From that first December showing onward, the cinematographe proved to be a smash popular success.
The lumieres were first and foremost businessmen…the enormous commercial potential of their invention wasn't lost on them.
Almost immediately, they chartered and trained a small army of cameramen/projectionists to fan out over Europe and Asia--capturing new and increasingly exotic locals and happenings, showing these films to audiences in music halls and cafes, auditoriums and other urban meeting places, and later, rural villages and fairs.
Often, foreign concessionaries shared the revenues…they rented the hall and publicized the events…but the Lumiere's jealously guarded the technology.
SHOW LUMIERE foreign films
In these early days of MP, the Lumieres easily maintained the world monopoly on film distribution …
Unlike Edison, they early realized the huge market potential of their inventions. They were shrewd businessmen with a tightly efficient and well-oiled marketing organization. The technology they had developed was tailor-made for spreading the new medium far and wide: it was portable, allowed a steady supply of new content.
Audiences were in love with--intoxicated with-- product.
Edison quickly saw that his kinetoscope peep shows were simply not competition of projected movies
moved into taking over development of his own projected film (which he called the Vitoscope and premiered in New York a few months before the Lumiere cinematescope reached the US.
Within ten years, motion picture technology (both Lumiere's invention and parallel developments in Great Britain and the US) had spread globally.
New motion picture companies sprang up like crabgrass. Most of these companies turned to the portable camera to make their fortune. Their stock in trade was still largely non-fiction (or at least quasi-fiction):
travel films (what the french called documentaires),
Although Lumiere-style travelling exhibitions continued throughout the last decades of the 19th Century, fixed movie theaters began to be more an more common fixtures in the urban landscape. Despite the immense popularity and success of the Lumieres' worldwide organization, in the late 1890's the Brothers withdrew from exhibition tours and film distribution.
Louis Lumiere had always contended that "The Cinema Is an Invention without a future." He contended that audiences would not continue to pay to gaze upon events which they could witness themselves on the streets.
The brothers turned their commercial attention to selling their cinematographe to others who wished to make a go at this "doomed medium."
And in some sense, Louis was right.
As audience sophistication increased, patience with "life on the hoof" and movement for movement's sake seemed to decrease. As Brian Wilson has said: by the late 1890's,
"audiences required of the new medium what they expected of older media: stories, narrative with beginnings, middles, climaxes, denouements, and ends. And it was the fiction film that was to provide this age old want."
This is what non-fiction filmmaking was competing with by the turn of the century
Magic of Melies DVD 1099
Great Train Robbery (1903) DVD 1096
Although it may not look like it, Edwin S. Porter's Grt Train Robbery revolutionized movie storytelling…HOW? A completely new form of art…movies are suddenly able to deal with stories--with the treatment of time and action-- in ways that are unique in the history of art.
By 1900, production companies were beginning to crank out "story films" for hungry audiences. At this time, Edison's Biograph had become America's foremost producer. It made at least one story film a month. Many of these films, notably THE ESCAPED LUNATIC and PERSONAL, were "hits" available only to theaters subscribing to Biograph's own exhibition service.
Fiction film at this time went into a sort of artistic tailspin.
No longer content or economically able to simply document daily unadorned life of bourgeoise subjects, non-fiction filmmakers turned to increasingly exotic subjects…far away places, royalty, the presidency, dramatic world events, such as wars and disasters.
There was often a sense that actuality was, in itself, no longer a strong enough draw. What to do when the historical world doesn't give you the kind of images audiences demand? You make them up, forge them, restage them to suit dramatic tastes. And if the spectacle took liberties with reality…audiences didn't seem to care… Fact and fantasy in the popular imagination at the turn of the century wasn't all that clearly dilineated in any case…The real world (or a reasonable facsimile) was enough to hold the audiences imagination and attention.
The wonder of the image, the ability to tickle the imagination was the point…the medium was still largely the message, and reality seemed to be whatever was being projected on the screen. After 1910 these bits of synthesized reality increasingly made their way into newsreels which had initially been developed by European companies such as Pathe and Gaumont and which spread rapidly to the US. These were compilations of clips dealing with current events and famous people, fads, fashions, and public frivolities.
SHOW CLIP FROM DAWN OF THE EYE…
In the latter part of the 19th Century other things were happening that shaped audience tastes and filmmaking directions. US and British colonialism was cranking into gear, bringing Western nations into unprecedented contact with foreign lands and cultures (often at the point of a gun). There was a growing fascination in the West with the exoticism of far away lands and peoples. The colonial push also continued to provide fresh new markets for the movies abroad.
Films of travel and exploration also continued to fascinate the viewing public well into the early part of the 20th Century. The French called these early travel films "documentaires." For workingclass audiences, seeing faraway places on the screen was often as close as they'd get to distant travel.
In 1904, Hale's Marvelous Tours of the World were introduced at the St Louis Exhibition: what might have been the first multimedia experience -- rocking carriage, ticket taker…projected scenes…Became a fabulously popular travelling show.
