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Spectatorship and Early Cinema Before 1917

James Clarke | Saturday November 30, 2013

Categories: A Level, OCR A Level, OCR A2, OCR AS, WJEC A Level, WJEC A2, FM4, Section B: Spectatorship Topics, Analysis, Film Analysis, Film History, Cinema in Context, Film Industry, Censorship & Regulation, Copyright & Licensing, Film Distribution, Film Marketing, Film Publicity, Film Promotion, Production Companies, Hot Entries, Key Concepts, Audience, Film Language, Representation, Theory, Spectatorship Theory

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Cinema is now nearly 120 years old and it’s a magnificently broad, deep, complex and exciting subject.

It’s understandably easy to think that the way films are now is how they have always been, in terms of their technology and particularly how they organize (tell) their stories. However, this isn’t the case and so it’s important for us to be aware that all forms of cultural expression evolve across time and that they are subject to many influences, intended or not. Understanding how cinema began might, in fact, give us some feeling for how it might continue.

This resource is intended to help you explore the development of film language and film spectatorship in the years between 1895 and the beginnings of the first full-length feature film productions of the early twentieth century in 1917. We will consider how and why film form and spectatorship developed as they did and to achieve this we will focus on a number of very short films and also consider a feature length film. Of this particular feature film, entitled Birth of a Nation, we must note as soon as we can the ethical difficulty in viewing the film as it is such an awfully racist text in its representation of black people and the issue of white supremacy in America during the American Civil War (1861-1865). However, if we are willing and able to separate that unsettling complication from the film’s important contribution to the development of film form then we can use Birth of a Nation in a helpful and appropriate way. Indeed, the film continues to have a place in contemporary cultural discourse as this very recently published piece in The Guardian newspaper illustrates: http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2013/jul/29/birth-of-a-nation-dw-griffith-masterpiece?CMP=twt_fd.

One of the key terms we should begin by using to describe early cinema is ‘the cinema of attractions’. This is a useful description of the earliest...


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