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The Veritiphone system

I have previously written three posts on the efforts of the Leeds inventor Claude Hamilton Verity to develop a synchronisation system for motion pictures using a sound-on-disc system. In 1923 he sailed to America to work with the Vitagraph Film Company, though the result of this collaboration remains unknown. His efforts were reported worldwide but he has disappeared from the history of British cinema. You can read my earlier posts here, here, and here.

I had not thought about Verity for many months until Luke McKernan asked me a question yesterday, and I took the opportunity to have a quick search to see if anything new was available.

Rather wonderfully I have just found a discussion at Gramophone Collecting which has images of two articles. One is by Verity himself written for The Sound Wave 1922 describing his ‘Veritiphone’ system complete with a picture of this unusual machine.There is even a picture of the man with his machine. The other is a description of his efforts.

The original discussion can be found here.

The introduction to the article reads:

We have had an opportunity of testing the acclaimed merits of the Veritiphone. This is the invention of Mr. Claude H. Verity, of Leeds, who has made a deep study of the synchronisation of moving pictures, and who has admittedly accomplished what at one time appeared to be an impossible feat, that of timing the movement of the lips of the speaker  with the recorded speech given coincidentally. The Veritiphone is, indeed, the outcome pure and simple of Mr. Verity’s pursuit of the science of synchronisation.

From this we can infer the Veritphone system worked, performing exactly as Verity claimed and as reported around the world. And yet he is utterly unknown to historians of British cinema.

Here are the images from the forum.

Recent research on British cinema

This week some articles on British cinema that have appeared over the past 18 months, with a particular nod to Scottish cinema.

Brown S 2011 ‘Anywhere but Scotland?:’ transnationalism and new Scottish cinema, International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen 4 (1): http://journals.qmu.ac.uk/index.php/IJOSTS/article/view/109/pdf.

Fifteen years on from the moment that Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996) fulfilled the promise of his earlier Shallow Grave (1994) and helped to launch what has become known as New Scottish Cinema, the critical debates which have accompanied its development find themselves at a crossroads. Prompted in part by the New Scottish Cinema symposium, which took place in Ireland in 2005 and looked back over 20 years of Scottish film, key writers have begun to critically assess the arguments which have circulated and to refashion the debate for the future. Initial models focussing upon the influences of first American and then European cinema have proved themselves to be inflexible in locating New Scottish Cinema within a global cinema marketplace, and furthermore have privileged a certain type of film, influenced by European art cinema traditions, as being representative of Scottish cinema to the exclusion of other more commercial projects. Not only is this ironic considering the inherently commercial nature of both Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, but also it had led to a vision of Scottish film which is more European than Scottish; more international than national.

Claydon EA 2011 National identity, the GPO Film Unit and their music, in S Anthony and J Mansell (eds) The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan: NB: This is an abstract of the full chapter.

The GPO films, seminal as they were in helping to construct the British social realist movement, are as much remembered for their sound worlds as their visual properties. Whether it is the crackling audio of the ensembles who played, or the (to our ears) richly evocative accents of the narrators, or the adventurous musical soundtracks, the sound worlds of the Empire Marketing Board, GPO and Crown Film Units are utterly textural and utterly of their time and place. This timbre is largely the effect of Alberto Calvancanti‟s aesthetic, but it is also a reflection of the range of composers and filmmakers employed by the Unit. In this chapter, I shall focus upon the way in which Benjamin Britten and W. H. Auden‟s sonic collage in Night Mail created and reinforced concepts of national identity and place and how the use of sound in Humphrey Jennings‟ Spare Time established a semiotic musical sense of British identity by engaging with popular forms, a mode which he would later develop in Listen to Britain. These are films which are much discussed and much loved, but for that same reason, it is worthwhile to step back, to distance ourselves somewhat and to re-examine the elements we can take for granted: what we hear that we know too well. Consequently, this chapter situates the development of a documentary „national soundtrack‟ within it specific cultural and artistic contexts.

Fukaya K (2012) Quota quickies – British B movie’s narrative style and the problem of nationality in the 1930s, GEIBUN: Bulletin of the Faculty of Art and Design, University of Toyama 6: 124-131.

