• Movies have a powerful impact
  • The technological basis of movies is photographic chemistry
  • Movies had their heyday as a mass medium in the 1940s
  • Hollywood today is a major producer of television programming
  • The movie exhibition business faces challenges from home video
  • Moviemakers are in an expensive, high-risk business
  • Hollywood has opted for self-policing to quell censorship threats
  • Canadian filmmaking has a strong, but largely unknown history
  • Government funding for Canadian films is always under review


Why are Canadian movies different from American movies?

(The mythology is that they are worse)

What makes Canadian movies different from American movies?

(What do Canadian films say about our culture?)

The look of Canadian films is different because of funding, marketplace economics and distribution.

Canadian movie scripts symbolically reflect "our social uncertainties":

  1. Our uncertainty of action as a nation.
  2. Our own present lack of security in dealing with ethnic and cultural problems.
  3. Uncertainty is part of the Canadian-way of life: the French-English debate and the uneasiness of living next door to the United States has shaped Canadian culture.

Example: David Cronenberg's films features these themes, which don't always feature the happy endings of Hollywood cinema.

Example: Canadian-born director James Cameron makes American style movies such as Titanic, True Lies, The Abyss and Terminator.


Movies have a hold on people.

More intense than any other medium

Sometimes you need kleenex in a movie, but rarely listening to a song or reading a book.

Movies have powerful effects:

  1. Sit in a darkened auditorium
  2. Look at a giant screen
  3. Nothing interrupts the experience
  4. The rest of the world is excluded

(Movies can be shown on television or at a drive-ion but the experience is strongest in the darkened cocoon of a movie house.

Movies fascinated people even when they were wobbly, fuzzy images on a whitewashed wall.

The medium seems to posses magical powers, especially with the introduction of sound in the 1920s, colour and technological special effects.

Statistics Canada estimates that 80 million movie tickets are sold annually in Canada.

Toronto, Montreal and Niagara Falls have large international film festivals showcasing the best Canadian and international films.


1934 Clark Gable took off his shirt and was not wearing an undershirt.

1. The treatment of drinking and smoking has created a bittersweet romanticism about alcoholism in the public consciousness

2. Depictions of an increasing amount of violence


  • Jurassic Park raised questions about DNA preservation of extinct life forms
  • Schindler's List depicted not-to-be-forgotten images of the Holocaust
  • Saving Private Ryan brought home the horror of war
  • China Syndrome and concern over nuclear power

Because of the perceived influence of movies it is important to know about the industry that creates them.

Especially since television, books, magazines and sound recordings are so closely tied into moviemaking and therefore Hollywood.


The technical heritage of motion pictures is photography.

1727 discovery that light caused silver nitrate to darken was basic to the development of motion picture technology combined with the human phenomena called persistence of vision.

(The human eye retains an image for a fraction of a second).

1877 wager on whether horses ever had all of their legs off the ground when galloping. (They do take all four legs off the ground at the same time).

24 cameras were set up by Edward Muybridge of California to show the Governor 24 sequential shots.

More significantly was the illusion of movement by flipping through the sequential photos.

1988 William Dickson of Thomas Edison laboratory developed the first workable motion picture camera.

He perfected his camera with George Eastman who had just introduced his Kodak camera.

The Lumiere brothers from France brought projection to moving pictures

1896, Edison recognized the commercial advantage of projection and patented the Vitascope projector which he put on the market.

1896 movies came to Canada, when a demonstration was held in Montreal. (A perfect example of McLuhan's reference that the "medium is the message".


Manifestations of McCarthyism - a post-World War 11 American overreaction to Soviet Communism as a national threat.

1947 was the beginning of hearings on communism in Hollywood

47 screenwriters, directors and actors had to answer to accusations of leftist influences in Hollywood.

10 witnesses who refused to answer insulting questions went to jail.

Some never found work again and were not welcomed in their old circles

Not until 1950 did Hollywood begin to reestablish serious movies.


The U.S. government has stepped in twice to break up the movie industry.

Adolph Zukor's Paramount became a major success as a producer and distributor of films.

He owned 1400 movie houses, a classic case of vertical integration, where a company controls all of the product from inception to consumption.

Zukor also practiced block booking, where good movies where bundled with poorer movies.

1938 the U.S. Justice Department began litigation against vertical integration.

In 1948, The Supreme Court told Paramount and 4 other studios to divest and sell off some of their production, distribution or exhibition interests.

The whole Hollywood studio structure began to collapse.


Movie attendance peaked in 1946 at over 90 million tickets a week.

Every neighbourhood had a movie house.

Television at first was very expensive and it was a major decision for a family to buy one.

By 1950 movie attendance had plummeted to 60 million a week

By 1955 movie attendance had plummeted to 46 million a week.

  1. Hollywood had been pummeled by Congress into creative timidity.
  2. Lost the bulk of its audience to television.


When television began squeezing movies in the 1940s moviemakers started to scramble for "special effects".

In 1950 colour became the standard, something television could not offer.

Wraparound Cinema screens. Cinerama was costly and involved multi-camera production with special projectors remodeled for curved screens.

Smellvisaion was a dubious, short-lived technique.


Moviemakers attempted to regain their audiences by:

  1. Bigger budget movies
  2. Innovative themes
  3. Appealing to subgroups within the mass audiences

1960 Sound of Music 20 million dollars

1963 Cleopatra 44 million dollars

1955 Rebel Without a Cause James Deanas a teenager seeking identity

Cat On a Hot Tin Roof about marital intimacy and implied homosexuality

1967 Bonnie and Clyde about violence and sex

Bob and Ted and Carol and Alice

1973 Deep Throat crossed over from porno houses to mainstream

1985 E.T. youth and parents


  • Despite Hollywood's best attempts, box-office sales continue to erode
  • Today 16 million movie tickets sold a week in the U.S.
  • 1/5th of 1946 box-office receipts
  • Still is a $4 billion dollar a year industry in the U.S.


  • 3/4 of the movie industry's production is for television.
  • Moviemakers earn more than 17% from pay television like Movie Channel
  • Another 8% comes from video rentals


1950 there were 4,000 drive-ins in Canada and the U.S.

Showing rooms are smaller today averaging 340 seats compared to 750 in 1950.

Multiplex theatres have a lower overhead.

12 projectors but only one projectionist.

One ticket taker

Presently 1900 movie screens in Canada

Cineplex Odeon 800 screens across Canada

Famous Players 550 screens

AMC (independent) 100 screens in Montreal and Tornonto

Mostly mainstream movies like the Titanic playing 24 hours a day

The new millenium might see more 'art houses' developing for 'highbrow' movies shown at The Globe

SOURCE: Abridged version of Chapter five from:

Vivian, John and Maurin, Peter. (1997). The Media of Mass Communication. Allyn and Bacon Canada. Scarborough, Ontario.