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I'm thinking of really major films that came from Hollywood, like Star Wars, Back to the Future, Planet of the Apes, etc.
Were these allowed to be shown in the USSR? Did they have to wait for Glasnost? How were tickets priced and how were profits shared among the USSR and Hollywood?
Some films were officially licensed and were quite popular, such as Sun Valley Serenade, Some Like It Hot, The Sandpit Generals etc.
You might take a look at the chart here. Where there's only year, that's a Soviet film; foreign and joint-production films are marked with countries. As you can see, there are a few entries marked with США (USA). If you look by year, you'll find that it was roughly one American film per two years.
Of course, it was supposed that only ideologically safe films 'of high artistic value' could make it to the big screen. But it is said that personal tastes of the highest bosses of the Party and the State often affected the choice.
As to prices, the ticket cost something on the scale of 20 or 30 kopecks. For premieres the price might be higher, such as 50 kopecks. Films for children (including cartoons) were fixed at 10 kopecks.
The situation changed in late 1980s, when videocassette recorders became widely available and the state permitted some small business activity (the so-called cooperatives). Video salons became quite popular with their pirate VHS stuff, mostly action films, sometimes erotics or even outright porn. I suppose all these cassettes were technically contraband, but at that time the state preferred to turn a blind eye to it and just collect taxes (only porn was of course illegal and one might end up in jail for displaying it).
As to prices, I remember myself paying 1 ruble to see Jaws. That was quite a lot, enough to cover an adult's daily expenses (such as transportation, lunch, tobacco, newspapers etc.).
Soviet Union was really special market for American movies.
First of all, many movies took their way into SU many years after international release. For example, "West Side Story" (1961) was shown in SU in 1979. I guess that's because old movies were sold with discount.
Next, some movies were particularly banned until Perestroika (say, mentioned above "Star Wars", or "Rambo" etc.).
Next, some movies got their popularity in SU only - for example, "The Sandpit Generals" (1971) could be referred as "Major Hollywood film" from Soviet POV.
So a significant part of "classic" foreign films from the 60s and the 70s was shown in Soviet Union, but some "ideologically inappropriate" ones had to wait until Perestroika. While the rest (such as "Back to the Future") got into SU as pirate VHS.
"Allowed" is not an exact term here. Nothing was "allowed" in Soviet Union. Everything was decided by higher authorities, including which movies to show. A lot of foreign films were purchased by the Soviet Union and shown in movie theaters. (In fact much more than in the US). After the WWII many German films were obtained as a part of the war reparations and they were shown in the movie theaters. Later they purchased movies from all countries (not only socialist ones), translated them into Russian and showed in the movie theaters. They were very popular. I would say more popular that Soviet movies (I am speaking of 1960s-1970s). I remember American "Magnificent Seven", "Oklahoma as it is", French "Fantomas", a lot of French and Italian comedies, all principal movies of Fellini, Antonioni, Bergmann and Kurosawa and many others which I have seen in my youth. But there was strict selection, of course. Those movies which were considered "politically incorrect" were not shown. Some movies were shown to more narrow audiences (their circulation was restricted, but not completely prohibited). With the spread of video recorders almost everything became available, but not in movie theaters, only for private screening. For example, I could see "Caligula" and "Star wars" on video. They were not shown in the theaters.
USSR authorities authorized showing "Death of a Salesman" in order to show people how Americans are suffering. BUT USSR audience were surprised how come someone owning a house, a fridge, TV, nice furniture and a car is suffering! Recently, I met a guy from Budapest who told me that one of his childhood dreams was tasting a banana.
Music of the Soviet Union
Music of the Soviet Union varied in many genres and epochs. The majority of it was considered to be part of the Russian culture, but other national cultures from the Republics of the Soviet Union made significant contributions as well. The Soviet state supported musical institutions, but also carried out content censorship. According to Lenin, "Every artist, everyone who considers himself an artist, has the right to create freely according to his ideal, independently of everything. However, we are Communists and we must not stand with folded hands and let chaos develop as it pleases. We must systemically guide this process and form its result." 
Were major foreign films allowed in the USSR? - History
Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926):
The greatest male attraction in exotic, adventurous romantic pictures was handsome, hot-blooded Italian-born import Rudolph Valentino, after his breakthrough appearance in the famous tango scene in director Rex Ingram's spectacle The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). Dubbed the "Latin Lover," the matinee idol symbolized the forbidden and mysterious eroticism denied to American women in the 1920s in such films as The Sheik (1921), Camille (1921), the successful Blood and Sand (1922), The Eagle (1925), and The Sheik's popular sequel The Son of the Sheik (1926). The Son of the Sheik was a tremendous hit, released at the time of Valentino's funeral.
In 1926, his death came at the untimely age of 31, due to a perforated ulcer and peritonitis. Crowds in New York, mostly female mourners, verged on mass hysteria as they tried to view his body. [One of Valentino's legacies was that a brand of popular condoms was named after his role in one of his most famous films.] Native-born director Clarence Brown, who had directed Valentino in The Eagle (1925) also directed imported actress Greta Garbo in Flesh and the Devil (1927), Woman of Affairs (1928), and turn-of-the-decade Anna Christie (1930).
German Expressionism and Its Influence:
An artistic movement termed Expressionism was established in the prolific European film-making industry following World War I. It flourished in the 1920s, especially in Germany in a 'golden age' of cinema (often termed 'Weimar Cinema'), due to fewer restrictions and less strict production schedules.
Expressionism was marked by stylization, dark shadows and dramatic chiaroscuro lighting, visual story-telling, grotesque characters, distorted or slanted angular shots (of streets, buildings, etc.) and abstract sets. Leading directors utilizing these new unconventional, atmospheric and surrealistic dramatic styles included G.W. Pabst (known later for directing American actress Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box (1929)), Paul Leni (who directed the 'old dark house' film The Cat and the Canary (1927) and Universal's The Man Who Laughs (1928) with Conrad Veidt), F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang.
In the early 1920s, three nightmarish, German expressionistic films were to have a strong and significant influence on the coming development of U.S. films in the 30s-40s - notably the horror film cycle of Universal Studios in the 30s, and the advent of film noir in the 1940s:
- Robert Wiene's surrealistic fantasy/horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919-20, Germ.) (aka Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari) starring Conrad Veidt - the earliest and most influential of German Expressionistic cinema
- F. W. Murnau's classic vampire film (the first of its kind) with actor Max Schreck - an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula novel titled Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horrors (1922, Germ.) (aka Nosferatu, Symphonie des Grauens)
- Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922, Germ.) (aka Doktor Mabuse der Spieler) introduced the director's evil genius character
- -- Lang's Metropolis (1927, Germ.) has generally been considered the last of the classic German Expressionistic films
Destined to encourage the viewing of foreign-language films, English subtitles were put on the German musical Two Hearts in Waltz Time (1930) (aka Zwei Herzen im Dreiviertel-Takt) by Herman Weinberg. It was the first film to be subtitled for release in the United States.
Some of the best artists, directors, and stars (such as Pola Negri, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre and Greta Garbo) from European film-making circles were imported to Hollywood and assimilated there as emigrants. A number of early directors in Hollywood were hired artists from abroad - including successful German directors F. W. Murnau (invited to Hollywood by William Fox for his first Fox film - the critically-acclaimed Sunrise (1927)), Fritz Lang, Josef von Sternberg and Ernst Lubitsch (he directed his first American film, Rosita (1923) starring Mary Pickford), the great Swedish director Victor Seastrom (famous for The Wind (1928) - the last silent film of Lillian Gish), Austrian-born director Erich von Stroheim, producer Alexander Korda, director Michael Curtiz (recruited by Warners from Hungary), German cinematographer Karl Freund, and Russian-born director Rouben Mamoulian.
Director Ernst Lubitsch's first American comedy The Marriage Circle (1924) about marital infidelity in Vienna, was later remade as the musical One Hour With You (1932). With his classic, sophisticated "touch," Lubitsch boldly confronted the pre-Hays code of censorship with So This Is Paris (1926).
Later in Germany, Fritz Lang's last major silent film was the futuristic drama Metropolis (1927) - the expensive film enriched cinema in years to come with its innovative techniques, futuristic sets and Expressionistic production design, and allegorical study of the class system. Murnau's notable silent film weepie classic The Last Laugh (1924) told its entire story about a proud but demoted hotel doorman (Emil Jannings) through visualization, innovative camera movements (with only one inter-title), stylized mis-en-scene, a subjective point-of-view, and optical effects. Both Lang's Metropolis and Murnau's The Last Laugh were filmed by the pioneering German cameraman Karl Freund.
Murnau also filmed Moliere's 17th century satire Tartuffe (1925) as a movie within a movie, and Goethe's tragedy Faust (1926) with stunning chiaroscuro, images of medieval castles, huge mountains and Faust (Gosta Ekman) flying with Mephisto (Emil Jannings). Faust was the film that gave Murnau a contract with Hollywood's Fox Studios. The dark films of Josef von Sternberg in the late 1920s ushered in the gangster film: Underworld (1927), The Drag Net (1929), and The Docks of New York (1929).
Austrian-born director Erich von Stroheim's style was more harsh and European than the works of other imported directors. He had begun as an assistant director to D. W. Griffith. His specialty was the melodramatic portrayal of a decadent Europe with audacious scenes of sexuality. His brooding and expensive Foolish Wives (1922) was the longest commercially-made American film to be released uncut at 6 hours and 24 minutes in Latin America, but it was severely edited to a 10-reel version for general release. Von Stroheim's admired nine-hour, 42-reel silent masterpiece Greed (1924) (a detailed adaptation of Frank Norris' novel McTeague) was screened only once in its original form for newly-formed MGM executives including Irving Thalberg, and then severely cut down to its current length of 133 minutes (about 10 reels). Reportedly, the 32 reels of edited negatives were melted down by MGM to extract the valuable silver nitrate from the film stock. The same difficulties of extravagant over-spending and interminable length also plagued his film The Wedding March (1928).
Legendary Russian auteur director Sergei Eisenstein's classic landmark and visionary film, Battleship Potemkin (1925, Soviet Union) was released in the US in 1926, advancing the art of cinematic storytelling with the technique of montage (or film editing). Its most celebrated film scene, with superb editing combining wide, newsreel-like sequences inter-cut with close-ups of harrowing details - to increase tension, was the Odessa Steps episode. It was based upon the incident in 1905 when civilians and rioters were ruthlessly massacred. In the scene (with 155 separate shots in less than five minutes), the Czarist soldiers fired on the crowds thronging on the Odessa steps with the indelible, kinetic image of a baby carriage careening down the marble steps leading to the harbor, and the symbolism of a stone lion coming awake. [Note: The scene was parodied in a number of films, including Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985) and Brian DePalma's The Untouchables (1987).]