This paper will explore the meaning and function of a narrative style in the 1930s British film culture constructing national consciousness. Around 1930, the British government and film industry tried to protect themselves from the excessive amount of Hollywood films imported from the United States, and to reconstruct the national film culture. The paper will reconsider the idea of national cinema, especially from cultural perspective, and examine the roles of narrative in the creation of nationally conscious films.

Goode I (2011) Cinema in the country: the rural cinema scheme – Orkney (1946-67), Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 30 (2): 17-31.

The act of transporting cinema to and exhibiting films for the rural communities of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland has attracted a fair amount of press attention at home and abroad recently (“Box Office”). This is partly due to the events pioneered by the British actress Tilda Swinton and the writer and critic Mark Cousins. This began with the film festival The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams held in Nairn on the north east coast of Scotland in 2008, followed a year later by A Pilgrimage which involved tugging a mobile cinema along an exhibition route from Fort Augustus to Nairn incorporating Loch Ness. These initiatives and less publicized others, such as The Small Islands Film Festival (2007-2009), are born of a passionate desire to not only take a preferred vision of cinema to selected areas of rural Scotland, but also, to offer potential audiences a different cinema-going experience by challenging what might be considered the norms of film exhibition.

Hand C and Judge G (2012) Searching for the picture: forecasting UK cinema admissions making use of Google Trends data, Applied Economics Letters 19 (11): 1051-1055.

This paper investigates whether Google Trends search information can improve forecasts of cinema admissions, over and above those based on seasonal patterns in the data. Using monthly data for the UK for the period 2004(1) to 2008(12) we examine various forecasting models that incorporate Google Trends search information. We find clear evidence that Google Trends data on searches relevant to cinema visits do have the potential to increase the accuracy of cinema admissions forecasting models. There is also some evidence to suggest that Google Trends indexes based on combined information from searches using a number of different search terms work better than those based on only a single keyword. The results also appear to confirm earlier findings that the UK cinema admissions series is more suitably modelled by the use of fixed seasonal dummies than through autoregressive formulations.

Wilks L 2012 ‘Boys don’t like girls for funniness:’ raunch culture and the British tween film, Networking Knowledge 5 (1): http://ojs.meccsa.org.uk/index.php/netknow/article/view/249.

This paper discusses representations of teenage girls in three contemporary British film productions or co-productions, aimed at the “tween” market (defined as nine to fourteen year old females). Such texts are examined in the context of a British equivalent of ‘raunch culture’ (Levy, 2006), a strand of postfeminism that I propose characterises the decade in which they were released. The films engage with contemporary debates regarding the media’s alleged sexualising impact on tweens and the body ideals it impresses upon them. Drawing on McRobbie’s notion of ‘double entanglement’ (2009), I consider their negotiations of a conflict between sexuality and a perception of childhood innocence, which produces contradictory interpellations of their teenage female characters. While the films to some extent critique the perception that investment in raunch culture “empowers” teenage girls, elements of the texts also simultaneously celebrate the commodified young woman’s body, inciting cultural anxieties about the ways tweens are represented. All three films depict girls’ attempts at embodying a ‘postfeminist masquerade’ (McRobbie, 2009) of excessive femininity as a means to (faux) empowerment. I argue that this apparent “empowerment” is particularly hollow for tweens, their actions simply reinforcing patriarchal norms that envisage females as nothing but objects.

Williams S 2011 Between a Rock and Hard Place: Space, Gender and Hierarchy in British Gangland Film, University of Hertfordshire, unpublished PhD Thesis.

