The American Film Industry edited by Tino Balio

Book Report: The American Film Industry edited by Tino Balio, reviewed by Brian Franceschelli

“Although the attempt to represent the illusion of motion by pictures is older than civilization, the art of the motion pictures was not created until the twentieth century… The motion pictures, the newest of the arts, the only art to originate in the twentieth century, are a product of the Machine Age.” (Balio, et al. 27)

The American Film Industry begins with some background and context on the origins of the Industry, beginning all the way back at the inception of the first prototypes of what would eventually become “motion pictures” or movies, as we more commonly refer to them today. Early projectors and cameras such as The [Edison] Kinetoscope, The Lumière Cinèmatographe, as well as the Biograph and the Mutoscope, are discussed in depth, along with early forms of industry business like Vaudeville productions, road shows, and the Nickelodeon Theaters. Studios for filming early films such as Edison’s Black Maria, and the Mutoscope’s “open air” studio, are also referenced, since they played such a significant role in the production and advancement of early industry technology.

“…a myriad of technical problems were surmounted, stages soundproofed, and theaters wired. Engineers invaded studios to coordinate sight with sound…” (Balio et al. 229)

After discussing the turmoil of the patent wars, and the economic growth and battles for control of the industry, we fast forward from the early developments of the 1890’s and 1900’s, to the late days of the “Roaring 20’s”, are bestowed with an image. This time, it is not just an image, but it is an image with sound. The industry had made its final transformation, and became synonymous, at least technologically speaking, with the current industry (albeit with older technology), leaving us with modern motion pictures. Within two years of the adoption of sound by the innovators of the Industry like Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., every company, every movie, everything produced in Hollywood, had converted to sound. Surprisingly, unlike many major moves in an industry, there were no losses of companies or corporations in the move to sound. The complete transition to sound took almost three decades, and may have taken longer had the technology not been helped along in an unusual way. As with most big discoveries, where they arise when they are least expected, connected to something that is unrelated and distant at best, the advent and integration of sound into the Film Industry was no exception. Countless innovators had tried and failed to combine sound and film into one medium since the inception of the industry. In the end, it took companies AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation), and RCA (Radio Corporation of America) to pull it all together. While AT&T and RCA were looking to enhance their audio quality and capabilities, they perfected the equipment required for sound recording and reproduction. Realizing the capabilities and benefits of such research, two industry giants, Warner Bros. and Fox Film, took that research and adapted it for the movie industry. Initially wary of the new technology, other industry leaders eventually joined in, and after careful planning, the industry transitioned to sound, and then boomed. (Balio et. al. 229 – 251) Finally, after decades of failed attempts and enterprises, like Edison’s attempts to reconcile motion picture and sound, which he gave up on in 1914, and Léon Gaumont’s somewhat successful Chronophone, the industry had completed its final major transformation. (Clair, Gomery, Balio)

From then to now, the Industry has changed, though we haven’t seen another major change, like the transition to sound, just yet. Other advancements like Computer Generated Images (also known as CGI), or 3D movies (referring to three dimensional projections on a movie screen) have come close. Perhaps someday soon, we’ll be able to add another chapter to The American Film Industry, detailing another major change to this industry which we all enjoy.

I would recommend this book as a whole for anyone interested in the history of our American film industry, anyone taking or teaching a film class, or anyone who is curious and wants to read a complete account of the American Film Industry. Additionally, I would recommend it in portions to those interested in the technology, whether picture, sound, or film based, that gave rise to our modern film industries.

The American Film Industry is an anthology and collection of works concerning the history of film and its related technologies and industries, revised and edited into its final form by Tino Balio. The American Film Industry is copyrighted 1976 and 1985, and was published by The University of Wisconsin Press. It retails on Amazon.com for $25.84 (new, paperback), or $13.81 (used, hardcover).

Bibliography

Clair, René. “The Art of Sound.” Film Sound: Theory and Practice (1929): 92-95.
Balio, Tino, ed. The American film industry. Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1985.
Gomery, J. Douglas. “Writing the history of the American film industry: Warner Bros and sound.” Screen 17.1 (1976): 40-53.
Gomery, Douglas. “The coming of sound to the American cinema: a history of the transformation of an industry.” Business and Economic History (1979): 114-117.

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