This is part one of a two-part introduction to our new series on the history of world cinema. These two articles will serve as an outline and mission statement for what I will cover and some of the questions I plan to explore.
First, it’s important to state here that while this series is based on the viewpoint that there are important cinematic contributions from filmmakers and filmmaking industries from all around the world, the majority of it will focus in one way or another on the Hollywood movie industry. Hollywood became the center of the film industry for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most important factor is geographic location. Los Angeles is sunny, dry place with a range of scenery, making it ideal for filmmaking. What’s more, relatively cheap real estate in a flat expanse of land meant that a range of film-related businesses were able to sprout up and flourish in the region—including production companies, different craftspeople and artists, and talent agencies. Hollywood was both an industry and a physical city. When World War I left Europe reeling, Hollywood effectively enjoyed a monopoly over the industry.
In the first half of this series, we’ll look at Hollywood history and its most important directors, actors, actresses, craftspeople and artists, as well as important genres and films.
In the second half of this series, we’ll look at filmmakers and films from the U.K., France, Italy, and other parts of Europe, as well as in Japan. We’ll see how with the U.K., a shared language did not necessarily mean a shared cinematic language with Hollywood, although the two are inextricably linked. Meanwhile, while filmmakers in France and Italy were heavily influenced by Hollywood cinema, their work naturally went in a more artistic direction. While their influence would touch Hollywood filmmakers in the late 60s and early 70s, in terms of general audiences they have greater renowned among cinema fans in Japan than they do in other areas of the world.
We’ll also look at the cinema of other parts of Asia, India and the Middle East, and Mexico and other parts of Latin America. The spread of video streaming services has made it easier than it ever has been to watch foreign cinema; who can forget South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite becoming the first foreign language film to win best picture at the Oscars. Along with COVID-19 keeping so many of us indoors, interest in foreign cinema is at a high. With it unlikely that moviegoers will be eager to return to movie theaters anytime soon, now’s the perfect time to get acquainted with cinema from around the world.
We begin in Chapter 1 with the pioneers of cinema. Thomas Edison (*1) invented an early motion picture exhibition device with a peephole viewer window called the Kinetoscope in the late 1800s. Just a few years later, the Lumière brothers (*2) developed the Cinématographe, a revolutionary device that would record, develop, and project motion pictures—effectively giving birth to the big screen. These developments would lead to the birth of the silent film industry in the early 20th century. As most silent films are poorly preserved, we tend to think of them as primitive, rudimentary works, but in fact a lot of our modern cinematic language was developed during this time. In the second half of the 1920s, technology would advance to the point where it became commercially practical to couple synchronized dialogue to images, creating what came to be known as “talking pictures” or “talkies”. This development would trigger a massive change throughout the industry, and in the 1930s, talked became the predominant style of cinema enjoyed by the masses.
*1 Thomas Edison (1847-1931) was an American inventor and businessman often called America’s greatest inventor.
*2 Auguste and Louis Lumière are French inventors best known for their Cinématographe motion picture system.
2. From the Golden Age of Hollywood to New Hollywood
In Chapter 2, we will cover the Golden Age of Hollywood from the 30s up until the 60s, and the New Hollywood movement that followed. Up until the 1960s, major movie studios were the driving force behind the Hollywood machine. Studios operated like movie factories, each with their own stable of producers, directors, actors, and crew, all working to churn out a large number of movies—many of which were dull and generic, but some of which are now considered classics. When television started to take root in American households after World War II, Hollywood would struggle to keep up with the changing times. As a result, a new generation of young filmmakers would take the reins and start a movement that came to be called New Hollywood. They were greatly influenced by the counterculture and anti-war sentiment of the late 60s.
n Chapter 3, we will look at the important movie directors from each decade starting the 70s. In the 70s, masters like Francis Ford Coppola (*3), George Lucas (*4), and Steven Spielberg (*5) rose to prominence. These directors were affectionately known as the “Movie Brats”—film-school types that had both reverence for the classics as well as the youthful energy to push the medium in new directions. In the 80s, directors like James Cameron (*6), Robert Zemeckis (*7), and Ridley Scott (*8) started creating blockbusters that captured the imagination of an entire generation of American moviegoers. In the 90s, directors like Spike Lee (*9), Quentin Tarantino (*10), Paul Thomas Anderson (*11) and the like brought independent film stylings to a large audience. This second wave of American auteurs came to be known as the “Video Generation” because they had grown up watching movies on VHS.
*3 Francis Ford Coppola (1939- ) is an American movie director, producer, and screenwriter best known for the Godfather series and Apocalypse Now.
