World Cinema – Part 1: Crash Course Film History #14


News flash: the world’s a big place. WHAT!?!?! Huh! And humans have been making films in almost
every corner of it for more than a hundred years. While Hollywood dominated the global film
market in its first six or seven decades, lots of profoundly influential film movements
arose all over the world. Now, there’s way too much to cover in just
two videos. But, hopefully, these overviews will inspire
you to explore more on your own. To start, let’s look at a few key movements
and filmmakers throughout Asia that were born out of intense political change and had a
lasting impact on world cinema. [Intro Music Plays] During the 1930s, the Japanese government placed stringent controls over domestic film
production through its Ministry of Propaganda. They censored content that didn’t uphold
the values of the Imperial government, and promoted movies that celebrated the Japanese
military. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Ministry
of Propaganda borrowed a page from the Nazi playbook and actually took over the country’s
ten largest film studios. Then, they consolidated these studios into
two main production companies and forced them to make pro-war movies. Now, real battle footage from the Pacific
was hard to come by, so these wartime Japanese filmmakers got really good at creating special
effects. And that experience would come in handy after
the war, when they were given more artistic freedom. Yasujiro Ozu is widely acknowledged
as one of the masters of classical Japanese cinema, a period that stretched from 1926
to the 1950s. Ozu began his career making quiet, humanistic
films about family relationships and intergenerational conflicts. He grew up admiring American studio films,
especially those by Ernst Lubitsch and D.W. Griffith. Ozu’s first film to achieve wide acclaim
was a comedy called I Was Born, But…. The film follows a pair of brothers who lose
faith in their father when they discover he’s not standing up to his boss. A lot of Ozu movies embed this kind of gentle
social critique into their very personal stories. Aesthetically, Ozu is known for his long,
wide shots that allow entire scenes to play out, sometimes very slowly. This is often considered to be a reflection
of the power of ritual in traditional Japanese life. He also innovated the use of offscreen space,
having characters exit the frame for surprisingly long periods of time, and letting the camera
linger on the now-empty space. These moments echo certain Zen aesthetics
about emptiness and patience. And they root Ozu’s films in ancient Japanese
customs and beliefs, even though his stories take place in what was then the present day. After the war, Ozu went on to make three masterpieces:
Late Spring, Early Summer, and his most famous film, Tokyo Story. Now, the end of the war brought profound changes
to the Japanese film industry. Much of the country was scarred, both physically
and psychologically, having suffered a massive firebombing campaign and atomic explosions
at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One kind of postwar Japanese cinema dealt
with the aftermath of these atomic bombs in very direct, explicit ways. It’s impossible to watch Ishiro Honda’s
1954 film Godzilla and not see the parable underneath the sci-fi monster movie. …and also not try to mimic Godzilla’s noise. Craig: ahhhh… ahhhh
Nick: You’re not doing a very good job. No, I’m not doing a very good job. The creature is unleashed by careless atomic explosions, and the human characters spend
the movie wrestling with the potentially apocalyptic consequences of scientific research. Godzilla and its sequels also show off the
sophistication of the Japanese special effects industry, as all that work during the war
was now beginning to pay off. After the war, General Douglas MacArthur led
the American Occupation forces which oversaw the “democratization” of Japan from 1945
to 1952. And this brought a new kind of censorship
to Japanese films. They were forbidden from glorifying imperialism,
feudalism, and militarism. The Occupation forces rounded up and destroyed
hundreds of films that were deemed anti-democratic. Under the Occupation, the state-run film companies
were broken up to foster competition, and filmmakers were encouraged to make movies
that celebrated democratic values and personal freedoms. One filmmaker who flourished in this postwar
period was Akira Kurosawa, who would go on to become one of the most influential filmmakers
in the history of cinema. For real. He’s a big deal. Kurosawa became an international star with
his 1951 revolutionary film Rashomon. It tells the story of the murder of a samurai
warrior through the eyes of four unreliable narrators. We see the events of the film four times,
each time from a different point of view. And the film never tells us which version
of events actually happened. Kurosawa seems to imply that truth and reality
are subjective, in both cinema and life, and that our only hope is to be as good to one
another as we possibly can. YA, NICK! Unlike Ozu, Kurosawa kept his camera moving, a style he would bring to many of his later
samurai films. And he was often borrowing stories from other
cultures. His samurai movie Yojimbo was based on an
American detective novel by Dashiell Hammett. Throne of Blood was a Japanese re-telling
of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. And he used King Lear as the basis for his
samurai epic Ran. In turn, Kurosawa inspired many foreign films
based on his work. George Lucas famously lifted elements of
Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress for the first Star Wars film. And Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai
has been remade twice in the United States as The Magnificent Seven. I guess that makes it the “Magnificent Fourteen.” *giggle* From anime to horror and period dramas to
Kaiju films, stories from the Japanese movie industry continue to resonate around the globe. Now, in mainland China, the film industry
also underwent some significant changes because of political pressures. The first domestic films emerged in 1905. And within five years, a stable industry began
to form, starting in Shanghai and spreading to other coastal cities. Sound was introduced in 1929 and China’s
film industry continued to grow, until the Japanese invaded in 1937, occupied Shanghai,
and shut down domestic production until the end of the war. When Mao Zedong’s Communist Party took over
