In this short essay I will explore the correlation between technological advancements in society and how it impacted cinema's development in the United States.
Since the birth of cinema, the medium has been shaped by advances in technology. As the last art form (so far), cinema is not only influenced by technology, its survival depends on how it adapts and implements this technology.
In the1930's color “came” to Hollywood. This new tech achievement took shape and established itself much slower than sound did.
Even though color films were made since the 1930's they did not usurp black-and-white cinema until the 1960's, when TV advanced into the marketplace. It was imperative to the survival of cinema to distinguish itself from the tube.
Great films were made during this early stage, but the one that transformed filmmaking was the first, modern, sound film “Citizen Kane” (1941).
At the time it was an analog medium and special effects were created in camera or by the optical printer, designed and built by Linwood Dunn in the early 1930's. “Citizen Kane” has considerably more special effects than other Hollywood films of the era. It's estimated that more than 50% of the films total footage has added special effects.
Things drastically changed in the next decades. During the1950's and early 1960's Hollywood fell behind the rest of the world for the first time in history– aesthetically and commercially. Then with the advent of television in the mid-to late 1950's, Hollywood found itself at odds with the “new” technology and in order to survive they needed to invent something new. The use of Computer Generated Imagery started during this period. In the late 1950's Boeing Corporation was the first to use CGI in the aerospace field for flight simulators.
The mid 1960's and 1970's were an era of many great films. During that time the conversion to color was final, widescreen and 3-D technologies were introduced, the Production Code was abandoned and mainstream films showed major artistic innovations. The most notable film of this era employing special effects is “2001: Space Odyssey”(1968). The film broke new ground in photographic special effects and with its perfection of the Front projection.
Then in the 1980's the American film industry entered the “Kid-movies” and “Teen-movies” stage. Corporations were running the big studios now and they didn't have the experience of the producers and the knowledge of the filmmakers, so they wanted to make and distribute movies with a proven box office appeal. That is the reason why so many sequels, spin-offs and slasher movies were made. Most notable here for the use of special effects is “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”(1991) with its Motion Capture-the first computer-generated character realistically modeled on the 3-D human form.
When Digital media arrived in the 1990s movies went through profound changes. All of a sudden filmmaking was accessible to everybody regardless of the budget they had, thus altering the standard practices of film making. For the first time in the history of cinema the very identity of the art form had to be redefined. Before the 1990s movies were analog, meaning they created their images by recording light bouncing off of the surface of objects into the actual film strip. This resulted in a loss of information between the source and the object recorded on the film. Further if you duplicate the film, loss of quality was inevitable. With Digital recording, this degradation of quality is gone, because light is converted into binary numbers. Also you can duplicate the digital file as many times as you wish and quality loss will not occur.
Digital media also made the post-production stage just as vital as the production stage. Not only were special effects created on a computer, but you could create additional images, thus “shooting” live-action was not the only method of creating the film world. With the progress and advancement in digital media, shooting the film became a stage of post-production.
Released in 1999 “Star Wars: Episode 1-The Phantom menace” became the first digitally screened film in theaters which required digital projection. Distribution and exhibition were also redefined by digital cinema.
With the emergence of Netflix, Youtube, Hulu and other digital platforms, the computer is the primary screen that audiences will encounter films.
Digital media is as revolutionary as the emergence of cinema itself, but it has its own rules and expectations. Short films, feature films comprised of short films, movies based on video games or vice versa and new sophisticated trailers, owe it to digital cinema in drawing more audience members.
Digital media and the new technologies are pressing producers not only to explore new storytelling formats, but also to seek different ways for the digital narrative.
Watching movies in theaters has been under question since the advent of television, but even more now because people don't have to abide by exact screening times in theaters or show times on TV.
Today people conveniently watch movies on their phones and tablets as opposed to the standard way of going to the theater. They don't have to change their schedules or venture out in traffic for entertainment. They can relax at home, while traveling, or at a friends house instead. Although watching a show or movie in a busy public place can be convenient, it certainly isn't ideal for the consumer. Trying to overcome ambient noise and concentrate on a complex plot or story can be challenging. Society hasn't concocted the rules yet to go along with this changing behavior of the population. As digital media explores these options of delivering stories via smaller screens, situational etiquette will need to catch up.
In short, not only filmmaking, but film distribution and exhibition are in a state of constant flux. Cinema as a whole continues to be reinvented by digital media.