*4 George Lucas (1944-) is an American movie director, producer, and screenwriter best known for the Star Wars series and the Indiana Jones series.
*5 Steven Spielberg (1946- ) is an American movie director and producer best known for films like Jaws and E.T.
*6 James Cameron (1954- ) is a Canadian movie director, producer, and screenwriter best known for films like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Titanic.
*7 Robert Zemeckis (1952-) is an American movie director and screenwriter best known for films like Back to the Future and Forrest Gump.
*8 Ridley Scott (1937- ) is an English movie director and producer best known for films like Blade Runner and Gladiator.
*9 Spike Lee (1957- ) is an American movie director and producer best known for films like Do the Right Thing and 25th Hour.
*10 Quentin Tarantino (1963- ) is an American movie director and screenwriter best known for films like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill.
*11 Paul Thomas Anderson (1970- ) is an American movie director, producer, and screenwriter best known for films like Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood.
In Chapter 4 we will look at leading Hollywood actors by era/decade. Legends of Classical Hollywood include Jimmy Stewart (*12), Paul Newman (*13), Humphrey Bogart (*14), and Marlon Brando (*15). In the 70s a new generation of actors ruled the screen, including Robert De Niro (*16), Al Pacino (*17), and Dustin Hoffman (*18). In the 80s, a group of young actors known as the “Brat Pack” starred in a string of coming-of-age movies. Then in the 90s, actors like Tom Hanks (*19), Tom Cruise (*20), Harrison Ford (*21), and Kevin Costner (*22) became worldwide stars. Plenty of talented Hollywood actors have risen to prominence in the 21st century as well, although it’s interesting to note that they often must first go through the rite of passage that is the modern superhero movie.
*12 James Stewart (1908-1997) was an American actor best known for films like It’s a Wonderful Life and Rear Window.
*13 Paul Newman (1925-2008) was an American actor best known for films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.
*14 Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) was an American actor best known for films like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.
*15 Marlon Brando (1924-2004) is widely considered the best actor of all time.
*16 Robert De Niro (1943- ) is an American actor best known for films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.
*17 Al Pacino (1940- ) is an American actor best known for films like The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon.
*18 Dustin Hoffman (1937- ) is an American actor best known for films like The Graduate and Rain Man.
*19 Tom Hanks (1956- ) is an American actor best known for films like You Got Mail and Cast Away.
*20 Tom Cruise (1962- ) is an American actor best known for films like Top Gun and Mission: Impossible.
*21 Harrison Ford (1942- ) is an American actor best known for films like the Star Wars series and Blade Runner.
*22 Kevin Costner (1955- ) is an American actor best known for films like Dances With Wolves and The Bodyguard.
In Chapter 5, we will look at leading Hollywood actresses by decade. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, actresses like Elizabeth Taylor (*23), Marilyn Monroe (*24), Katherine Hepburn (*25) and Audrey Hepburn (*26) positively lit up the screen. The 70s and 80s saw the rise of free spirits like Faye Dunaway (*27) and Jane Fonda (*28) as well as acting powerhouses like Meryl Streep (*29) and child superstars like Jodie Foster (*30). In the 90s, actresses like Julia Roberts (*31), Meg Ryan (*32), and Sandra Bullock (*33) were each called “America’s sweetheart” for the charisma, beauty, and likability onscreen. From the 2000s onwards, more and more women have fought to break down old Hollywood stereotypes and forge a place for actresses beyond roles like “the love interest”. We’ll also look at the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and Hollywood’s long overdue reckoning.
*23 Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) was an English actress best known for films like BUtterfield 8 and Cleopatra.
*24 Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) was an American actress best known for films like Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
*25 Katherine Hepburn (1907-2003) was an American actress best known for films like Morning Glory and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
*26 Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) was an English actress best known for films like Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
*27 Faye Dunaway (1941- ) is an American actress best known for films like Bonnie and Clyde and Network.
*28 Jane Fonda (1937- ) is an American actress best known for films like Klute and Coming Home.
*29 Meryl Streep (1949- ) is an American actress best known for films like Sophie’s Choice and The Devil Wears Prada.
*30 Jodie Foster (1962- ) is an American actress best known for films like The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs.
*31 Julia Roberts (1967- ) is an American actress best known for films like Pretty Woman and Erin Brockovich.
*32 Meg Ryan (1961- ) is an American actress best known for films like When Harry Met Sally and You Got Mail.
*33 Sandra Bullock (1964- ) is an American actress best known for films like Speed and Gravity.
