Chapter 7 — Movies

Posted: March 13, 2011 in Chapter 7: Movies


In his May 19, 2005, review of Star Wars: Episode III, The Revenge of the Sith, movie critic Roger Ebert wrote that this episode “is a return to the classic space opera style that launched the series.” He added that this sixth installment of Star Wars may not be the final one produced. “This is not necessarily the last of the Star Wars movies. Although [producer George] Lucas has absolutely said he is finished with the series, it is inconceivable to me that 20th Century-Fox will willingly abandon the franchise, especially as Lucas has hinted that parts VII, VIII, and IX exist at least in his mind. There will be enormous pressure for them to be made, if not by him, then by his deputies,” Ebert wrote.

VIDEO: Yoda vs. Sidious

  • Star Wars: Episode III, The Revenge of the Sith earned more than $850 million worldwide.
  • In 2007, Lucasfilm released a number of Star Wars scenes to Eyespot—a new Web-based video editor—enabling fans to remix existing Star Wars scenes into new, creative pieces, which can then be shared online. Eyespot carries 250 sixty-second Star Wars clips, which people can edit and add their own material to, then post their mashups on the Eyespot Web site. While Eyespot typically allows those who create work on the site to own their pieces, this is not the case with the Star Wars mashups. Lucasfilm has forced an agreement with Eyespot whereby Lucasfilm owns the exclusive rights to any completed works that contain Star Wars footage. What’s more, it will even own the commercial rights to the creator’s extra footage. Indeed, George Lucas has become known for vigorously guarding his intellectual property, so this arrangement has not come as a surprise to those who follow copyright issues in Hollywood.

Development of Movies

  • Thomas Edison invented motion picture camera and viewer. Edison’s first movies were forty to eighty seconds in length.
  • VIDEO: Clip compilation
  • Here is a description of the Vitascope London premiere on April 23, 1896:

The whirr of the machine brought to view a heaving mass of foam-crested water. Far out in the dim perspective one could see a diminutive roller start. It came down the stage, apparently, increasing in volume, and throwing up little jets of snow-white foam, rolling faster and faster, and hugging the old sea wall, until it burst and flung its shredded masses far into the air. The thing was altogether so realistic and the reproduction so absolutely accurate, that it fairly astounded the beholder. It was the closest copy of nature any work of man has ever yet

The Rise of the Hollywood Studio System

Edison developed strict trust stipulations

  • Edison licensing system, in effect in 1907–1908. Since the 1890s, Thomas Edison owned most of the major American patents relating to motion picture cameras. The Edison Manufacturing Company’s patent lawsuits against each of its domestic competitors crippled the American film industry, reducing American production mainly to two companies: Edison and Biograph, which used a different camera design. This left Edison’s other rivals with little recourse but to import foreign-made films, mainly French and British.
  • Since 1902, Edison had also been notifying distributors and exhibitors that if they did not use Edison machines and films exclusively, they would be subject to litigation for supporting filmmaking that infringed Edison’s patents. Exhausted by the lawsuits, Edison’s competitors — Essanay, Kalem, Pathé Frères, Selig, and Vitagraph — approached him in 1907 to negotiate a licensing agreement, which Lubin was also invited to join. The one notable filmmaker excluded from the licensing agreement was Biograph, which Edison hoped to squeeze out of the market. No further applicants could become licensees. The purpose of the licensing agreement, according to an Edison lawyer, was to “preserve the business of present manufacturers and not to throw the field open to all competitors.”
  • Film producers could avoid Edison’s trust stipulations by slipping across the border to Mexico.

