Needle and Frame

Although my knowledge of early cinematic history is sparse, I think it’s safe to say that moving pictures, in a general sense, weren’t new in 1907. Early experiments with moving images date back to the ‘magic lanterns’ of the 17th and 18th centuries, but really began to pick up steam with the development of several key technologies in the 19th century. These include the lightbulb (for projection), celluloid (for film stock), photography (for images), and intermittent machinery (for moving the image).

That last bit of technology is particularly fascinating to me. From earlycinema.com:

[In 1894] The Cinématographe uses flexible film cut into 35mm wide strips and used an intermittent mechanism modeled on the sewing machine.

The mechanical relationship between the sewing machine and the motion picture has an interesting metaphorical quality to it. The machine drives the needle to stitch together disparate pieces of fabric much like the individual frames are ‘stitched’ together into a persistent moving image. the Cinematographe (1895)Editing / projection is needlework in its basest mechanical sense. Of course, the advent of digital editing has changed this metaphor somewhat, but the mechanical relationship is intriguing nonetheless.

Some further reading at filmsite.org reveals that many of the established conventions for cinema were already beginning to develop before 1907. To name just a few: special effects (see A Trip to the Moon), non-chronological shooting, film editing, on-location shooting (see The Great Train Robbery), movie ‘stars’, production studios, and even the notion that movies could be commercially viable.

All in all, this is just a bit of rudimentary prep work for the first few films, and both sites I mentioned provide some much-needed historical background for the project. Check ’em out.

Also, according to Blockbuster, I should get my first DVDs either today or tomorrow.

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Cinema Century

Welcome! Today marks the inaugural post for the Cinema Century project! The basic idea is simple: I choose one movie from each year between 1907 and 2007, watch each movie in chronological order, then write about it here.

What’s the point?
There’s a few answers to this question, so you tell me what works best for you. First, I watch a lot of movies anyway, so it gives me an excuse to pick up a few more obscure or older titles that I’ve always meant to watch. I’ve admittedly carried some prejudice against most movies that pre-date 1950, so self-educating myself on the history of cinema will at least give me some context for understanding the way that it has developed over the past century. Two years ago, I was required to watch Citizen Kane for a film class and was almost shocked by how much I enjoyed it. This project should provide for at least a few similar surprises.

Also, part of the fascination of the chronological approach is its two simultaneous, yet contradictory, means of experiencing film history. On the one hand, progressing through cinema a year at a time allows us, as viewers, to gain a better context for what we’re viewing, i.e., the historical development of camera technology, film technique, experimentation, narrative structure, and so on. On the other hand, choosing a single film (or maybe two, if I cheat – and I will) to represent an entire year ignores the vast gulf of differences that can separate two otherwise ‘chronological’ films (e.g., geography, culture, politics, and even genre). Though separated by a year, how do we compare Fantasia to Citizen Kane? Vertigo to Wild Strawberries? I think these chronological juxtapositions will prove to be the most interesting.

How did you choose the movies?
The answer ranges from “somewhat arbitrarily” to “Blockbuster TotalAccess has it in stock”. I first populated the list with movies I really wanted to see (anything by Ozu or Kurosawa, On the Waterfront, etc.), filled in a few more spots with movies I thought would be interesting to write about (Persona, Akira, Julien Donkey-Boy, etc.), then rounded out the remaining years with a combination of critics’ lists, imdb recommendations, and late-night research. Also, factor in a few technological / financial restraints, such as the movie’s availability on DVD and my ability to rent it from Netflix.

Are you really qualified to write about this kind of thing?
Probably not. I guess it depends on what you mean by qualified. Am I a professional film critic? No. Do I love movies and, in general, possess the ability to form cogent paragraphs with semi-coherent ideas behind them? Absolutely not. Do I have internet access and a free WordPress account? Yes!

Thanks for stopping by.  Enjoy.