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The emergence of cinema as a medium at the fin de siecle was the result of technological innovations resulted from the Industrial Revolution, but it was also in response to a growing demand from entertainment consumers who were desperate for more exciting alternatives. Developing quickly from its early silent forms with accompanying piano and on-screen narration to increasingly sophisticated "talkies" that changed the way people thought about things, the cinema provided this alternative for millions during the early years of the 20th century by engaging them in ways that previous theatrical productions were incapable of achieving. To identify how early cinema developed during its formative years, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature concerning the development of early cinema, as well as its technology, industry and cultural context. An examination of the concept of the "cinema of attractions" in relation to a perceived need to address the early cinema audience is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
The early history of the cinema took place during a period in history in which a wide range of popular entertainments were emerging. For instance, Barlow cites the development of "puppetry, miniature theatre, and experimental film in earlier kinds of popular entertainment like the cinema of attractions, nineteenth-century toy theatre, magic lantern shows, and cabinets of curiosities" as examples of late 19th century entertainment (2007, p. 22). Due to technological innovations and the demonstrated ability of cinemagraphic productions to attract large numbers of eager customers, it is not surprising that cinema became the most popular of these offerings at the time. The popularity of these offerings, though, was specifically predicated on the willingness of the audience to suspend their sense of reality and accept the version being presented on the screen, at least for as long as it took for the production to conclude. For instance, according to Braudy and Cohen (2004), the development of early cinema included what has been termed by Tom Gunn as the "cinema of attractions" that was characterized by "an aware audience for whom film was an extension of illusionistic theater" (p. 786). The term therefore implies a sense of active participation on the part of audiences in ways that transcended previous media and which compelled people to return time and again for more. In this regard, Braudy and Cohen advise that, "It is an informed amazement at film's power rather than a child's incomprehension that is at work in this 'cinema of attractions,' characteristic of the first decade of early film" (2004, p. 786). As early cinematographers drew of what they knew from thousands of years of theatrical productions in developing their own unique approaches to the emerging medium, one of the common characteristics of early cinema was its ability to provide the same high production values that became accessible to millions of people, making early cinema a cultural and social equalizer of sorts. Instead of being reserved exclusively for the affluent, the same types of elaborate and expensive theatrical productions could be presented in cinemagraphic form and shown over and over again. In this regard, Higson advises that, "The cinema of attractions is concerned with showing. This means in part a pictorial mise-en-scene which puts the decor, the sets, the props, and the costumes on display; but it also means that the story, the drama itself, becomes another of the attractions on display" (p. 91).
Irrespective of the thematic content, though, one of the defining characteristics of the cinema of attractions was the type of camera work that was used. For example, Higson adds that, "Rather than the camera engaging with the story and integrating the spectator into the narrative space through scene dissection, use of close-ups, eyeline matching, and so on, the camera for the main part stands back and observes the characters and their actions from, as it were, a respectful distance. It is as if the pre-given story is being observed by the camera (and by the audience) as it unfolds before it like a stage play" (1997, p. 91). In addition, Higson cites the "recurring look at the camera by the actors, which Gunning sees as another feature of the cinema of attractions" (p. 92). The impact that this new medium had on both its producers…[continue]
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