A World History of Film

A World History of Film


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A World History of Film presents the entire history of motion pictures, from pre-cinema to the present. Providing a complete analysis of the principal films, directors, and national cinemas, it supplies a thorough grounding in the social, economic, and political circumstances critical to an understanding of film as both art and industry. In a highly readable narrative… See more details below


A World History of Film presents the entire history of motion pictures, from pre-cinema to the present. Providing a complete analysis of the principal films, directors, and national cinemas, it supplies a thorough grounding in the social, economic, and political circumstances critical to an understanding of film as both art and industry. In a highly readable narrative, Robert Sklar, one of the field's most eminent scholars, covers all significant periods and styles -- not only commercial films and classical Hollywood cinema but also animation, documentaries, international art cinema, and the cinematic avant-garde. With emphasis on the international relationships among film communities, chapters are devoted to such critical nodes of film history as early cinema, Soviet silent cinema, Hollywood genres, Italian neorealism, and the French New Wave. Substantial sections are also devoted to the films of Eastern Europe, Latin America, Japan, China, Africa, the Middle East, and India. Informative sidebars complement the main text, and cross-cultural timelines introduce the book's seven main parts. Chapters on English-language art cinema, new European film, world cinema, and Hollywood bring the book's content up to the present. A World History of Film is beautifully designed and illustrated by more than 750 film stills, frame enlargements, production shots, and diagrams. The 212 color plates include rare examples of early hand tinting, pre-cinema technology, two- and three-color Technicolor, as well as almost 100 new images from contemporary films. These stunning and instructive illustrations further illuminate the author's cogent analyses and wide-ranging perspective. Chapter endnotes, a selected bibliography, a filmography, and a glossary of terms complete this extraordinary volume.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
Legendary critic and New York University cinema studies professor Robert Sklar chronicles over 100 years of cinema in A World History of Film. Lushly illustrated with color and black-and-white photos, the book covers everything from 1920s American animation to Czech films of the '60s to Titanic. Sklar concisely explains the rise and fall of various cinematic trends documentaries and fiction films alike describing the most important films of each movement. He covers Latin American, Asian and African cinema, including early 20th-century filmmaking in Brazil and Japan. ( Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal - Library Journal
The beginning of film's second century has been mostly marked by a lamentable lack of quality in both American and European films. This book is a timely reminder that film remains a truly worldwide art form, nourished and renewed from diverse and unexpected sources most recently, Australia, China, and Iran. Sklar (Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies) here attempts the impossible, compressing over 100 years of film history into one oversized volume. He surveys output and trends from most major countries over the decades while providing a time line that describes other news and cultural events. Sidebars also highlight topics like independent films, gay and lesbian cinema, the new women directors, method acting, and much more. More a chronological study than an encyclopedia, this book will be useful to beginners seeking to clarify basic film concepts like neorealism or "new wave." The author's need to say something about everything contributes to a rather bland tone, and he certainly cannot do justice to directors like Spielberg, Hitchcock, or Ford in a few paragraphs. Photographs are the main attraction, and some have a wonderfully candid quality, like one showing Ingmar Bergman setting up a shot for The Seventh Seal while an actor playing the figure of Death relaxes on a nearby boulder. Up-to-date and enhanced by a glossary of film terms, this book will serve as an introductory study for film students. Recommended for large academic and public library film collections. Stephen F. Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Sklar (cinema studies, NYU) begins this part coffee-table pictorial and part historical survey with a unique first page: an annotated web- and videography of resources for quick research and procuring unusual films. Spanning a period from cinema's prehistory to its future, the opus divides into major temporal sections within which are stylistic and geographical chapters. For example, the major section on postwar cinema features chapters on Italian neorealism, Hollywood, the art cinema of Europe and Asia, and the Hollywood of the 1950s. The chapter on Hollywood auteurs includes Scorsese, Eastwood, Spielberg, Stone, Lynch, Lee (Spike), Kubrick, and Terrence Malick. Sklar does little musing about cinema (this is not a work of theory), but instead curates and edits, creating statements primarily by excluding and including national cinemas, styles, directors, and films. Oversize: 9x12<">. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Penguin Group (USA)
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9.02(w) x 11.84(h) x 1.50(d)

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Chapter One


In speaking of film history, we should be wary of talking about origins. Motion pictures (which here as elsewhere will be variously and interchangeably called film, cinema, the movies) had many beginnings. While we seek to pinpoint exact moments in order to celebrate the medium's anniversaries and centennials, the fact remains that large-screen projection of multiple moving images forming a narrative has existed for centuries, delivered by a variety of technologies. Claiming to specify where things started begs more questions than it answers. Let us speak instead of an emergence—of cinema arising at a particular time out of a prior history, to captivate and dominate an epoch, and destined perhaps to stand as prehistory to some other medium of moving images preparing in turn to emerge.