In Chapter 6, we will look at different types of Hollywood players. First, there are megastars like Arnold Schwarzenegger (*34) and Sylvester Stallone (*35), who are not the type to win critical accolades, but for decades had the star power to greenlight films based on their involvement alone. Then there are actors like Clint Eastwood (*36) and George Clooney (*37), who started off as actors before becoming critically acclaimed filmmakers in their own right. We’ll also look at character actors, bit players, and actors that people love to hate for their villainous roles.
*34 Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947- ) is an Austrian-born actor, former bodybuilder, and former politician. He is best known for films like The Terminator and Predator.
*35 Sylvester Stallone (1946- ) is an American actor, movie director, and screenwriter best known for the Rocky series and Rambo series.
*36 Clint Eastwood (1930- ) is an American actor, movie director, and producer best known for films like Dirty Harry and Unforgiven.
*37 George Clooney (1961- ) is an American actor, movie director, and producer best known for films like Oceans 11 and Up in the Air.
In Chapter 7, we will look at a variety of different film genres and their most acclaimed works. Genre films are movies that were produced with the intent of fitting into a specific genre or catering to an existing audience. A prominent example is the crime film genre, which can be further divided into subgenres like noir, gangster films, and heist films. There’s the road movie, which is a classic genre tailor made for a car-dependent culture like America. Then there’s the survival film, where a man or woman goes up against the elements.
Genres like sci-fi and horror also have massive dedicated followings. Sci-fi films can be set in space, or deal with aliens, or explore theoretical technology like time machines. The horror genre encompass splatter films, zombie films, and psychological thrillers, among others. Many of these types of films are low-budget B movies, and many end up as box office failures but experience longevity as cult classics.
Then there are comedies. In general, Hollywood, the Academy, and the general public tend to view comedy as a lesser art than drama; the industry’s most prestigious awards reserved for Dramas with a capital “D”. But comedies remain one of the most popular forms of Hollywood entertainment, from heartwarming dramedies to slapstick, from black comedies to parody and satire. There are romantic comedies and action comedies. Many coming-of-age films have strong comedic elements.
Musicals are another important film genre. For much of the Golden Age of Hollywood, musicals were the industry’s bread and butter. In the second half of the 20th century, as Hollywood tastes shifted to films that were more realistic, fantastical musicals became more niche than mainstream. And the animated musicals produced by Disney have made the genre largely children-oriented.
Speaking of children, superhero films from studios like Marvel and DC have become so successful and so omnipresent in our culture that it sometimes feels like they are the main form of entertainment being churned out by the Hollywood machine today. Tim Burton’s Batman and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy have shown that superhero movies can be for adults, too.
Lastly, Hollywood has produced many films based on historical events and true stories. The majority of war films attempt to capture the horror and pointlessness of war; many historical epics and biopics tend to glorify of sugarcoat history. Then there are films like All the President’s Men and Erin Brockovich that focus on less epic but nonetheless dramatic moments and people. As an extension of these types of films we will also cover documentaries.
In Chapter 8, we will focus on the craftspeople and artists that make Hollywood films come to life. First we will look at acclaimed screenwriters and films highly regarded for their scripts. As the famous saying goes, “It's possible to make a bad movie out of a good script, but you can't make a good movie out of a bad script.”
Then there are famous authors whose works have been frequently adapted into films, such as Stephen King (*38) and Michael Crichton (*39). These days it often seems like Hollywood has just run out of original ideas and is over-reliant on proven properties, but films like The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Jurassic Park (1994) show that some film adaptations can be classics.
*38 Stephen King (1947- ) is an American author best known for his horror novels. His most famous works include Carrie and The Shining.
*39 Michael Crichton (1942-2008) was an American author and movie director best known for Jurassic Park and the TV series ER.
We will also look at composers known for their film scores and some of the most iconic soundtracks of all time. Unlike a pop or rock album, a good soundtrack is more than just a collection of good tunes—it reflects and amplifies story, setting, and characters’ emotions in a subtle and unintrusive way. For example, even someone who has never seen a Star Wars movie would recognize John Williams’ “Imperial March” and brace themselves for whatever ominous thing is about to come around the corner.
*40 John Williams (1932- ) is an American composer, arranger, and conductor.
Cinematographers, costume designers, and makeup artists are just some of the other indispensable professionals that create movie magic. This is an area where several Japanese artists have received recognition: costume designers Ishioka Eiko (*41) and Wada Emi (*42), and in recent years makeup artists Kazu Hiro (*43), who has won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling two times.
*41 Ishioka Eiko (1938-2012) was a Japanese art director and designer.
*42 Wada Emi (1937- ) is a Japanese costume designer.
*43 Kazu Hiro (1969- ) is a Japanese-born makeup artist.