Another technological cinematic achievement was attained by experimental French filmmaker Abel Gance in his film Napoleon (1927, Fr.), a visually revolutionary picture originally six hours long and partially filmed with panoramic, "triptych" Polyvision (three-screens side-by-side to create a wide-screen effect, later known by future generations as Cinerama) at its climax. This meant that the film had to be shot with three synchronized cameras, and then projected on a gigantic, 3-part screens. [Within a few years, Fox's Grandeur wide-screen system was an early attempt at 70 mm. film gauge.]
And at the end of the decade, the influential and creative film The Man with the Movie Camera (1929, Soviet Union) from experimental cameraman/director Dziga Vertov, employed some of the first uses of the split screen, montage editing, and rapidly-filmed scenes in its view of Moscow.
Comedy Flourished: Arbuckle, Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton and More
It was a great era for light-hearted silent comedy, with the triumvirate of humorists: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, and the early popularity of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle until a scandal destroyed his career in 1921.
"Fatty" Arbuckle was one of the earliest silent film comedians (as well as director and screenwriter). He started out with the Selig Polyscope Company in 1909 (his first film was Ben's Kid (1909)), and then went onto Universal Pictures in 1913 and also appeared in several of Mack Sennett's Keystone Comedies films, noted for fast-paced chase sequences and 'pie-in-the-face' segments. Arbuckle was the first of the silent comedians to direct his own films, starting with Barnyard Flirtations (1914). His teaming with Mabel Normand at Keystone, in a series of "Fatty and Mabel" films, were lucrative for the studio.
In 1917, Arbuckle formed his own production company ("Comique Film Corporation") with producer Joseph Schenck which afforded more creative control, hiring Buster Keaton to star in his first film The Butcher Boy (1917). He used his 'fatness' as part of his sight gags, and his slightly-vulgar but sweet and playful character became extremely popular with younger audiences. By 1919, he had secured at $3 million/3-year contract with Paramount Pictures to star in 18 silent films - the first multi-year, multi-million dollar deal for a Hollywood studio. It has been little mentioned that Arbuckle mentored and aided Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin as they entered the film business, before his own downfall in the early 1920s.
While Arbuckle's latest comedy was playing across the country, Crazy to Marry (1921), he was celebrating in San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel over a three-day Labor Day weekend. During the bash in the hotel with liquor freely flowing (during Prohibition!), he was accused of the rape and murder of young 25 year-old starlet and 'party girl' Virginia Rappe in a widely-publicized case - Rappe died a few days later in a hospital of a ruptured bladder. Arbuckle was thoroughly and unfairly chastised by Hearst's 'trial-by newspaper' (with soaring sales) and public condemnation. One of the partygoers interviewed by the prosecution was an unreliable witness named Maude Delmont, known in LA as a blackmailer and as "Madame Black" - with a criminal history of fraud and extortion (she would lure young women to parties in order to entrap wealthy males). She claimed that Arbuckle assaulted Rappe, although other witnesses disputed her assertions. Fatty's career was substantially over, although he was eventually fully acquitted of the act after three trials in the spring of 1922.
The popularity of Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp soared in movies after his initial films with Keystone, Essanay, and Mutual. As already stated, he co-founded United Artists studios in 1919 with Mary Pickford, D. W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks. His first silent feature film was First National's 6-reel The Kid (1921) (with child star Jackie Coogan), in which he portrayed the Tramp in an attempt to save an abandoned and orphaned child. (35 year old Chaplin married his underage, 16 year-old The Kid co-star Lita Grey in 1924).
Chaplin also appeared in The Pilgrim (1923) - in which he mimed the David and Goliath story, and in the classic The Gold Rush (1925), a story with pathos and wild comedy about a Lone Prospector in Alaska. Chaplin was presented with a special Academy Award "for versatility and genius in writing, acting, directing, and producing" for The Circus (1928). Chaplin's comedies were matched by the acrobatics and dare-devil antics of silent comic Harold Lloyd, who appeared as a gallant, 'never-say-die' All-American "Boy" (with glasses) in Safety Last (1923) - famous for his harrowing climb up the side of a tall building, Girl Shy (1924), The Freshman (1925), and The Kid Brother (1927).
There was also the inspired comedic work of passively-unsmiling, sardonic Buster Keaton (The Great Stone Face) in Sherlock Jr. (1924) (Keaton's first solo directorial work), The Navigator (1924), the Civil War epic The General (1927) (Keaton co-directed with Clyde Bruckman) about a runaway train with spectacular sight gags, Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) - his last independent film, and The Cameraman (1928), Keaton's first film for MGM that also marked the beginning of his decline.
Baby-faced Harry Langdon's best feature film in a short four-year film career, The Strong Man (1926), was director Frank Capra's feature-film debut. The film predated Chaplin's City Lights (1931) by several years with its plot of a meek man in love with a blind woman. Langdon also starred in two other hits: Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926) and Capra's Long Pants (1927) that would place him the same league as his three other comic contemporaries: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appeared in their first film as a slapstick comedy team - a Hal Roach studio comedy Duck Soup (1927), and then performed in director Clyde Bruckman's Putting Pants on Philip (1927). The Marx Brothers debuted in their first film together in 1929, The Cocoanuts (1929).
History of Film
The history of film reaches as far back as ancient Greece&rsquos theatre and dance, which had many of the same elements in today&rsquos film world. But technological advances in film have occurred rapidly over the past 100 years. Starting in the Victorian era, many camera devices, projectors and film sizes have been developed and mastered, creating the film industry we know today.
From classical Greek plays performed live in ancient amphitheaters and five-cent machines at carnivals, flashing images that created the illusion of a dancing nude, to our modern digital technology and special effects, the history of film is a long and successful story. If you&rsquore an international student looking to study film in the U.S., chances are in your classes you will learn all about the zoetrope, the kinetoscope and many other &ldquoscopes&rdquo and &ldquotropes,&rdquo as well as the rich history of the art of storytelling.
Theatre and dance have been around for thousands of years. Many of the elements of theatre and dance are the basis of the modern movie-making industry such as scripts, lighting, sound, costumes, actors and directors. Like today&rsquos technological inventions, the Greeks had to invent the perfect amphitheater in order for its large-scale audiences, sometimes 1,400 people, to be able to hear the play. Mathematicians spend days creating a flawless stage for acoustics.
In the Victorian era, inventions of cinema seemed to spring up rapidly, each one building off another, creating a monumental era in the history of film. One of the first inventions involving still pictures which appeared to be moving was the thaumatrope, in 1824. The thaumatrope may sound high-tech, but it was as trivial as a toy. In fact, it was a toy! The thaumatrope was a disk or card with images on both sides and strings attached to the side. To operate, one simply twisted the strings and the two images would blend together to create one.
Less than a decade after the invention of the thaumatrope, Joseph Plateau invented the fantascope, which was a slotted disk with pictures situated around the perimeter of the disk. When the disk was spun the pictures appeared to be moving. Shortly after, the zoetrope was created. It was very similar to the fantascope, except it consisted of a hollow drum with a crank.
Film is synonymous for motion picture, so you can&rsquot have a movie without a picture! That&rsquos where the daguerreotype comes in. The daguerreotype, invented in 1839 by French painter Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre, was the first commercially successful photographic process. It worked by capturing still images on silvered copper plates. But before the daguerreotype, as early as 470 BCE, there was the camera obscura. It was a primitive contraption where a box with a hole in one side allowed light to pass through, striking a surface inside which created an upside down colored image.
In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge conducted an experiment to determine if a running horse ever had all four legs lifted off the ground. Taking pictures at one-thousandth of a second, cameras were arranged alongside the horses track, being tripped by a wire when the horse&rsquos hooves came in contact with it. It was a success for film development. Incidentally, Mr. Muybridge was able to prove that the horse&rsquos legs did lift off the ground all at once.
All these inventions were tricking the eye into believing that stills were moving. A true motion picture needed to have split-second pictures on transparent film. Etienne-Jules Marey invented the chronophotographic gun in 1882, which took 12 frames per second on the same picture. This was a huge step for cinema and a landmark in the history of film.
Charles Francis Jenkins invented the first patented film projector, called the phantoscope, in the early 1890s. The Lumiere brothers in France invented the cinematographe around the same time, which was a portable, hand-held projector. The word cinema was born from this invention and the brothers showed ten short films on their projector in the world&rsquos first movie theatre, the Salon Indien.
For thirty years, the silent era reigned until 1923. Until then narration and dialogue were presented in intertitles.
In 1903, the ten-minute-long &ldquoThe Great Train Robbery,&rdquo was shown, and it was the first Western narrative with a plot. Previously, films were just actions of mundane things like a short dance, a greeting or a kiss.
In the early 1900s, nickelodeons became an escape for the middle class, staying open from morning to midnight. But they often got a bad reputation for their shows, which involved crimes, violence and sexual conduct. And so they were transformed into nicer, lavish movie houses that charged higher admission.
A decade later, the industry decided to override their fears that the American public would not sit through an hour-long show, and begin releasing longer films such as Dante&rsquos Inferno, Oliver Twist and Queen Elizabeth.
In the 1920s, film stars were being made, their face recognized and praised. Also in the 1920s, sound made its appearance in &ldquoThe Jazz Singer,&rdquo which used the vitaphone system. &ldquoTalkies&rdquo were the movies of the future and sound-on-film methods were developed including the movietone, phonofilm and photophone. With the introduction of sound, the Golden Age had begun.
During the 1940s, a rise of propaganda and patriotic films appeared. &ldquoWoman&rsquos pictures&rdquo also reached their peak during this time.
During the 1950s, television caused many film theatres to close.
In the 1960s, many films were being shot in foreign countries on location and there was an increase in popularity among foreign films.
The 1970s saw a revival of traits of the Golden Age films. Called the &ldquopost-classical&rdquo era, films from this decade were characterized by shady protagonists, endings with a twist and flashbacks. Adult cinemas also begin to take root. They died out in the 1980s when the VCR allowed home viewing.
The 1990s saw the success of independent films, such as &ldquoPulp Fiction.&rdquo Special effects films wowed audiences. DVDs replaced VCRs for home viewing media.
In the early 21st century, documentary films and 3D films have become widely popular. IMAX technology also has been increasingly used. Now we enjoy watching movies in many different forms, such as on the computer or on a mobile phone. With the inventions of online streaming, handheld, portable cameras and file sharing, copyright infringement of films has run rampant.
Learn more about studying film in the USA by reading our growing article collection.
Over time we will be updating this section and including more information for those who want to study film in the USA and for other countries, but please feel free to post your thoughts and comments on our Facebook fan page, and also follow us and post questions through Twitter.
'They raped every German female from eight to 80'
"Red Army soldiers don't believe in 'individual liaisons' with German women," wrote the playwright Zakhar Agranenko in his diary when serving as an officer of marine infantry in East Prussia. "Nine, ten, twelve men at a time - they rape them on a collective basis."
