Kamis, 22 Desember 2011

Film As Mass Media

Film began at the end of nineteenth century as a technological novelty, but what it offered was scarcely  new in context or function. It transferred to a new means of presentation and distribution and older tradition of entertainment, offering stories, spectacles, music, drama, humor and technical tricks for popular consumption.  As a mass media, film was partly a response to the ‘invention’ of leisure – time out of work – and an answer to the demand for economical and (usually) and usually respectable ways of enjoying free time for the whole family. Thus it provided for the working class some of the cultural benefits already enjoyed by their social ‘betters’. To judge from its phenomenal growth, the latent demand met by film was enormous; and if we choose from the main formative elements named above, it would not be the technology or the social climate but the needs met by the film for a class (urban lower-middle and working) which mattered most – the same elements, although a different need and a different class, produced the newspaper.
            The characterization of the film as ‘show business’ in a news form for an expanded market is not the whole story. There have been three other significant strands in film history. First, the use of film propaganda is noteworthy, especially when applied to national or societal purposes, based on its great reach, supposed realism, emotional impact and popularity. The practice of combining improving message with entertainment had been long established in literature and drama, but new elements in film were the capacity to reach so many people and to be able to manipulate the seeming reality of the photographic message without loss of credibility. The two other strands in film history were the emergence of several schools of film art (Huaco, 1963) and the rise of the social documentary film movement. These were different from the mainstream in having either a minority appeal or a strong element of realism (or both). Both have a link, partly fortuitous, with film as propaganda in that both tended to develop at times of social crisis.
            There have also been thinly concealed ideological and implicitly propagandist elements in many popular entertainment films, even in politically ‘free’ societies. This reflects a mixture of forces: deliberate attempts at social control; unthinking adoption of populist or conservative values; and the pursuit of mass appeal. Despite the dominance of the entertainment function in film history, film have often displayed didactic-propagandistic tendencies. Film is certainly more vulnerable than other media to outside interference and maybe more subject to conformist pressures because so much capital is at risk.
            Two turning points in film history were the coming of television and the ‘Americanization’ of the film industry and film culture in the years after the First World War (Tunstall, 1977). The relative decline of nascent, but flourishing, European film industries at that time (reinforced by the Second World War) probably contributed to a homogenization of film culture and a convergence of ideas about the definition of film as a medium. Television took away a large part of the film-viewing public, especially the general family audience, leaving a much smaller and younger film audience. It also took away or diverted the social documentary stream of film development and gave it a more congenial hone in television. However, it did not do the same for the art film or for film aesthetics, although the art film may have benefits from the ‘demassification’ and greater specialization of the film/cinema medium.
            One additional consequence of this turning point is the reduced need for ‘respectability’. The film became more free to cater to the demand for violence, horrific or pornographic content. Despite the liberation entailed in becoming a less ‘mass’ medium, the film has not been able to claim full rights to political and artistic self-expression, and many countries retain an apparatus of licensing, censorship and powers of control.
            A last concomitant of film’s subordination to television in audience in appeal has been its integration with other media, especially book publishing, popular music and television itself. It has acquired a certain centrality (Jowell and Linton, 1980), despite the reduction of its immediate audience, as a showcase for other media and as cultural source, out of which come book, strip cartoons, songs, and television ‘stars’ and series. Thus film is as much as ever a mass culture creator. Even the loss of the cinema audience has been more than compensated by a new domestic audience reached by television, video recordings, cable and satellite channels.


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