actors’ salaries, set construction, or shooting on location.

Cinema is the only art form solely dependent on machinery. The electronic extension of motion pictures via television is more expensive and involves more machinery. Never before in man’s artistic history has the artist been so subordinate to the means which shape his ends; and, conversely, never before has the patron or sponsor or producer been so dependent on talent for the utilization of his machinery for production, distribution, and exhibition. A camera collecting dust is not a money-making gadget, nor is a script collecting dust a motion picture that can be projected.

A writer-director in cinema is like an orchestral conductor; his script, or score, cannot be experienced without the collaboration of myriad different craftsmen employing different instruments. Ideally, they should be hired for their specific competence in dealing with a special challenge. This is a problem of correct casting of craftsmen, but under strict union regulations of seniority the writer-director is obliged to accept the run-of-the-mill worker, who is not generally inclined to support artistic adventures. Also, the number of employees allotted to an assignment has been prescribed by union rules. There are qualitative considerations aside from the quantity of workers, assistants, and collaborators. A studio may employ specialists as diverse as architects (to design sets) and experts in Zen Buddhism (to do “research”).

Since the basic concepts of a motion picture must be filtered through so many individuals before the picture reaches its final version, and since these concepts are primarily visual, the relation of the number of individuals involved to the degree of aesthetic coherence in the picture’s imagery is obviously crucial. A cinematic law might be postulated: The greater the number of collaborators in the creation of a picture, the less coherent its imagery will be.

Production problems begin with the “source,” which is either a story or a body of factual material. The source may be a novel, a play, a short story, or an “original treatment”; it may even be a social essay, a political theme, or a report on actualities. The author of the source will usually have his ideas and emotions translated into script form by other writers; the final shooting script may be prepared by yet another batch of writers, including dialogue specialists. Such has been the prevailing pattern in Hollywood’s film and television studios; the same is true of Italy, France, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Soviet Union, Japan, Nationalist China, and the Chinese People’s Republic. In England and Sweden the tendency has been to use an individual writer, as is the preference in independent production in the United States. In fact, the writer-director personality as a single force explains the rising quality throughout the world of the feature film. Such figures as Ing-mar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, David Lean, Tony Richardson, Stanley Kubrick, and Sidney Lumet are directors who also serve as their own writers, in close cooperation with a scenarist.

Final decisions over script in terms of plot and story values, over casting of stars and other actors, and over the editing of the shots were made by producers or executive producers during the years of the mass production system. Thus a studio like Twentieth Century-Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or Warner Brothers used to program its merchandise, during the heyday of studio monopoly, by planning ten westerns, five musical comedies, a dozen social dramas (with love interest), half a dozen situation comedies, five war dramas, and a flock of Grade B thrillers. Depending on how these products sold in the market place, the program for the following year was adjusted. The producer system reigned. In the 1930s and 1940s the producer was like a lord commanding his manor, but he was also in competition with a neighboring producer under company management whose power also rose or fell according to the success of his product. Executive producers were like dukes ruling over a collection of lordly producers. Such duchy strongholds were set up at M-G-M, for example, under the supreme authority of the king, Louis B. Mayer. Industry ruled over art (Crowther 1957; Ross 1952).

For the creative talent there was no choice; Faust was compelled to sell his soul to the devil. Throughout the 1930s novelists and playwrights from the East (whose fate is perhaps epitomized by that of F. Scott Fitzgerald) accepted front office control; there was no other, since Samuel Goldwyn ran a one-man M-G-M.

Rise and fall of the independents . The celebrated case of United States v. Paramount ended the reign of the studio chiefs when the Supreme Court held that a producer cannot be an exhibitor. This bill of divorcement, known as the Anti-Block Booking Decision, separated the ownership of studios from ownership of movie theaters (Conant 1960). The principle behind the Supreme Court’s decision was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of some seven decades earlier, a principle never before applied to the distribution of an American art form. The 1907 Patents Trust case had already broken the production monopoly held by the Edison interests, so that dozens of new producing companies were founded at that time. These were consolidated or eliminated throughout the first two decades of the century, climaxing in the monolithic studios of the 1930s and 1940s. Following the Anti-Block Booking Decision, independent production boomed, mainly through stars and directors forming their own companies. It would naturally be assumed that the liberation of talented creators from the assembly line production system would permit more audacious pictures with fresh plots and deeply delineated characterizations. Such hopes have proven hallucinatory. Although the economic base shifted in the 1950s, the cultural superstructure remained solidly attached to box office values. Men of talent had been conditioned by formula, and upon risking their own money and reputations, they played the new game in the safe style of the old one.

In the 1960s no longer does the producer represent the banker; he may be the same person. Or the actor may be his own director, and the writer his own producer. But the Muse Unchained can inspire only those who are capable of appreciating freedom and adventure. On the whole, the product of a company dominated by an actor or director cannot be distinguished from the run-of-the-mill product of a major manufacturer. The suspicion grew that Faust couldn’t deliver any more than the devil. To give the devil his due, it must be said that the banker began to suspect that the artist (actor, director, or writer—producer) was not interested so much in creating a new art as in accumulating new money.

Films and audiences in the 1960s . The artistic bankruptcy of Hollywood existed before the coming of television. There were, of course, a few good pictures made during the early 1950s, among which High Noon, Shane, On the Waterfront, and Marty were outstanding. But bad money makes more bad money—all, unfortunately, of an identical green. Major manufacturing companies took on serials for TV; the Saturday serial of silent days became nightly, national, and network. Artistic values have continued to suffer, while the major portion of many studios’ income has come from the sale or rental of previous features to television, the production of serials and features for television, and the rental of studio space and facilities to television.

Hollywood in the mid-1960s continues at an artistic low level, with an accompanying hostility toward serious pictures. Artistic initiative has shifted from Hollywood to abroad. The American motion picture audience has been fragmented, thanks to television. The fragmentation is quite similar to the division in other entertainments, such as the theater, books, and magazines. The potential market for quality pictures is at an all-time high; for instance, there are over four thousand film societies at American universities, with an attendance of over 2.5 million. Nevertheless, the old answers to the problem of quality continue in force. The “blockbuster” produced by the major studio—one thinks of Ben Hur, Spartacus, Guns of Navarone, Cleopatra—has been an old answer. Independent production, which has given us such pictures as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Anatomy of a Murder, and Lawrence of Arabia, is still an old answer.

What is new is that the fragmented audience may be as small as that of art houses or film societies, or as large as that of national circuits. Moreover, producers realize that there is less financial risk in a good low-budget film than in a good high-budget film. Lawrence of Arabia, for example, did not make the profit, in proportion to its costs, that was made by Tom Jones. In Europe, where governments frequently underwrite a portion of production costs, financing is both less complex and more easily arranged; dual producerships involving partners from different European countries assure lower costs. Among the major film-producing countries, only the United States does not in some measure subsidize film production. Also, there is greater artistic freedom in Europe, where the film is recognized as a director’s medium.

Ingmar Bergman, more than any foreign director, has demonstrated that artistic independence can collect, however modestly in his case, at box offices. Of American producer-directors, Stanley Kramer has been the most successful in proving that political subjects can also collect; his The Defiant Ones, On the Beach, Judgment at Nuremberg, and Ship of Fools all dealt with unmistakably political themes, and all made money. It is possible that successes like these may slowly be encouraging the major producers to abandon their reliance on time-worn formulas. For instance, a “sleeper” like David and Lisa—a small-budget picture with virtually unknown actors that dealt with the theme of mental illness with unusual realism—may have influenced one of the more progressive major studios to distribute Love With a Proper Stranger, in which a young girl’s love affair was treated with an absence of conventional moralizing that was quite new to the American screen. In this way even a few examples of artistic boldness may have an impact on the entire industry. At any rate, by the late 1960s the foreign director, the native producer, and the major releaser were all influencing and in turn being influenced by a more enterprising production outlook.

What was hopefully different about this outlook was a greater reliance on the individual. Stanley Kubrick was able to make Dr. Strangelove, the most independently audacious American film since Citizen Kane, because the distributor who paid for the production (Columbia) did not have script-approval rights. The result was a uniquely stylized and satirical film that could not otherwise have been made and that in certain categories achieved box office records. Carl Foreman, who enjoyed script freedom for The Victors, did a controversial picture that was more successful financially than D. W. Griffith’s masterpiece Intolerance, which had to wait several decades for its proper recognition. It is clear that the fragmented movie audience of the 1960s can be reached if the proper means are employed.