The Soviet armies advancing into East Prussia in January 1945, in huge, long columns, were an extraordinary mixture of modern and medieval: tank troops in padded black helmets, Cossack cavalrymen on shaggy mounts with loot strapped to the saddle, lend-lease Studebakers and Dodges towing light field guns, and then a second echelon in horse-drawn carts. The variety of character among the soldiers was almost as great as that of their military equipment. There were freebooters who drank and raped quite shamelessly, and there were idealistic, austere communists and members of the intelligentsia appalled by such behaviour.
Beria and Stalin, back in Moscow, knew perfectly well what was going on from a number of detailed reports. One stated that "many Germans declare that all German women in East Prussia who stayed behind were raped by Red Army soldiers". Numerous examples of gang rape were given - "girls under 18 and old women included".
Marshal Rokossovsky issued order No 006 in an attempt to direct "the feelings of hatred at fighting the enemy on the battlefield." It appears to have had little effect. There were also a few arbitrary attempts to exert authority. The commander of one rifle division is said to have "personally shot a lieutenant who was lining up a group of his men before a German woman spreadeagled on the ground". But either officers were involved themselves, or the lack of discipline made it too dangerous to restore order over drunken soldiers armed with submachine guns.
Calls to avenge the Motherland, violated by the Wehrmacht's invasion, had given the idea that almost any cruelty would be allowed. Even many young women soldiers and medical staff in the Red Army did not appear to disapprove. "Our soldiers' behaviour towards Germans, particularly German women, is absolutely correct!" said a 21-year-old from Agranenko's reconnaissance detachment. A number seemed to find it amusing. Several German women recorded how Soviet servicewomen watched and laughed when they were raped. But some women were deeply shaken by what they witnessed in Germany. Natalya Gesse, a close friend of the scientist Andrei Sakharov, had observed the Red Army in action in 1945 as a Soviet war correspondent. "The Russian soldiers were raping every German female from eight to eighty," she recounted later. "It was an army of rapists."
Drink of every variety, including dangerous chemicals seized from laboratories and workshops, was a major factor in the violence. It seems as if Soviet soldiers needed alcoholic courage to attack a woman. But then, all too often, they drank too much and, unable to complete the act, used the bottle instead with appalling effect. A number of victims were mutilated obscenely.
The subject of the Red Army's mass rapes in Germany has been so repressed in Russia that even today veterans refuse to acknowledge what really happened. The handful prepared to speak openly, however, are totally unrepentant. "They all lifted their skirts for us and lay on the bed," said the leader of one tank company. He even went on to boast that "two million of our children were born" in Germany.
The capacity of Soviet officers to convince themselves that most of the victims were either happy with their fate, or at least accepted that it was their turn to suffer after what the Wehrmacht had done in Russia, is striking. "Our fellows were so sex-starved," a Soviet major told a British journalist at the time, "that they often raped old women of sixty, seventy or even eighty - much to these grandmothers' surprise, if not downright delight."
One can only scratch at the surface of the psychological contradictions. When gang-raped women in Königsberg begged their attackers afterwards to put them out of their misery, the Red Army men appear to have felt insulted. "Russian soldiers do not shoot women," they replied. "Only German soldiers do that." The Red Army had managed to convince itself that because it had assumed the moral mission to liberate Europe from fascism it could behave entirely as it liked, both personally and politically.
Domination and humiliation permeated most soldiers' treatment of women in East Prussia. The victims not only bore the brunt of revenge for Wehrmacht crimes, they also represented an atavistic target as old as war itself. Rape is the act of a conqueror, the feminist historian Susan Brownmiller observed, aimed at the "bodies of the defeated enemy's women" to emphasise his victory. Yet after the initial fury of January 1945 dissipated, the sadism became less marked. By the time the Red Army reached Berlin three months later, its soldiers tended to regard German women more as a casual right of conquest. The sense of domination certainly continued, but this was perhaps partly an indirect product of the humiliations which they themselves had suffered at the hands of their commanders and the Soviet authorities as a whole.
A number of other forces or influences were at work. Sexual freedom had been a subject for lively debate within Communist party circles during the 1920s, but during the following decade, Stalin ensured that Soviet society depicted itself as virtually asexual. This had nothing to do with genuine puritanism: it was because love and sex did not fit in with dogma designed to "deindividualise" the individual. Human urges and emotions had to be suppressed. Freud's work was banned, divorce and adultery were matters for strong party disapproval. Criminal sanctions against homosexuality were reintroduced. The new doctrine extended even to the complete suppression of sex education. In graphic art, the clothed outline of a woman's breasts was regarded as dangerously erotic. They had to be disguised under boiler suits. The regime clearly wanted any form of desire to be converted into love for the party and above all for Comrade Stalin.
Most ill-educated Red Army soldiers suffered from sexual ignorance and utterly unenlightened attitudes towards women. So the Soviet state's attempts to suppress the libido of its people created what one Russian writer described as a sort of "barracks eroticism" which was far more primitive and violent than "the most sordid foreign pornography". All this was combined with the dehumanising influence of modern propaganda and the atavistic, warring impulses of men marked by fear and suffering.
The novelist Vasily Grossman, a war correspondent attached to the invading Red Army, soon discovered that rape victims were not just Germans. Polish women also suffered. So did young Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian women who had been sent back to Germany by the Wehrmacht for slave labour. "Liberated Soviet girls quite often complain that our soldiers rape them," he noted. "One girl said to me in tears: 'He was an old man, older than my father'."
The rape of Soviet women and girls seriously undermines Russian attempts to justify Red Army behaviour on the grounds of revenge for German brutality in the Soviet Union. On March 29 1945 the central committee of the Komsomol (the youth organisation of the Soviet Union) informed Stalin's associate Malenkov of a report from the 1st Ukrainian Front. "On the night of 24 February," General Tsygankov recorded in the first of many examples, "a group of 35 provisional lieutenants on a course and their battalion commander entered the women's dormitory in the village of Grutenberg and raped them."
In Berlin, many women were simply not prepared for the shock of Russian revenge, however much horror propaganda they had heard from Goebbels. Many reassured themselves that, although the danger must be great out in the countryside, mass rapes could hardly take place in the city in front of everybody.
In Dahlem, Soviet officers visited Sister Kunigunde, the mother superior of Haus Dahlem, a maternity clinic and orphanage. The officers and their men behaved impeccably. In fact, the officers even warned Sister Kunigunde about the second-line troops following on behind. Their prediction proved entirely accurate. Nuns, young girls, old women, pregnant women and mothers who had just given birth were all raped without pity.
Yet within a couple of days, a pattern emerged of soldiers flashing torches in the faces of women huddled in the bunkers to choose their victims. This process of selection, as opposed to the indiscriminate violence shown earlier, indicates a definite change. By this stage Soviet soldiers started to treat German women more as sexual spoils of war than as substitutes for the Wehrmacht on which to vent their rage.
Rape has often been defined by writers on the subject as an act of violence which has little to do with sex. But that is a definition from the victim's perspective. To understand the crime, one needs to see things from the perpetrator's point of view, especially in the later stages when unaggravated rape had succeeded the extreme onslaught of January and February.
Many women found themselves forced to "concede" to one soldier in the hope that he would protect them from others. Magda Wieland, a 24-year-old actress, was dragged from a cupboard in her apartment just off the Kurfürstendamm. A very young soldier from central Asia hauled her out. He was so excited at the prospect of a beautiful young blonde that he ejaculated prematurely. By sign language, she offered herself to him as a girlfriend if he would protect her from other Russian soldiers, but he went off to boast to his comrades and another soldier raped her. Ellen Goetz, a Jewish friend of Magda's, was also raped. When other Germans tried to explain to the Russians that she was Jewish and had been persecuted, they received the retort: "Frau ist Frau."
Women soon learned to disappear during the "hunting hours" of the evening. Young daughters were hidden in storage lofts for days on end. Mothers emerged into the street to fetch water only in the early morning when Soviet soldiers were sleeping off the alcohol from the night before. Sometimes the greatest danger came from one mother giving away the hiding place of other girls in a desperate bid to save her own daughter. Older Berliners still remember the screams every night. It was impossible not to hear them because all the windows had been blown in.
Estimates of rape victims from the city's two main hospitals ranged from 95,000 to 130,000. One doctor deduced that out of approximately 100,000 women raped in the city, some 10,000 died as a result, mostly from suicide. The death rate was thought to have been much higher among the 1.4 million estimated victims in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia. Altogether at least two million German women are thought to have been raped, and a substantial minority, if not a majority, appear to have suffered multiple rape.
If anyone attempted to defend a woman against a Soviet attacker it was either a father trying to defend a daughter or a young son trying to protect his mother. "The 13-year old Dieter Sahl," neighbours wrote in a letter shortly after the event, "threw himself with flailing fists at a Russian who was raping his mother in front of him. He did not succeed in anything except getting himself shot."
After the second stage of women offering themselves to one soldier to save themselves from others, came the post-battle need to survive starvation. Susan Brownmiller noted "the murky line that divides wartime rape from wartime prostitution". Soon after the surrender in Berlin, Ursula von Kardorff found all sorts of women prostituting themselves for food or the alternative currency of cigarettes. Helke Sander, a German film-maker who researched the subject in great detail, wrote of "the grey area of direct force, blackmail, calculation and real affection".
The fourth stage was a strange form of cohabitation in which Red Army officers settled in with German "occupation wives". The Soviet authorities were appalled and enraged when a number of Red Army officers, intent on staying with their German lovers, deserted when it was time to return to the Motherland.
Even if the feminist definition of rape purely as an act of violence proves to be simplistic, there is no justification for male complacency. If anything, the events of 1945 reveal how thin the veneer of civilisation can be when there is little fear of retribution. It also suggests a much darker side to male sexuality than we might care to admit.
Movies and Film: Fade In: A Brief History of Editing
As with most other film techniques, editing has evolved over time as the technology and audience expectations change. The following is a brief history of this technique.
Like almost every basic idea about movies, the idea of editing has its precursors. Flashbacks had existed in novels scene changes were already part of live theater even narrated sequences had been a part of visual culture from medieval altar triptychs to late nineteenth-century comic strips.
But the very earliest filmmakers were afraid to edit film shots together because they assumed that splicing together different shots of different things from different positions would simply confuse audiences.
Even the middle ages had its version of editing, as this church altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, The Portinari Altarpiece (ca. 1476), shows. The piece gets you from one scene to the next via simple cuts.
Shot: The basic temporal unit of film photography and editing. A shot consists of the celluloid used from the moment a camera begins rolling on a scene to the moment it stops.
Sequence: A number of shots edited together and unified, either through the plot, the character(s), the time and/or space, or the theme.