Between 1910 and 1920, Hollywood became the film capital of the world for several reasons:

  • Southern California offered cheap labor.
  • There was diverse scenery for outdoor shooting.
  • The mild climate allowed year-round production.
  • By the late 1990s, however, film production was increasingly located around the New York–New Jersey area. One reason is that the edgy, urban moviemaking style—long associated with the New York film world and with New York–based independent filmmaking in general—became trendy. On the West Coast, a great deal of film production moved to Vancouver, Canada, where production costs are often half what they are in Southern California.
  • The end came with a federal court decision in United States v. Motion Picture Patents Co. on October 1, 1915, which ruled that the MPPC’s (Motion Picture Patents Company; the next iteration of Edison’s trust) acts went “far beyond what was necessary to protect the use of patents or the monopoly which went with them” and was therefore an illegal restraint of trade under the Sherman Antitrust Act. An appellate court dismissed the Patent Company’s appeal, and officially terminated the MPPC in 1918.
  • VIDEO: 1920s Hollywood montage

Movies Through the Years

Consider how our moviegoing experiences have changed over several generations:

  • 1931: There is no television yet. We are enjoying Mary Pickford in Kiki. What’s more, we’re sitting in a large downtown movie palace that comfortably seats more than four thousand filmgoers. An afternoon or evening at the movies is part of a weekly ritual that includes watching a cartoon, a newsreel, a film short or travel documentary, and a feature-length movie.
  • VIDEO: Kiki
  • 1961: There are no VCRs yet. We are heading to our favorite downtown theater along with throngs of teens and families, or we’re piling into hot rods and station wagons to go to the drive-in at the edge of town. We are watching Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer in West Side Story.
  • VIDEO: West Side Story
  • 2001: Our filmgoing experience stars a group of teenagers gathered at a multiplex near a major highway intersection on the outskirts of a city. Video games line the entrances that lead into twenty or more tiny theaters featuring projection screens not much larger than an oversized double-door garage but perhaps with new stadium-style seating. There are only a few families in the theater, although there would be many more if we were attending on a weekend afternoon. Most families are at home, watching movies like Shrek 2 on their VCR or DVD player and home theater system.
  • VIDEO: Shrek 2
  • Today: We are downloading movies (legally and illegally) onto our video iPods and ordering Netflix films from our online account; we return the films (after maybe illegally copying them) in little red prepaid envelopes. We are also becoming creators, ripping scenes from DVDs, editing mashups with increasingly affordable digital editing software, and sharing them with friends. Teenagers are still the main audience for movies but are putting more time into video games. Meanwhile, on-demand digital home-entertainment options increase, which in turn keeps more of us at home rather than in theaters.
  • VIDEO: Big


The number of drive-in theaters exploded between 1946 and 1958:

    Year: Number of Drive-ins 

  • 1946: 102
  • 1948: 820
  • 1958: 5,000
  • • One of the largest drive-in theaters was the All-Weather Drive-In in Copiague, New York, with space for 2,500 cars. It also had an indoor 1,200-seat viewing area that was heated and air-conditioned, a playground, a cafeteria, and a restaurant with full dinners. A shuttle train took customers from their cars to the various areas on the drive-in’s twenty-eight acres.
    • One scholar of drive-ins, Don Sanders, argues that the decline of drive-in movies corresponded with the start of daylight savings time, which meant that movies started and finished later—well past children’s bedtimes. Color television also added to the demise of drive-ins during the 1960s, and some theaters began showing X-rated films. The first drive-in opened in Camden, New Jersey, in 1933.

  • VIDEO: Drive-ins

The Rise of Independent Films

  • Developed by Robert Redford as an alternative (non-Hollywood) venue for independent filmmakers, the Sundance Festival in Park City, Utah, has become a major launching pad for American and foreign films and their directors; it is a serious, established A-list industry event.
  • In late January each year, the festival swarms with agents and distributors looking for new films and fresh directing talent, often channeling them directly into the control of major studios.\
  • Some say the purpose of Sundance has thus been compromised, and one group has even begun another “alternative” festival, called Slamdance, across the street.
  • National and international film festivals, however, still remain a crucial step in getting independent films in front of audiences and attaining critical notice.
  • Some films that reached wider distribution after being screened at Sundance include Roger and Me (screened in 1990), Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Blair Witch Project (1999), and Super Size Me (2003).
  • If we have time, we’ll start Super Size Me in class.


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