Of gods and bankers . If a signature, as John Houseman terms it, is now more possible on a film than before, then the artistic prospects appear good. In Europe, films are advertised through the name of the director as well as the stars. This emphasis on basic creative talent is beginning to receive recognition in America, but only a few directors, such as George Stevens, John Huston, and Stanley Kramer, are widely known to the public. Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Lumet, and John Frankenheimer are relatively unfamiliar except to younger, serious audiences. The clearer the director’s own contribution becomes, the more likely he is to be recognized as a factor in box office receipts and the greater the support he is likely to gain from the bankers who finance motion pictures. It is not so crucially important that the mass of people can’t tell one Ford from another, except on wheels; the gentlemen who own and control the apparatus of manufacture and distribution know who is most likely to return profits on their loans. Ingmar Bergman has rejected offers from every major American owner of the apparatus. That he was wanted makes it easier for younger directors to enter doors. Fellini’s financial success in Europe with La Dolce Vita gave him the opportunity to be his own boss in 81/2 after years of hocking his soul to Roman financiers. The artistic and financial success of 81/2 permitted Fellini to exercise his freedom with wider scope in Giulietta degli Spiriti, but not, unfortunately, with similar success. It is doubtful whether a single creative person is capable of having the

judgment to control objectively the writer as well as the director in him. Both Wall Street and the studios should take note that the single gifted individual is sufficient unto himself in any art except the film. Indeed, the varied talents of the writer-director-producer are inherently at odds with each other. Even so catholic a genius as Leonardo da Vinci would have found himself hard put to be the following (all in his own image): writer, director, producer, editor, promoter, manager of a sevenring circus, handholder, advertiser, salesman, and psychoanalyst for actors. It is excessive to expect so much, even from a cinematic god.

The writer in him will tell the director how to shoot, but the director will prevent the editor in him from trimming shots before the saturation point. Conversely, the promoter in him will cast actors or actresses who have box office appeal but are not necessarily suitable for the characters they are to portray. When all these talents work well together in one body and one mind, we have the rarest of exceptions: a work of art that is a financial success. Who can deny how different the second half of Lawrence of Arabia might have been had David Lean, a truly gifted director, been able to maintain an artistic coherence? Or—conversely —how much more gratifying Cleopatra could have been for the mass audience had an administrative intelligence controlled excesses of writing and direction.

Casting of artistry by financial authority is as important for total achievement as the casting of financial acumen by the creator. Louis B. Mayer is as dead as Erich von Stroheim, the director he defeated in the cutting room when Greed was mutilated. History is always on the side of the creator, but this is of little consolation during periods of creative struggle. Stroheim, who never had the opportunity to cast bankers, would soon be a cinematic god if he were alive in today’s market place.

Nevertheless, living gods are rare in cinema. Orson Welles was once such a demon, Federico Fellini is today in Italy, Ingmar Bergman in Sweden, and Akira Kurosawa in Japan. Perhaps the greatest of them all is Luis Bunuel, an enigmatic genius who has been making and breaking rules for forty years. No American director can be said to enjoy this stature. Those who are their own producers—John Ford, Elia Kazan, Stanley Kubrick, George Stevens, Billy Wilder, William Wyler, Fred Zinnemann—obviously produce the better American pictures. Should this trend expand through one fragmented audience into others, it could parallel the first golden age, the years of D. W. Griffith, Thomas H. Ince, Mack Sennett, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks—when directors did their own casting of bankers. The question of for whom a picture is intended is more important now than previously, primarily because art and industry are wedded as never before. It is a different kind of liaison, a marriage made in heaven, lived in hell, and rewarded on earth.

The television monopoly . In the nonfragmented audience of television viewers, the film writer-director lives in a serfdom unparalleled in the history of creativity in America. Since television has become the center of every home and the heart of the advertising world, the financial prizes are tempting beyond imagination. Not even in the decades when Hollywood’s monetary rewards were reckoned as phenomenal has there been so much money paid out to so many people for so little talent.

Following the exposure of the rigged quiz shows, the TV networks assumed programming control in 1960. Between that year and 1966 network profits rose from about $21 million to more than $80 million. The prime time between 7:30 P.M. and 10:30 P.M. is controlled by the three networks, who produce the programs on film or tape, either directly or through affiliates or associates, and sell the time and costs to the sponsor. Thus the networks act as both producers and distributors, in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and in direct contravention of the United States v. Paramount Supreme Court ruling. Although the attorney general of the United States could go to court and win a decree that would separate television program production (90 per cent of which is on film or tape and comes out of Hollywood) from television program exhibition, no action is taken. The advertisers remain in show business and get more powerful every year, though they are, in turn, dependent on the networks for time slots and programs. The competition between advertisers for prime time strengthens the monopoly power of the networks.

Hollywood film producers of programs for sale to the networks claim, and rightly so, that they cannot get their shows on television unless they invite a network to participate in (1) a portion of the copyright ownership, meaning a share of present and future profits; (2) domestic syndication rights, which are the major profit source in booking films into local television stations; (3) foreign syndication rights, which are increasingly profitable and are cushions for future income during a producer’s dry period or his old age. “Residuals”- the profit from replays—are highly lucrative in the rebooking of such popular serials as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, I Love Lucy, and dozens more.

The box office standard of judgment for motion pictures has been replaced by the television rating systems, which estimate, with varying degrees of inaccuracy, the alleged millions viewing a given program at a given time. Although quality drama and public affairs documentaries may have audiences in the millions—larger than audiences in the past who viewed such programs in theaters or classrooms—these films are unceremoniously scuttled in favor of more shows with mass appeal. The lowest common denominator ensures the advertiser of the widest market for his sales pitch. Thus Playhouse 90 and Matinee, which provided quality entertainment and a proving ground for fresh acting, writing, and directing talent, were replaced by soap operas and quiz shows. Protest letters went unheeded; economics wrote the ticket.

The four major sources of sponsorship—the automobile, cigarette, drug, and soap industries—are in competition among themselves for prime time, and so are the companies that make up each of these industries. The packager of filmed shows for television syndication knows in advance what kind of story his writers need write, what sort of flashy, attention-arresting direction his directors should deliver, and what name stars will attract ratings. What this attitude does to the quality of programs can be seen nightly. Newton Minow’s “vast wasteland”-the term he used as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in describing their world to the National Association of Broadcasters—has become in a few years an expanding Sahara with an occasional oasis on a Sunday afternoon.

Proposals for federal regulation.The cultural future of film in America for the mass audience lies in the hands of the FCC, which, however, is disinclined to use the powers given it by Congress to police the abuses of both stations and networks in their violations of frequency and length of commercials and in their failure to provide the statutory proportion of public service programming. Since a third of the Congress is personally interested in commercial returns of local broadcasting stations and/or in stock ownership in broadcasting companies, there has been no effort to strengthen the spine of the FCC. The Johnson administration is known as the broadcaster’s ally in Washington.

Nonetheless, the proposals of the FCC to control and foster competition in television program production and procurement of programs should be noted for the sake of their historical interest. The proposed rules would prohibit network corporations from (1) engaging in syndication in the United States or distributing independent programs for exhibition outside the United States; (2) acquiring syndication and foreign sales rights in programs produced by other persons and licensed directly to the network corporations for exhibition; (3) acquiring rights to share in the profits from syndication and foreign sales of such programs. They would also require network corporations to divest themselves of distribution and profit-sharing rights in domestic syndication and overseas sales of which they are presently possessed.

To achieve these ends the proposed FCC rules would set a limit on undue concentration and would stimulate competition. A network could not offer a weekly evening program schedule in which more than 50 per cent of the time, or a total of 14 hours per week, whichever is greater, is occupied by programs produced by the network or in which it has acquired the first-run license from an independent producer. This stricture is exclusive of newscasts and special news programs and sustaining programs. The net result of the rule—if ever passed and rigorously administered—would be to make prime time available every evening for the exhibition of some programs in which the network corporations have no financial or proprietary interests. The market would then be broadened for the independent program producer and competition among such producers would be encouraged. The films would then reflect the program judgments not only of the network corporations but also of a large number of competitive elements who wish to reach the American people through television.

What this ruling would do for the television audience is what the Anti-Block Booking Decision did for the motion picture audience, namely, encourage the tastes of the multiple public. This would make for a more democratic atmosphere in a pluralistic society.