However, filmmakers quickly discovered that editing shots into a sequence not only contributed to the audience's sense of tale, but also enabled them to tell more complex stories as a result. You can see primitive instances of editing in films like Rescued by Rover (Great Britain, 1904) and The Great Train Robbery (1903).
Early on the cuts were made in the camera, so that the cameraman would simply stop cranking at the exact end of a shot, and begin cranking again when it was moved somewhere else, or when something else was put in front of it. This kind of editing could allow for some early special effects. In movies he is making at the turn of the century, Georges Mlis stops the camera after detonating a magic puff of smoke in front of his actor, then begins the camera again after the actor has left the stage, making it seem as if the actor has magically vanished.
Griffith and Beyond
Did you know that the first real film school in the world?the Moscow Film School?was founded as a propaganda device? Lenin knew early on that the cinema was going to be an important ideological tool for communicating ways of seeing the world. Lenin's way?Marxism?was so controversial in the early part of the century that the United States and Western Europe blockaded Russia after that country's communist revolution.
We will read in greater detail about D. W. Griffith's contribution to editing. Here we can just note that, though he did not invent any of the editing techniques he used, he made them emotionally and thematically significant. So much so that he influenced the art of editing worldwide. The Moscow Film School of the 1920s, for example, played his Intolerance (1916) over and over again in order to use Griffith's techniques for the films of its students. One of the most notable of the Soviet directors of this era was Sergei Eisenstein, who transformed the principles of classical editing into something more consciously intellectualized he called montage.
Though the idea of putting together shots to forward theme as well as action?one way of seeing montage?had occurred to other filmmakers before Griffith and the early Soviets, Griffith made it a regular practice and the Russian filmmakers theorized its meaning.
The first rigorous use of the term is by Soviet filmmakers like V.I. Pudovkin and Sergei Eisenstein, who saw montage principally as a useful propaganda film tool. Montage was a way to put together a number of shots, more or less quickly, in a manner that pointed out a moral or an idea. In Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), a shot of a faceless, crowded group of men emerging from a subway on their way to work is followed by a shot of a herd of sheep being led to slaughter. There is one black ram in the middle of the herd. We immediately cut back to Charlie emerging in the midst of the crowd: the one black sheep in the fold.
In Editing, Sometimes Less Is More
Some filmmakers chose to minimize editing, seeing it as the "death of 1,000 cuts" for realism. For example, though some documentarists saw editing as a way to make their anthropological visions appear more interesting, others saw minimal intrusion as the more authentic way to go. Other documentary styles emerged in which editorial intervention was minimal, if never entirely absent.
Montage is a confusing term because, like love, it means different things to different people. In Hollywood it most often simply means a number of shots edited quickly together in order to form a brief impression of a character, place, or time. The Madonna musical number "Back in Business" in Dick Tracy (1990) underscores a visual montage of several quick shots of gangsters engaged in various illegal rackets: gambling, robbery, and so on. This montage simply conveys the idea that a lot of illegal activities are going on in a compressed time.
But even in feature filmmaking some directors chose to avoid the manipulation of reality that montage and heavy editing seemed to imply. In the silent era, some American comics such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin often relied on long takes in order to demonstrate that no special effects had been used and the acrobatics of the comedian were not camera tricks but dangerously real events.
In the 1930s, Jean Renoir's films were filled with shots of long duration. The best examples are probably Grand Illusion (La Grande Illusion, France, 1937) and Boudu Saved from Drowning (Boudu Sauv Des Eaux, France, 1932). The subsequent movements most associated with less emphasis of montage are Italian neorealism and the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) and cinma verit.
The laws of gravity and insurance prevent most contemporary he-man stars from performing a tenth of the feats the very small Keaton performed, which is one reason that action sequences tend to be so heavily edited. Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger could not?even if they had the skill?have a house fall on them, leap around on top of a moving train, or actually tumble head-over-heels down a hill. The feats that the he-men seem to do in their films are, most of the time, special effects. While also a master of editing effects, Keaton was very careful to make sure the camera continued cranking and focusing on him when he took real chances.
Even in an era of incredibly advanced special effects, some filmmakers are still enamored of the photographic realism in sustained shots. Perhaps the most conspicuous is Jim Jarmusch, who will hold his camera on his subjects for an agonizingly hilarious amount of time.
But the past 20 or so years has also seen the rise of "digital editing" (also called nonlinear editing), which makes any kind of editing easier. The notion of editing film on video originated when films were transferred to video for television viewing. Then filmmakers used video to edit their work more quickly and less expensively than they could on film. The task of cleanly splicing together video clips was then taken over by computers using advanced graphics programs that could then also perform various special effects functions. Finally, computers convert digital images back into film or video. These digital cuts are a very far cry from Mli's editing in the camera.
The unkindest cut of all: editing and censorship. Films can and have traditionally been censored even after release simply by cutting out anything deemed unsavory. In the first three decades of film, even individual American cities routinely cut out parts of films with overt sexual content or controversial subject matter.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Movies and Film 2001 by Mark Winokur and Bruce Holsinger. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Attwood, Lynne. Creating the New Soviet Woman: Women’s Magazines as Engineers of Female Identity, 1922-53. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.
In the aftermath of the Revolution, Bolsheviks were committed to creating a new type of person that would be willing to be subordinate to the interests of the rest of society. In particular, this applied to women, who were responsible for creating and shaping the next generation of Soviets. Attwood explores how this “new womanhood” was presented, based on two major women’s magazines of the time.
Chatterjee, Choi. Celebrating Women: Gender, Festival Culture, and Bolshevik Ideology, 1910-1939. 1st ed. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002.
Chatterjee analyzes the festival of Women’s Day, which was adopted in 1913 by the Bolsheviks. The celebration of this festival shaped the ideal Soviet woman as a strong figure. Through this, Chatterjee examines how this defined the role of women in Communist society, and the construction of Soviet womanhood. By exploring the construction of gender within the confines of this festival, Chatterjee shows how the Bolshevik’s ideology was both put into practice and ignored with regards to women.
Lapidus, Gail Warshofsky. Women in Soviet Society: Equality, Development, and Social Change. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
Officially, Soviets wanted to liberate women from their roles as domestic leaders. Lapidus looks at the consequences of the policies that the Soviets enacted in order to reach this goal. By looking at attempts to reach social equality, Lapidus determines how much equality women were actually afforded during this period. She examines how women measured up compared to their male counterparts of the time, and how this fit in with the established ideals of the Bolsheviks about women.
Reid, Susan E. “All Stalin’s Women: Gender and Power in Soviet Art of the 1930s.” Slavic Review 57, no. 1 (1998): 133-173.
Reid looks at visual representations of women during the 1930s, and how it plays into the Soviet ideal of women. In art of the time, women were meant to stand for the people as a whole, and were therefore portrayed as a subordinated group. In Soviet art, women fulfilled traditional gender roles, which reflect on the thinking of the time with regards to women’s rights. By examining art, one will see how women were perceived in popular thinking.
Stites, Richard. The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860-1930. 1978 Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
Stites chronicles women in the pre-Bolshevik period through Stalin’s regime. This will be useful to see the changes in womanhood over time. He discusses the feminist responses to the changes that the Bolsheviks enacted, and how these changes affected gender politics in the country. Looking at how feminism coexisted with Bolshevism will help give a broader picture of women’s struggles during this time period.
Wood, Elizabeth A. The Baba and the Comrade Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.
Wood explains the history of women’s issues in Russia, beginning with the traditional baba or the “backward” woman of the pre-Soviet time. Wood then chronicles the changes that were made to the expectations of women’s behavior in order to turn her into the Bolshevik vision of gender neutrality. The book focuses on the role that women played within the Communist Party, which will also show how women acted in public, political situations.
“Women in World History.” Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, 2006.
This website looks at the implications of Stalin’s policies on Soviet women. First, it gives a short background explanation of these policies. It also looks at newspaper articles and drawings of the time. These primary sources show what the attitude was towards women within the Soviet Union, and how different aspects of female life, such as education and work, were approached.
Women at Work
Goldman, Wendy Z. Women at the Gates: Gender and Industry in Stalin’s Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
After the Revolution, the working class began growing. Goldman looks at how this affected women, who now entered the work force in droves. In contrast to their previous roles as domestic leaders, they now were working in the public sphere. As the country began to become more industrialized, women began working in factories. This changed gender roles very quickly over a short period of time.
Holmgren, Beth. Women’s Works in Stalin’s Time: On Lidiia Chukovskaia and Nadezhda Mandelstam. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
Holmgren looks at two female writers of the Soviet time. By looking at the literary history of the time, one can determine how Stalin’s policies affected everyday life, especially for Soviet women. Specifically, these two women stand out as exemplary women of the time. Holmgren’s book explores the idea that the domestic sphere often served as a private place for rebellion against Stalin’s regime.
A propaganda poster on a Soviet mother’s “duty” to her children
Women and Families
Goldman, Wendy Z. Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917-1936. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
In this book, Goldman examines how Soviet womanhood played into the construction of the family. Bolsheviks originally wanted to reinvent the family, making more of a communal neighborhood environment. Eventually, this changed and more traditional family roles returned. Goldman looks at how women determined the future of the Soviet family.
Phillips, Laura L. “In Defense of Their Families: Working-Class Women, Alcohol, and Politics in Revolutionary Russia.” Journal of Women’s History 11, no. 1 (n.d.): 97–120.
Phillips looked at working class women and how they dealt with their family life. She explains the connection between family life, sexual practices, politics, and alcohol. These elements of women’s lives determined a lot about themselves. This social history gives a good background on daily life for Soviet women.
Life in USSR under Stalin
Stalin’s control over Russia meant that freedom was the one thing that people lost. The people of Russia had to read what the state allowed, see what the state allowed and listen to what the state allowed. The state’s control of the media was total. Those who attempted to listen, read etc. anything else were severely punished. Everybody knew of the labour camps and that was enough of a deterrent.
Stalin developed what became known as a “personality cult”. Artists painted pictures glorifying Stalin and he dominated many pictures. It was not unusual for Stalin to be in a white suit so that he stood out from the crowd. He gained the nickname “Uncle Joe” which was an attempt to develop an image of a kind, homely man who was the ‘father’ of all Russians. This was all called “Social Realism”. Those who wrote poems and novels had to do the same – write about Stalin in a manner which gloried him. Some artists and authors were so depressed by all this that they committed suicide rather than do what the state ordered them to do. Many others tried to leave the country.
Education was strictly controlled by the state. In 1932, a rigid programme of discipline and education was introduced. Exams, banned under Lenin, were reintroduced. The way subjects were taught was laid down by the government – especially History where Stalin’s part in the 1917 Revolution and his relationship with Lenin was overplayed. Books were strictly censored by the state and Stalin ordered the writing of a new book called “A short history of the USSR” which had to be used in schools.