Four years later, world traveller Burton Holmes cointed the term Travelog and began presenting lectures illustrated with slides and footage he had taken on his trips…
I mentioned earlier that factual films increasingly turned to glamourous subjects such as the doings of royalty, generals, presidents…well, if the president was a world traveller and adventurer--so much the better… When Teddy Roosevelt made his famous 1907 hunting trip to Africa, enterprising film makers lost no time in covering the action: even if the action involved restaging the events with a Teddy look-alike and a flea-bitten lion from the Chicago zoo!
It's difficult to believe in this age of global travel and communication that in the early decades of the Century, many parts of the world remained uncharted or unvisited by Westerners--the world was a much smaller and much more provincial place. Increasingly, as explorers and adventurers fanned out into the great unknown, they schlepped moving picture cameras along with them.
An example: 1910 photographer and filmmaker Herbert Ponting accompanied Captain R.F. Scott on the first 2 year leg of his disasterous expedition to the Antarctic…The film was originally released in 1913 and later re-edited with narration in the 1930's into the film 90 Degrees South…
Travel and exploration also had a darker side in these year.
Nichols suggests that one of the streams down which early cinema floated -- "Cinema of attractions": the focus on spectacles, the wonders of the larger world beyond our own…For late Victorians…and citizens of the early 20th century the line between spectacle and exhibitionism was often pretty thin…
Late 19th and early 20th Century saw a fascination with fairs, exhibitions, and other venues devoted to glorifying technological and cultural progress. One of the most popular exhibits of The St. Louis World's Fair 1904 was a reconstructed "native" villages inhabited by imported indigenous peoples from the Phillipines upon which fairgoers could gaze and wonder. For Western audiences at least, there was a sense that gazing upon exotic spectacles such as these somehow confirmed the viewers' exhalted position in the Great Chain of Being, which stretched from the lowly beasts to the pinnacle of culture--represented of course by Civilized Nations.
SHOW SAVAGE ACTS clip
In an era that demanded increasing novelty and entertainment thrills the representation of faraway places and peoples often took a markedly sensational, if not downright exploitative turns. The first quarter of the Century are filled with sorry examples of what can only be called racist ethnography. Probably the worst offenders were the husband and wife team of Martin and Osa Johnson. …Or as Kevin Brownlow has said : To the pure documentarian, Mr and Mrs Johnson are beyond the pale, for they regarded the African continent as a kind of special effects department. They were obsessed by adventure and aimed exclusively fo thrills.
What can you say? Is there worth in this material at all--documentry, social?
How is this film different from acuality?
Not all early filmmakers wielding their cameras in the service of ethnography were this blatantly sensational or driven by commercial interests. From the turn of the Century on, vanishing cultures, including those in the US, were the focus of sympathetic cinematic scrutiny. As early as 1910 the US Dept of the Interior sponsored photographers and filmmakers involved in documenting the American West and Native American cultures in particular. There was also a long succession of commercial and academic non-fiction films dealing with Native cultures in the US. The most talented of the early photographers of Native Americans was Edward S. Curtis -- like his contemporary, Robert Flaherty, Curtis had a profound humanistic interest in documenting disappearing cultures and spent over 20 years doing this through photography. "What is it," he wrote, "that lies behind this door that history wants to close so suddenly?"
In 1914, convinced of the power of film to reach mass audiences and to accomplish his aims, Curtis made his only motion picture--In the land of the War Canoes (originally in the Land of the Headhunters) about the Kwakiutl Indians of the Pacific Northwest. In part, the film was made to subsidize Curtis' photographic work.
In this film he established or at least reinforced a tradition that would mark many of the ethnographic films of the first part of the Century: the view of traditional cultures in the light of soft light of humanism and romanticism rather cold light of science. Like Flaherty, Curtis embraced an idealized view of "traditional cultures" as somehow more noble than "civilized cultures", more finely in tune with nature and self. In such a view, there was little room for the realities of history and little love for present day circumstances.
SHOW CURTIS CLIPS
What questions does this clip raise about the role of the filmmaker and the relationship to subject? (Nicholas: What responsibility do filmmakers have for the effect of their acts on the lives of those filmed?)
What are the implications and possible outcomes of Curtis' manipulation of subjects and circumstances surrounding filming (and photography)? What participation of subjects in the process of filming.
Does this mean the film isn't worth anything as documentation of the historical world.
What do the descendants of the film's subjects have to say…
Curtis' film was a substantial hit with critics but a box-office flop… (WHY?)