The aesthetics of film . The closed market place for stories and ideas has limited experiments with program content while indulging technical maneuvers to hook and hold the attention of the majority. Cinema aesthetics, catering to Nielsen ratings tastes, have emphasized excessive movements of frame and camera, excessive pacing to shots, and unrelated camera angles or compositions—all superimposed on a superficial story line and on thin characterizations. On the other hand, in the open market place of international film production for theaters, the aesthetic advances are remarkable, as seen in the color utilizations, for example, of Antonioni in Deserto Rosso and Fellini’s Giulietta degli Spiriti. Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, and François Truffaut fragment time and space in ways which enhance theme, plot, and characters.

Cinema aesthetics is being furthered through the works of such gifted artists rather than through the theories of critics, many of which are unrelated to contemporary cinema. For example, Kracauer (1960) has revealed the realistic nature of photography as a phenomenon affecting credibility; Law-son (1964) has emphasized the audio-visual nature of cinema that makes it a new art form. In contemporary cinema it is clear, as never before, to what degree movements and light affect meaning. This approach comes closer to the SMI generis possibilities of cinema, which set it apart as a language, a craft, and an art. Knowledge of these possibilities is helpful in assisting the viewer to analyze the factors affecting his reactions and his judgment. With such a “grammar of cinema” at his fingertips, he is armed to withstand the hourly assault of TV programs and the clever techniques of popular film productions. This grammar, rooted in movements and light, finds that the frame, with its composition and inner action and frame movement; the shot, with its variety of frame movements in conjunction with edited movements between shots; and the edit, with its various jugglings of time through the juxtaposition of shots, comprise what might be called the “seven faces of time” (Gessner 1965).

Unless in the second half of the 1960s the federal government of the United States moves to protect its citizens in their free access to the best in cinema, the American people will continue to be denied full participation in the most dominant art of the twentieth century. In practical terms, such protection can be achieved through breaking the TV monopolies and by offering government subsidies for production, as is already the practice in Sweden, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), subsidized by government funds and a tax on receiving sets, is a particularly good example for study, since it is wholly free in making creative judgments. Some of the more interesting films produced anywhere emerge under BBC sponsorship. In the United States, only the National Educational Television approximates, on a smaller scale, the BBC approach, but not with the BBC’s imaginative audacity. Sweden taxes every seat in its movie theaters to support a cinema training program for talented youth and to subsidize experimental productions not designed for box office success. These examples, it is to be hoped, might influence the eventual creation in America of a national film academy which would train and produce youthful talent, and of an audacious cinema in the tradition of the country where the art and industry were born.




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views updated May 17 2018


FILM. Thomas Edison's company copyrighted its machine-viewable Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze in January 1894. Two years later the first public showings of projected Vitascope images took place on Thirty-fourth Street in New York City. These public debuts, culminating decades of technical development, mark the beginnings of American cinema. The medium was quickly extended by innovations by French filmmakers the Lumière brothers, who introduced sequences, close-ups, using directors to construct scenes. French film artist, Georges Méliès introduced concepts of repeatable time, rather than progressive movement toward the future. Edison was, in fact, only presenting on screen materials that had been available in Kinetoscope viewing machines for several years. The Edison Corporation soon added footage on Coney Island, and further benefited by an embargo placed on Lumière Productions by the U.S. Customs Service. Although Edison attempted to monopolize the new industry, other companies circumvented his patent and challenged his hegemony in court. Edison attempted a further monopoly in 1907 by requiring royalties for use of his machines. That year Edison made a pact with a number of film studios that created the Motion Picture Patents Company in another attempt to secure a monopoly.

After several years of shakeups in the fledgling industry, companies such as Biograph began producing spectacles, Photographing a Female Crook (1904) among them, or full scale literary adaptations, for example, Edwin S. Porter's version of Harriet Beecher Stowe's UncleTom's Cabin (1903). Porter also introduced popular concepts of romance and sexuality in The Gay Shoe Clerk (1903), of violence in The Ex-Convict (1904), and crime in The Kleptomaniac (1905). His Great Train Robbery (1903) gave audiences western settings and stories, and demonstrated film's powerful special effects such as constructing audience vision through perspective, narration, and space.

By the first decade of the twentieth century, audiences were clearly choosing fiction over documentary footage. Film presentation moved from vaudeville houses into permanent motion picture houses (nickelodeons) that offered amenities to attract women. Construction of motion picture houses also allowed for rental of film prints, to the great benefit of studio profits. Movie production companies became more complex; ancillary organizations such as fan magazines and professional criticism emerged. With the focus on a middle-class, family-oriented audience, companies began to be more careful about sexual content, although the rapid spread of theaters made self-policing untenable. Studio production moved from sites in Astoria (in New York City) and Ithaca, New York, to the sunny hills of Hollywood, California, which allowed for constant filming and varied sets to film on location.

Rise of Production Companies

Others, many of them immigrants, soon extended the field of film production. Adolph Zukor invested in a series of nickelodeons, then developed partnerships with Marcus Loew, William A. Brady, and the Shubert Brothers. One of their first projects was the purchase of the French Pathé film Queen Elizabeth, starring Sarah Bernhardt, for showing in New York City in 1912. Zukor used the movie business to transform himself creatively and financially with longer films. The use of Bernhardt coincided with public fascination with actors. Zukor's Famous Players is noted for introducing Mary Pickford, who became the biggest star of the 1910s, especially after her marriage to actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Fairbanks exemplified the industry's healthy, tanned, sports personality; Pickford extended an older American myth about the rise of a talented, beautiful woman to success. In 1919, the couple aligned themselves with director David Wark Griffith and comedian Charlie Chaplin to create United Artists, a move that at least partly loosened the studios' grip on film production and distribution. Griffith is important for his extraordinary energy (he directed one hundred and forty movies in 1909 alone), creative innovation of running shots, narrative, intertitles (which made up for lack of the human voice), and epic films. The best known of these was the controversial Birth of a Nation (1915), which set forth a southern vision of the Civil War and the South's saving of the nation through racism. Immediately denounced by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the film marries America's technical achievement and racial intolerance.

Still, many films were romantic fiction, such as the serial Perils of Pauline, which ran many episodes before 1915. The serial inspired young girls such as Anna May Wong, a Chinese American teenager, who decided upon a film career after many viewings. Her exposure was part of the mixed ethnic legacy of early film. While film helped Jews and Italians assimilate into American culture, it drew a sharp line for Asians and African Americans, who either had to develop their own cinema or endure the racism of Hollywood productions. Beginning in the 1910s some of the most famous productions—such as Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat (1915), with its Asian villain, and Griffith's Birth of a Nation—included strongly racist messages.

Hollywood Triumphant

World War I had less impact on films in the United States than in European nations; by 1918, American studios had emerged as the world leaders because they could spend more money for sets and costumes than could European studios. Money and exoticism combined in the construction of new theaters, many of them, such as the famous Grauman Chinese Theater, designed in a style of art deco orientalism. The splendor of these palaces of cinema reflected the global power of Hollywood by the mid-1920s.

Hollywood not only took over the world, but had also wrested away the final shreds of studio power from New York City by 1925. Hollywood meant industry consolidation, specific modes of production, and directorial independence. During the classic era of silent film in the 1920s, a host of European immigrant directors, including Erich von Stroheim and Joseph von Sternberg, introduced expressionism to American audiences.

Hollywood studios offered several genres. The woman's film featured newer stars such as Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, and Anna May Wong; comedies had Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, W. C. Fields, and Buster Keaton. Lon Chaney, the man of a thousand faces, was the master of horror. Robert Flaherty produced outstanding documentary films. The milieu of the 1920s produced the gangster movie. Fans of each genre could follow their favorites through glossy magazines.

Hollywood did not accurately portray all Americans. Generally excluded were blacks, who, of necessity, formed their own production companies. Oscar Micheaux produced dozens of films including his classic Body and Soul (1924), starring Paul Robeson. Hollywood continued to use racist stereotypes; Al Jolson's film The Jazz Singer (1927) revived the discredited minstrel tradition.