Outside of school, children were expected to join youth organisations such as the Octobrists for 8 to 10 year olds and the Pioneers for the 10 to 16 year olds. From 19 to 23 you were expected to join the Komsomol. Children were taught how to be a good socialist/communist and an emphasis was put on outdoor activities and clean living.
There was a marked increase in the attacks on the churches of the USSR throughout the 1930’s. Communism had taught people that religion was “the opium of the masses” (Karl Marx) and church leaders were arrested and churches physically shut down. Stalin could not allow a challenge to his position and anybody who worshipped God was a challenge as the “personality cult” was meant for people to worship Stalin.
For a short time under Lenin, women had enjoyed a much freer status in that life for them was a lot more liberal when compared to the ‘old days’. Among other things, divorce was made a lot more easy under Lenin. Stalin changed all this. He put the emphasis on the family. There was a reason for this. Many children had been born out of marriage and Moscow by 1930 was awash with a very high number of homeless children who had no family and, as such, were a stain on the perfect communist society that Stalin was trying to create.
The state paid families a child allowance if their were a married couple. It became a lot harder to get a divorce and restrictions were placed on abortions. Ceremonial weddings made a comeback. In the work place, women maintained their status and there was effective equality with men. In theory, all jobs were open to women. The only real change took place in the image the state created for women. By the end of the 1930’s, the image of women at work had softened so that the hard edge of working became less apparent.
Living standards: these generally rose in the 1930’s despite the obvious problems with food production and shortages elsewhere. Some people did very well out of the system especially party officials and skilled factory workers. Health care was greatly expanded. In the past, the poorer people of Russia could not have expected qualified medical help in times of illness. Now that facility was available though demand for it was extremely high. The number of doctors rose greatly but there is evidence that they were so scared of doing wrong, that they had to go by the rule book and make appointments for operations which people did not require!!
Housing remained a great problem for Stalin’s Russia. In Moscow, only 6% of households had more than one room. Those apartments that were put up quickly, were shoddy by western standards. In was not unusual for flat complexes to be built without electric sockets despite electricity being available – building firms were simply not used to such things.
Leisure for the average Russian person was based around fitness and sport. Every Russian was entitled to have a holiday each year – this had been unheard of in the tsar’s days. Clubs, sports facilities etc. were provided by the state. The state also controlled the cinema, radio etc. but an emphasis was placed on educating yourself via the media as it was then.
Was Stalin a disaster for Russia?
• the country did become a major industrial nation by 1939 and her progress was unmatched in the era of the Depression in America and western Europe where millions were unemployed.
• those workers who did not offend the state were better off than under the reign of the tsar.
• Russia’s military forces were benefiting from her industrial growth.
• there was a stable government under Stalin.
• people had access to much better medical care some 10 years before the National Health Service was introduced in GB.
• millions had died in famine after the failed experiment of collectivisation.
• Russia’s agriculture was at the same level in 1939 as in 1928 with a 40 million increased population.
• Russia had become a ‘telling’ society. The secret police actively encouraged people to inform on neighbours, work mates etc. and many suffered simply as a result of jealous neighbours/workers.
Also many of Russia’s most talented people had been murdered during the Purges of the 1930’s. Anyone with talent was seen as a threat by the increasingly paranoid behaviour associated with Stalin and were killed or imprisoned (which usually lead to death anyway). The vast Soviet army was a body without a brain as most of her senior officers had been arrested and murdered during the Purges.
Ascent to Power
When Empress Elizabeth died on Dec. 25, 1761, Peter was proclaimed Emperor Peter III, and Catherine became empress. Friends warned that she might not enjoy her status for long since Peter was planning to divorce her, and she was advised to flee. She decided to ignore the warning, and the wisdom of her decision was soon demonstrated. Within a few months after coming to the throne, Peter had aroused so much hostility among government, military, and church leaders that a group of them began plotting a coup to remove him, place his 7-year-old son, Paul, on the throne, and name Catherine as regent until the boy should come of age. But they had underestimated Catherine's ambition— she aimed at a more exalted role for herself. On June 28, 1762, with the aid of her lover Gregory Orlov, she rallied the troops of St. Petersburg to her support and declared herself Catherine II, the sovereign ruler of Russia (she later named Paul as her heir). She had Peter arrested and required him to sign an act of abdication. When he sought permission to leave the country, she refused it, intending to hold him prisoner for life. But his remaining days proved few shortly after his arrest he was killed in a brawl with his captors.
The Economic History of the International Film Industry
Like other major innovations such as the automobile, electricity, chemicals and the airplane, cinema emerged in most Western countries at the same time. As the first form of industrialized mass-entertainment, it was all-pervasive. From the 1910s onwards, each year billions of cinema-tickets were sold and consumers who did not regularly visit the cinema became a minority. In Italy, today hardly significant in international entertainment, the film industry was the fourth-largest export industry before the First World War. In the depression-struck U.S., film was the tenth most profitable industry, and in 1930s France it was the fastest-growing industry, followed by paper and electricity, while in Britain the number of cinema-tickets sold rose to almost one billion a year (Bakker 2001b). Despite this economic significance, despite its rapid emergence and growth, despite its pronounced effect on the everyday life of consumers, and despite its importance as an early case of the industrialization of services, the economic history of the film industry has hardly been examined.
This article will limit itself exclusively to the economic development of the industry. It will discuss just a few countries, mainly the U.S., Britain and France, and then exclusively to investigate the economic issues it addresses, not to give complete histories of the industries in those countries. This entry cannot do justice to developments in each and every country, given the nature of an encyclopedia article. This entry also limits itself to the evolution of the Western film industry, because it has been and still is the largest film industry in the world, in revenue terms, although this may well change in the future.
In the late eighteenth century most consumers enjoyed their entertainment in an informal, haphazard and often non-commercial way. When making a trip they could suddenly meet a roadside entertainer, and their villages were often visited by traveling showmen, clowns and troubadours. Seasonal fairs attracted a large variety of musicians, magicians, dancers, fortune-tellers and sword-swallowers. Only a few large cities harbored legitimate theaters, strictly regulated by the local and national rulers. This world was torn apart in two stages.
First, most Western countries started to deregulate their entertainment industries, enabling many more entrepreneurs to enter the business and make far larger investments, for example in circuits of fixed stone theaters. The U.S. was the first with liberalization in the late eighteenth century. Most European countries followed during the nineteenth century. Britain, for example, deregulated in the mid-1840s, and France in the late 1860s. The result of this was that commercial, formalized and standardized live entertainment emerged that destroyed a fair part of traditional entertainment. The combined effect of liberalization, innovation and changes in business organization, made the industry grow rapidly throughout the nineteenth century, and integrated local and regional entertainment markets into national ones. By the end of the nineteenth century, integrated national entertainment industries and markets maximized productivity attainable through process innovations. Creative inputs, for example, circulated swiftly along the venues – often in dedicated trains – coordinated by centralized booking offices, maximizing capital and labor utilization.
At the end of the nineteenth century, in the era of the second industrial revolution, falling working hours, rising disposable income, increasing urbanization, rapidly expanding transport networks and strong population growth resulted in a sharp rise in the demand for entertainment. The effect of this boom was further rapid growth of live entertainment through process innovations. At the turn of the century, the production possibilities of the existing industry configuration were fully realized and further innovation within the existing live-entertainment industry could only increase productivity incrementally.
At this moment, in a second stage, cinema emerged and in its turn destroyed this world, by industrializing it into the modern world of automated, standardized, tradable mass-entertainment, integrating the national entertainment markets into an international one.
In the early 1890s, Thomas Edison introduced the kinematograph, which enabled the shooting of films and their play-back in slot-coin machines for individual viewing. In the mid-1890s, the Lumière brothers added projection to the invention and started to play films in theater-like settings. Cinema reconfigured different technologies that all were available from the late 1880s onwards: photography (1830s), taking negative pictures and printing positives (1880s), roll films (1850s), celluloid (1868), high-sensitivity photographic emulsion (late 1880s), projection (1645) and movement dissection/ persistence of vision (1872).
After the preconditions for motion pictures had been established, cinema technology itself was invented. Already in 1860/1861 patents were filed for viewing and projecting motion pictures, but not for the taking of pictures. The scientist Jean Marey completed the first working model of a film camera in 1888 in Paris. Edison visited Georges Demeney in 1888 and saw his films. In 1891, he filed an American patent for a film camera, which had a different moving mechanism than the Marey camera. In 1890, the Englishman Friese Green presented a working camera to a group of enthusiasts. In 1893 the Frenchman Demeney filed a patent for a camera. Finally, the Lumière brothers filed a patent for their type of camera and for projection in February 1895. In December of that year they gave the first projection for a paying audience. They were followed in February 1896 by the Englishman Robert W. Paul. Paul also invented the ‘Maltese cross,’ a device which is still used in film cameras today. It is instrumental in the smooth rolling of the film, and in the correcting of the lens for the space between the exposures (Michaelis 1958 Musser 1990: 65-67 Low and Manvell 1948).
Three characteristics stand out in this innovation process. First, it was an international process of invention, taking place in several countries at the same time, and the inventors building upon and improving upon each other’s inventions. This connects to Joel Mokyr’s notion that in the nineteenth century communication became increasingly important to innovations, and many innovations depended on international communication between inventors (Mokyr 1990: 123-124). Second, it was what Mokyr calls a typical nineteenth century invention, in that it was a smart combination of many existing technologies. Many different innovations in the technologies which it combined had been necessary to make possible the innovation of cinema. Third, cinema was a major innovation in the sense that it was quickly and universally adopted throughout the western world, quicker than the steam engine, the railroad or the steamship.
The Emergence of Cinema
For about the first ten years of its existence, cinema in the United States and elsewhere was mainly a trick and a gadget. Before 1896 the coin-operated Kinematograph of Edison was present at fairs and in entertainment venues. Spectators had to throw a coin in the machine and peek through glasses to see the film. The first projections, from 1896 onwards, attracted large audiences. Lumière had a group of operators who traveled around the world with the cinematograph, and showed the pictures in theaters. After a few years films became a part of the program in vaudeville and sometimes in theater as well. At the same time traveling cinema emerged: cinemas which traveled around with a tent or mobile theater and set up shop for a short time in towns and villages. These differed from the Lumière operators and others in that they catered for the general, popular audiences, while the former were more upscale parts of theater programs, or a special program for the bourgeoisie (Musser 1990: 140, 299, 417-20).