A shift away from an emphasis on origins casts new light on cinema's prehistory—the period of motion picture devices and entertainments before the development of filmmaking apparatus in the 1890s. It makes possible a way of thinking about the past that does not treat the narrative of time as, inevitably, a story of progress: as if we stood on the shoulders of our ancestors, growing bigger and better with each new generation. Earlier in time does not have to mean—as it sometimes has in modern histories—less sophisticated, less civilized, more crude. While our machinery undoubtedly has grown more sophisticated, the same is not necessarily the case for the human mind or character, or for people's capacity to experience life in complex and sophisticated ways. We would do well to regard earlier times not as diminished in relation to our own, but simply in some ways different.

    When this principle is applied to cinema's prehistory, what becomes apparent is a rich and varied world of screen presentations in the time before movies (fig. 1.1). If the cinema was something new for spectators of the 1890s, seeing larger-than-life projections of still and moving images was not. In Asia, shadow puppets had formed a part of popular entertainment and ceremonies for centuries; their most widely known manifestation appeared on the Indonesian island of Java, where intricately perforated puppets made of thin leather, in lamplight, cast filigree shadows. Different kinds of screen entertainment had also been seen in early modern Europe. Inventors in the Netherlands in the mid-seventeenth century used the sun as a light source (or at night, light from a candle) to project images painted on a reflecting surface through a lens onto a wall. Within a few years others had devised a projector which contained light source, image, and lens all in one portable apparatus. This was called the magic lantern.

Magic Lanterns

Over the next two centuries magic lanterns and their entertainments became more and more elaborate (figs. 1.2-1.4). One of the most impressive magic lantern presentations was the Fantasmagorie (known in English as Phantasmagoria) staged by a Belgian, Étienne Gaspar Robert (1763-1837), who went by the name Robertson. It premiered in Paris in 1798 and later toured Europe. With his audience on one side of a translucent screen, Robertson on the other side had his lantern mounted on wheels. Moving the lantern, adjusting the lens to maintain focus, and using a shutter for dissolves (the fading of one image into another), Robertson projected macabre scenes of skeletons, ghosts, and other frightening figures simulating lifelike motion.

    The development in subsequent years of dual- and even triple-lens projectors made it possible for operators to surpass Robertson's spectacle without having to match his athleticism. These machines smoothed the transition from image to image, enabling lanternists to construct complex narratives out of multiple slides in a manner not unlike a sequence of shots in a movie. Magic lantern entrepreneurs put together a full evening's program with segments such as travel scenes, popular science, art appreciation, comedy, and melodrama (see box, page 19).

Motion Toys

As screen entertainment for public consumption expanded in the years before cinema, so too did devices proliferate for enjoying moving images privately in the home. These are often thought of merely as toys: small portable units that came with disks or paper strips containing a sequence of images which, when set in motion, gave the illusion of movement. Yet their origins lay in scientific experimentation. Scientists in the 1820s became intrigued with a phenomenon they called persistence of vision—the eye's capacity to retain a visual image after its source has been removed. A paper by Peter Mark Roger (1779-1869), famous later for his Thesaurus prompted several efforts to construct mechanisms that could turn separate still pictures into a single moving image. Though the concept of persistence of vision continues to surface in film histories the term is no longer accepted in the field of perceptual psychology; the visual image retained by the eye has become known as a positive afterimage, and its connection to the perception of apparent motion is not clear. No one disputes, however, that these devices produce the illusion of motion.

    The inventors of motion toys gave them high-sounding, tongue-twisting names. The Thaumatrope (1826, attributed to John Ayrton Paris) was simply a round card attached to a string, with separate but related drawings on either side: for example, a horse on one side, a rider on the other side; when the card was spun, the rider appeared to be riding the horse. The Phenakistoscope (early 1830s, several inventors) was a plate-sized, slotted disk with a sequence of drawings around its circle; when the disk was spun in front of a mirror, a person looking through the slots would see the drawings appear to move (figs. 1.5-1.7). The Zoetrope (1860s, also several inventors) was a bowl-like device with a strip of drawings around the interior circumference; when the bowl was spun, viewers peered through slots in the sides to watch drawings seemingly in motion (fig. 1.12). (The name Zoetrope resurfaced in the 1970s when the United States producer-director Francis Ford Coppola used it for his production company and studio.) The Praxinoscope, developed in the 1870s in France by Émile Reynaud (1844-1918), was like a Zoetrope, only it also utilized mirrors (fig. 1.13).

Théâtre Optique

Motion devices soon outgrew the home. They began to compete with magic lanterns in the public entertainment sphere. Reynaud, after inventing the Praxinoscope, developed a projecting version, using a reflector and a lens lo enlarge the apparatus's moving images (on the same principles of projection that had been used for still images as far back as the seventeenth century). Expanding his efforts, he constructed tire Théâtre Optique, an even more sophisticated projection system (fig. 1.14). He drew pictures on long bands which wound through the apparatus much like a reel of film moves through its own projecting device; his individual narratives contained up to seven hundred separate drawings and a single story went on for fifteen minutes. The Théâtre Optique made its debut in Paris in 1892 and lasted until 1900, when it was undone by competition from the cinema.

    As screen entertainment, the Théâtre Optique fell just short of what cinema was to provide. Only its lack of a catchy name may have kept it from enduring fame as a symbol of technological futility, like the Stanley Steamer, the steam-driven automobile that failed against the challenge of the internal-combustion engine.