Sound and Talent

Sound was by far the greatest innovation of the late 1920s. Filmmakers had experimented in color, most notably in The Toll of the Sea (1922), starring Anna May Wong, but the results were inconclusive. Silent films were always accompanied by music; the introduction of the human voice was revolutionary. Awkward or squeaky voices cost such stars as John Gilbert their careers. Hollywood was a magnet for the world's talent. As the studios perfected a "dream machine" in which mass appeal films dominated, Europe's stars came to California attracted by promises of wealth and fame: Greta Garbo of Sweden, Anna Sten of Russia, and, most famously, Marlene Dietrich of Germany. Talking films ("talkies") promoted Nordic women as the paradigms of female beauty. This emphasis, joined with the star system, made standard a type of beauty. Hollywood's choices had a powerful impact on the nation's concept of female beauty and appropriate behavior.

Hollywood was concerned with profits and popularity; studios kept their ears to the ground to learn about public concerns about crime and then pumped out more gangster films. During the depression of the 1930s, musicals with elaborate dance productions and optimistic songs distracted audiences; comedy, now featuring assimilated Yiddish humor through the Marx Brothers, helped in the hard times. However, sexual innuendo of the films of the 1920s was eventually tempered, as were any hints of interracial love, by a rigid Production Code (implemented in 1930) and state licensing system. After a film passed the Production Code Administration office, it still might run afoul of state licensing boards. Their power in New York State, for example, could profoundly alter a script. Interracial kissing remained an informal taboo until the 1960s and beyond.

Hollywood's influence upon the nation was not limited to adults. Animation, accompanied by brilliant color, made Walt Disney a success in the 1930s. Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Snow White, and Pinocchio fascinated children. As experiments with color became more successful, narrative films began to use color. The 240-minute epic Gone with the Wind (1939), with its evocation of the slave South, used color to highlight its racial fantasies. The Wizard of Oz (1939) employed color to differentiate between "reality" and dream.

Black-and-white films still offered innovation, however. Orson Welles with Citizen Kane (1941) pushed lighting, angle shots, overlapping dissolves, and narrative construction to new levels.

Spreading the News

Theaters became organs of the news. Between Saturday afternoon features, audiences watched The March of Time (1935–1951), sponsored by Time magazine. As the nation geared up for World War II, the newsreels kept audiences informed. Most wartime films were B productions, inexpensive efforts relying on older cinematic methods; many were little more than propaganda. Films asked and answered who African Americans or Asians should fight for, showed how women could support the war, and gave reports of successful campaigns. Occasionally this could result in high art as in Casablanca (1942), with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart.

Postwar Hollywood confronted major political challenges. Right-wing campaigns against alleged communist influence in Hollywood (often thinly disguised anti-Semitism), declining audiences, and postwar cutbacks influenced studio choices. The decade also evoked a new

genre, eventually dubbed film noir by postwar French critics. In films like The Maltese Falcon (1942), Double Indemnity (1944), and Out of the Past (1947), American hardboiled crime fiction and a German-inspired expressionist sensibility combined to produce a bleak vision of limited human choices. The genre's themes of paranoia, betrayal, corruption, and greed seemed to speak for the American subconscious. Women in film noir, for example, often had the role of femme fatale, and their increased social and sexual freedom was negatively depicted. Other genres, however, supported an American agenda. Westerns remained popular and represented white racial powers over weaker, "evil" races. Former football player John Wayne epitomized the masculine myth of the cowboy. More middle-of-the-road were the portrayal of the bourgeois male in It's a Wonderful Life (1946), starring James Stewart, and the optimistic social criticism of The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Hollywood also recycled older genres and started its own revisionism in Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Singin' in the Rain (1952).


The 1950s boasted technical innovations such as three dimension (3-D) and widescreen films. While the 3-D film House of Wax was a big hit for Warner Brothers in 1953 and Americans were thrilled to put on special glasses for viewing, its time was short. Similarly, CinemaScope and Panavision briefly bolstered box office receipts for spectacles like The Robe (1953) and the Ten Commandments (1956), but by 1957, audiences were a quarter of the total they had been twenty years earlier. Television was a primary reason for the decline, as were such lifestyle changes as the deification of the nuclear family and sports activities. Still, powerful movies that affected American social styles continued to be made. Marlon Brando's performances in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954) prescribed dress and behavior patterns for generations of American males, as did James Dean in Rebel without a Cause (1955). Older genres such as the Western (The Searchers [1956]) and musical (West Side Story [1961]) showed stamina throughout the decade. The most innovative works of the late 1960s and early 1970s were done outside Hollywood. Rock music was a great influence. Documentary work such as D. A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back (1967), on a Bob Dylan tour, the Maysles Brothers' production of Gimme Shelter (1970), on the illfated Altamonte Concert of the Rolling Stones, and Wood-stock (1970), chronicling the famous concert, charted the world of the new music. Frederick Wiseman's sober investigation of insane asylums (Titicut Follies [1967]) and several films on the Vietnam War showed the new political power of documentaries. Never interested in political movements in the past, Hollywood responded to the tumultuous 1960s with films on racial issues such as In the Heat of the Night (1967) and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), both starring Sidney Poitier. The conflict between the generations was covered in The Graduate (1967) with Dustin Hoffman, who also starred in the gritty urban drama Midnight Cowboy (1969), with Jon Voight. The Western explored more favorable portrayals of Native Americans in Little Big Man (1970).

Experimental cinema captured the interest of intellectuals and college students. The work of Stan Brakhage, the Kuchar Brothers, Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, and Maya Deren extended the possibilities of no-narrative film. Jonas Mekas worked to create an experimental archive in New York City. Some of the strangest, but ultimately successful, films were made by artist Andy Warhol, whose efforts included a twenty-four hour film of the Empire State Building, eight hours of a man sleeping, and films about the antics of his Factory crew.

The artistic challenges of Warhol and the influence of the French auteur theory manifested in the rise of a new generation of directors. The careers of such directors as Francis Ford Coppola with his highly successful Godfather series, George Lucas with American Graffiti (1973), Martin Scorsese with Taxi Driver (1976), and Steven Spielberg, whose biggest achievements came in the 1980s, showed the resilience of Hollywood. The 1970s have come to be considered a new Golden Age for personal cinema. Woody Allen, who strove to personify the New York intellectual in Manhattan (1979), Roman Polanski with the revival of film noir in Chinatown (1974), and Robert Altman with Nashville (1975), all achieved major success.

Special Effects

Artistry was not the biggest success, however, but rather special-effects spectaculars. Digitalization, improved special effects, and computer graphics helped such films as Star Wars (1977), the Indiana Jones series with Harrison Ford, and Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) to reinvent the concept of the "blockbuster" with extraordinary budgets and profits. Only with collapse of the hugely expensive Heaven's Gate in 1979 were the perils of this approach apparent. Its failure did not prevent Hollywood studios from plowing new cash into blockbuster comedies such as National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), starring John Belushi, and the Beverly Hills Cop series starring Eddie Murphy. Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg became the first black actors since Sidney Poitier in the 1960s to get star status and paved the way for similar success for Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Hallie Berry, and Samuel L. Jackson. The awarding of Oscars for best performances to Washington and Berry in 2002, and the lifetime achievement award to Poitier, seemed to mark a historic integration of the film industry. Such integration owed much to the efforts of director Spike Lee, whose films always took on the big issues. While blacks seem to have become part of the regular Hollywood crowd, the same cannot be said for Asians, none of whom have gained the prominence of Anna May Wong before 1940. Generally, the feminist movement made little other than stylistic improvements in Hollywood, which grudgingly accepted a few female directors after 1980. The same can be said for the gay movement, whose principal achievements have been limited to films about the AIDS crisis, although gay characters became more common in films in the late 1990s. Its biggest hit to date was Boys Don't Cry (1999) about the murder of a crossdresser in a small town in the Midwest.


The cinematic radicalism and independence of the previous twenty years rubbed off on new filmmakers in the 1990s. Quentin Tarantino, a film scholar turned director, scored with Pulp Fiction in 1994. Pulp Fiction went on to become a phenomenon on the Internet after 1996, with constant discussion of the film through chat-rooms and Web sites. More consistent in their quirky achievements were Joel and Ethan Coen, who regularly scored with offbeat melodramas such as Fargo (1996).

Despite the successes of independent visions, Hollywood still relied on the blockbuster, which it produced in series according to the season and age group. New technologies helped enliven Jurassic Park (1993), the mass appeal of Tom Hanks sparked Forrest Gump (1994), while computer graphics were the stars of Toy Story (1995). More traditional and successful were Independence Day (1996) and Titanic (1997). Computer graphics also greatly enhanced The Matrix (1999). All of these films again demonstrated American hegemony of world cinema, despite the rise of national filmmaking around the globe. Only occasionally have foreign-language films like Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950), Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960), and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) penetrated the U.S. market.