This whole era, which in the U.S. lasted up to about 1905, was a time in which cinema seemed just one of many new fashions, and it was not at all certain that it would persist, or that it would be forgotten or marginalized quickly, such as happened to the boom in skating rinks and bowling alleys at the time. This changed when Nickelodeons, fixed cinemas with a few hundred seats, emerged and quickly spread all over the country between 1905 and 1907. From this time onwards cinema changed into an industry in its own right, which was distinct from other entertainments, since it had its own buildings and its own advertising. The emergence of fixed cinemas coincided which a huge growth phase in the business in general film production increased greatly, and film distribution developed into a special activity, often managed by large film producers. However, until about 1914, besides the cinemas, films also continued to be combined with live entertainment in vaudeville and other theaters (Musser 1990 Allen 1980).
Figure 1 shows the total length of negatives released on the U.S., British and French film markets. In the U.S., the total released negative length increased from 38,000 feet in 1897, to two million feet in 1910, to twenty million feet in 1920. Clearly, the initial U.S. growth between 1893 and 1898 was very strong: the market increased by over three orders of magnitude, but from an infinitesimal initial base. Between 1898 and 1906, far less growth took place, and in this period it may well have looked like the cinematograph would remain a niche product, a gimmick shown at fairs and used to be interspersed with live entertainment. From 1907, however, a new, sharp sustained growth phase starts: The market increased further again by two orders of magnitude – and from a far higher base this time. At the same time, the average film length increased considerably, from eighty feet in 1897 to seven hundred feet in 1910 to three thousand feet in 1920. One reel of film held about 1,500 feet and had a playing time of about fifteen minutes.
Between the mid-1900s and 1914 the British and French markets were growing at roughly the same rates as the U.S. one. World War I constituted a discontinuity: from 1914 onwards European growth rates are far lower those in the U.S.
The prices the Nickelodeons charged were between five and ten cents, for which spectators could stay as long as they liked. Around 1910, when larger cinemas emerged in hot city center locations, more closely resembling theaters than the small and shabby Nickelodeons, prices increased. They varied from between one dollar to one dollar and-a-half for ‘first run’ cinemas to five cents for sixth-run neighborhood cinemas (see also Sedgwick 1998).
Total Released Length on the U.S., British and French Film Markets (in Meters), 1893-1922
Note: The length refers to the total length of original negatives that were released commercially.
See Bakker 2005, appendix I for the method of estimation and for a discussion of the sources.
Source: Bakker 2001b American Film Institute Catalogue, 1893-1910 Motion Picture World, 1907-1920.
The Quality Race
Once Nickelodeons and other types of cinemas were established, the industry entered a new stage with the emergence of the feature film. Before 1915, cinemagoers saw a succession of many different films, each between one and fifteen minutes, of varying genres such as cartoons, newsreels, comedies, travelogues, sports films, ‘gymnastics’ pictures and dramas. After the mid-1910s, going to the cinema meant watching a feature film, a heavily promoted dramatic film with a length that came closer to that of a theater play, based on a famous story and featuring famous stars. Shorts remained only as side dishes.
The feature film emerged when cinema owners discovered that films with a far higher quality and length, enabled them to ask far higher ticket prices and get far more people into their cinemas, resulting in far higher profits, even if cinemas needed to pay far more for the film rental. The discovery that consumers would turn their back on packages of shorts (newsreels, sports, cartoons and the likes) as the quality of features increased set in motion a quality race between film producers (Bakker 2005). They all started investing heavily in portfolios of feature films, spending large sums on well-known stars, rights to famous novels and theater plays, extravagant sets, star directors, etc. A contributing factor in the U.S. was the demise of the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC), a cartel that tried to monopolize film production and distribution. Between about 1908 and 1912 the Edison-backed MPPC had restricted quality artificially by setting limits on film length and film rental prices. When William Fox and the Department of Justice started legal action in 1912, the power of the MPPC quickly waned and the ‘independents’ came to dominate the industry.
In the U.S., the motion picture industry became the internet of the 1910s. When companies put the word motion pictures in their IPO investors would flock to it. Many of these companies went bankrupt, were dissolved or were taken over. A few survived and became the Hollywood studios most of which we still know today: Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Warner Brothers, Universal, Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO), Twentieth Century-Fox, Columbia and United Artists.
A necessary condition for the quality race was some form of vertical integration. In the early film industry, films were sold. This meant that the cinema-owner who bought a film, would receive all the marginal revenues the film generated. In the film industry, these revenues were largely marginal profits, as most costs were fixed, so an additional film ticket sold was pure (gross) profit. Because the producer did not get any of these revenues, at the margin there was little incentive to increase quality. When outright sales made way for the rental of films to cinemas for a fixed fee, producers got a higher incentive to increase a film’s quality, because it would generate more rentals (Bakker 2005). This further increased when percentage contracts were introduced for large city center cinemas, and when producers-distributors actually started to buy large cinemas. The changing contractual relationship between cinemas and producers was paralleled between producers and distributors.
The Decline and Fall of the European Film Industry
Because the quality race happened when Europe was at war, European companies could not participate in the escalation of quality (and production costs) discussed above. This does not mean all of them were in crisis. Many made high profits during the war from newsreels, other short films, propaganda films and distribution. They also were able to participate in the shift towards the feature film, substantially increasing output in the new genre during the war (Figure 2). However, it was difficult for them to secure the massive amount of venture capital necessary to participate in the quality race while their countries were at war. Even if they would have managed it may have been difficult to justify these lavish expenditures when people were dying in the trenches.
Yet a few European companies did participate in the escalation phase. The Danish Nordisk company invested heavily in long feature-type films, and bought cinema chains and distributors in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Its strategy ended when the German government forced it to sell its German assets to the newly founded UFA company, in return for a 33 percent minority stake. The French Pathé company was one of the largest U.S. film producers. It set up its own U.S. distribution network and invested in heavily advertised serials (films in weekly installments) expecting that this would become the industry standard. As it turned out, Pathé bet on the wrong horse and was overtaken by competitors riding high on the feature film. Yet it eventually switched to features and remained a significant company. In the early 1920s, its U.S. assets were sold to Merrill Lynch and eventually became part of RKO.
Number of Feature Films Produced in Britain, France and the U.S., 1911-1925
Source: Bakker 2005 [American Film Institute Catalogue British Film Institute Screen Digest Globe, World Film Index, Chirat, Longue métrage.]
Because it could not participate in the quality race, the European film industry started to decline in relative terms. Its market share at home and abroad diminished substantially (Figure 3). In the 1900s European companies supplied at least half of the films shown in the U.S. In the early 1910s this dropped to about twenty percent. In the mid-1910s, when the feature film emerged, the European market share declined to nearly undetectable levels.
By the 1920s, most large European companies gave up film production altogether. Pathé and Gaumont sold their U.S. and international business, left film making and focused on distribution in France. Éclair, their major competitor, went bankrupt. Nordisk continued as an insignificant Danish film company, and eventually collapsed into receivership. The eleven largest Italian film producers formed a trust, which terribly failed and one by one they fell into financial disaster. The famous British producer, Cecil Hepworth, went bankrupt. By late 1924, hardly any films were being made in Britain. American films were shown everywhere.
Market Shares by National Film Industries, U.S., Britain, France, 1893-1930
Note: EU/US is the share of European companies on the U.S. market, EU/UK is the share of European companies on the British market, and so on. For further details see Bakker 2005.
The Rise of Hollywood
Once they had lost out, it was difficult for European companies to catch up. First of all, since the sharply rising film production costs were fixed and sunk, market size was becoming of essential importance as it affected the amount of money that could be spent on a film. Exactly at this crucial moment, the European film market disintegrated, first because of war, later because of protectionism. The market size was further diminished by heavy taxes on cinema tickets that sharply increased the price of cinema compared to live entertainment.
Second, the emerging Hollywood studios benefited from first mover advantages in feature film production: they owned international distribution networks, they could offer cinemas large portfolios of films at a discount (block-booking), sometimes before they were even made (blind-bidding), the quality gap with European features was so large it would be difficult to close in one go, and, finally, the American origin of the feature films in the 1910s had established U.S. films as a kind of brand, leaving consumers with high switching costs to try out films from other national origins. It would be extremely costly for European companies to re-enter international distribution, produce large portfolios, jump-start film quality, and establish a new brand of films – all at the same time (Bakker 2005).
A third factor was the rise of Hollywood as production location. The large existing American Northeast coast film industry and the newly emerging film industry in Florida declined as U.S. film companies started to locate in Southern California. First of all, the ‘sharing’ of inputs facilitated knowledge spillovers and allowed higher returns. The studios lowered costs because creative inputs had less down-time, needed to travel less, could participate in many try-outs to achieve optimal casting and could be rented out easily to competitors when not immediately wanted. Hollywood also attracted new creative inputs through non-monetary means: even more than money creative inputs wanted to maximize fame and professional recognition. For an actress, an offer to work with the world’s best directors, costume designers, lighting specialists and make-up artists was difficult to decline.
Second, a thick market for specialized supply and demand existed. Companies could easily rent out excess studio capacity (for example, during the nighttime B-films were made), and a producer was quite likely to find the highly specific products or services needed somewhere in Hollywood (Christopherson and Storper 1987, 1989). While a European industrial ‘film’ district may have been competitive and even have a lower over-all cost/quality ratio than Hollywood, a first European major would have a substantially higher cost/quality ratio (lacking external economies) and would therefore not easily enter (see, for example, Krugman and Obstfeld 2003, chapter 6). If entry did happen, the Hollywood studios could and would buy successful creative inputs away, since they could realize higher returns on these inputs, which resulted in American films with even a higher perceived quality, thus perpetuating the situation.
Sunlight, climate and the variety of landscape in California were of course favorable to film production, but were not unique. Locations such as Florida, Italy, Spain and Southern France offered similar conditions.
The Coming of Sound
In 1927, sound films were introduced. The main innovator was Warner Brothers, backed by the bank Goldman, Sachs, which actually parachuted a vice-president to Warner. Although many other sound systems had been tried and marketed from the 1900s onwards, the electrical microphone, invented at Bell labs in the mid-1920s, sharply increased the quality of sound films and made possible the change of the industry. Sound increased the interests in the film industry of large industrial companies such as General Electric, Western Electric and RCA, as well as those of the banks who were eager the finance the new innovation, such as the Bank of America and Goldman, Sachs.
In economic terms, sound represented an exogenous jump in sunk costs (and product quality) which did not affect the basic industry structure very much: The industry structure was already highly concentrated before sound and the European, New York/Jersey and Florida film industries were already shattered. What it did do was industrialize away most of the musicians and entertainers that had complemented the silent films with sound and entertainment, especially those working in the smaller cinemas. This led to massive unemployment among musicians (see, for example, Gomery 1975 Kraft 1996).
