History of World Cinema

 

The cinema, wrote the documentarist Paul Rotha in the 1930s, 'is the great unresolved equation between art and industry'.

It was the first, and is arguably still the greatest, of the industrialized art forms which have dominated the cultural life of the twentieth century.

From the humble beginnings in the fairground it has risen to become a billiondollar industry and the most spectacular and original contemporary art.

As an art form and as a technology, the cinema has been in existence for barely a hundred years.

Primitive cinematic devices came into being and began to be exploited in the 1890s, almost simultaneously in the United States, France, Germany, and Great Britain.

Within twenty years the cinema had spread to all parts of the globe; it had developed a sophisticated technology, and was on its way to becoming a major industry, providing the most popular form of entertainment to audiences in urban areas throughout the world, and attracting the attention of entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, and politicians.

As well as for entertainment, the film medium has come to be used for purposes of education, propaganda, and scientific research.

Originally formed from a fusion of elements including vaudeville, popular melodrama, and the illustrated lecture, it rapidly acquired artistic distinctiveness, which it is now beginning to lose as other forms of mass communication and entertainment have emerged alongside it to threaten its hegemony.

To compress this complex history into a single volume has been, needless to say, a daunting task.

Some developments have to be presented as central, while others are relegated to the margins, or even left out entirely.

Certain principles have guided me in this work.

For a start, this is a history of the cinema, not of film.

It does not deal with every use of the film medium but focuses on those which have concurred to turn the original invention of moving images on celluloid into the great institution known as the cinema, or 'the movies'.

The boundaries of cinema in this sense are wider than just the films that the institution produces and puts into circulation.

They include the audience, the industry, and the people who work in it-from stars to technicians to usherettes --and the mechanisms of regulation and control which determine which films audiences are encouraged to see and which they are not.

Meanwhile, outside the institution, but constantly pressing in on it, is history in the broader sense, the world of wars and revolution, of changes in culture, demography, and life-style, of geopolitics and the global economy.

No understanding of films is possible without understanding the cinema, and no understanding of the cinema is possible without recognizing that it --more than any other art, and principally because of its enormous popularity-has constantly been at the mercy of forces beyond its control, while also having the power to influence history in its turn.

Histories of literature and music can perhaps be written (though they should not be) simply as histories of authors and their works, without reference to printing and recording technologies and the industries which deploy them, or to the world in which artists and their audiences lived and live. With cinema this is impossible.

Central to the project of this book is the need to put films in the context without which they would not exist, let alone have meaning.

Secondly, this is a history of cinema as, both in its origins and in its subsequent development, above all popular art.

It is popular art not in the old-fashioned sense of art emanating from the 'people' rather than from cultured élites, but in the distinctively twentieth-century sense of an art transmitted by mechanical means of mass diffusion and drawing its strength from an ability to connect to the needs, interests, and desires of a large, massified public.

To talk about the cinema at the level at which it engages with this large public is once again to raise, in an acute form, the question of cinema as art and industry --Paul Rotha's 'great unresolved equation'.

cinema is industrial almost by definition, by virtue of its use of industrial technologies for both the making and the showing of films.

But it is also industrial in a stronger sense, in that, in order to reach large audiences, the successive processes of production, distribution, and exhibition have been industrially (and generally capitalistically) organized into a powerful and efficient machine.

How the machine works (and what happens when it breaks down) is obviously of the greatest importance in understanding the cinema.

But the history of the cinema is not just a history of this machine, and certainly cannot be told from the point of view of the machine and the people who control it.

Nor is industrial cinema the only sort of cinema.

I have tried to give space in this volume not only for cinema as industry but also for divergent interests, including those of film-makers who have worked outside or in conflict with the industrial machinery of cinema.

This involves a recognition that in the cinema the demands of industry and art are not always the same, but neither are they necessarily antithetical. It is rather that they are not commensurate.

The cinema is an industrial art form which has developed industrialized ways of producing art.

This is a fact which traditional aesthetics has had great difficulty in coming to terms with, but it is a fact none the less.

On the other hand, there are many examples of films whose artistic status is dubious to say the least, and there are many examples of films whose artistic value is defined in opposition to the values of the industry on which they depended in order to be made.

There is no simple answer to Rotha's equation. My aim throughout the book has been to maintain a balance between the values expressed through the market-place and those which are not.

Thirdly, this is a history of world cinema. This is a fact of which I am particularly proud and which is true in two senses.

On the one hand the book tells the history of the cinema as a single global phenomenon, spreading rapidly across the world and controlled, to a large degree, by a single set of interlocking commercial interests.

But it also, on the other hand, tells the history of many different cinemas, growing in different parts of the world and asserting their right to independent existence often in defiance of the forces attempting to exercise control and to 'open up' (that is to say, dominate) the market on a global scale.

Finding a way to relate the two senses of the phrase world cinema', and to balance the competing claims of the global cinema institution and the many different cinemas which exist throughout the world, has been the biggest single challenge in planning and putting together this book.

The sheer diversity of world cinema, the number of films made (many of which do not circulate outside national borders), and the variety of cultural and political contexts in which the world's cinemas have emerged, means that it would be foolish or arrogant, or both, for any one person to attempt to encompass the entire history of cinema single-handed.

This is not just a question of knowledge but also of perspective.

