I love watching films as much as I love making them. There’s no better way to get inspired than to study great cinema, especially those films that relate to your own creative work.
Over the years I’ve consumed thousands of films, and have always taken into account their place in film history.
Each movie is a product of its time, shaped by factors unique to their era. Technology, economic factors and the popularity of certain film genres have affected the course of cinematic history in powerful ways.
As a result, countless film movements have emerged since the silent film era, and virtually every film made to this day is influenced by at least one of them.
Newly released blockbuster films are still a byproduct of the New Hollywood movement – with their origins in movies like Jaws or the original Star Wars. A lot may have changed since the 1970s, but the foundation of blockbuster filmmaking remains largely the same.
For those of us working on a smaller canvas and making truly independent DIY movies, there are a handful of film movements that are especially relevant to us.
Below are 5 that I’d like to highlight –
Undeniably one of the most important film movements in history, German expressionism was at its peak in the early 1920s during the silent film era. It’s widely recognized as the birthplace of the horror genre, and continues to have a massive influence on genre films to this day.
Key films from the era include: Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Metropolis.
The visual language developed in the silent era should still influence filmmakers today. We all know the old adage: Show, Don’t Tell (I even named my podcast after it!), and so many silent films accomplish this masterfully.
Of all the movements and sub-genres during the silent film era however, German Expressionism is of particular relevance right now. Horror and sci-fi movies are in higher demand than ever, and tons of new genre filmmakers are beginning to emerge… Most of whom can draw incredible inspiration from the films of this period.
Italy’s largest film studio (Cinecittà) was bombed during WWII, and inevitably a new filmmaking movement emerged. Directors continued to work, but were lacking the resources of traditional studio filmmaking that they were accustomed to. With no other choice, iconic auteurs like Roberto Rossellini scraped productions together that in many ways resemble independent films shot today.
In part, this was due to their technical craft. They shot on location with natural light and minimal gear – but perhaps more importantly was their use of non-professional actors. Due to their limited circumstances, they had to hire regular people and train them to perform for the camera, an incredible challenge considering the scope of their projects.
Films from this movement like Obsessione, Rome, Open City and Bicycle Thieves should inspire any indie filmmaker. Especially those working with non-professional or inexperienced actors. Not only did these films succeed in spite of having known actors in front of the camera, but they were better off for it.
Along with the French New Wave (explored next), this movement is known to inspire tons of working directors today, including Martin Scorsese.
FRENCH NEW WAVE
If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know that I am a huge fan of the French New Wave. Right around the start of the 1960’s, thanks to changing social values and lightweight camera technology, independent film as we know it today was born.
Filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda and François Truffaut were taking portable 16mm film cameras out into the street, and shooting their masterpieces in completely unconventional ways. Some films were made with no script or schedule, and those that were more planned were often still shot guerrilla style using handheld cameras.
Nothing is more exciting than watching films likes Breathless, The 400 Blows, or Le Mepris. For the first time, we witness stories about regular people being told on film, while every rule gets broken along the way. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Richard Linklater (amongst countless others) have been heavily inspired by the French New Wave. And for obvious reasons, it’s a huge influence on DIY filmmakers too.
While the technology today may be different than way back in the sixties, the attitude is the same. If you can get access to a camera and know how to edit, you can make a movie.
This is one of my favorite film movements, specifically because of how limiting it is. In 1995 a group of Danish Filmmakers (led by the legendary Lars Von Trier) released a manifesto. The purpose was simple: to break away from the mainstream Hollywood formula. To use a specific set of rules to force filmmakers to be more honest with their work, and to avoid the use of many modern effects and tech that would get in the way of a more pure cinematic process.
Here are the rules they laid out:
- Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in
- Music must not be used unless it occurs within the scene being filmed
- The camera must be hand-held; filming must take place where the action takes place
- The film must be in color. No special lighting
- Optical work and filters are forbidden
- No superficial action (No murders, weapons, etc.)
- No temporal or geographical alienation
- No genre movies
- The aspect ratio must be 4:3, not widescreen
- The director must not be credited
There is nothing better than having the ability to embrace your limitations as a filmmaker, which can in turn unleash your creativity. While not all of us are going to want to adhere to these exact rules, even following some of them can be quite liberating as they’re naturally in-line with most low budget productions.
Some essential Dogme95 films are: The Idiots, The Celebration and Mifune. And while the movement has died down substantially, even some recent films like Spring Breakers are being produced in this highly specific style.
This is arguably the only film movement since the turn of the century that has challenged the status quo. Thanks to the emergence of low-budget 24p cameras in the early 2000s (and DSLRs later on), a new breed of filmmaker was born. One that could tell their stories in a different way, breaking conventional storytelling techniques to explore ideas and thoughts rather than plot.
These films did not place an emphasis on production value, and in many cases were produced with virtually no money. Filmmakers like Joe Swanberg made big waves with feature films made for just a few thousand bucks. For the first time, projects of this scope were actually gaining traction and building audiences.
Movies like Tiny Furniture, Frances Ha, and Drinking Buddies are a great starting place for exploring the genre.
While the style and format of mumblecore may not directly apply to all of our creative sensibilities, the spirit certainly should. These films have been able to break through the noise against all odds – without money, crew, or professional actors.
Along with the other movements on this list, there’s a lot to learn here. Hopefully this will serve as a launching off point for some of you to study these pivotal moments in film history, and blend them together to make your own.
What are some of your film movements? Leave a comment below.