Take a 16-Week Crash Course on the History of Movies: From the First Moving Pictures to the Rise of Multiplexes & Netflix

Almost all movies tell sto­ries, even the ones that don’t intend to. Put every movie ever made togeth­er, and they col­lec­tive­ly tell anoth­er sto­ry: the sto­ry of cin­e­ma. Of course, not just one “sto­ry of cin­e­ma” exists to tell: crit­ic Mark Cousins told one to great acclaim a few years ago in the form of his book and doc­u­men­tary series The Sto­ry of Film, as Jean-Luc Godard had done ear­li­er in his Histoire(s) du ciné­ma, whose very title acknowl­edges the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of pos­si­ble nar­ra­tives in the his­to­ry of the mov­ing image. Now, with a lighter but no doubt equal­ly strong per­spec­tive, comes the lat­est mul­ti­part video jour­ney through it: Crash Course Film His­to­ry.

“Movies haven’t always looked like they do now,” says host Craig Ben­zine (bet­ter known as the Youtu­ber Wheezy­Wait­er) in the trail­er above. “There was a real long process to fig­ure out what they… were. Were they spec­ta­cles? Doc­u­men­taries? Short films? If so, how short? Long films?

If so, how long? Is black and white bet­ter than col­or? Should sound be the indus­try stan­dard? And where should we make them?” And even though we’ve now seen over a cen­tu­ry of devel­op­ment in cin­e­ma, those issues still seem up for grabs — some of them more than ever.

In the first episode, Ben­zine dives right into his search for the source of the pow­er of movies, “one of the most influ­en­tial forms of mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion the world has ever known,” a “uni­ver­sal lan­guage that lets us tell sto­ries about our col­lec­tive hopes and fears, to make sense of the world around us and the peo­ple around us.” To do so, he must begin with the inven­tion of film — the actu­al image-cap­tur­ing cel­lu­loid sub­stance that made cin­e­ma pos­si­ble — and then goes even far­ther back in time to the very first mov­ing images, “illu­sions” in their day, and the sur­pris­ing qual­i­ties of human visu­al per­cep­tion they exploit­ed.

All this might seem a far cry from the spec­ta­cles you’d see at the mul­ti­plex today, but Crash Course Film His­to­ry (which comes from the same folks who gave us A Crash Course in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture and A Crash Course in World His­to­ry) assures us that both of them exist on the same spec­trum — the ride along that spec­trum being the sto­ry of movies. It will last six­teen weeks, after which Crash Course and PBS Dig­i­tal Stu­dios will con­tin­ue their col­lab­o­ra­tive explo­ration of film with a course on pro­duc­tion fol­lowed by a course on crit­i­cism. Take all three and you’ll no doubt come out impressed not just by the size of the cre­ative space into which film has expand­ed, but also by how much it has yet to touch.

As new install­ments of Crash Course Film His­to­ry come out, they will be added to this playlist. Check back for updates.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hol­ly­wood, Epic Doc­u­men­tary Chron­i­cles the Ear­ly His­to­ry of Cin­e­ma

World Cin­e­ma: Joel and Ethan Coen’s Play­ful Homage to Cin­e­ma His­to­ry

A Crash Course in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture: A New Video Series by Best-Sell­ing Author John Green

A Crash Course in World His­to­ry

Cin­e­ma His­to­ry by Titles & Num­bers

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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