The birth of cinema in Germany (the brothers Skladanowsky), France (the brothers Lumiere) and America (Edison) caused a sensation with the lower classes and the immigrants in the 1890s. The films of the time were seen mostly via temporary storefront spaces and traveling exhibitors or as acts in vaudeville programs. A film could be under a minute long and would usually present a single scene, authentic or staged, of everyday life, a public event, a sporting event or slapstick.
In Pittsburgh, USA, in 1905, the first nickelodeon opened. The five-cent theatres spread rapidly. In 1907 there were about 4,000 small nickelodeon cinemas in the United States. In 1907, the Chicago Tribune warned that nickoledeons "manufactured criminals to the city streets"1. And in 1908 all movie theaters were closed in New York City because of moral concerns. Film producers realiuzed that they had to offer a form a self-regulation to avoid outright government censorship. They co-created the Nartional Board of Censorship in 1909.
Gradually film would become more respectable, middle class entertainment. But as the story films proliferated, in 1903, intertitles were often needed to make the action clear.
Showings of silent films almost always featured live music, starting with the pianist at the first public projection of movies by the Lumière Brothers on December 28, 1895 in Paris. From the beginning, music was recognized as essential, contributing to the atmosphere and giving the audience vital emotional cues. (Musicians sometimes played on film sets during shooting for similar reasons.)
By the mid-20s, movies were big business (with a capital investment totaling over $2 billion) with some theatres offering double features. By the end of the decade, there were 20 Hollywood studios, and the demand for films was greater than ever. The American studios produced 800 films per year, 82% of the global total. Until 1914 the cinemas of France, Denmark and Italy had been the most globally popular and powerful. But the start of World War I slowed down production. After the war, only German films could compete with the American movie industry.
At first studios kept the movies' stars names anonymous so that the actors could not demand more money, but in the 1910s, studios realized that certain stars could sell more tickets, and posters began to display actors' names above the studio billing.
Tabloid newspapers and gossip columnists such as Louella Parsons started writing about the American film stars 2. If you wanted to become anyone in Hollywood, you would have to be favorably written about. The biggest American stars of the period were Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. They founded United Artists studios in 1919 (with D.W. Griffith). Other major stars were Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow, Janet Gaynor, William S. Hart, John Barrymore and Rudolph Valentino. In Europe Greta Garbo, Max Linder, Asta Nielsen, Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich became famous actors.
Popular and best titles
- City Lights (1931)
- Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
- The General (1926)
- Metropolis (1927)
- Modern Times (1936)
- La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928)
- The Wind (1928)
- The Gold Rush (1925)
- Sherlock Jr. (1924)
- Safety Last! (1923)
- The Big Parade (1925)
- Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1927)
- Der letzte Mann (1924)
- The Kid (1910)
- The Last Command (1928)
- Greed (1917)
- Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)
- Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925)
- Faust - Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)
- The Crowd (1928)
- Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1929)
- Die Büchse der Pandora (1929)
- Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)
- The Artist (2011)
- Big Business (1929)