Silent Films to Talkies

One of the most well-known filmmakers during the silent film era was D.W. Griffith who produced and directed The Birth of a Nation in 1915. Although it is extremely racist, it is still considered an American film masterpiece because “it contains many new cinematic innovations and refinements, technical effects and artistic advancements, including a color sequence at the end. It had a formative influence on future films and has had a recognized impact on film history and the development of film as art.” (filmsite.org). The Birth of a Nation introduced new camera techniques such as panoramic long shots, panning camera shots, iris effects (black circle closes to end scene), still-shots, night photography and staged actors to make it look like there were more extras in the scene than there were in reality. This film also introduced artistic techniques such as building up the plot to an exciting climax and dramatizing history alongside fiction.

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Around the year 1926, “talkies” started being produced- films finally had sound. Although there were physical limitations such as staging so as not to get too far away from the microphone, this was a historical moment in filmmaking. One of the first talkies and “greatest films of all time” is The Jazz Singer. In this film, a young Jakie Rabinowitz, who loves jazz and ragtime, wants to become a performer, much to the dismay of his father who wants him to be a cantor, as per family tradition. He is discovered by a neighbor, and a decade after he is kicked out of the house, he has followed his dream, changed his name and fallen in love with a fellow performer. Even though his life is going well, he still wants to win his father’s approval. The Jazz Singer is a classical narrative due to the time period it was created and based in. The film contains wholeness; the ending resolves the conflicts in the beginning. Jakie’s father doesn’t approve of him being a jazz singer and wants him to be a cantor. Jakie follows his dreams but his father forgives him on his deathbed and Jakie repairs his damaged relationships; there’s closure. Since it is an early classical narrative, there aren’t too many complex film movements or styles present in it besides realism and formalism.

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