Berry, Sarah. Screen Style: Fashion and Femininity in 1930s Hollywood. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Charney, Leo, and Vanessa R. Schwartz, eds. Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Cohen, Paula Marantz. Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Harpole, Charles, ed. History of the American Cinema. 10 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1990–2003.

Kindem, Gorham. The American Movie Industry: The Business of Motion Pictures. Carbondale: University of Southern Illinois Press, 1982.

Koppes, Clayton R., and Gregory D. Black. Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies. New York: Free Press, 1987.

Rose, Steven J. Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Sarris, Andrew. "You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet": The American Talking Film, History and Memory, 1927–1949. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System: Hollywood Film-Making in the Studio Era. New York: Pantheon, 1988.

Segrave, Kerry. American Films Abroad: Hollywood's Domination of the World's Movie Screens. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997.

Sklar, Robert. A World History of Film. 2d ed. New York: Abrams, 2002.

Graham RussellHodges

See alsoCartoons ; Disney Corporation ; Hollywood ; Mass Media .


views updated May 14 2018


Backstage, hair falling flirtatiously into her face, Louise Brooks (as Lula in Die Büchse der Pandora, 1929) smokes, poised to expose her current lover. She is a woman who ruins men by sheer force of feminine wiles. Marlon Brando wields a cigarette with equal power in The Wild One (1954) as a gang leader who terrorizes a small town, charting anxiety both about the opaque discontent of youths and about masculinity run amok. In countless films throughout cinema history, smoking highlights the hyperbolic construction of gender that creates stars and sex symbols. But smoking is not gender specific, signaling femininity, masculinity, and androgyny, the latter most famously encapsulated by Marlene Dietrich. Likewise, smoking—tobacco's most ubiquitous and visual form—can represent all kinds of opposing characteristics and social relationships, even within the same film.

In The Big Heat (1953), a classic of film noir (a genre known for its atmospheric use of smoking), cigarettes are signs of both servitude within the criminal chain of command and domestic happiness and equality. Fat cigars dangle from the mouth of the hands-on hit man, marking his illegitimate power and wealth. And cigarette burns appear on the corpse, signaling the sadistic thrill that accompanied the murder. The cigarette burns on the dead body, the disfiguring coffee burns on the hit man's girl, and the titular "heat" (or attention) focused on the investigation further extends the metaphorical reach of tobacco, emphasizing it as a product that burns. Tobacco is transformed from a material substance to smoke, an abstract signifier of indeterminate meanings.

One might be tempted to conclude that tobacco is cinema's floating signifier, malleable enough to mean anything. If this were true, one would expect the use of tobacco to be historically determined, having different meanings, for example, when women smoke in the silent era, prior to ratification of the nineteenth amendment in 1920 guaranteeing women universal suffrage, and when they smoke in the block-busters of the 1990s and 2000s. One would expect tobacco to have one meaning before the dangers of smoking have been exposed, and another meaning after 1950 when a major epidemiological study definitively linking smoking to lung cancer was published in the Journal of theAmerican Medical Association. But this does not turn out to be the case. Although tobacco depiction in cinema fell through the 1970s and 1980s, it increased significantly after 1990 despite questionable tobacco industry claims that its campaign to place their products in movies had ended.

One might expect the cinematic uses of smoking to shift with fluctuations in product placement trends, becoming more "positive" to satisfy industry demands. However, treatments of smoking in cinema have changed more in degree than in kind. Big tobacco has been mostly concerned with preventing antismoking groups from positioning smoking as unfashionable, with preventing Hollywood from presenting tobacco as a cause of health-related suffering, and with preventing Hollywood from portraying smoking as an activity practiced among people in the lower socioeconomic sphere. Indeed, films regularly used stars to glamorize smoking. However, films that depict criminals and destructive rebels as smokers can be "positive" (that is, sexy) even when linked to death and destruction. The tobacco industry's involvement in promoting its products in film has not resulted in significant shifts in the meanings it generates, no more than the scientific knowledge about its dangers has altered smokers' perceptions that tobacco was addictive or compromised health, though the industry's efforts have been linked to increased numbers of smokers.

Therefore, the tobacco industry's influence in determining the meaning of smoking in cinema history remains speculative. Yet, smoking has consistently been one of cinema's most efficiently evocative props, motifs, structuring devices, and emblems because smoking always occupies a range of easily legible meanings that have been surprisingly stable throughout its history. It operates in completely predictable ways, functioning as a cliché, confirming conventional wisdom and received knowledge. From the beginning of cinema history, tobacco flags weakness, power, rebellion, destruction, glamour, and sex. What cautions against concluding that tobacco can mean anything is that all of the meanings on this list share something in common, namely a certain relationship to limits and borders, the special relationship to death that smoking possesses, which has been so elegantly articulated by Richard Klein in Cigarettes Are Sublime (1993) as the intimation of mortality.

The Femme Fatale

Tobacco and smoking have played a role in films that span 100 years of history, as many U.S. and foreign films show. Perhaps the most noteworthy cinematic example is the character of the "vamp," a figure whose smoking flags the same set of meanings in films from 1915 through 2003. The term vamp was coined to describe the silent film star Theda Bara, in her first appearance in the silent film A Fool There Was (1915). The word itself is an abbreviation of the word "vampire," a creature that drains another's vital resources, a creature whose curious ontological status—the undead—challenges the limits of mortality toward which smoking always hints. Although tobacco makes just two appearances in this film, they are significant, especially considering how heavily silent film relies on props.

The "fool" of the title, John Schuyler (Edward José), is one of the film's only smokers. Walking cheerfully arm in arm with the vamp, he is utterly unaware of his fate. The viewer, however, has been forewarned: He is smoking, generating clouds of smoke signaling pleasure. The vampire casts a kind of spell over him (the trance typical of vampire narratives), causing him to forget everything he held dear. While his wife waits and wonders, the vampire drains him financially. She is eventually installed as his official mistress, and not even the sight of his child can rouse him from his stupor. He loses both family and position.

The other smoker in the film is the vampire herself, who smokes with the same kind of casual, indifferent deliberateness (in the face of social indignation) that characterizes her destruction of men. However, she does not smoke throughout the film, but in a particular location, forging a link between smoking and the townhouse in which the fool "keeps" her; smoking belongs to the illicit dwelling for which he has sacrificed life as he has known it. Further, it is an attribute of weak men and the women who destroy them by manipulating their desire both here and in femme fatale films over the entire course of cinema history.

In 1932, in Josef von Sternberg's Blonde Venus, the vamp plot was modified, but tobacco still signifies weakness, power, desire, and destruction, differently wielded by different characters, but always configured around the exchange of money and sex. The millionaire Nick Townsend (Cary Grant), to whom Helen Faraday (Marlene Dietrich) prostitutes herself to pay for her husband's medical treatment, smokes confidently, with easy, calm self-satisfaction. The husband (Herbert Marshall), on the other hand, has real needs, medical and emotional. He smokes desperately and frantically. Helen, who, in her final stage performance—in her famous androgynous costume of white suit, top hat, and cigarette in long holder—is icy, detached, shut down, and smoking as part of her act. How one smokes and what one smokes is important in determining meanings, but the range of possible meanings remains limited.

By 1979, in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun), the use of tobacco had been enhanced and extended, but its meanings remained stable. This film uses tobacco to show that the economic and political and even emotional recovery from fascism relied on prostitution. Maria Braun (Hannah Schygulla) has been married to Hermann Braun exactly a half a day and a single night before he is sent to war. His absence enables every sort of sexual intrigue. The role of tobacco as a marker for prostitution, moral and economic, is established early on, as Maria finds herself the object of insulting insinuations by a group of American soldiers. The offense, of course, is the suggestion that Maria is an available sexual object. Confronted by Maria, one soldier makes amends, giving her a pack of cigarettes. But in his attempt to mitigate the offense the soldier repeats it, proving, with the cigarettes, the implicit claim that Maria can in fact be bought. Maria then literally sells herself to the appetites of foreign men first as a dancer in an American nightclub, and afterward as the secretary/mistress of a French businessman.

