A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art used to simulate experiences that communicate ideas, stories, perceptions, feelings, beauty, or atmosphere through the use of moving images. These images are generally accompanied by sound, and more rarely, other sensory stimulations. The word “cinema“, short for cinematography, is often used to refer to filmmaking and the film industry, and to the art form that is the result of it.
The moving images of a film are created by photographing actual scenes with a motion-picture camera, by photographing drawings or miniature models using traditional animation techniques, by means of CGI and computer animation, or by a combination of some or all of these techniques, and other visual effects.
Traditionally, films were recorded onto celluloid film stock through a photochemical process and then shown through a movie projector onto a large screen. Contemporary films are often fully digital through the entire process of production, distribution, and exhibition, while films recorded in a photochemical form traditionally included an analogous optical soundtrack (a graphic recording of the spoken words, music and other sounds that accompany the images which runs along a portion of the film exclusively reserved for it, and is not projected).
Films are cultural artifacts created by specific cultures. They reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them. Film is considered to be an important art form, a source of popular entertainment, and a powerful medium for educating—or indoctrinating—citizens. The visual basis of film gives it a universal power of communication. Some films have become popular worldwide attractions through the use of dubbing or subtitles to translate the dialog into other languages.
The earliest films were simply one static shot that showed an event or action with no editing or other cinematic techniques. Around the turn of the 20th century, films started stringing several scenes together to tell a story. The scenes were later broken up into multiple shots photographed from different distances and angles. Other techniques such as camera movement were developed as effective ways to tell a story with film. Until sound film became commercially practical in the late 1920s, motion pictures were a purely visual art, but these innovative silent films had gained a hold on the public imagination. Rather than leave audiences with only the noise of the projector as an accompaniment, theater owners hired a pianist or organist or, in large urban theaters, a full orchestra to play music that fit the mood of the film at any given moment. By the early 1920s, most films came with a prepared list of sheet music to be used for this purpose, and complete film scores were composed for major productions.
The rise of European cinema was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, while the film industry in the United States flourished with the rise of Hollywood, typified most prominently by the innovative work of D. W. Griffith in The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). However, in the 1920s, European filmmakers such as Eisenstein, F. W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, in many ways inspired by the meteoric wartime progress of film through Griffith, along with the contributions of Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton and others, quickly caught up with American film-making and continued to further advance the medium.
In the 1920s, the development of electronic sound recording technologies made it practical to incorporate a soundtrack of speech, music and sound effects synchronized with the action on the screen. The resulting sound films were initially distinguished from the usual silent “moving pictures” or “movies” by calling them “talking pictures” or “talkies.” The revolution they wrought was swift. By 1930, silent film was practically extinct in the US and already being referred to as “the old medium.”
Another major technological development was the introduction of “natural color,” which meant color that was photographically recorded from nature rather than added to black-and-white prints by hand-coloring, stencil-coloring or other arbitrary procedures, although the earliest processes typically yielded colors which were far from “natural” in appearance. While the advent of sound films quickly made silent films and theater musicians obsolete, color replaced black-and-white much more gradually. The pivotal innovation was the introduction of the three-strip version of the Technicolor process, first used for animated cartoons in 1932, then also for live-action short films and isolated sequences in a few feature films, then for an entire feature film, Becky Sharp, in 1935. The expense of the process was daunting, but favorable public response in the form of increased box office receipts usually justified the added cost. The number of films made in color slowly increased year after year.
1950s: growing influence of television
In the early 1950s, the proliferation of black-and-white television started seriously depressing North American theater attendance. In an attempt to lure audiences back into theaters, bigger screens were installed, widescreen processes, polarized 3D projection, and stereophonic sound were introduced, and more films were made in color, which soon became the rule rather than the exception. Some important mainstream Hollywood films were still being made in black-and-white as late as the mid-1960s, but they marked the end of an era. Color television receivers had been available in the US since the mid-1950s, but at first, they were very expensive and few broadcasts were in color. During the 1960s, prices gradually came down, color broadcasts became common, and sales boomed. The overwhelming public verdict in favor of color was clear. After the final flurry of black-and-white films had been released in mid-decade, all Hollywood studio productions were filmed in color, with the usual exceptions made only at the insistence of “star” filmmakers such as Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese.
See also: Cinematic techniques
Film stock consists of transparent celluloid, acetate, or polyester base coated with an emulsion containing light-sensitive chemicals. Cellulose nitrate was the first type of film base used to record motion pictures, but due to its flammability was eventually replaced by safer materials. Stock widths and the film format for images on the reel have had a rich history, though most large commercial films are still shot on (and distributed to theaters) as 35 mm prints. Originally moving picture film was shot and projected at various speeds using hand-cranked cameras and projectors; though 1000 frames per minute (162/3 frame/s) is generally cited as a standard silent speed, research indicates most films were shot between 16 frame/s and 23 frame/s and projected from 18 frame/s on up (often reels included instructions on how fast each scene should be shown). When sound film was introduced in the late 1920s, a constant speed was required for the sound head. 24 frames per second were chosen because it was the slowest (and thus cheapest) speed which allowed for sufficient sound quality. Improvements since the late 19th century include the mechanization of cameras – allowing them to record at a consistent speed, quiet camera design – allowing sound recorded on-set to be usable without requiring large “blimps” to encase the camera, the invention of more sophisticated filmstocks and lenses, allowing directors to film in increasingly dim conditions, and the development of synchronized sound, allowing sound to be recorded at exactly the same speed as its corresponding action. The soundtrack can be recorded separately from shooting the film, but for live-action pictures, many parts of the soundtrack are usually recorded simultaneously.
As a medium, film is not limited to motion pictures, since the technology developed as the basis for photography. It can be used to present a progressive sequence of still images in the form of a slideshow. Film has also been incorporated into multimedia presentations and often has importance as primary historical documentation. However, historic films have problems in terms of preservation and storage, and the motion picture industry is exploring many alternatives. Most films on cellulose nitrate base have been copied onto modern safety films. Some studios save color films through the use of separation masters: three B&W negatives each exposed through red, green, or blue filters (essentially a reverse of the Technicolor process). Digital methods have also been used to restore films, although their continued obsolescence cycle makes them (as of 2006) a poor choice for long-term preservation. Film preservation of decaying film stock is a matter of concern to both film historians and archivists and to companies interested in preserving their existing products in order to make them available to future generations (and thereby increase revenue). Preservation is generally a higher concern for nitrate and single-strip color films, due to their high decay rates; black-and-white films on safety bases and color films preserved on Technicolor imbibition prints tend to keep up much better, assuming proper handling and storage.