the country in 1949, they placed control of film production under the Minister of Culture. During the 1950s, the Chinese government built
a dozen major film studios throughout the country and produced a lot of pro-Communist
films. In the early 1960s, the government censors
relaxed enough to allow film adaptations of several operas and novels. Before this, works like Su Li’s Third Sister
Liu and Early Spring in February by Xie Tieli would have been considered too bourgeois to
produce. Then in 1966 came the Cultural Revolution,
a violent, decade-long purge of most cultural and economic institutions in China. Professionals of all kinds, including filmmakers,
were driven from their jobs and homes by the Chinese government, and sent off to be “re-educated”
in the countryside. As a result, film production came to a halt
in 1967 and wouldn’t resume for another three years. And even then, only amateur filmmakers were
allowed to make movies at first. Eventually, through fits and starts, professional
filmmakers emerged from their re-education camps or graduated from new film schools and
began making movies again. One of the most notable directors from mainland
China is Zhang Yimou. His first film, the sumptuously shot Red Sorghum,
won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival in 1987. Known for his striking visuals and painterly
style, Zhang made several notable martial arts films in the early 2000s – movies like
Hero and House of Flying Daggers – before overseeing the Opening Ceremonies for the
Beijing Olympics in 2008. Zhang has even worked with American movie
stars. Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe play lead roles
in his 2017 film The Great Wall. This collaboration may be the first of many,
since well-financed Chinese production companies have begun to partner with American studios
to make films for audiences in both countries and beyond. Outside of mainland China, Hong Kong has a
long tradition of kung fu and swordplay films. I just kung fu’d the eagle. Its film industry elevated these violent genres
to art in the 1960s and ‘70s, through precisely choreographed action and rapid editing. Figures like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan popularized
this authentic martial arts cinema outside Hong Kong. And directors like John Woo even went on to
make blockbusters within the American studio system – films like Face/Off and Mission:
Impossible II. Wong Kar-wai is another superstar director
from the Hong Kong film industry. His elliptical, post-modern films often examine
unrequited love and the deep interior lives of their characters. From the dreamlike lyricism of In the Mood
for Love, to the martial arts grandeur of The Grand Master, his films have had a profound
influence on filmmakers throughout the world. As big as China and Hong Kong loom on the
world stage, the largest film industry in the world is located in India. All told, the country produces eight- to nine-hundred
movies a year, roughly a quarter of the world’s films. So India had a growing film industry under
British Colonial Rule in the early part of the 20th century, prior to winning their independence. They ran into trouble, though, when sound
film arrived. Because India makes films in more than sixteen
languages! When you hear the term Bollywood, for instance,
that refers to film production centered in Bombay. These Hindi-language films make up 25 percent
of Indian cinema. Bengali-language film production occurs mostly
in Calcutta, while facilities in Madras produce Tamil-, Kannada-, and Telugu- language films. Despite the language differences, what unifies
most Indian films is their style. Most Indian cinema consists of lavish musicals
or mythological romances, all following relatively strict formulas. For the musicals, the saying goes, all you
need is “a star, six songs, and three dances.” The Indian star system actually resembles
the American studio era of the 1930s. Actors are chosen and groomed by the film
studios, and plugged into movies built around their personas. Now, the most profitable movie ever produced
in India is Ramesh Sippy’s 1975 film Sholay. It’s an action-adventure film heavily influenced
by Hollywood westerns, but also has its share of over-the-top song-and-dance numbers. The film was so popular when it was released
that it ran continuously in movie theaters for five years! I can’t even hold a job for five years. Meanwhile, the universally-acknowledged master of Indian cinema was Satyajit Ray, whose style
was different than most Indian films. After studying as a painter, Ray found his
filmmaking inspiration in Italian Neo-Realism, especially Vittorio De Sica’s classic The
Bicycle Thieves, the intimate story of a father and son struggling to survive poverty in post-war
Italy. In 1955, Ray made his first film, The Song
of the Road, which tells the story of a young Bengali boy coming of age. Unlike the spectacle of most Indian cinema,
Ray’s film focuses on the emotions of its fully-realized characters, and intimate moments
of everyday life. The film became a surprise international hit
and won the Jury Prize at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. In his next two films, 1957’s The Unvanquished
and 1959’s The World of Apu, Ray continued to follow the main character from his first
film as he matured into adolescence. These three films together are known as the
“Apu Trilogy” and cemented Ray’s international reputation and low-key, contemplative style. Indian cinema is more than just fun Bollywood spectacle. It’s a multifaceted film industry that,
along with all these Asian film cultures, has profoundly shaped modern filmmaking today
and for generations to come. Today, we talked about post-war Japanese cinema
from Kurosawa’s samurai to Hondo’s Godzilla. We scratched the surface of Chinese cinema,
from mainland epics to the martial arts film traditions of Hong Kong. And we looked at India, home to the largest
film industry in the world. Next time, we’ll tackle indigenous cinema
from Africa and Latin America, to maverick filmmakers in the Middle East. Crash Course Film History is produced in association
with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check
out a playlist of their latest amazing shows, like Eons, Coma Niddy, and PBS Space Time. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these ministers of propaganda and our
amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.

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