The effect of sound film in Europe was to increase the domestic revenues of European films, because they became more culture-specific as they were in the local language, but at the same time it decreased the foreign revenues European films received (Bakker 2004b). It is difficult to completely assess the impact of sound film, as it coincided with increased protection many European countries set quotas for the amount of foreign films that could be shown shortly before the coming of sound. In France, for example, where sound became widely adopted from 1930 onwards, the U.S. share of films dropped from eighty to fifty percent between 1926 and 1929, mainly the result of protectionist legislation. During the 1930s, the share temporarily declined to about forty percent, and then hovered to between fifty and sixty percent. In short, protectionism decreased the U.S. market share and increased the French market shares of French and other European films, while sound film increased French market share, mostly at the expense of other European films and less so at the expense of U.S. films.
In Britain, the share of releases of American films declined from eighty percent in 1927 to seventy percent in 1930, while British films increased from five percent to twenty percent, exactly in line with the requirements of the 1927 quota act. After 1930, the American share remained roughly stable. This suggests that sound film did not have a large influence, and that the share of U.S. films was mainly brought down by the introduction of the Cinematograph Films Act in 1927, which set quotas for British films. Nevertheless, revenue data, which are unfortunately lacking, would be needed to give a definitive answer, as little is known about effects on the revenue per film.
The Economics of the Interwar Film Trade
Because film production costs were mainly fixed and sunk, international sales or distribution were important, because these were additional sales without much additional cost to the producer the film itself had already been made. Films had special characteristics that necessitated international sales. Because they essentially were copyrights rather than physical products, theoretically the costs of additional sales were zero. Film production involved high endogenous sunk costs, recouped through renting the copyright to the film. The marginal foreign revenue equaled marginal net revenue (and marginal profits after the film’s production costs had been fully amortized). All companies large or small had to take into account foreign sales when setting film budgets (Bakker 2004b).
Films were intermediate products sold to foreign distributors and cinemas. While the rent paid varied depending on perceived quality and general conditions of supply and demand, the ticket price paid by consumers generally did not vary. It only varied by cinema: highest in first-run city center cinemas and lowest in sixth-run ramshackle neighborhood cinemas. Cinemas used films to produce ‘spectator-hours’: a five-hundred-seat cinema providing one hour of film, produced five hundred spectator-hours of entertainment. If it sold three hundred tickets, the other two hundred spectator-hours produced would have perished.
Because film was an intermediate product and a capital good at that, international competition could not be on price alone, just as sales of machines depend on the price/performance ratio. If we consider a film’s ‘capacity to sell spectator-hours’ (hereafter called selling capacity) as proportional to production costs, a low-budget producer could not simply push down a film’s rental price in line with its quality in order to make a sale even at a price of zero, some low-budget films could not be sold. The reasons were twofold.
First, because cinemas had mostly fixed costs and few variable costs, a film’s selling capacity needed to be at least as large as fixed cinema costs plus its rental price. A seven-hundred-seat cinema, with a production capacity of 39,200 spectator-hours a week, weekly fixed costs of five hundred dollars, and an average admission price of five cents per spectator-hour, needed a film selling at least ten thousand spectator-hours, and would not be prepared to pay for that (marginal) film, because it only recouped fixed costs. Films needed a minimum selling capacity to cover cinema fixed costs. Producers could only price down low-budget films to just above the threshold level. With a lower expected selling capacity, these films could not be sold at any price.
This reasoning assumes that we know a film’s selling capacity ex ante. A main feature distinguishing foreign markets from domestic ones was that uncertainty was markedly lower: from a film’s domestic launch the audience appeal was known, and each subsequent country added additional information. While a film’s audience appeal across countries was not perfectly correlated, uncertainty was reduced. For various companies, correlations between foreign and domestic revenues for entire film portfolios fluctuated between 0.60 and 0.95 (Bakker 2004b). Given the riskiness of film production, this reduction in uncertainty undoubtedly was important.
The second reason for limited price competition was the opportunity cost, given cinemas’ production capacities. If the hypothetical cinema obtained a high-capacity film for a weekly rental of twelve hundred dollars, which sold all 39,200 spectator-hours, the cinema made a profit of $260 ((.05 times 39,200) – $1,200 – $500 = $260). If a film with half the budget and, we assume, half the selling capacity, rented for half the price, the cinema-owner would lose $120 ((.05 times 19,600) – $600 – $500 = -$120). Thus, the cinema owner would want to pay no more than $220 for the lower budget film, given that the high budget film is available ((.05 times 19,600) – $220- $500 = $260). So the low-capacity film with half the selling capacity of the high-capacity film would need to sell for under a fifth of the price of the high capacity film to even enable the possibility of a transaction.
These sharply increasing returns to selling capacity made the setting of production outlays important, as a right price/capacity ratio was crucial to win foreign markets.
How Films Became Branded Products
To make sure film revenues reached above cinema fixed costs, film companies transformed films into branded products. With the emergence of the feature film, they started to pay large sums to actors, actresses and directors and for rights to famous plays and novels. This is still a major characteristic of the film industry today that fascinates many people. Yet the huge sums paid for stars and stories are not as irrational and haphazard as they sometimes may seem. Actually, they might be just as ‘rational’ and have just as quantifiable a return as direct spending on marketing and promotion (Bakker 2001a).
To secure an audience, film producers borrowed branding techniques from other consumer goods’ industries, but the short product-life-cycle forced them to extend the brand beyond one product – using trademarks or stars – to buy existing ‘brands,’ such as famous plays or novels, and to deepen the product-life-cycle by licensing their brands.
Thus, the main value of stars and stories lay not in their ability to predict successes, but in their services as giant ‘publicity machines’ which optimized advertising effectiveness by rapidly amassing high levels of brand-awareness. After a film’s release, information such as word-of-mouth and reviews would affect its success. The young age at which stars reached their peak, and the disproportionate income distribution even among the superstars, confirm that stars were paid for their ability to generate publicity. Likewise, because ‘stories’ were paid several times as much as original screenplays, they were at least partially bought for their popular appeal (Bakker 2001a).
Stars and stories marked a film’s qualities to some extent, confirming that they at least contained themselves. Consumer preferences confirm that stars and stories were the main reason to see a film. Further, fame of stars is distributed disproportionately, possibly even twice as unequal as income. Film companies, aided by long-term contracts, probably captured part of the rent of their popularity. Gradually these companies specialized in developing and leasing their ‘instant brands’ to other consumer goods’ industries in the form of merchandising.
Already from the late 1930s onwards, the Hollywood studios used the new scientific market research techniques of George Gallup to continuously track the brand-awareness among the public of their major stars (Bakker 2003). Figure 4 is based on one such graph used by Hollywood. It shows that Lana Turner was a rising star, Gable was consistently a top star, while Stewart’s popularity was high but volatile. James Stewart was eleven percentage-points more popular among the richest consumers than among the poorest, while Lana Turner differed only a few percentage-points. Additional segmentation by city size seemed to matter, since substantial differences were found: Clark Gable was ten percentage-points more popular in small cities than in large ones. Of the richest consumers, 51 percent wanted to see a movie starring Gable, but altogether they constituted just 14 percent of Gable’s market, while the 57 percent poorest Gable-fans constituted 34 percent. The increases in Gable’s popularity roughly coincided with his releases, suggesting that while producers used Gable partially for the brand-awareness of his name, each use (film) subsequently increased or maintained that awareness in what seems to have been a self-reinforcing process.
Popularity of Clark Gable, James Stewart and Lana Turner among U.S. respondents
April 1940 – October 1942, in percentage
Source: Audience Research Inc. Bakker 2003.
The Film Industry’s Contribution to Economic Growth and Welfare
By the late 1930s, cinema had become an important mass entertainment industry. Nearly everyone in the Western world went to the cinema and many at least once a week. Cinema had made possible a massive growth in productivity in the entertainment industry and thereby disproved the notions of some economists that productivity growth in certain service industries is inherently impossible. Between 1900 and 1938, output of the entertainment industry, measured in spectator-hours, grew substantially in the U.S., Britain and France, varying from three to eleven percent per year over a period of nearly forty years (Table 1). The output per worker increased from 2,453 spectator hours in the U.S. in 1900 to 34,879 in 1938. In Britain it increased from 16,404 to 37,537 spectator-hours and in France from 1,575 to 8,175 spectator-hours. This phenomenal growth could be explained partially by adding more capital (such as in the form of film technology and film production outlays) and partially by simply producing more efficiently with the existing amount of capital and labor. The increase in efficiency (‘total factor productivity’) varied from about one percent per year in Britain to over five percent in the U.S., with France somewhere in between. In all countries, this increase in efficiency was at least one and a half times the increase in efficiency at the level of the entire nation. For the U.S. it was as much as five times and for France it was more than three times the national increase in efficiency (Bakker 2004a).
Another noteworthy feature is that the labor productivity in entertainment varied less across countries in the late 1930s than it did in 1900. Part of the reason is that cinema technology made entertainment partially tradable and therefore forced productivity in similar directions in all countries the tradable part of the entertainment industry would now exert competitive pressure on the non-tradable part (Bakker 2004a). It is therefore not surprising that cinema caused the lowest efficiency increase in Britain, which had already a well-developed and competitive entertainment industry (with the highest labor and capital productivity both in 1900 and in 1938) and higher efficiency increases in the U.S. and to a lesser extent in France, which had less well-developed entertainment industries in 1900.
Another way to measure the contribution of film technology to the economy in the late 1930s is by using a social savings methodology. If we assume that cinema did not exist and all demand for entertainment (measured in spectator-hours) would have to be met by live entertainment, we can calculate the extra costs to society and thus the amount saved by film technology. In the U.S., these social savings amounted to as much as 2.2 percent ($2.5 billion) of GDP, in France to just 1.4 percent (.16 billion) and in Britain to only 0.3 percent (.07 billion) of GDP.
A third and different way to look at the contribution of film technology to the economy is to look at the consumer surplus generated by cinema. Contrary to the TFP and social savings techniques used above, which assume that cinema is a substitute for live entertainment, this approach assumes that cinema is a wholly new good and that therefore the entire consumer surplus generated by it is ‘new’ and would not have existed without cinema. For an individual consumer, the surplus is the difference between the price she was willing to pay and the ticket she actually paid. This difference varies from consumer to consumer, but with econometric techniques, one can estimate the sum of individual surpluses for an entire country. The resulting national consumer surpluses for entertainment varied from about a fifth of total entertainment expenditure in the U.S., to about half in Britain and as much as three quarters in France.
All the measures show that by the late 1930s cinema was making an essential contribution in increasing total welfare as well as the entertainment industry’s productivity.
After the Second World War, the Hollywood film industry disintegrated: production, distribution and exhibition became separate activities that were not always owned by the same organization. Three main causes brought about the vertical disintegration. First, the U.S. Supreme Court forced the studios to divest their cinema chains in 1948. Second, changes in the social-demographic structure in the U.S. brought about a shift towards entertainment within the home: many young couples started to live in the new suburbs and wanted to stay home for entertainment. Initially, they mainly used radio for this purpose and later they switched to television (Gomery 1985). Third, television broadcasting in itself (without the social-demographic changes that increased demand for it) constituted a new distribution channel for audiovisual entertainment and thus decreased the scarcity of distribution capacity. This meant that television took over the focus on the lowest common denominator from radio and cinema, while the latter two differentiated their output and started to focus more on specific market segments.
