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Was the Period from Early Film to Early Cinema (1895 - 1927)

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Within this essay I intend to present the arguments of selected critics that have themselves each written their particular response to the question in matter. Each critic has made a valuable contribution to my thinking, and though some of what I've read I would suggest to be slightly primitive, I am still respectful of it.

Films of this period were made before the cinema machine, so conditions of production and conditions of reception are very different to those we assume now. This is a time were there are few expectations on the part of filmmakers and film audiences about what a 'film' is. Filmmakers and audience alike are clearly exploring two stages of experimentation: what the technology (camera) can do, and what they can do with the technology. Barry Salt argues that filmmakers were evolving a more comprehendible way of storytelling, in that they were finding a way of speaking in narrative form; trying to establish new ways of speaking. Stephen Bottomore similarly suggests that narrative form also develops from non-fiction "actualite" films: all genre of film is contributing towards the development. Salt argues the development of narrative form began with the tableau(x) and ended with multiple alignment and narration, and refutes the likely possibility of coexisting forms. Though Salt attributes Georges Méliès ability in quickly grasping the concept of continuity, 'by Le Voyage dans la lune (1902) he was consistently using an exit frame right followed by an entrance frame left, and vice versa,'1 he suggests his work was 'a dead-end as far as the development of the cinema is concerned.'2 To me these two statements seem slightly contradictory; the films of Méliès had a beginning, middle and end, (much the same as Sortie D'Usine (1895) which is a tableau, yet has a narrative) and therefor told a narrative whilst using film to show something. Furthermore, the ideas and originality of Méliès was undoubtedly an important inspiration for the avant-garde movement: in 1929 Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's collaborative effort produced Un Chien Andalou, a film that is consciously a surreal spectacle over narrative, and intended no meaning, yet the film does have a beginning, middle, and end, so there is no denying that this is a film, and I would suggest most certainly with narrative. Furthermore, though Salt states that actuality films had declined, in 'their commercial importance was already evident by 1906,'3 Tom Gunning contradicts this with an 'investigation of the films copyrighted in the US shows that actuality films outnumbered fictional films until 1906.'4 All film speaks to us in its own language, and that language has developed over time; its a means of expression that widens and deepens our ability to communicate in the world.

Tom Gunning argues that early film is entirely separate from narrative form and never sought to narrate, but is merely experimentation, moving towards what this new medium can do. Cinema itself was an attraction, and Gunning argues that films were "exhibitionist" in quality, which 'made it attractive to the avant-garde - its freedom from the creation of a diegesis, its accent on direct stimulation.'5 The close-up in The Gay Shoe Clerk (1903) is driven by exhibition, not point of view, 'because they do not use enlargement for narrative punctuation, but as an attraction in its own right.'6 The recurring look at the camera by the actors, and comedians, from which was influenced by the music hall, call and response and interaction, integrates the audience so that they can identify with the character and the films spectacle, so 'theatrical display dominates over narrative absorption.'7 One could argue the films offer the same spectator relationship to those of today, in that we are aware the characters are paid actors, and even in scenes of supposed voyeurism, for example, Peeping Tom (1901) and The Lonedale Operator (1911), characters are turned towards the camera more than each other, keeping within an exhibitionist form. A comparison of today is perhaps 3-D films, or the use of CGI, both of which highlight the use of technology. 'To summarise, the cinema of attractions directly solicits spectator attention, inciting visual curiosity, and supplying pleasure through an exciting spectacle - a unique event, whether fictional or documentary, that is of interest in itself.'8

The period of 1909 - 1912 offers a sense of transition between early film and early feature film, when narrative and the film industry become clearly evident. Their ten to twenty minute length distinguishes them from the feature



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