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1894 to 1912
The movies literally began with a sneeze when Thomas Edison filmed his assistant Fred Ott expectorating after snorting a pinch of snuff. It would be a sneeze seen but not heard around the world. There would soon be trips to the moon, rescues from eagle nests, great train robberies, teddy bear dances, and heart-warming human interest stories. The public loved this new entertainment. They wanted more. And they also wanted to know who all these splendid people were who delighted them with their filmed pantomimes.
1912 to 1920
Movies remained silent, but expanded from short one reelers to epic extravaganzas. Action and slapstick comedies also dominated, but the most popular and celebrated film was also its most socially repugnant, "Birth of a Nation," a romanticization of the KKK and white privilege. Movies showed that they could reflect, influence, and alter public opinion, for better or worse. They had a conscience but it was rooted in all the prejudices of the time period.
1920 to 1930
The second decade of the 20th century found movies becoming much more socially aware, although not particularly more inclusive. With film production now centered in southern California, contrived stories about white upwardly mobile straight people in moral crisis were all the rage. Minorities were only occasionally seen as background, most often stereotyped and/or trivialized. Then sound was added to the movies and nothing would be the same. Big personalities were now everything, the first Oscars were given, and Hollywood become the place where all dreams came true.
1930 to 1940
Big studios controlled the film world. And only a select number of men ran those studios wielding power like kings. The movies were bigger and better than life. Stars were literally born, or at least their personas were, with the help of studio branding. And everybody watching could find one actor or actress to admire and want to emulate. The depression, fascism in Europe, and American existentialism all were extenuating factors in films of this decade that kept the unique American dream alive and gave hope to the masses when they needed it the most.
1940 to 1950
While the world was at war, the movies reassured us with likeable and heroic characters, exciting and exotic plots, and good-natured America as apple pie-isms. Hollywood did its part when the world was in crisis and afterwards. Many good films came out of the 1940s focusing on topics that ranged from anti-semitism to alcolism to racism. The performers were still mostly white, straight, and male, but doors were being opened. Women, in particular, played much more diverse and dominant parts, although this would be short lived before they again became decoration.
1950 to 1960
Everything in the 1950s seemed new, exciting, and plastic. The stars were more attractive and the movies were on wider screens, looked expensive, and explored taboo subjects, if only between the lines. Family movie nights now allowed discussion of topics that many familes would have preferred never to think about. The lives and loves of stars became as important as their film roles. Bankable stars were discovering their worth and studios were trying to contain their product. The times were indeed beginning to change.
1960 to 1970
American movies became more integrated and adult in the 1960s with strong foreign cinematic influences. Studios, however, did not know which way the wind was blowing as last year's biggest hit could be next year's biggest flop. Many of the top studios were on the verge of bankruptcy. Cultural divisions were exploding as were the divisions between generations. The old reliable schemes were not working. The new stars were not studio raised nor traditional in looks and manner. This decade saw a clash between the best of the old and the best of the new.
1970 to 1980
The 70s brought extremes in horror, drama, and comedy. Studios became more corporate and sentiment made way for nihilism. The stars were pretty much on their own and the best agent won. Male stars dominated at the box office with the majority of films being about macho angst in a changing social climate. Nothing was sacred and dark humor underlay every concept. Post Watergate and Vietnam, happy endings just did not work anymore and everything was not always right in the end.
1970 to 1980
1980 to 1990
Reagan's America returned films to a more glamorous period except with much more calculated cynicism. Movies were big. The stars were big. The concepts were huge. And everything was geared to make as much money as possible at the box office. Love was crude. Adventure was over the top. And the biggest stars were again male. Paradoxical toughness and tenderness were often mixed together in buddy films. If there was romance at the movies, it was usually just a byproduct of something else that was happening.
1980 to 1990
Reagan's America returned films to a more glamorous period, but with much more calculated cynicism. Movies were big. The stars were bigger. The concepts were huge. And everything was geared to make as much money as possible at the box office. Love was crude. Adventure was over the top. And the biggest stars were again male. Paradoxical toughness and tenderness were often mixed together in buddy films. If there was romance at the movies, it was usually just a byproduct of something more interesting that was happening.
1990 to 2000
The new century was approaching and America and movies were still trying to deal with a changing and more contentious public. The stars were bolder and more diverse. The movies were edgier and quirkier. And there was a lot more of everything for everyone. You just had to look. Small films flourished, but blockbuster films were never grander. Gender fluidity was now more evident with women taking parts that only men would have taken in the decades before.
2000 to 2010
The world became darker at the turn of the century when America was attacked in September, 2001, but movies became a source of light and escape with fanciful franchises and CGI extravagance that made adventure and heroic fantasy popular again. The stars also looked like traditional movie stars, attractive, athletic, sexy, and completely out of reach. The stories were exaggerated
emotionally, but there was more sincerity in them. The challenge to be new and exciting was never easier and never harder.
2010 to 2020
While two polar opposite presidents presided over a divided country, the public found escape in blockbuster films based on comic book heroes and villains. And every actor wanted to star in one. But smaller films also brought alive stories about previously ignored Americans, particularly Blacks, but also Gays, Hispanics, Asians, and others. The world had changed and the prejudices and stereotypes that dominated the first century of film were no longer viable.
100 Years of
Movies and horror were always a good combination. No other genre so completely removes us from a safe state of reality.
The First Movie Star
Wallace Reid happened upon films just when films were starting. Athletic, well read, and handsome, he immediately became a fan favorite. Also charismatic and ridiculously photogenic, he was everybody's hero and fantasy. His prolific career, however, took a downturn when he became dependent on drugs and alcohol after a stunt injury. He later died at age 31 in a sanitorium. Some stars shine brightly even after they are gone.