Real Cinema Box Office Revenue, Real Ticket Price and Number of Screens in the U.S., 1945-2002
Note: The values are in dollars of 2002, using the EH.Net consumer price deflator.
Source: Adapted from Vogel 2004 and Robertson 2001.
The consequence was a sharp fall in real box office revenue in the decade after the war (Figure 5). After the mid-1950s, real revenue stabilized, and remained the same, with some fluctuations, until the mid-1990s. The decline in screens was more limited. After 1963 the number of screens increased again steadily to reach nearly twice the 1945 level in the 1990s. Since the 1990s there have been more movie screens in the U.S. than ever before. The proliferation of screens, coinciding with declining capacity per screen, facilitated market segmentation. Revenue per screen nearly halved in the decade after the war, then made a rebound during the 1960s, to start a long and steady decline from 1970 onwards. The real price of a cinema ticket was quite stable until the 1960s, after which it more than doubled. Since the early 1970s, the price has been declining again and nowadays the real admission price is about what it was in 1965.
It was in this adverse post-war climate that the vertical disintegration unfolded. It took place at three levels. First (obviously) the Hollywood studios divested their cinema-chains. Second, they outsourced part of their film production and most of their production factors to independent companies. This meant that the Hollywood studios would only produce part of the films they distributed themselves, that they changed the long-term, seven-year contracts with star actors for per-film contracts and that they sold off part of their studio facilities to rent them back for individual films. Third, the Hollywood studios’ main business became film distribution and financing. They specialized in planning and assembling a portfolio of films, contracting and financing most of them and marketing and distributing them world-wide.
The developments had three important effects. First, production by a few large companies was replaced by production by many small flexibly specialized companies. Southern California became an industrial district for the film industry and harbored an intricate network of these businesses, from set design companies and costume makers, to special effects firms and equipment rental outfits (Storper and Christopherson 1989). Only at the level of distribution and financing did concentration remain high. Second, films became more differentiated and tailored to specific market segments they were now aimed at a younger and more affluent audience. Third, the European film market gained in importance: because the social-demographic changes (suburbanization) and the advent of television happened somewhat later in Europe, the drop in cinema attendance also happened later there. The result was that the Hollywood off-shored a large chunk – at times over half – of their production to Europe in the 1960s. This was stimulated by lower European production costs, difficulties in repatriating foreign film revenues and by the vertical disintegration in California, which severed the studios’ ties with their production units and facilitated outside contracting.
European production companies could better adapt to changes in post-war demand because they were already flexibly specialized. The British film production industry, for example, had been fragmented almost from its emergence in the 1890s. In the late 1930s, distribution became concentrated, mainly through the efforts of J. Arthur Rank, while the production sector, a network of flexibly specialized companies in and around London, boomed. After the war, the drop in admissions followed the U.S. with about a ten year delay (Figure 6). The drop in the number of screens experienced the same lag, but was more severe: about two-third of British cinema screens disappeared, versus only one-third in the U.S. In France, after the First World War film production had disintegrated rapidly and chaotically into a network of numerous small companies, while a few large firms dominated distribution and production finance. The result was a burgeoning industry, actually one of the fastest growing French industries in the 1930s.
Admissions and Number of Screens in Britain, 1945-2005
Source: Screen Digest/Screen Finance/British Film Institute and Robertson 2001.
Several European companies attempted to (re-)enter international film distribution, such as Rank in the 1930s and 1950s, the International Film Finance Corporation in the 1960s, Gaumont in the 1970s, PolyGram in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, Cannon in the 1980s. All of them failed in terms of long-run survival, even if they made profits during some years. The only postwar entry strategy that was successful in terms of survival was the direct acquisition of a Hollywood studio (Bakker 2000).
The Come-Back of Hollywood
From the mid-1970s onwards, the Hollywood studios revived. The slide of box office revenue was brought to a standstill. Revenues were stabilized by the joint effect of seven different factors. First, the blockbuster movie increased cinema attendance. This movie was heavily marketed and supported by intensive television advertisement. Jaws was one of the first of these kind of movies and an enormous success. Second, the U.S. film industry received several kinds of tax breaks from the early 1970s onwards, which were kept in force until the mid-1980s, when Hollywood was in good shape again. Third, coinciding with the blockbuster movie and tax-breaks film budgets increased substantially, resulting in a higher perceived quality and higher quality difference with television, drawing more consumers into the cinema. Fourth, a rise in multiplex cinemas, cinemas with several screens, increased consumer choice and increased the appeal of cinema by offering more variety within a specific cinema, thus decreasing the difference with television in this respect. Fifth, one could argue that the process of flexible specialization of the California film industry was completed in the early 1970s, thus making the film industry ready to adapt more flexibly to changes in the market. MGM’s sale of its studio complex in 1970 marked the final ending of an era. Sixth, new income streams from video sales and rentals and cable television increased the revenues a high-quality film could generate. Seventh, European broadcasting deregulation increased the demand for films by television stations substantially.
From the 1990s onwards further growth was driven by newer markets in Eastern Europe and Asia. Film industries from outside the West also grew substantially, such as those of Japan, Hong Kong, India and China. At the same time, the European Union started a large scale subsidy program for its audiovisual film industry, with mixed economic effects. By 1997, ten years after the start of the program, a film made in the European Union cost 500,000 euros on average, was seventy to eighty percent state-financed, and grossed 800,000 euros world-wide, reaching an audience of 150,000 persons. In contrast, the average American film cost fifteen million euros, was nearly hundred percent privately financed, grossed 58 million euros, and reached 10.5 million persons (Dale 1997). This seventy-fold difference in performance is remarkable. Even when measured in gross return on investment or gross margin, the U.S. still had a fivefold and twofold lead over Europe, respectively.  In few other industries does such a pronounced difference exist.
During the 1990s, the film industry moved into television broadcasting. In Europe, broadcasters often co-funded small-scale boutique film production. In the U.S., the Hollywood studios started to merge with broadcasters. In the 1950s they had experienced difficulties with obtaining broadcasting licenses, because their reputation had been compromised by the antitrust actions. They had to wait for forty years before they could finally complete what they intended.  Disney, for example, bought the ABC network, Paramount’s owner Viacom bought CBS, and General Electric, owner of NBC, bought Universal. At the same time, the feature film industry was also becoming more connected to other entertainment industries, such as videogames, theme parks and musicals. With video game revenues now exceeding films’ box office revenues, it seems likely that feature films will simply be the flagship part of large entertainment supply system that will exploit the intellectual property in feature films in many different formats and markets.
The take-off of the film industry in the early twentieth century had been driven mainly by changes in demand. Cinema industrialized entertainment by standardizing it, automating it and making it tradable. After its early years, the industry experienced a quality race that led to increasing industrial concentration. Only later did geographical concentration take place, in Southern California. Cinema made a substantial contribution to productivity and total welfare, especially before television. After television, the industry experienced vertical disintegration, the flexible specialization of production, and a self-reinforcing process of increasing distribution channels and capacity as well as market growth. Cinema, then, was not only the first in a row of media industries that industrialized entertainment, but also the first in a series of international industries that industrialized services. The evolution of the film industry thus may give insight into technological change and its attendant welfare gains in many service industries to come.
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The Evolution of Film Over Time — A Brief History
Have you even noticed how much films are always seemingly evolving ? Over the past few decades, film technology has made major advancements. Just compare the original “King Kong,” made in 1933, to the Peter Jackson remake from 2005.
Notice how lifelike the CGI King Kong looks in comparison to the stop-motion King Kong in the original film.
Here are some other films that have been remade … can you spot the changes in filmmaking technology?
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
While some changes to filmmaking technology and the craft of filmmaking might be obvious, there are other things that are not so apparent. Below, we’ve gone more in depth to four of the biggest changes in filmmaking.
James Cutting, a psychologist at Cornell University, was a panelist for the Oscars’ “ Movies in Your Brain — The Science of Cinematic Perception ” discussion in 2014, and has been studying perceptual and cognitive processing. Cutting examines how the brain’s processes relate to film components such as editing, frame rates, projection, and scene and narrative structure. He has been looking at shot duration over the past few years and has found that the average duration of a shot is consistently shorter now than it was a decade ago.
In an interview with “ Wired ,” Cutting said that the average length of a shot in 1930 was 12 seconds. Today, the average length is only 2.5 seconds. You may notice that in older films, directors added at least 1.5 seconds to each crowd scene, so the audience has time to look around and see who was in the shot. That isn’t the case today.
Attention spans may have something to do with shorter shots and the different patterns as well. It is human nature for someone’s attention to waver, no matter how hard we try to focus. According to Cutter, “People flake out every few seconds. You fluctuate in and out, and there’s a natural pattern to this.”
It is worth noting that some film scholars disagree, but Cutter argues that different patterns of shots found in today’s films go better with natural fluctuations in human attention because each new shot forces the audience to refocus on the film. There is a fine line though: films with too many short shots require too much attention, while films with too many long shots may allow the audience’s attention to wander. A strategic mix of short and long shots will help keep the audience engaged and entertained.
Of course, there are obvious exceptions. Recent popular movies such as “Birdman,” “Gravity,” and ” have almost no visible cuts at all. However, all three films take advantage of modern technology to move the camera in ways that would have been impossible even a few decades ago.
Motion and action in a film help keep the audience’s attention. Have you ever watched an action movie and noticed your heart beating fast? Was your adrenaline pumping hard? It’s your body’s physiological response to motion within a shot. Filmmakers carefully and intentionally craft the motion we see on screen, to match the dramatic intensity of the scene.
Modern digital technology has allowed filmmakers to maintain better control over a more dynamic range of light. Movies today are often shot with much less light than their predecessors, allowing for more naturalistic effects. Take “Collateral,” for example, which was shot in the nighttime streets of LA with mostly natural light. Additionally, modern films are often much darker than films made in the gold age of Hollywood. And even the application of color has been adjusted to suit the taste of modern audiences. As Cutter explains, bright colors have stayed the same but interestingly dark colors have gotten darker.
An example of this is “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” Notice that some shots from the trailer are extremely dark with only small focal points of light in the frame. Filmmakers use this technique to control where the audience looks and what they see.
There are other factors that have played a part in how film has evolved such as Blu-ray discs and IMAX theaters. Audiences can now also watch movies on smartphones, tablets, and computers, and stream movies through platforms such as Netflix.
Of course, these are just the changes in visual style that have been made possible by new technologies. Perhaps the biggest changes are those brought about by changes in society. But that’s the subject for another article.
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