Many of us can share the love and excitement of walking into a dimly lit theater, of lying back in a squishy chair, of reaching with one hand into a bowl of butter-soaked popcorn; and of resting for two care-free hours to watch a movie meant to bring great emotion to the audience. Since their creation, movies have become a significant part of American culture. Today hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on creating movies and just as much is spent on viewing them. To keep up with popular demand, the industry is always changing and the equation to form a great movie is continually developing.
While at one time the public ran to the nearest theater to view the latest silent slap stick comedy, today we reserve tickets through Fandango and watch blockbusters with multi-million dollar superstars. Beginning with short silent films, movies have evolved over the years in different stages including: the Golden Age, the political era, sequels, and what is now the age of special effects and high budget films. The industry today that creates movies costing unimaginable amounts of money began with the simplistic, silent film.
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Although many are forgotten today, these short films were a key part in developing motion pictures created over the ages. Beginning with The Great Train Robbery in 1903, the early nineteen hundreds started a new era of American life. Charlie Chaplin led the way with his comical tales of the tramp in his lovable favorites: Modern Times, The Kid, City Lights, and Limelight (“Silent Films”, 1). Another significant figure in the era of silent film was Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart”.
She left a lasting impression on the motion pictures business by co-founding the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which still continues to recognize great films with its annual award, the Oscar (“Mary Pickford”, 1). Pickford, AFI’s 24th greatest female star of all time, also shaped the Hollywood industry with her contract demands. Stars like these brought life to the silent moving pictures by expressing their charm and charisma through a screen with no sound. The Silent Era’s simplistic way with direct plots and uncomplicated relationships, made it easy for the public to love and follow along.
As technology advanced, so did the motion pictures industry. After The Jazz Singer was created, the Silent Era came to an end and transformed into the Golden Age of Hollywood. The Golden Age introduced multiple new genres and countless new stars. Hollywood legends such as: James Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gabel, Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart became demigods that America worshiped. These primarily black-and-white films focused on the talent of the actors and actresses leading them. Many of the classics were based on an epic love story like It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story, and Gone with the Wind.
Each of these films, along with many others made the audience feel the triumphs, pain, and happiness alongside the characters. With these kinds of qualities it is obvious why they made such a lasting impression. The Golden Age extended into political films which hold a special place in American cinema. They became critical to maintaining a high level of moral and united sense nationality so that the United States and Allies could win the war. Films like the critically acclaimed Casablanca demonstrated how a timeless love story can survive through mankind’s darkest hours.
Hitchcock’s patriotically themed The Foreign Correspondent portrayed the struggles of an American reporter in his attempts to expose rival agents. The film ended with a supplication to the American audience to end their isolationist position and recognize the Nazis’ threat in Europe (“Film History of the 1940s”, 2). Closing out World War II political era films, The Best Years of Our Lives poignantly displayed how soldiers returning home found a different world then from when they left and their struggles to cope with that change (“Film History of the 1940s”, 2).
Movies like these used emotions and American sympathy to gain political allegiance during these times of need. The trend of sequels began and studios were eager to make large profits off high grossing box office hits. A franchise of over twenty films in forty years, James Bond helped every man with an adventurous side fantasize about the life of a spy. These action packed movies all shared the similar plot of Bond fighting against enemies, primarily Russians. These films also revived the political era because each of his enemies was the same as Americans during the Cold War.
Hits such as Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and The Godfather gained cult followings which demanded the stories be continued. The Godfather, a classic, was deemed great enough to add on to, but it like many other sequels received considerably less praise after the second. Yet the big named studios still made them simply to receive the greatest possible profit out of these franchises. Today the film industry has evolved into one driven primarily by money and special effects. After Jaws was released in 1975, special effects became a keystone for a blockbuster movie.
The mighty shark, Bruce, brought terror to audiences with his life-like technology. Studios continue to spend great sums of money on visual effects and new technology. Now viewers are able to see the movie come out of the screen in 3-D and every pore on an actor’s face with the high definition available. Avatar acquired much recognition for their creation of an entirely new world that was so life-like people could place themselves inside it and become part of the movie. The Transformer movies spent millions of dollars on each film solely for special effect purposes.
Nowadays the movie with the most realistic technology receives the biggest profit, so the number of quality movies with a great plot has increasingly diminished. Motion pictures have been a staple component of American culture since their creation. They have transformed from silent films to high tech movies over the years with the help from the continual technological advancements. Some may argue that the there is no longer any outstanding films since the end of the Golden Age, but primarily just the way of filming has progressed.
The eras of films are so different from how and why they are made it is hard to compare them justly with one another. Even so, all can agree on the large impact of film on American life. Sources “Silent Films. ” Greatest Films – The Best Movies in Cinematic History. AMC Networks. Web. 05 Oct. 2011. . “Mary Pickford. ” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Ed. Nancy Farrell. Public Broadcasting Service, 23 July 2004. Web. 05 Oct. 2011. . “Film History of the 1940s. ” Greatest Films – The Best Movies in Cinematic History. AMC Networks. Web. 05 Oct. 2011. .