In presenting a picture of world cinema in all its complexity, I have been fortunate in being able to call upon a team of contributors who are not only expert in their own fields but are in many cases able to bring to their subject a 'feel' for the priorities and the issues at stake which I, as an outsider, would never be able to replicate -- even if I knew as much as they do, which I do not.

This has been particularly valuable in the case of India and Japan, countries whose cinemas rival Hollywood in scale but are known in the west only in the most partial, fragmentary, and unhistorical fashion.

Giving space to multiple perspectives is one thing. It is also important to be able to bring them all together and to give a sense of the interlocking character of the many aspects of cinema in different places and at different times.

At one level the cinema may be one big machine, but it is composed of many parts, and many different attitudes can be taken both to the parts and to the whole.

The points of view of audiences (and there is no such thing as 'the' audience), of artists (and there is no single prototype of 'the artist'), and of film industries and industrialists (and again there is not just one industry) are often divergent.

There is also the problem, familiar to all historians, of trying to balance history 'as it happened' -and as it was seen by the participants --with the demands of present-day priorities and forms of knowledge (including present-day ignorance).

No less familiar to historians is the question of the role of individuals within the historical machine, and here the cinema offers a particular paradox since unlike other industrial machineries it not only depends on individuals but also creates them -in the form, most conspicuously, of the great film stars who are both producers of cinema and its product.

In respect of all these questions I have seen my task as editor as one of trying to show how different perspectives can be related, rather than imposing a single all-encompassing point of view.

The various world cinemas are also dealt with in terms of the time of their emergence on the world stage.

This minor violation of the chronological structure of the book seemed to me better than pedantically assigning, say, Iranian silent films to the silent cinema section, rather than to a single, coherent essay on Iran.

on censorship, and so on -and on the conditions surrounding the activity of film-making, as much as they do on films and filmmakers.

But the lives and careers of individual artists, technicians, or producers are not only interesting in their own right, they can also illuminate with particular clarity how the cinema works as a whole.

In a way the story of Orson Welles, for example, who spent his career either in conflict with the studio system or in attempts to make films outside it entirely, can tell one more about the system than any number of descriptions of how life was lived within it.

The choice of individuals to feature has been inspired by a number of overlapping criteria.

Some have been chosen because they are obviously important and well known, and no history of the cinema would be complete without some extended treatment of their careers.

Examples in this category --taken more or less at random --include D. W. Griffith, Ingmar Bergman, Marilyn Monroe, and Alain Delon.

But there are other people --the Indian'megastars' Nargis or M. G. Ramachandran, for instance --who are less well known to western readers but whose careers have an equal claim to be featured in a history of world cinema.

The need for different perspectives has also dictated the inclusion of independent women film-makers (Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman) and documentarists (Humphrey Jennings, Joris Ivens) alongside more mainstream directors.

All these examples can be seen as illustrative or typical of something about the cinema which a more orthodox account of film history might not adequately reflect.

But I have been tempted to go further, and have also chosen for 'inset' treatment one or two individuals whose careers can hardly be described as typical but which throw light on some of the rich diversity and occasional oddity of cinema, and the place it occupies in the world.

The result, needless to say, is that alongside the individuals who are featured there are also many whom readers might expect to be on the list, but for whom a place was not found.

This will no doubt lead to disagreements and occasional disappointments, particularly where personal favourites are not among the list of those accorded 'inset' treatment.

But it is not possible to accommodate all tastes, and, more to the point, the purpose of the insets (as I hope I have made clear) is not to be a pantheon of 150 great names but to illuminate the cinema across the board.

In the first century of its existence the cinema has produced works of art worthy to stand comparison with the masterworks of painting, music, and literature.

But these are only the tip of the iceberg of an art form whose growth to pre-eminence has been without precedent in the history of world culture.

Even more than that, the cinema is ineradicably embedded in the whole history of the twentieth century.

It has helped to shape, as well as to reflect, the reality of our times, and to give form to the aspirations and dreams of people the world over.

More than anything else, this book aims to give a sense of this unique achievement and to illuminate not only the richness of cinema itself but the place it occupies in the wider world of culture and history.

Each essay in the book is followed by a short list of books either referred to as sources by the author or recommended as further reading.

Priority has been given to works which are easily accessible in English; but where (as sometimes happens) no adequate source exists in English or other major western languages, more recondite sources may be cited.

Full bibliographical references for all works cited are given in the general bibliography at the end.

Besides a list of books, the insets are also followed by a selected filmography.

In the matter of foreign film titles, no single rule has been applied.

Films which have a generally accepted release title in English-speaking countries are usually referred to under that title, with the original title in parentheses the first time the film is mentioned.

For films which have no generally accepted English title the original title is used throughout, followed by an English translation in parentheses and quotation marks on first occurrence.

But in the case of some European and Asian countries, translated titles are used throughout.

The Pinyin transcription has been used for Chinese names, except in the case of Taiwanese and Hong Kong artists who themselves use other transcriptions.

Russian personal names and film titles have been transcribed in the 'popular' form. thus Eisenstein, rather than the more correct but pedantic Eizenshtein; Alexander Nevsky rather than Aleksandr Nevskii.

Every effort has been made to render accents and diacriticals correct in Scandinavian and Slavic languages, in Hungarian and in Turkish, and in the transcription of Arabic, but I cannot promise that this has been achieved in every case.

 

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