Haydn Smith takes us on a cinema trip through film history with fifty films that shook the world…
An enthralling examination of those worldwide films and cinematic styles that dared to be controversial from the late nineteenth century to now.
The Evolution Of Cinema, capmixed
Since the inception of film and cinema, to paraphrase a song, individual filmmakers’ film content didn’t mean to change the world. Films didn’t set out to create new ways of thinking for a time or place. But both films and their creators often did just that. Filmmaker’s productions on then topical and societal topics challenged different countries’ beliefs and often made those then generations think in a new and different way. These then in time impacted other countries and cultures more uniquely.
Historical controversial topics such as homosexuality, capital punishment, war, mental health and transvestites were explored in films of all genres. This is through their then eye-opening plots, then contemporary film styles and movements – such as New Hollywood and auteurs – and the use of sound and colour. These were seen in British films such as Victim (1961) and The Paradine Case (1947) and the American movies Apocalypse Now (1979), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Some Like it Hot (1959) respectively.
In Ian Haydn Smith’s book FilmQuake The Most Disruptive Films in Cinema we are treated to an extensive history of film at its most “disruptive”. The author reflects on those films that challenged audiences, as he transports us back in time and then in short – but information packed – chapters analyses his wide selection of films. This is through his choices of fifty films and in his in-depth analytical discussions, he adds many more. He additionally illuminates and enlightens about then film directors, movements and styles from the turn of the 19th Century to the present day.
The 208 paged book has a simple but effective cover of a greeny-blue seismograph on a black background. A seismograph records the activities of an earthquake recording and from its source reduces in size and effects as its impact is felt worldwide. This picture is then an apt visual representation of film history as a “resting” continuum where the seismic waves symbolically indicate films or film movements that shook up our then thinking seen as graph waves and which increase or reduce their impact worldwide.
The book starts with a short introduction that informs us that throughout film history, controversial cinema has been viewed differently by worldwide cinema audiences. Since 1895 and the introduction of film and then cinema, the medium of film has highlighted and then directly or indirectly helped to change or modify those attitudes. Their film content has then left their historical mark on society by challenging then ideas and times for the better and it’s important that these films and their content must be seen in the context of that time and place.
The development of film is explored from the beginning of filmmaking and the inception of cinema. This was when audiences were shocked by “action” in film and
“movie images that captured our world, which could be replayed over and over again and eventually be manipulated in ever more imaginative ways. “
Provocative scenes and films faced censorship in the late 19th Century and this is aptly illustrated with an example as the 18-second film, The Kiss (1896). Haydn Smith outlines how this then sexual content was condemned and questioned by the Roman Catholic Church. Then as film methods evolved over time, more risks were taken in both content and style.
Haydn Smith outlines more recent evidence in the censorship of films, advocating that this also occurred in the last century. This was with the now outdated American Hays code from the 1920s to the late 1960s. Then in 1980s Britain, “video nasties” came to the fore when more provocative films were banned for high violent or sexual content. Nowadays, he argues film streaming companies have made films with challenging content material more widely available.
The changing nature of controversial films over this timeline is important to remember as you read this book. Many films described from the early days which shocked back then because of their material to then audiences, would not be as shocking now in our more permissive society. Yet, in this book, Haydn Smith illustrates how a number of films released more recently highlight today’s topical issues such as black matters and terrorism.
An example could be the gratuitous use of sex and violence in the ending of Warren Beatty’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) as part of the New Hollywood film generation, which shocked cinema-goers of the time. This film compared with the now, with blood-splattered scenes which are accepted as “normal” in Tarantino movies eg 2019’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. Another example is Easy Rider (1969) which highlighted the rift in generations of Old and New Hollywood in a motorcycle western which contrasted old and new ways of living.
In his book, Haydn Smith set out to
“offer a balanced overview of the most impactful aspects of cinema and its most disruptive tendencies”.
The book content is divided into year groups and content is explored in a linear way. Each year group covers a specific time period in history such as 1895-1930,1960-79 and 2000 – Present. These have enigmatic titles such as The Shock of the New, Breaking All the Rules and The Future is Unwritten.
After a short introduction to the chapter content, Haydn Smith adds a timeline listing important historical and film-related events again in chronological order. These happenings beautifully set the context and then generational, historical and film worldwide experiences from the time. These often inform the content of those films and film movements explored. Events include the first use of colour and sound in films and the relocation of the American film industry from New York to Hollywood.
Chapters within these time periods include individual chapters on controversial films from that time, these titled with compelling descriptive titles the film year and director. Films include Reservoir Dogs (1992), Jaws (1975), Psycho (1960) and Citizen Kane (1947). These films are analysed more deeply as Haydn Smith outlines the plot and the then influences which originated the film. He discusses the director styles, film processes used and the controversial themes within the movie and during the making of the film. He also writes about the effects of these on the audiences.
A wide variety of films, film movements and genres are reviewed and listed in this book. There is also a selection from worldwide directors and films, and Haydn Smith honours all of these with their original language title and English translation. He also adds original stills and film posters. And these include Soviet Cinema and German Expressionism.
Individual film movements which evolved during these times are also illuminated in chapters, such as avant-garde cinema, auteurs animation and art films. These terms are explained with examples of films in these categories. Haydn Smith supports all his writing with pertinent and supportive quotes from filmmakers, critics and acting talent. After he concludes the content. he provides a bibliographical list of these sources.
A wide range of stunning often unique photographs and film posters – in both colour and black – and white adorn full pages. Smaller ones are mingled effectively with the text with descriptions that enhance and reinforce the text. Haydn Smith also adds relevant quotes from critics and filmmakers to support his content. It is clear that Haydn Smith has a passion and deep knowledge of this subject and this is seen and felt in his choices of film, with pertinent discussions and pictures throughout this book.
After reading this valuable reference book telling of the evolution of film. I believe this author more than adequately met his own challenge as the selected fifty films and just as – if not more – many film movements to illustrate the inconstant nature of the controversial films.
Although Haydn Smith calls this book a “glimpse”, this word is only reflected in this book’s number of pages. This book is like a TARDIS in that Hayden Smith has found room to extensively cover much film history with the most beguiling commentary. And it is a book, I now treasure as a film blogger. The page number only proves that less has more.
This book is one to inform rather than surprise you, although you’ll find some unique entries have moulded our present-day mores and beliefs as different countries uniquely and collectively worldwide. Or their provocative impact can be compared with the earthquake recordings seen on the cover. The U.S. Geological Survey site aptly describes an earthquake’s impact HERE.
Throw a rock into a pond or lake and watch the waves rippling out in all directions from the point of impact. Just as this impact sets waves in motion on a quiet pond, so an earthquake generates seismic waves that radiate out through the Earth.
This quote illustrating the effects of an earthquake could easily be compared to a controversial film’s effect throughout the World. To conclude, often just reading their entry into the worldwide history of film and the then impact on us as individuals in you will never think the same way about these movies again. And through Haydn Smith’s analysis of your favourite film be it Fitzcarraldo (1982) or Jaws, you can now empathise and understand just how these films rocked the boat.
A disclaimer and personal thank you to Ian Haydn Smith and Quarto Publishing Group – White Lion for allowing me to write this post. Financial compensation was not received for this post. I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. If you are involved in the entertainment industry and would like to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.