Modern day videographers have seemingly unlimited plugins and tools to experiment with different kinds of treatments and transitions in our videos. Even with all the fun toys at our disposal, we know that sometimes it’s best to stick to the basics. The film industry is always evolving, but these are four classic film innovations from the 20th century that we still love today.
The earliest films simply documented events and were shot in one single, static take. That changed when a key pioneer in film, Georges Méliès, brought creative editing into the picture. Georges was the forerunner in using the jump cut, fade-in & fade-out, overlapping dissolves, and stop-motion photography. One of his prolific films of his that incorporated some of these techniques is The Haunted Castle (1896), where he would use the jump cut to show a character “magically” disappearing and reappearing. The most famous work that survives is A Trip to the Moon (1902). All of these techniques are still used in films today, especially the fade-in and fade-out, which you can see at the beginning and end of almost every feature film now, or in transitions between scenes.
Nearly 25 years later, a technique that accelerated storytelling in film was the montage. The montage was first introduced by Sergei Eisenstein in his 1925 film, Battleship Potemkin. Montages are a series of short clips in a sequence, usually to music. They allow the editor to show a lot of time and change in a very condensed format. One of the most famous modern-day examples of this is in Rocky, when he trains for the big fight. It was such a memorable scene that they used the same technique in all the following Rocky films. Today in our videos, we frequently use montages in between interviews to draw in the viewer’s interest on the topic.
Sound in film was a great technical achievement, and, by sound, I mean synchronized sound as opposed to silent films, which would have a soundtrack of live music or a record. Synchronized sound was popularized by The Jazz Singer (1927) directed by Alan Crosland and produced by Warner Bros. The sound wasn’t actually on the film but printed on a record that would be played with the film. You can look at most major motion pictures and the majority of films today, and for almost the past 80 years the majority of them have been “talkies.” Adding dialogue to films has enriched so many scenes and stories. It’s hard to imagine the many roles of Woody Allen without his comedic mannerisms and vocal delivery. There are so many ways that we use sound in video today.
Color added a sense of realism to film that changed everything. The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938 was Warner Bros. most sophisticated Technicolor process at the time, though it wasn’t the very first feature to have color. It was directed by Michael Curtis who would go on to direct many more films with Errol Flynn. The dazzling and vivid colors of the scenery and the costumes that the characters wore in Nottingham are still sharp and rich in my mind, along with the ruby red shoes that Dorothy wore in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1939. Or what about the dramatic silhouettes of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, with dramatic red and blue backdrops casting a breathtaking sunset or a bleak and bitter night in the South.
Color and sound are now both dominant stimuli that are normal in most films, becoming more and more complex as filming techniques and tastes expand. There are now directors who choose to use a specific color palette with each film. Then there is the cliche of Hollywood color, using blue backgrounds and orange skin tones. The orange gives the character a nice warmth, while the cool blue background creates contrast against the character.
The editing, montage, sound, and color in films have helped develop film into the artform we love and practice today. We use them to reach audiences with more realism and enjoy the process of being able to experiment and build on what great filmmakers of the past have already accomplished.