The Oxford History of World Cinema

The Oxford History of World Cinema by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: The Oxford History of World Cinema by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith Read Free Book Online
Authors: Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
the next film. In similar fashion, the members of the British Brighton school both
    owned their production companies and functioned as cameramen. Georges Mélièlis, who
    also owned his own company, did everything short of actually crank the camera, writing
    the script, designing sets and costumes, devising trick effects, and often acting. The first
    true 'director', in the modern sense of being responsible for all aspects of a film's actual
    shooting, was probably introduced at the Biograph Company in 1903. The increased
    production of fiction films required that one person have a sense of the film's narrative
    development and of the connections between individual shots.
    As the emergence of the film director illustrates, changes in the film texts often
    necessitated concomitant changes in the production process. But what did the earliest
    films actually look like? Generally speaking, until 1907, filmmakers concerned
    themselves with the individual shot, preserving the spatial aspects of the pro-filmic event
    (the scene that takes place in front of the camera). They did not create temporal relations
    or story causality by using cinematic interventions. They set the camera far enough from
    the action to show the entire length of the human body as well as the spaces above the
    head and below the feet. The camera was kept stationary, particularly in exterior shots,
    with only occasional reframings to follow the action, and interventions through such
    devices as editing or lighting were infrequent. This long-shot style is often referred to as a
    tableau shot or a proscenium arch shot, the latter appellation stemming from the supposed
    resemblance to the perspective an audience member would have from the front row centre
    of a theatre. For this reason, pre-1907 film is often accused of being more theatrical than
    cinematic, although the tableau style also replicates the perspective commonly seen in
    such other period media as postcards and stereographs, and early film-makers derived
    their inspiration as much from these and other visual texts as from the theatre.
    Concerning themselves primarily with the individual shot, early film-makers tended not
    to be overly interested in connections between shots; that is, editing. They did not
    elaborate conventions for linking one shot to the next, for constructing a continuous linear
    narrative, nor for keeping the viewer oriented in time and space. However, there were
    some multi-shot films produced during this period, although rarely before 1902. In fact,
    one can break the pre-1907 years into two subsidiary periods: 18941902/3, when the
    majority of films consisted of one shot and were what we would today call
    documentaries, known then, after the French usage, as actualities; and 19037, when the
    multi-shot, fiction film gradually began to dominate, with simple narratives structuring
    the temporal and causal relations between shots.
    Many films of the 1894-1907 period seem strange from a modern perspective, since early
    film-makers tended to be quite self-conscious in their narrative style, presenting their
    films to the viewer as if they were carnival barkers touting their wares, rather than
    disguising their presence through cinematic conventions as their successors were to do.
    Unlike the omniscient narrators of realist novels and the Hollywood cinema, the early
    cinema restricted narrative to a single point of view. For this reason, the early cinema
    evoked a different relationship between the spectator and the screen, with viewers more
    interested in the cinema as visual spectacle than as story-teller. So striking is the emphasis
    upon spectacle during this period that many scholars have accepted Tom Gunning's
    distinction between the early cinema as a 'cinema of attractions' and the transitional
    cinema as a 'cinema of narrative integration' ( Gunning, 1986 ). In the 'cinema of attractions', the viewer created meaning not through the interpretation of

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