The weakness of the men, evidenced by their desperate, addictive, compensatory relationship to Maria and tobacco (Hermann diving toward the pack of cigarettes at the very moment that he catches his wife with another man), stands in contrast to Maria's own use of cigarettes, which is deliberate and controlled. Maria tells men that she doesn't smoke, withholds when necessary, and smokes as she likes. As the postwar German, Maria reverses her nation's xenophobic principle but not its ill effects, getting close enough to foreign men to use them up and dispense with them. Fassbinder punishes her at the end, when, finally reunited with her husband, she explodes as she lights a cigarette from her gas stove.

The Rebel

Smoking mobilizes the same set of meanings to describe the rebel as it does to describe the vamp. In Rebel Without a Cause (1955) tobacco is used as sparingly, pointedly, and significantly as in A Fool There Was. Jim Star (James Dean), the bravest kid in town, is a milk-drinker, not a chain smoker. Rebel depicts a world in which no one gets what he or she needs. The generation gap is insurmountable. Gender roles are in crisis. The social order depends on both repressing sexuality on the one hand and exaggerating its danger on the other. Against the background of the desperation that the 1950s ethos provokes, tobacco appears three times. Once, it appears to characterize Star's heartthrob as a "bad girl." Later, the father's rejected cigars mark the weakness of the paternal position. Finally, tobacco appears as a symbol of reckless abandon in a world where kids risk their lives both as a point of honor and to alleviate boredom. A cigarette dangles casually on Star's lips as he prepares to drag race to the cliff's edge, in a test engaging the absolute border between life and death.

This border is explicitly invoked in the best-known film of the French New Wave. The first and last shot of Jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960) are of cigarettes. The gangster rebel, Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), smokes in imitation of his hero, Humphrey Bogart, one of the most famous smokers of all time. In the last scene of this film, he runs from the law, cigarette in mouth. Falling to the ground as he is shot, Michel exhales smoke with his last breath. David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990) chooses the other side of the border, reversing Breathless. Chased down by thugs, Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) lights up. Armed with the cowboy brand, Marlboro, he provokes his attackers, has an epiphany, and runs from the fight to deliver his marriage proposal.

The Vamp as Rebel

In Basic Instinct (1992) tobacco has a central role in propelling the plot, in defining the characters, and in presenting the overarching themes of the film. The first scene in which Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) appears shows her smoking as the police approach her for questioning about a murder. The way she smokes—drawing on the cigarette and flicking it away—immediately establishes her character in terms of taking and extinguishing pleasure, taking and extinguishing a life. As the film progresses, the use of tobacco marks the endpoint of defiance, destruction, and self-abandon pushed to their limits in both homicidal and suicidal gestures. As a writer of murder mysteries whose fictions become enacted, Tramell's authorial power is given a demonic slant. She knows that police detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) has smoked before, but her prediction that he will smoke again makes her erotic power, like the addictive power of tobacco, mechanistic and inevitable.

"Killing isn't like smoking; you can quit," says Tramell, whose flippant remark proposes smoking as a basic instinct. But the question is not whether a person can quit (smoking, desiring, or killing) but who is smoking, desiring, or killing. Given the importance of identity and identification in this film, the question of tobacco as a marker for homosexual identity is also relevant, especially given the intense criticism leveled against the film by gay and lesbian communities. Smoking flags the danger that comes from defying social rules. That is, Tramell's smoking in the police station where it is expressly forbidden is analogous to her rejection of the heterosexual imperative. That her lesbian and bisexual objects both end up dead casts her crossing of social-sexual borders, marked by smoking, as a matter of life and death.

The "Human"

This is the border to which each use of tobacco refers, here and across the spectrum: in silent film, in classical narrative cinema, in European art film, and in the Hollywood blockbuster. In each allusion to this border, achieved by a puff of smoke, a deep inhalation, or the flick of an ash, a standard set of meanings is flagged. Sex, destruction, and rebellion announce themselves as having independent and self-sufficient meanings. But the limitation of life and death that tobacco addresses can be further specified as the limit of what it means to be human. Von Sternberg's blonde Venus begins with such a specification when, in the first sequence, a young man asks his friends, "Anyone around here human enough to give me a cigarette?"

In one of the most important examples of product placement in film by the tobacco industry, Superman II (1980) uses cigarettes to delineate the human. Although the Lois Lane of the comics was never a smoker, she becomes one in this film. Despite her role as Kent/Superman's (Christopher Reeve) love object, Lois's (Margot Kidder) smoking does not propose her as desirable to the viewer. But it makes her desirable to Kent by signifying her absolute otherness as a sophisticated, neurotic, big-city, chain-smoking journalist, while he is shy, awkward, naïve, and wholesome. Lane indulges in risky, unhealthy, delicious behaviors: spying on terrorists and eating hamburgers with all the condiments at 9:00 a.m. But her smoking also marks her difference from Superman by signaling her humanness, the difference of her body's fragility from Superman's invulnerability.

Similarly, in a film permeated by an atmosphere of smoke and mist, Blade Runner (1982) blurs the limits between the android and the human. In the most advanced "replicant" model, memories are implanted into Rachael (Sean Young), constructing a history for her that makes her believe that she is human. The fact of her smoking is evidence of her belief in her own humanity, a humanity in which the viewer too becomes convinced, faced with her soulful expression, and her deep inhalation of smoke. Here, as elsewhere, the sexuality, rebellion, and destruction that emerge with each act involving tobacco are an eruption of vulnerability and a refusal of limits against which one establishes one's identity, a refusal that establishes what the limits, for the moment, still are.

Humphrey Bogart and the Double Masculine Ideal

A ctors like Humphrey Bogart helped to glamorize smoking by forging the link between cigarettes and a double masculine ideal, that of the gangster and that of the soldier. On the one hand, Bogart is always partly the gangster of his first breakthrough role in The Petrified Forest (1936), above or outside the law, unconstrained by fear. On the other hand, Bogart is the soldier whose actual experience in the Navy left him with a scarred and partly paralyzed upper lip to which his smoking drew attention. In this case, masculinity is aligned with law, nationalism, and the ideal of manly self-control. Casablanca (1943), where Bogart's smoking is as relentless as his appeal, contains both versions of masculine glamour. When the film opens, Bogart embodies the amoral, or apolitical, gangster model. At its close, he has adopted the manly ideal of self-restraint, renouncing a woman to struggle against the Nazi occupation. He navigates this range with a cigarette clasped firmly in his fist.

If the films of the last decades of the millennium employ tobacco to ask about ultimate limits and borders, between life and death, and between the human and the non-human, tobacco now has another purpose. Now that smoking is banned from public places in New York City, as well as California, Hollywood produces a movie that uses tobacco to ask if we really know what we think we know. Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation (2003) returns us to the inquiries that were left in abeyance half a century ago. It is a film in which smoking is arguably the main action, a film where nothing really happens except recasting the moral question "What is good for you?" as an existential one. The story is told from the point of view of two Americans, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob Harris (Bill Murray), who cross paths in Japan, where their cultural alienation magnifies their existential alienation. The characters for whom health is cast as a moral question are made to seem simplistic to the point of absurdity. Charlotte's photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi) introduces the health question in what seems to be a reasonable, if conventional, way: "Would you please stop smoking? . . . It's just so bad for you . . . ." But the reasonableness of his position is quickly undermined by the ridiculousness of the value of "health" as articulated by an attractive blond starlet whom he has shot. While the starlet explains how good it feels to get rid of toxins by "power cleansing," and how flattering it is to be mistaken for an anorexic, Charlotte, who majored in philosophy, smokes thoughtfully.

Less interested in health than in the philosophical question of what is good for you, Lost in Translation also asks whether being good is good for you, and even whether feeling good is good for you. The sympathy in this film is reserved for the smokers, who, without moralizing about "health," take care of each other with great tenderness. Charlotte and Bob use smoking in a conventional way (to mediate a kind of seduction, and eroticism, to indicate the possibility of adultery) in order to emphasize an inquiry that is somewhat less conventional, at least today. Smoking, an activity that marks the passage between exterior and interior, is still a good metaphor for subjectivity. It is both a sign of alienation and a momentary cure for it. Lost in Translation exposes "health" as a fantasy about happiness and control that occludes the inwardness, nothingness, longing, and loss that enable unlikely moments of connection. Smoking is the film's vehicle for appreciating a border less dramatic than that of life and death, but no less human: the border between abandon and restraint where intimacy plays out, where little nothings of events, like wisps of smoke, move us, make a claim on us, and change us.

See Also Literature; Visual Arts.



