How Film Technology Impacted Cinema’s Evolution Essay

Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, cinema technology advanced greatly—and with an ever-growing history of movies from which to draw reference, film-makers have increasingly approached productions from fresher perspectives, while always employing the most modern equipment, in order to better serve the audiences of their days. In Visions Of Light, a series of interviews with directors and cinematographers explores how the evolution of microphones, lighting, film, staging, cameras and mounts has affected the translation of story into cinema in a variety of ways.

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When sound was first introduced, for instance, actors were forced to lean in closer to microphones that were hidden on the sets, in order to be better heard—thus affecting their physical impression on camera (Bailey, VL). Also, the advent of sound affected the mobility of cameras—and it was years before directors began taking moving shots again. Only after technology improved, and the practice of adding audio in post-production took hold, did cameras become fluid once more (Bailey, VL).

In Visions Of Light, Zsigmond even goes so far as to claim the advent of sound might have affected film’s ability to rise to a higher form of art. Furthermore, in the early years, the onset of color film collided with the aesthetic prerogatives of directors from the black-and-white era of cinema. The dark-and-light stark contrasts of early film had always supplied directors with a strong foundation in a medium built on more abstract emotions—being more removed from reality, due to their lack of color (Daviau, VL).

The introduction of red, yellow and blues, however, gradually eroded that surreal nature of young cinema—and left film-maker’s with a new spectrum of visuals to explore that were more rooted in reality—yet took away the artsier fare of the colorless picture (Daviau, VL). Finally, as the studios began to give way to more location shoots, and more independently ground-breaking and inventive movie-making, more experimental cinematography began taking place, including the increased use of techniques adopted from unintended effects of technology—and instructional mistakes on set.

Inventiveness and new cameras and lenses wedded to create unprecedented waves of evolution in cinema. The more relaxed embracing of happy accidents, such as random camera “flares” for instance–and other unique lighting effects (Hall, VL), eventually led to the deeper medium today, where visual artisans have a century’s worth of rich and varied cinema to emulate, be inspired by—and pay homage to—in order to further expand upon the apparent human motion to improve the film experience.

Visions Of Light is an inspiring look into the history of film—and a revelatory expose of the methods by which we attempt to translate our greatest tales into the constructs of cinema—and how technology and history have shaped the medium. By the time a movie is played on screen, one is witness to countless lifetimes of work, both in the perceived piece—as well as the endless sub-texts of cinema that came before it. The improvements of technology over time have both strengthened and handicapped cinema, enabling it to more accurately capture reality, while also rarifying the more abstract forms of black-and-white film and silent pictures.

Future directors, of course, may yet return to the black-and-white medium, in order to test the depths of their art—but they may also find it more challenging than filming in color (Daviau, VL). Similarly, while sound changed movies from a purely visual form into a mixed discipline—directors who were to attempt to make a silent film today might find it more difficult to execute. Technology has allowed film to record reality better—while also blunting or limiting its inherent ability to translate more basic human emotions, through less colour or sound.

Furthermore, as cameras have become more sophisticated and economical—the increased use of an independent, hand-held approach will change the look-and-feel of film for the coming generations, lending to it a more reality-based frame—and for that very same reason, a more difficult platform from which to craft the abstract. Overall, as technology advances, film evolves into a much different form from the shape it started out. It is now a fuller and more complex medium—although perhaps less of a straightforward one.

With each mounting generation, directors have to grapple with the new and profound questions about how to approach the entertainment and education of an audience. They have to learn how to emulate the traditional paths of film’s past auteurs—but also, and equally importantly, to test the limits of the undiscovered country and new technology in cinema. Film-making as an art-form is ever-evolving and re-engaging its audiences in newer and more gripping ways.

The language of the motion picture, however, is fundamentally limited by the science which allows it—and so, in order to direct most effectively, every last available trick of modern film-making must be employed, toward the end of showing people something they haven’t seen before, and creating a synthesis that succeeds in overwhelming the sum of its parts. Newer technologies and angles must be embraced, in order to achieve a more honest form of surprise and catharsis, so that audiences are finally moved and enlightened.

For as technology evolves, so too does our tool set in the medium—providing an endless art-form to perfect and exercise up to the heights of cinema, as modeled by Citizen Kane. No patterns from past directors can ever be totally relied on, of course, in order to achieve the freshest cutting edge of new cinema—but those who are willing to learn the trade as well as take risks and experiment in the non-traditional forms are the ones who will always create original and inspiring works.

Thinkers and shapers who are keen to test tomorrow’s technologies and exploit their own mistakes are the ones who will consistently set the bar higher—and allow the younger audiences to be livened up by the unexpected. Film’s suspension of disbelief, after all, dwells in the camera’s ability to capture the world around us—but also, in the editing room, where unnecessary redundancies of past pictures are trimmed back–and re-hashed tricks of the trade are left on the cutting floor. Only the bare bone advances of new cameras and exciting visual storytelling will seduce the eye and mind long enough to engage future audiences.

Only the visionaries of light and sound will remind people of their daily existences deeply enough to be enthralled by the verisimilitude of it all—while simultaneously transporting them far enough away from themselves, that they will ultimately leave the theaters changed forever.

Works Cited

Vision Of Light. Samuels, S. ; Glassman, A. ; McCarthy, T. ; Glassman, A.. Daviau, A. ; Almendros, N. ; Bailey, J. ; Hall, C. ; Kovacs, L. ; Nykvist, S. ; Storaro, V. ; Wexler, H. ; Willis, G. ; Zsigmond, V. ; DVD. CBS FOX, 1993.

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