CameramanChaplin-era projectorThe Art of Movie-Making
James R. Temple

Filmmakers at workFilm is an inherently illusionist and enormously powerful medium, one that even acknowledged masters of the form claim not to fully understand.  Film may be the most pervasive and influential art form of the twentieth century, changing our culture and our perception of it, especially since television was introduced and the public began spending 40 percent of its free time watching.  For many people, knowledge of a particular place, culture or historical event is likely to have been gleaned only from the movies.  There are three principle influences on film: art, business and technology.  Ideally, the artist would create films unencumbered by the other two, but the high costs and extreme technical demands of filmmaking ensure that every movie is inevitably the result of a collaboration (or compromise) between these three elements.  As literature has its own language and grammar, so does film, and the setup for a simple idea such as the opening of a horror film involves a complicated series of ingredients — long shots, close-ups, lighting effects, set decoration, music, camera movement, and every one of these demands the involvement of several artists and technicians.  Movies are invaluable reflectors of twentieth century culture, not only from filmic commentary by intelligent and socially aware filmmakers, but often inadvertently; the escapist musical Top Hat (1935) tells us something about the grim realities of the Depression.  Movies will often shape themselves to appeal to perceived cultural attitudes, and as a result they will not only reflect their culture but actively influence it.  This penchant for distorting a reflected vision of reality can often lead movies to create myths, with the heroic leads of action melodramas and presentations of historical characters that succeed more by their emotional resonance than their accuracy.  A continuing question of the movies is whether or not they can ever fully be welcomed into the arts and accorded the same degree of respect that has long been given to other, older forms and mediums; universities were slow to offer courses in cinema, and indeed the avalanche of formula films makes it difficult to find the quality buried in the schlock.  Mostly it seems to depend on the difference between art and entertainment, which several filmmakers and critics have offered opinions on.


From The Art of Movie-Making, excerpts from Chapter 1: "Cinema Art, Film Technology and the Movie Industry," by Richard Beck Peacock.


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