Gately, Iain. Tobacco: The Story of How Tobacco Seduced the World. New York: Grove Press, 2001.

Isenberg, Noah. "Cinematic Smoke: Notes on a Cultural Icon from Weimar to Hollywood." In Smoke: A Global History of Smoking. Eds. Sander L. Gilman and Zhou Xun. London: Reaktion Press, 2004.

Klein, Richard. Cigarettes Are Sublime. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993.

Marlan, Dawn. "Emblems of Emptiness: Smoking as a Way of Life in Jean Eustache's La Maman et la Putain." In Smoke: A Global History of Smoking. Eds. Sander L. Gilman and Zhou Xun London: Reaktion Press, 2004.

Mast, Gerald, and Bruce F. Kawin. A Short History of the Movies. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

Mekenson, C., and S. A. Glantz. "How the Tobacco Industry Built Its Relationship with Hollywood." Tobacco Control (11 March 2002): i81–i91.–.

Shields, D. L., et al. "Hollywood on Tobacco: How the Entertainment Industry Understands Tobacco Portrayal." Tobacco Control 8 (Winter 1999): 378–386.

Stockwell, T., and S. Glantz. "Tobacco Use in Increasing Popular Films." Tobacco Control 6 (1997): 282–284.

hyperbolic exaggerated; overstated.

ubiquitous being everywhere; commonplace; widespread.

film noir (literally "black film") refers to the dark looks and themes of many American gangster and detective movies of the 1940s and 1950s. Wreaths of cigarette smoke were a common characteristic of theses films.

epidemiological pertaining to epidemiology, that is, to seeking the causes of disease.

Film (Forensic Science in Cinema)

views updated May 11 2018

Film (Forensic Science in Cinema)

Crime investigation has long been a favorite theme in film. Evidence , such as blood , weapons, and fingerprints, can provide fascinating plot twists and many films feature a detective as the protagonist. Crime labs, crime scene investigations, and autopsies often appear in such films. Some are based on true stories, such as the 1971 classic 10 Rillington Place which is about the serial killer John Christie. Others are based on the work of famous crime authors, such as Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler. If the filmmakers have consulted with police and forensic experts to get the details correct, then watching forensic science in film can be both educational and entertaining.

Film critics classify the detective-mystery film, the type that is most likely to feature forensic science, as a sub-genre of the crime-gangster or suspense-thriller movie. These are two of the major film genres, alongside horror, war, romantic comedy, and other genres. When talking about the history and development of film, genre is a term referring to a type of film with a specific theme, structure, content, subject matter, or filmic technique. Like other genres, the detective-mystery movie has undergone many developments and changes during the last century. Some are dark and haunting; others are action-packed, fast-paced, clinical, or even funny. What they all have in common is a narrative that follows an investigationwhich is where the forensic science comes in to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the periodand a protagonist acting as a detective figure, be it a private investigator, a police officer, or a forensic expert. The plot of a detective-mystery film is often focused on the deductive ability and diligence of the central protagonist as he or she unravels the crime by gathering evidence, seeking clues, interrogating witnesses, and tracking down suspects.

The first significant detective-mystery films concerned the exploits of Sherlock Holmes, the private investigator created by the Scottish author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (18591930). There have been more than 160 Holmes movies, ranging from a 30 second silent film featuring the detective that was produced sometime between 1900 and 1905, and the 2002 made-for-TV version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Perhaps the most famous portrayal of Holmes, with his Inverness cape, deerstalker hat, curved stem pipe, and magnifying glass, was by the British actor Basil Rathbone who appeared in 14 of the films between 1939 to 1946, including the classic Hound of the Baskervilles. The magnifying glass symbolizes the Holmes approach to detection: careful, painstaking, and, above all, scientific. The character was modeled on one of Conan Doyle's teachers at medical school, Joseph Bell, who always emphasized the importance of observation in making a diagnosis, advice that is equally applicable to criminal investigation.

Another classic series of detective-mystery films, appearing from the 1930s, featured the brilliant amateur detective Ellery Queen, based on the novels of cousins Frederic Dannay (19051982) and Manfred B. Lee (19051971), who used the character's name as a joint pseudonym. Ellery Queen was to become one of the most popular authors of the golden age of American mystery fiction between the 1920s and 1940s, although the radio plays and films did not, perhaps, have the same impact as the short stories and novels. Other detective heroes of this era include Charlie Chan, Bulldog Drummond, teenager Nancy Drew, and husband-and-wife team Nick and Nora Charles.

Several of the stories of the world's most famous detective writer, Agatha Christie (18901976), have been made into films. Her fussy eccentric Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot appears in perhaps the best known of the Christie films, Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Directed by Sidney Lumet, the all-star cast including Albert Finney as Poirot. In the tale, a man is found murdered on the Orient Express and all the other passengers are suspects. It turns out they are all involved directly or indirectly in the case, and each one had a motive. Other Christie films feature a female investigator, the gray-haired Jane Marple, played by Margaret Rutherford, who was the protagonist in four films from the 1960s: Murder She Said, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Most Foul, and Murder Ahoy. Miss Marple has spent all her life in a sleepy English village where nothing much ever happens, but she has a remarkable eye for detail that serves well for crime investigation in any setting.

The history of the detective-mystery film can be traced through the evolution of the type of protagonist that, in turn, reflects changes in the pattern of crime and other societal factors. The gentlemanly approach of Sherlock Holmes, with his emphasis on logic and deduction seemed inappropriate for dealing with organized crime and gangs. Private investigator heroes became more physical, more likely to use violence in their pursuit of the criminal in films from the 1920s to 1940s. A significant development was the emergence of film noir, a film style characterized by moral and visual darkness, developed in the 1940s. Classics of the film noir era include The Maltese Falcon (1941), based on a story by Dashiell Hammett (18941961) and starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. The story has Spade investigating the death of his partner and being hounded by the police himself, while getting involved in the pursuit of a valuable statuette called the Maltese Falcon. The Big Sleep (1946) also stars Bogart, this time as as Philip Marlowe, the creation of Raymond Chandler (18881959). The complex plot involves seven killings, gambling, pornography, vice, and corruption. Both Spade and Marlowe are typical of the hard-boiled detective hero, preferring action, even violence, to analysis and careful investigation of evidence. These somewhat troubled heroes perhaps reflected the post-war mood in America, where men returning home often faced unemployment, disability, and a sense of alienation.

It was not until the late 1940s that the police and police procedure began to be a major focus in detective-mystery film. A major influence on the police procedural in film was the TV series Dragnet, which ran from 1951 to 1970. Dragnet emphasized the technical side of crime investigation, presenting it as rather less than glamorous. Details such as ballistics , surveillance, and forensic lab work soon began to find their way into film. The policeman hero was organized and methodical in his pursuit of the criminal. However, a new kind of protagonist began to emerge from the 1960s, as exemplified by Dirty Harry (1971), where a San Francisco cop, played by Clint Eastwood, tracks down a serial killer. Another classic from this era, The French Connection (1971), has Gene Hackman playing a New York City police officer pursuing drug smugglers. These heroes were tough and often angry and prepared to use controversial means of solving a crime. The action hero trend continued through the 1980s with films like Lethal Weapon (1987), starring Mel Gibson as a suicidal cop partnered with a more experienced officer as they investigate a drug smuggling racket in a blend of action and comedy.

However, from the 1990s to the present, there has been a return to the more intellectual, well-educated hero prepared to use observation and deduction rather than violence to solve a crime. One example is Clint Eastwood's Bloodwork (2002). Clint Eastwood plays a retired psychological profiling specialist, Terry McCaleb, who is recovering from a heart transplant. The plot twist comes when his new heart turns out to have come from a murder victim. Her death has been staged to look like a robbery gone wrong but is actually the work of a serial killer. McCaleb sets off in pursuit, an unlikely protagonist in comparison with the all-action hero.

Several aspects of forensic science also provide a background for The Silence of the Lambs (1991), directed by Jonathan Demme, in which the female protagonist, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), is a trainee FBI agent-investigator. The film concerns two serial killers , one of them, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), is behind bars while the other, known as Buffalo Bill, has just claimed a fifth victim whose autopsy is narrated in detail by Starling. The killer has kidnapped a sixth victim and the search is on to free her. To this end, Starling attempts to build a psychological profile of Bill, with Lecter's help. Lecter is a psychopathic psychiatrist who cannibalizes his victims and who has always been clever enough to avoid revealing his motives and inner fantasies to forensic investigators. Bill skins his victims post-mortem and also leaves an unusual signature. A forensic entomologist is brought in to identify the cocoon of the Death's-head moth, which is lodged in the throat of each victim. The film contains many other forensic and police procedural references.