Panoramas and Dioramas

While we focus inevitably on the late nineteenth century's historic transformation of moving image technology and culture, the end of the eighteenth century also marked significant innovation in screen entertainment. The era of the 1780s-90s saw not only Robertson's Fantasmagorie and other enhanced magic lantern programs, but also the panorama, a large-scale painting designed to take up the complete interior circumference of a circular building. What is credited as the first of these opened in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1788, and the idea spread to London and France. (On this principle, the Walt Disney company opened at its Disneyland park in 1955 a circular moving image photographed by eleven cameras, called Circarama.) Strictly speaking, the early panoramas were not moving images, but smaller-scale versions were produced for home use, some on scrolls that could be unrolled to create an illusion of movement.

    In the early nineteenth century, the sensation of movement was introduced into public exhibitions of static pictures through the diorama. (One of its developers was Louis Jacques Mondé Daguerre [1789-1851], who later became an inventor of photography.) The diorama involved either a singe pointing or a canvas painted on both sides. Audiences sat in front of the work as shifts in lighting produced changes in the image. In the case of two-sided paintings especially, diorama shows offered narratives of visual spectacle—changes in the weather, in seasons, from day to night—that effected substantial transformations and lasted up to fifteen minutes with a singe work.

    As with the panorama, the magic lantern, and motion toys, the diorama concept was developed into products for home entertainment. A popular diorama toy was the Polyrama Panoptique, a viewing box into which pairs of slides could be inserted. By manipulating a hinged lid, the viewer could shift the light and change the picture.


What Reynaud's device lacked was images of movement recorded at the source. Ever since the development of still photography in the 1830s, inventors had been exploring ways to take a sequence of photographs rapidly enough to record a movement in all its phases, not just arrest a single image. These efforts gained the substantial support in the 1870s of the railroad tycoon and former governor of California Leland Stanford, who was determined to find out whether a trotting horse ever had all four legs off the ground at the same time. To settle the question, he hired British émigré Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), who was well-known in California as a wilderness photographer.

Muybridge's Horse

Muybridge's famous experiments, begun in 1872, culminated in 1878 with a sequence of photographs that proved that yes, a galloping horse did indeed have all tour legs raised at once. He placed twelve cameras in a row alongside a track, spread threads across the track, and attached them to a contact with each camera's shutter (fig. 1.15). As the horse moved, its legs broke the threads, causing the cameras to operate in sequence. The result wax a dozen photographs showing successive phases of a horse's gait (fig. 1.16). Within a year he expanded the system to twenty-four cameras with timed electronic controls, which made the sequence more accurate than the thread method. The international acclaim for Muybridge's achievements prompted him to go out on the lecture circuit, and he joined the world of screen entertainment with his own version of a magic lantern device, the Zoopraxiscope. This was a projecting version et the Phenakistoscope using rotating disks on which were painted images of horses in motion drawn from his sequence photographs (he discovered, however, that he had to elongate the drawings in order for the projected illusion of movement to look natural). Over the next decade he greatly publicized the possibilities for sequence photography of motion.

Étienne-Jules Marey

The French scientist Étienne-Jules Marcy (1830-1904), a specialist in animal motion, was among the many whom Muybridge stimulated. When he utilized the photographer's methods, however, Marey found them inadequate for recording birds in flight. He adapted a device that had been developed by an astronomer, Pierre-Jules-César Janssen (1824-1907), for recording the transit of the planet Venus across the sun. Marey's own version, developed in 1882, was a "photographic gun" equipped with a disk functioning as a shutter to record sequential images on a rotating photographic plate (fig. 1.17). This worked well to capture the flight of birds, but it was limited to twelve separate images. As a next step, Marcy devised a stationary camera (called a chronophotographic camera) that could take a considerably greater number of images superimposed on one another, producing a single picture of motion for scientific study (fig. 1.18).


The pace of development quickened. In England, France, Germany, the United States, and elsewhere during the 1880s, inventors and entrepreneurs worked on machinery for motion photography. Key advances in the still photographic field came from the work of the American inventor and manufacturer George Eastman (1854-1932). In 1885, with William H. Walker, Eastman developed a new kind of recording material to replace individual coated glass or gelatin plates: sensitized paper, coated with gelatin emulsion, on a roll, called film. In 1888 Eastman introduced a box camera with the film roll loaded inside it under the trade name "Kodak." A year later, the paper roll was replaced by celluloid, a synthetic plastic material invented in the 1870s, which utilized the chemical compound cellulose nitrate. Marcy immediately took up this innovation for his chronophotographic camera, constructing a mechanism that could move roll film through the apparatus, hold it still momentarily for an exposure to be taken, and systematically repeat the operation. This fulfilled his desire for an ample number of separately recorded images of movement. Almost alone among the many experimenters in the medium, Marey was uninterested in carrying his work forward into the world of screen entertainment and was motivated chiefly by the development of technology for research purposes.

Excerpted from A WORLD HISTORY OF FILM by ROBERT SKLAR. Copyright © 2002 by Harry N. Abrams, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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