Films of travel and exploration managed to keep the documentary film on life support in the first decades of the 20th Century…even though, as I mentioned earlier, audiences had other things on their minds--things like D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin and Edwin S. Porter…
(Nanook - 69 min)
The man who successfully managed to bring the form back into the public eye and who is credited with producing the first commercially-released documentary film was Robert Flaherty. Flaherty was a contemporary of Curtis…a fairly unlikely savior. Flaherty was the son of a mining engineer and prospector for US steel who plied his trade in Michegan and Canada. As a boy, Flaherty often accompanied his father on business trips and grew up in and around mining campus… From an early age, he had had contact with native people's--American Indians and Eskimos…
Flaherty eventually followed in his fathers footsteps, by 1910 he had embarked on a career in prospecting and exploring… He was hired by Sir William McKenzie (developer of the trans-Canadian railroad) to check out iron deposits around Hudson Bay. On his third expedition, McKenzie called him into his office and suggested:
"You're going into interesting country--strange animals and all that. Why don't you include in your outfit a camera for making film?"
Flaherty took the bait. Bought a camera and film printing equipment, took a 3 week course in cinematography in NY, and between 1914 and 1915 began shooting film of indigenous inhabitants of Hudson Bay. Filming became a kind of obsession… He shoot thousands of feet of film, some of which he shows around and wins praise for (Director of Ontario Museum of Archaelogy for eg)
1916 - his stock goes up in flames. He takes stock of his previous work, deciding it was too much in the travelogue mold -- not enough focus or drama. He decides to travel back north, this time concentrating on filming a single Eskimo family… Difficulty in raising funds. WWI makes the task even more difficult.
At end of war, fur company, Revillon Freres takes an interest in his proposal and underwrites a 1920 filming expedition to Hudson Bay.
Flah. hooks up with his chief character, a celebrated Inuit hunter names Itivimiut -- whom he renames Nanook for his film. Flaherty quickly established a close friendship with Nanook and his family -- enlisted their enthusiastic support in filming. In fact, it is said that many of the key scenes in the film (e.g. the walrus hunt) were suggested by Nanook himself (even tho walrus hunting hadn't been practiced in years by Nanook's tribe).
Fascinating interchange about filming the walrus hunt recorded in Flaherty's diaries:
--"Suppose we go. Do you know that you and your men may have to give up making a kill if it interferes with my film? Will you remember that it is the picture of you hunting that I want, and not their meat?"
--"Yes, yes! The aggie (film) will come first. Not a man will stir, not a harpoon will be thrown until you give the sign. It is my word." We shook hands and agreed to start the next day. (A conversation between Robert Flaherty and Nanook)
This film was produced in 1922 -- huge public acclaim
--What did you think of this film? What do you think 1920's audiences thought?
--what was the filmmaker's intent in making this film?
--What are the themes of this film?
--What is the relationship between man and nature? How does RF's story line develop this relationship?
--What is the tone (how are the subjects treated?).
--What things AREN'T shown in the film
--Nichols' poses the question: What do we do with people when we make a documentary? What responsibility do filmmakers have for the effect of their acts on the lives of those filmed?
Filmmakers role and relationship to his subjects? View of his subjects?
How does he interact during Walrus hunt? Trading Post scene? Phonograph record biting scene?
RF's subjects were paid. What does this imply for the film? For RF's relationship to his subjects?
--How are Flaherty's subject's portrayed? What is the relation of the subject to his environment? Family? Others of his tribe? What is filmmakers view of his subject?
--How did Flaherty's sponsorship impact what is portrayed and how
--Does the film seem scripted?
How does Flathery represent Nanook and his family as just like us?
Flaherty examines Nanook's life and culture through the events of one family;
what do you make of this micro-level analysis of culture? Does it succeed in
giving the audience a larger sense of what it means to Inuit? What, if at all, is missing in this film?
--How "truthful" or "real" is this film? Relationship between dramatic convention and fact. Is this a straight ethnographic film? Why? Does the film "look Real"?
--How accurate is Flaherty's portrayal of Inuit culture? How accurate is the
Flaherty: "Sometimes you have to lie. One has to distort a thing to catch its true spirit."
--How do the visuals support Flaherty's themes and approach to his subject?
Flaherty called in to shoot walrus…pretents not to understand and keeps on shooting
Cuts igloo in half to get better light
Use of clothing and customs long out of date
Showed eskimos rushes. If unsatisfactory or he wanted addl footage or shoot from different angle, action was repeated.
Major themes in RF films: 1. natural beauty 2. Older traditions 3. Conflicts between man and nature 4. Endurance of family 5. Knowledge thru suffering 6. Longing for the past
Dignity of man as major theme…perserverence in the face of natural adversity. Ascendancy thru wisdom and learned skills, skills handed down…competence and bravery
Happiness exists when man is free and lives simply and harmoniously with nature.
Requires heightened drama in order to confirm ascendancy of human spirits: focuses on conflicts between man and nature rather than man and man
Romantic neglect of human evil (least advanced people are happiest and least corrupt -- Rouseauean romanticism)
Technology and civilization as corrupting…ignores the impact that has already irretrievably changed innuit culture.
In man of Aran: RF sez
"we select a group of the most attractive and appealing characters we can find to represent a family and thru them tell our story. It is always a long and difficult process…for it is surprising how few faces stand the test of the camera."
"His films are travelogues to places that never were: they charm but no not instruct audiences with their narrative simplicity and cinematic beauty (Barsam)