Finally a forensic scientist himself becomes the victim in Death of an Expert Witness (1983), directed by Herbert Wise, which was the first film adaptation of the work of the English detective author P. D. James. It features Adam Dalgleish, a detective who writes poetry, and is set in a forensic laboratory in the East of England. The victim, as the title suggests, was also an expert witness. One of his colleagues may have killed him, a nice irony, given that forensic scientists are usually on the side of the law and are rarely under investigation themselves.

see also Literature, forensic science in; Television shows.


views updated May 23 2018


Film industry of the Middle East.

The film industry of the Middle East has flourished and prospered over the past century, producing a number of world-renowned auteurs despite internal opposition, political strife, strong government control of the industry in various Middle Eastern countries, and often a lack of decent equipment. Middle Eastern films have become some of the leading artistic influences in world cinema.

The ruling classes in Iran and Turkey early on were curious about the moving image. Moving pictures were viewed in the Turkish sultan's court soon

after the Lumière brothers' first public showing of a film in France, in 1895, followed by a public screening in 1897. Iran followed suit in 1900 when Mirza Ebrahim Akkas-Bashi, a photographer in the court of Mozaffar al-Din Qajar, the fifth Qajar ruler, purchased film equipment in France, shot footage, and projected it for the Iranian royal court. Film was introduced to the public shortly after with the opening of the first public cinema, only to be met with disfavor by the religious clergy. In 1931 the first Iranian feature film, Abi o Rabi (Abi and Rabi), was shot. In 1933 the first Persian talkie, Dokhtar-e Lor (The Lor girl), was also the first non-Western commercial success.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, film production was introduced during World War I and was the near-exclusive domain of the Turkish army from that period until just before the founding of the Turkish republic in 1923. The country's first features, Pene (The claw) and Casus (The spy), were made under the aegis of the Association for National Defense. In 1932 the government sought some control over the medium with the issuance of "Instructions Concerning the Control of Cinema." Censorship was thus institutionalized and has survived in various degrees since.

The first Arab film, Gazelle Eye, was shot in Tunis by a Tunisian, Shemama Chicly. In 1927 the stage actress Aziza Amir and the writer Wadad Orfy set up the first Arab Film Company in Cairo. Their first film, Layla (1927), made with an Egyptian producer, director, and cast, is the first Egyptian film. By the 1950s the Egyptian film industry was the most prolific in the region. The director Yusef Chahine, an innovator working in Cairo, began making films as early as 1953 and continues to this day.

By the 1950s the Middle East had many well-established film centers creating both entertainment filmsespecially musicals, such as Chahine's popular Cairo Station and others produced by Film Farsi in Iranand more artistic, sociopolitical films highly influenced by the work of the Italian Neo-realists (such as Vittorio DeSica). The first real foray into social realism in Turkey was signaled by Strike the Whore (1949). In 1969 the Iranian director Daryush Mehrjui's The Cow critiqued the shah's modernization project through the tale of a villager and his only cow. The film was banned and not released in Iran until it won international recognition in foreign film festivals. Despite increased political censorship in Iran during the 1970s, a number of highly critical documentaries like Furugh Farokhzad's The House Is Black, and the works of Kamran Shirdel, Bahram Bayzai, Sohrab Shahid Saless, Parviz Kimiavi, Parviz Sayyad, Abbas Kiarostami, Amir Naderi, and Bahman Farmanara arrived on the scene.

In Turkey the military coup of May 1960 resulted in a new constitution and an era of free political and artistic expression that revitalized the film industry. Directors began to tackle the issues of women's rights, labor rights, and social injustice, and respected writers began to be drawn to script-writing. In 1974 Turkey entered the international award circuit with The Bus. Most recently Turkish directors, both those living in Turkey and in other countries, have been pioneers in the exploration of gender and sexuality with films like Ferzan Ozpetek's Steam: The Turkish Bath and Kutlug Ataman's film Lola and Billy the Kid. The post-Revolutionary Iranian government placed a strong emphasis on film, initially to promote Islamic values and lifestyle. Today Iran has become one of the leading world cinemas. Despite censorship, Iran's most famous directorsMohsen Makhmalbaf, Abbas Kiarostami, Rakshan BaniEtemad, and Jafr Panahihave created artistically beautiful and intellectually challenging films. They work mainly in a social realist vein, adapting elements of the French New Wave (as in the films of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard) and Italian Neorealism. Collectively, they have created a genre known as the Iranian New Wave.

Arab cinema continues to gain international success. In the 1990s many Arab films reached world audiences, such as Moufida Tlatli's Silences of the Palace, Mohamed Khan's The Dreams of Hind and Camilla and Supermarket, Ziad Dowaitir's West Beirut, and Yusef Chahine's Destiny.

The first Israeli feature films were made in 19321933. After statehood in 1948, Israeli directors worked mainly in the genre of documentary films, dealing with the challenges faced by the new state. Baruch Dienar's Tent City dealt with the absorption of the massive number of immigrants from Europe and the Arab countries. Others examined the establishment of an army, reclamation of the desert, and kibbutz life; they depended on financing by the government, public institutions, and organizations. The earliest Israeli feature films accentuated the values of Zionism. Since the 1980s, many Israeli films have penetratingly faced the dilemmas raised by the ArabIsrael conflict.

Since the 1990s the work of a number of Palestinian directors has become internationally known. These films include Hany Abu-Assad's Rana's Wedding, Elia Suleiman's Chronicle of a Disappearance and Divine Intervention, and Michel Khleifi's Wedding in Galilee.


Akrami, J. "The Blighted Spring: Iranian Cinema and Politics in the 1970s." In Film and Politics in the Third World, edited by John D. H. Downing. New York: Praeger, 1987.

Armes, Roy. Third World Film Making and the West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Dorsay, Atilla. "An Overview of Turkish Cinema from Its Origins to the Present Day." In The Transformation of Turkish Culture: The Ataturk Legacy, edited by Gunsel Renda and C. Max Kortepeter. Princeton, NJ: Kingston Press, 1986.

Nafcy, H. "The Development of an Islamic Cinema in Iran." In Third World Affairs, edited by Alta Gruahar. London: Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, 1987.

Ozgucedil, Agah. "A Chronological History of the Turkish Cinema." Turkish Review (Winter 1988).

Schorr, Renen. "Forty Years of Film-Making." Ariel (1988).

Skylar, Robert. Film: An International History of the Medium, 2d edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall; and New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002.

Tapper, Richard, ed. The New Iranian Cinema: Politics, Representation, and Identity. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2002.

Stephanie Capparell

Geoffrey Wigoder

Jamsheed Akrami

Hind Rassam Culhane

Updated by Roxanne Varzi


views updated Jun 27 2018

film / film/ • n. 1. a thin flexible strip of plastic or other material coated with light-sensitive emulsion for exposure in a camera, used to produce photographs or motion pictures. a new range of films and cameras. ∎  material in the form of a thin flexible sheet: clear plastic film between the layers. ∎  a thin layer covering a surface: she quickly wiped away the light film of sweat.2. a motion picture; a movie: a horror film [as adj.] a film director. ∎  movies considered as an art or industry: a critical overview of feminist writing on film.• v. 1. [tr.] capture on film as part of a series of moving images; make a movie of (a story or event): she glowered at the television crew who were filming them.2. [intr.] become or appear to become covered with a thin layer of something: his eyes had filmed over.


views updated May 29 2018


This entry consists of three articles. The first article examines the history of African descended peoples in film in Latin America and the Caribbeanwith emphasis on Cuba and Brazilnoting similarities and differences with the history of African-American film in the United States. "Film in the United States" covers the history of African-American film through the 1970s. "Film in the United States, Contemporary" is an overview of African-American film in the United States since the mid-1980s.

Film in Latin America and the Caribbean
Darién J. Davis

Film in the United States
Thomas Cripps

Contemporary Film in the United States
Paula J. Massood


views updated May 11 2018

film †membrane OE.; thin pellicle, fine thread XVI. OE. filmen membrane, caul, prepuce = OFris. filmene skin :- Gmc. *filminjam, f. *fellam FELL1.
Hence filmy XVII.

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