Fred Ott was the very first movie star that every existed. His brief starring role in the five-second film that showed him sneezing started the use of technology to make films. Since then, technology both in and out of film has changed immeasurably and what technology is used and is said about technology in these same films has evolved quite a lot and the statements sometimes made are profound. A summary of the Fred Ott principle and how it pertains to three films in particular in the early 1900's will be covered in this report. Those films are Modern Times, The General and Lonedale Operator. It will then be answered what technology allows the director to do from a narrative and technical level standpoint as well as when/how/where/why the new technology appears. It will be answered whether there are particular characters that are associated with the technology and the significance thereof. A conclusion will end the paper. What will be included in this introduction is the Fred Ott Principle. Mr. Ott was a man whose likeness appears in the two of the oldest surviving movie clips that exist through today. He was, for all intents and purposes, the first movie star that ever existed. The Fred Ott film represented the first motion picture ever and it was also the first film to be copyrighted. This is what the Fred Ott film represented and new technology made all of this happenstance possible.
Modern Times was a film that starred Charlie Chaplain and was a tale that actually focused on damning technological improvements in terms of using more machines and automation as well as less personnel to do the same amount of work. This culmination of factors led to a rather desperate unemployment scenario during the Great Depression (although there were other factors). In apparently keeping with the theme of the movie, the film was intentionally silent although audio-laden films were prominent and very much the norm at the time that the movie came out. Rather than use the most modern film technology of the day, the filmmakers possibly made it a point to have the production methods match the message of the movie.
The next film worth of mention is The General. The General is actually a train that is revered and treasured by main character Johnnie. After the American Civil War breaks out and The General is commandeered to attack the Confederates, Johnny hatches a plan to steal the General and warn the Confederate army. There is a love story mixed in as well. The film was a clear benchmark in film history as a locomotive was assigned a bit of reverence or even love by Johnny in that he could not stand to see his train used as a tool against the people to which he was loyal. He got the added benefit of regaining his love interest at the same time. This dynamic of having a passion and even a love for a technological item was probably quite groundbreaking at the time. It is much more commonplace in the modern era, and often goes to rabid excess, but The General was filmed nearly a century ago.
The third film was the Lonedale Operator. The basic plot of the Lonedale Operator was that a girl took over for her father as a telegraph operator after her father falls ill. Whilst in that role, some robbers plot to rob the station and the girl uses the telegraph as a means to both communicate her distress to the authorities while at the same time keeping the robbers at bay. Given that this film was done in 1911, this use of technology to trick people would have been a fairly new phenomenon. It took sleight of hand to a whole new level. The film also made heavy use of cross-cutting of scenes which was in its very nascent stages at the time but the telegraph itself kept the three main scene points related and this allowed the audience to follow the story quite efficiently.
As far as a narrative, it is clear in all three films noted above that technology was a main theme or driver of the film, if not both. The Chaplain treatise was a clear political statement, which was rare for Chaplain prior to that point, condemning the use of technology as means to keep workforce levels lower and they tied in the use of a silent film when they easily could have done a conventional one. They were making a point with the story itself and based on how the story was presented. The General codified the idea that a man or woman can have a passion and an urgency based on the use of technology, especially against one's own people. To see something that one is passionate about used against one's own people is surely a traumatic thing and would drive many people to act. Even so, that idea was probably fairly new at the time and would have definitely made people think on a profound level regarding what the film was saying. As for Lonedale, the child having the means and knowledge to foil the robbers shows that technology by itself can be used as a means to fight back against wrongdoing rather than having to rely on weaponry and/or just the police.
From a technical standpoint, the aforementioned use of a silent film for Modern Times was almost surely intentional and telling in its presence. However, the use of audio probably would have required more staff to get the film done so perhaps the message was muddled a bit by reality. As for The General, the message of technology being evil was clearly not the message except in regard to the fact of who was appropriating the technology and what some are willing to do to counteract it. Rather than have a condemning tone towards technology, the film uses conventional methods and makes it clear that technology is not evil…people can be evil and can use technology for immoral or improper ends. As for Lonedale, it is clear that technology is touted as a good thing and no real opposite side is presented. Each of the three films is somewhere on the spectrum of whether technology is a good thing or a bad thing. There are ones at the far ends (Lonedale and Modern Times) and one in the middle (The General). The answer to the director's attitudes about technology is manifested based on the above narrative and technical elements of the film. It is clear that the directors each have a different take and those "takes" are manifested in how the film was shot and the message portrayed in the film.
As far as how technology is portrayed in each film, the tone is absolutely negative in Modern Times. Technology and automation is portrayed as way to replace workers and also a way in which people can get terribly hurt. The character quitting his job after an accident is but one example. The General clearly shows that technology can be used for noble pursuits, that being by Johnny and his comrades, or for evil, that being the Union Army. In short, the point portrayed pervasively throughout the movie is that technology is not good or bad, generally, but rather how it's used and for what purpose. On the same token, some people take their possessions including massive machines like trains very seriously and they engage in very aggressive and passionate behavior to right the perceive wrongs they see. As far as Lonedale goes, technology is harnessed to foil a robbery and is universally portrayed in a positive way. Obviously, robbers or other miscreants could use a telegraph or other technology for evil, but that was not the message of Lonedale.
As for the association between characters and the technology, Modern Times used Chaplain as a vehicle to make its point but the wider effects on all workers was clearly the main point and that was pervasive throughout the film. However, the most poignant events and implied statements involved Chaplain. During modern times, the clear linkage in the movie vis-a-vis technology is clearly between Johnny and The General. In Lonedale, the little girl uses the telegraph, as well as some inanimate objects like the wrench wielded like a gun, to foil the robbers. The girl uses the telegraph to alert people to what is going on and thus foil the robbery. The girl and the telegraph are linked much like Johnny and The Train but the telegraph is not wielded for any evil in Lonedale is a noticeable difference.
There is absolutely significance to the associations above between the technology and the people linked to the items therein because in all three films it is the overarching point of the film. As noted before, the message is much more aggressive and in-your-face in Modern Times and Lonedale while it's much more moderate in The General. The first two really only…