With my wikispace, I wanted to address a facet of American culture that was a reflection of our own microcosm in Los Angeles, but also a valid means of further understanding the growth of America in the last century. The obvious choice was the entertainment industry: it turned our little desert municipality into a metropolis and provides a kind of “fossil record” for years past in American history. Please enjoy!

*If you look at anything on this page please let it be the On The Waterfront clip -- it's great.
History of The American Cinema:
Eadweard Muybridge pioneered the idea of a moving picture when he captured the gallop of a horse through a series of photographs. These photographs were captured by multiple still cameras and later displayed together to create the illusion of a movie image. This spurred a wave of inventors seeking to capture motion on a single device. Thomas Edison got there first when he devised the kinetoscope.

The kinetoscope allowed viewers to peer into a small peephole through which they could view a moving picture. It was an almost inverse projector – people were viewing the negatives passing through light at a high speed instead of watching the effects of light on a blank surface while passing through negatives as with a projector. There was no sound and the images created were in black and white.
Edison was stringent with his patent on the machine and few people were willing to pay the price he was asking to create these “motion pictures”. They nominated to move west – away from Edison and his patent – to experiment with the new invention. Many settled in Los Angeles where they began creating films.

The first of these people was D.W. Griffith. Griffith made his first motion picture, In Old California, in 1910. The filming started on a vacant lot off Georgia Street (to put things in perspective: that little street right off Olympic that abuts the Staples Center) and also featured parts of Hollywood. Soon to follow were many others who sought the success Griffith had found in the barren desert community.

Also during this time, Russia was experiencing turmoil as a result of its failing economy and government. Many Jewish immigrants came to America fleeing the poverty and unemployment of Russia. Some of these families settled in homesteads in the Great Plains region during the 1800s while a few continued farther west. Some created little film viewing venues. They charged a nickel for admission and coined the term nickelodeon to describe their businesses. A few of these men turned their nickelodeons into greater businesses when they started producing these films – creating their own “studios”. Some of the notables were: Samuel Goldwyn, Carl Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, and the Warner Brothers. (Again, to put things in prospective, think of some the major studios of our times: MGM, also know as Metro Golywyn Mayer, Warner Brothers, and the Laemmle Theatres that are spaced throughout Los Angeles.) These men proceeded to lead the industry as it grew.

By the late 1920s, sound was introduced into the motion picture industry. Prior to this, whenever movies were shown in nickelodeons, a pianist accompanied the show, playing the score designated to the movie.

The 1920s marked the beginning of “The Golden Age of Hollywood” and the end of the silent film era. The Golden Age was marked by the studio system, the continuation of black and white shooting, enhanced sound matching techniques, and actors and directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Rudolph Valentino, Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracey, Gregory Peck, Sophia Loren, Lauren Bacall and Grace Kelly.

The “studio system” refers to how in those days, each of the big studios (Paramount, MGM, 20th Century Fox, RKO, and Warner Brothers) had a particular style. Each studio also had certain actors or actresses who worked specifically for it. This accounts for how – during that era – many of the same actors and actresses shared the screen many times over.

As enhanced sound matching techniques evolved over time, many actors of the earlier period of the 1920s and 30s were put out of work as they could not remember their lines as they were asked to memorize more and more. This also provided for the rise of a new class of workers in the industry: script writers. As scripts became more refined, skilled writers like Ernest Hemmingway and William Faulkner were drawn in to craft scripts.

The next age to arrive in Hollywood was the era of “New Hollywood”. This era was marked by creative exploration of plotlines and characters and lasted into the late 70s. Writers, directors, and producers began crossing the boundary lines of the Golden Age to create surprising, shocking, and sensationalist cinematography. New Hollywood also ushered in color in the motion pictures.

By this time, the studio system had declined and actors were taking jobs with different studios. This also meant more freedom for the writers, who were able to experiment with a wider variety of story lines – if one studio scorned a script another might just as easily pick it up – and characters – there was a greater number of actors available, so many, that they could find someone willing to do just about anything (i.e. The Graduate – Anne Bancroft, body double or she?).

Finally, we reach the contemporary era. Starting from the 1980s, the contemporary era marks the beginning of the “movies” that we are accustomed to today.

Analysis of America Reflected Through Film:

Birth of a Nation (1915): This 1915 films portrays the KKK as protecting force of America. Directed by D.W. Griffith it is a clear show of the Nativist sentiment that made its home in America in the early 1900s.

The Jazz Singer (1927): This movie follows a young Jewish man as he strives to be a successful musician against the challenges of his demanding family and heritage. This is a reflection of the feelings at the time of an America comprised of immigrants as well as an allegory reflecting the Jazz Age.

On The Waterfront (1954): Marlon Brando’s character works as a Longshoremen in New York city and struggles with the confusion of allowing himself to be compromised by the Unions (who are controlled by mob bosses) as the rest of his comrades do or to fight back against the corruption. Although released in 1954, this film serves as an accurate representation of the corruption that pervaded in larger cities that were being ruled by “Machines” during the early 20th century.

Tarzan the Ape Man (1932): This film tells the classic story of Tarzan that we know today with an Anglo-Saxon emphasis. All of the “civilized” characters in this story are white people who show disdain for the “wild”. The natives and the animals are portrayed as un-cilivized and stupid beings with their lack of society. This, like Birth of a Nation is a sign of the Nativist and racist sentiment that was part of the American ideal at the time.

Casablanca (1942): Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman share the screen in a film that depicts the effects of World War II on a small microcosm of western Morocco, Casablanca. The city is a clear representation of how war changes things: its main inhabitants and patrons as represented in the movie are soldiers and army officials. It also features the mish-mosh of people whose lives become entwined as a result war. The main character’s husband’s greatest cause is an anti-Nazi movement he fostered himself.

Adam’s Rib (1949): Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn star in this film that explores gender roles and provides an expose of the 1950s struggle of the female. Hepburn’s role in this film signified a very forward thinking woman who sought to preserve the love of her husband but also procure her own independence. Although this movie was released as a “romantic comedy”, it takes a serious approach to examining the gender separate spheres at the time.

Rebel Without A Cause (1955): This story about a lonesome teen and his struggle to belong carries a strong representation of the need for “male dominance” to achieve perfection in the home, the importance of “fitting in” with one’s peers to find happiness, and the struggle many teens were having with being correctly “understood”. It also carries homosexual undertones which was not addressed in everyday society at the time.

The Graduate (1967): Dustin Hoffman is a newly matriculated graduate when he returns home only to experience a serious sense of confusion and disillusionment with the world around him. He finds himself seeking direction and can find none after working so hard in college and graduating at the top of his class. This movie reflects the confused generation of the 60s and 70s that came about as a result after the picture perfect families of the 50s.

During the Contemporary period there have been a significant number of historical movies devoted to relaying the
facts of a period in American history in an interesting and capturing style.

The Good Shepherd: Matt Damon works as a US agent during the Cold War period. He continually upholds a patriotic love for his country which ultimately destroys his family as he allows his work for the CIA to take precedence over his duty as a husband and father.

Frost/Nixon: An accurate dramatization (if such an oxymoron exists) of the Frost/Nixon interviews that exposed Nixon and his involvement in the Watergate Scandal fully.


On The Waterfront

Casablanca (Trailer):

Adam's Rib:

Rebel Without A Cause:

Thanks YouTube & Wikipedia!