Believe it or not, there was a time when the U.S. was in the backseat of the film industry bus. Despite Thomas Edison’s and W.L.K. Dickson’s successful pursuit of advancement in film-making, European countries like France and Italy were world leaders in production and distribution. But with the onset of WW I in 1914, France underwent a tremendous military mobilization that practically brought a halt to their film-making industry. In fact, since most of Europe was embroiled in the conflict, the U.S. was, more or less, the only country left that made and distributed films. And America took advantage of this.
The American film industry or “Hollywood” as it was becoming known due to the industry’s relocation to central California, took the reigns as movie-makers to the world and hasn’t let go since. In 1915, director D.W. Griffith, made the film, “Birth of a Nation”. This sprawling epic(for the time)depicted life as seen through the eyes of southerners in the aftermath of the Civil War. This film is considered the first box-office hit, taking in millions! For it’s time it was “Star Wars”,”Jaws”, and “E.T. the Extraterrestrial, all rolled into one. By the 1920’s America’s film industry was producing an astonishing 800 films a year. The most productive Hollywood has ever been. This was the ‘Silent Era’.
Audible dialogue still not a practical possibility, movies then were accompanied by a live band that played music in the film’s background. The films also had snippets of written dialogue that would appear when a character appeared to be speaking. Silent film actors like, comedians Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, along with the adventurous and swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks and Clara Bow, the screen queen of romance were the first actors to reach what we call now, ‘celebrity status’ in the industry. Out of this small but very distinguished group of actors or players, as they were called back then, it would have to be Charlie Chaplin who stands out the most. His films and his comedy routines, although a bit outdated now, were still popular decades after their first showings.
Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London, England in 1889. The middle son of parents in the entertainment field, you could say Charlie was bred for screen greatness. Charlie didn’t waste any time. He began performing at the age of 14. At the age of 20 he joined a British vauldville troupe as a comedian and became a featured player. In 1910 the troupe traveled to the U.S. where Charlie became a huge hit with American audiences. So much so, that during a return tour in 1912, Charlie was offered a movie contract. He accepted the offer. Between 1914-1967 Charlie Chaplin made 83 films. Funny, touching, and pure truth, many of his films were and are heralded as classics. He passed away on Christmas day in 1977.
The 20’s were a productive and opportunistic time for the American film industry. But still, film hadn’t achieved the power of speech yet. That however, was about to change and usher in a whole new chapter in movie-making. Stay tuned for more articles…