Updated: Apr 17
Today, I’m going to go into the academic side of filmmaking. It’s all well and good when you want to pick up a camera and film something, and the stimulation you get from it is incredible, but there are those out there who’ll look at what you’ve filmed, and analyse it down to the individual frames.
These people are your critics, and while some of the time their opinions are wrong, you should know that they’re only there, to help other filmmakers to understand what makes a film great. I don’t just mean through the plotline, or the graphics. They’re important, but what’s more important to a film critic is the way the film is created. It’s the way in which the team of creators and their sponsors banded together to make something that is unique, in its own way.
LET ME SHOW YOU THIS WAY
If someone asked me what my favourite film was, there would be no doubt I’d say Labyrinth, but as a film critic, I would probably say Star Wars, and I mean the original Star Wars: A New Hope. The reason why is because Labyrinth is an adventurous children’s movie, that teaches the audience the lessons we’d learned growing up, like don’t be peer pressured, be true to yourself, always think outside the box, and all that.
Visually, there isn’t much going on, in terms of the way the film is made. I mean, they dropped their protagonist down a 40ft tunnel, when they could have made it smaller, and used cuts to make it look like she’d fallen down something that big, and although the set design and techniques they used were ambitious, there really wasn’t anything new that they added to the film, to make it more interesting.
Now, Star Wars is a different story. In Star Wars, they used filming methods that really thought outside the box. Despite the fact that I did like the film, I’m not so much a fan of the space opera as many others out there are. I actually couldn’t click with the film, until I was old enough to actually appreciate the story. However, as a film critic, Star Wars is the epitome of new film technology. It’s because of Star Wars we have the kind of film technologies we have today.
WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT IT?
As a filmmaker, you’re always looking for new ways to film something, and while there have been massive breakthroughs in film technology, over the past few decades, something new always comes along. So, harking back to Star Wars, it was the very first ever to create a realistic form of holographic technology. It was also the very first to create epic battles in space, that actually looked and felt real, at the time it was created. Even the light sabres were the very first of its kind.
All this was done, for just one film, and in its wake, many others have tried to replicate it and expand on it. It’s gone to the point where motion capture technology now dominates the screen. It’s the whole reason we now have amazing blockbusters like the Marvel Avengers series, or the magical world of Harry Potter.
So, that’s why I say Star Wars is my favourite film as a film critic. It is because of the creative genius of George Lucas and his crew that we have what we have today.
SO, NOW WHAT?
Now, we look into the very beginning of it all. After all, that was the whole point of this post, in the first place. We’re going to look into how the first film was made, what early film was like and how it’s progressed over the years. It’s a very long history, and there will be side-tracks along the way, but as a filmmaker, it’s important to know these things. If not for the fun of learning about it, then maybe the knowledge can be used as inspiration, for whatever projects you might end up wanting to make.
So, let’s begin. The very first film that was made, and shown, to the public didn’t actually have a storyline. It was literally a short clip, about 30 seconds long, showing a bunch of workers exiting the Lumière factory. Now, bear in mind that this was around the 1880s and 1890s. The film camera, as we know it, hadn’t been invented yet. While photography cameras had been around for a while, no one really knew how to translate movement onto a screen yet. There had been several attempts before, like the Actograph, or the Phantascope, but all of these inventions were basically gimmicks. The first acknowledged camera came from none other than Thomas Edison himself, in 1891.
It was called the Kinetoscope and was a crude heavy wooden box. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but this is the father of all cameras…well, you’d be right, and you’d be wrong. You see, if you were there at the time, you’d need to peep through a hole in the box, to see the moving images. Not only that, these clips didn’t last very long. They were, at most, 20 seconds, but considering this was the very first of its kind, it’s not a bad start.
It would be a few years after that the Lumière family would basically steal the invention from under Edison’s nose. The son of a winegrower, Antoine Lumière, was a photographer, taking portraits of families and individuals for locals, in Lyon. He’d come across one of Edison’s Kinetoscope, and managed to get a copy of the film that was used for it and wanted to use it, to develop the Kinetoscope further.
Now, the real brains behind his development was his son Louis. He’d come up with the idea to adapt the sprocket mechanism of a sewing machine, to run the film smoothly, in the camera. It was also because of this that the machine they’d use would act as both a camera and project. Thus, the first cinematic experience was born! Rightly named too, since their invention was called the Cinématographe.
After that, in March 1895, Antoine, Louis and his brother Auguste, arranged screenings of their new moving image projects, alongside their colour photographs. The projects were the highlight of their exhibitions, to their surprise. They were actually hoping their colour photographs would be more impressive, but the audience had spoken, and the Cinématographe and its films were becoming the obsessive point for other inventors and showmen.
In December 1895, the first proper screening of the Cinématographe would be held for the public, in the basement of the Grand Café, near the Place de l’Opéra, which would actually be ironic, because it used to be the space where Parisians would go to debate and discuss literary and political issues and gossip. It’s ironic because, even now, companies, governments and authority figures are still arguing about the actual use and definition of the cinema.
Next up, is the story of how these small screenings would heat up the war between America and France, in the world of cinema. Believe me, it’s not a pretty picture. I mean, I’ve read through its history, and there is a lot of carnage, and when I mean carnage, I mean businesses going bankrupt, inventors being discredited and once more, power returns to the hands of those greedy enough to steal it from the weak, but I won’t talk about that today.
I’ll save the battle for another time. This should be enough to satisfy your curiosity, considering I spent half the post talking about the difference between a critic’s favourite choice, and a personal choice. So, for now, let’s just say your homework is to try and look at a film critically. What I mean is, use a filmmaker’s mind. What critics usually look at are the ways in which a film is made, without actually knowing the “behind the scenes” they look at the composition of the scene, the way that cuts and transitions make the scene smooth and whether or not a plotline is believable.
Ok, maybe one of these days, I might just write a post on how to critically analyse a film, but that will be far into the future, once I’ve shown you the cinema’s gory and bloody history. For now, have a go, and if you know a thing or two about cinema’s history, please share it with me. I’m always up for learning new things! I’ll see you guys next time!