6 Important Cinematic Innovations That Changed Film
It’s odd to think that film as an entertainment medium has only been around for a little over a century. According to the Guinness Book of Records, there are tortoises older than it. But in such a short space of time, cinema has gone from being the stuff of make-believe to arguably the single most influential driver of global pop culture.
There’s been a lot of innovation crammed into this relatively short period of time. Within just 120 years moviegoers have gone from literally fleeing theatres in terror at the image of a moving train to gleefully shovelling popcorn into their mouths while 3D monsters burst out of the screen inches from their faces.
Over the years, various cinematic milestones have brought us to this point. Here we chart a few of the greatest, from method acting to CGI innovation, which are still impressive today, no matter how simple some may seem.
Vertigo (1958) – Playing With Perspective
Often cited as the best film ever made, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is an atmospheric, slow-burning masterpiece that tells the tale of an ex-police officer with an intense fear of heights who is hired to prevent a suicide. Featuring San Francisco’s historic Fairmont Hotel (see main image) in key shots, it’s been hugely influential in many ways, but particularly in terms of camera trickery.
The Vertigo Effect—also known as the “dolly zoom”—is a technique first used in the film. It skews normal vision in order to make the viewer feel as dizzy as the hero. Achieved by physically moving the camera forward but zooming out at the same time, this disconcerting piece of camerawork paved the way for a future of cinematic smoke and mirrors.
This is just one of many iconic titles shot at a Fairmont hotel. In fact, over 250 films feature Fairmont establishments, which have seen everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Steven Spielberg grace their halls. And this love has been reciprocated, as Fairmont has created an exhibition dedicated to the legendary flicks recorded in its nine landmark properties across three continents.
Avatar (2009) – A New Way Of Filming
Even 10 years later, when so much has changed, it’s still impossible not to be awestruck by the visual spectacle that is James Cameron’s Avatar. This stunning, otherworldly sci-fi epic pushed the boundaries of what was possible with CGI, employing multiple new technologies to reach its end result.
Perhaps the most revolutionary of these was SIMULCAM, a virtual/camera hybrid that allows actors to be superimposed onto a digital background in real time. In this way CGI scenes could be directed just like normal live-action scenes, helping to pave the way for a fully integrated cinematic future.
The Matrix (1999) – Dodged A Bullet
If you grew up in the 90s, you almost certainly fantasised about dodging bullets like Neo in The Matrix. The dystopian sci-fi action epic has many memorable scenes, but Keanu Reeves leaning backwards at an impossible angle while bullets tear overhead in slow motion will always be the one that sticks in our minds.
The cinematic innovation that made the scene possible is known “bullet time”—a visual effect that shows imperceptibly fast objects, such as bullets, in extreme slow motion while the camera pans around at normal speed.
Jaws (1975) — Suspense Redefined
The Hitchcock principle, that when it comes to horror, “less is more”, is pretty much universally accepted these days—but it was Jaws that solidified it. Spielberg knew that real dread isn’t in what the viewer sees but in small details that suggested what they might have seen.
Of course there had been suspenseful films before, but Jaws rewrote the rulebook. Playing on the audience’s primal fears, Spielberg deployed colour, sound changes and a dramatic score to evoke terror and foreboding in a way never before seen in cinema. It changed the horror genre for ever and cemented the director’s name as a true Hollywood visionary.
The Towering Inferno (1974) – It’s Not An Act
Shot on location at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, The Towering Inferno is an all-time classic disaster movie, starring Hollywood legends Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. The film charts the chaotic events after a fire breaks out in a state-of-the-art skyscraper. It’s a piece of cinema brimming with action and terror, but not everything is for the camera.
The film featured a fair bit of what is known as “enforced method acting”. For the uninitiated, that means catching the cast off-guard to elicit genuine reactions. The film was also shot in sequence, meaning characters looked increasingly bedraggled and exhausted for real as the events unfolded. Add to that the fact that McQueen performed many of his own stunts and you’ve got a film that really blurred the lines between reality and drama.
Midnight Cowboy (1969) - Naked Ambition
When Midnight Cowboy won the Oscar for Best Picture, conservative America could hardly believe it. Free love might have taken over the youth and music, but the fact that the left-thinking movement was taking over Hollywood with movies showcasing nudity in the first frames was definitive evidence that a new generation of creative thinking was being ushered in.
Originally X-rated in the States due to its homosexual references (homosexuality was still a crime in most states in 1969), the film paved the way for unique and controversial story lines that challenged modern masculinity. Today, it’s now ranked as the 36th best American film of all time by the American Film Institute and has been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress.
It’s also just one of the many immortal pieces of cinema shot at New York’s Plaza, a Fairmont Managed Hotel, making it a key location to stop off at on your next movie tour of the Big Apple. Just don’t forget your fringed jacket.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.