The introduction of new technologies is always disruptive, both for the users and particularly for those working in the ‘affected’ industry. Some resist the change, others embrace it. Some believe the new will simply replace the old, others foresee a new model of co-existence.
We can barely imagine what it was like for 19th century audiences when photography and cinema were first introduced. Sure, we’ve heard the anecdote about the Lumiere screenings that terrified audiences when they saw a train approaching, but these are mere legends for all of us who take the moving image for granted.
The same is true for each one of the major mass media introduced since. Radio, television, video games, the internet. Each one of them was welcomed with a mix of enthusiasm and fear – that they’d destroy their predecessors, that they’d be harmful for the audience, etc.
It’s 2013 yet we still have newspapers, radio, television, video games and an omnipresent internet delivering the content produced by all the ‘old’ media, anywhere, anytime.
When I discovered this 1950 article by Ken G Hall, talking about the future of television, it became clear that those people working in the film industry must have felt something very similar to the great challenge the big movie studios and broadcasters are still experiencing today – how to evolve from their traditional model to a new one that fulfills the needs of their audiences, and keeps the money rolling in.
Of particular interest is Hall’s description of live TV production – a stressful and imperfect process that unfortunately left no audiovisual record of those early shows for future generations.
The alignment and partnership between film and TV predicted by Hall 63 years ago made perfect sense and it was ultimately inevitable. Will history repeat itself in the digital age? Only time will tell; check back in 2076!
Dinner in the dark
One of Australia’s most prominent filmmakers gives his personal impressions of television, as well as some warnings and a few prophesies.
By Ken G Hall
(Originally published in The Film Monthly, July 1950)
‘And now we have dinner in the dark…!’
No, it isn’t the wail of some blackout-stricken Sydney suburbanite. It’s an agonised statement of fact, made by a television-conscious American.
But why is he screaming about having dinner in the dark? If he doesn’t like it, he needn’t do it.
Which is what you think, brother. The frantic wretch is screaming because screaming is what he feels like doing. And there’s nothing else that he can do.
The kids run most American households – as they do a good many Australian – and Television is something the kids of the US have gone for in a big way. Some of the best programmes are being aired at dinnertime, so Mum and Dad eat in the dark while Junior gulps his spinach, with both eyes glued on Hopalong Cassidy who is making it hot for the baddies on the luminous television screen.
Which brings us to the moot point: How dangerous is television – if not to the home – then to the motion picture as mass entertainment?
Personally, I believe television is a real danger – and one that it would be most unwise to regard lightly.
Of course, many people in the film industry do not share my point of view. And some of them are people for whose opinions I have high respect. But even that can’t alter my opinion, we must simply agree to disagree.
I don’t for a minute suggest that television will ring the death knell of the motion picture theatre. Man is gregarious and will always seek entertainment in company with large numbers of his fellows. The point is he won’t seek it so frequently when he can fill his leisure hours being entertained in his own home.
Television must eat into film theatre takings and consequently film grosses. If it only takes 10%, it will hurt. But I think it will take much more eventually.
And before someone calls me a Prophet of Pessimism, let me remind them of Variety’s recent re-publication of statements made by practically every film big shot period 1928, on the matter of the rise of the talking picture.
The roster included practically all the Industry Big Brass of the day – men like Samuel Goldwyn, Jesse Lasky, Adolph Zukor, Louis B Mayer and a score more. All of them said, in effect, of the talkies – ‘This new fangled thing won’t last. It’s a seven day wonder and the public will never go for it.’
Then followed a lot of reasons why the silents were superior. It’s just as well they changed their minds!
The point is that all those very capable gentlemen are proven wishful thinkers. They didn’t WANT it to last because it was going to revolutionise their very comfortable businesses and face them with the expenditure of untold millions of dollars to equip studios and theatres for sound.
But they couldn’t stop sound – any more than we can stop television even if we were foolish enough to try.
Television, technically and otherwise, is in my view about where radio was in the middle twenties. Nobody was deeply interested; programmes were poor; reception was only fair.
It’s true that radio – even when it grew up – did not hurt the film business. But television is different – it’s visual. And there’s the rub.
‘Video will never get good films for telecasting’, runs an argument, ‘the film business will never give it those films’.
Maybe – but so what? They’ll make their own. And that’s what I’m getting at – this is the kernel of this apparently destructive preamble.
Television is a motion picture technique. It must belong to the film industry.