A principal aim of this research has been to establish the capacity of British Gangland film to articulate its era of production through the cinematic interpretation of contemporary concerns and anxieties in narratives relating to the criminal underworld. In order to do so, the study has concentrated on the analysis of space, gender and hierarchy within representative generic texts produced between 1945 and the present. The thesis is divided into three sections: the first offers a general overview of British Gangland film from the 65 years under discussion with the aim of identifying recurring generic patterns and motifs. The second and third sections are more specifically focused, their chapters examining the narrative significance and development of the male and the female protagonist respectively. Within the films under discussion, the relationship between these protagonists and their environment represents a fundamental generic component, resulting in an emphasis on space and place. Space within these narratives is inherently territorial, and thus irrevocably bound up with hierarchies of power. The predominantly urban locations in which the narratives are set represent a twilight world, a demi-monde, which is rarely neutral but dominated by the patriarchal order structuring the notion of ‘Gangland’. Such spaces are therefore inextricably linked with gender, hierarchy, and dynamic power relations. Whilst it would have been possible to explore each of these areas in isolation through specifically relevant theoretical perspectives, their interdependence is central to this study. Consequently, a holistic theoretical approach has facilitated analysis of the symbiotic relationship between the three key elements of space, gender and hierarchy and the processes involved in the generation of meaning: this has resulted in a reading of British Gangland film as cultural artefact, reflecting its circumstances of production.

The cultural economics of film

This week a collection of papers looking at the cultural economics of films focussing on – among other things – how the stock market reacts to movies, the behaviour of exhibitors and distributors, and how reducing financial risk allows exhibitors more freedom (which is of obvious interest in light of the BFI’s recent New Horizons document).

As ever, the version of a paper linked to may not be the final published version.

Chisholm D, McMillan M, and Norman G 2010 Product differentiation and film-programming choice: do first-run movie theatres show the same films?, Journal of Cultural Economics 34 (2): 131-145.

We present an empirical analysis of product differentiation using a new dynamic panel data set on film programming choice in a major U.S. metropolitan motion-pictures exhibition market. Using these data, we compute two measures of film programming choice which allow us to investigate the determinants of strategic product differentiation in a multi-characteristics space. Our evidence is consistent with the idea that the degree of product differentiation between theatre pairs reflects a balance between strategic concerns and contractual constraints. Similarity in one dimension is offset by differentiation in others. Finally, we find that ownership matters: theatres under common ownership make more similar programming choices than theatres with different owners.

Collins A, Scorcu AE, and Zanola R 2009 Distribution conventionality in the movie sector: an econometric analysis of cinema supply, Managerial and Decision Economics 30 (8): 517-527.

This paper empirically analyzes the impact of several factors on a ‘conventionality index (CI)’ in the specific context of the cinema exhibition sector. To our knowledge, it is the first time that a standard CI has been constructed for this purpose. Econometric analysis of the determinants of variation in this index provides decision-makers with an empirical focus for analyzing distributional aspects of the movie exhibition market, with particular emphasis on product differentiation. Specifically, (i) do cinemas based in a city area have a different or ‘specialized’ focus in contrast to cinemas in small towns? or (ii) do multiplexes have a different or more specialized focus in comparison with cinemas? To this end, cross-sectional econometric models are estimated to help analyze these effects in three Italian regions for a sample of cinemas covering the 2006 season.

Einav L and Ravid SA 2009 Stock market response to changes in movies’ opening dates, Journal of Cultural Economics 33 (4): 311-319.

How does the market react to news regarding large uncertain projects? We analyze stock market reactions to information about changes in opening dates of movies, and present two main findings. First, we find systematic negative stock price responses to the scheduling changes we consider, suggesting that any changes are interpreted as bad news by the market. Second, we find that the market reaction is greater for movies with higher production costs, but is unrelated to subsequent box office revenues. This may point to a limited ability of the market to predict the box office performance of a movie, and to increased sensitivity of the market to cost effects, which are easier to forecast.

Joshi AM and Hanssens DM 2008 Movie advertising and the stock market valuation of studios: a case of “great expectations?”, Marketing Science 28 (2): 239-250.

Product innovation is the key revenue driver in the motion picture industry. Because major studios typically launch fewer than 20 movies per year, the financial performance of a single release can have a major effect on the studio’s profitability. In this paper we study how single movie releases impact the investor valuation of the studio. We analyze the change in postlaunch stock price and predict the direction and magnitude of excess returns based on the revenue expectation built up for a movie release. That expectation is set, in part, by media support; i.e., highly advertised movies are expected to draw larger audiences than others. By using an event-study methodology, we isolate the impact of a movie launch on studio stock price and track the determinants of that change.

We examine a comprehensive data set comprising over 300 movies released by the largest studios. Our results indicate a clear interaction between the marketing support received by a movie and the direction and magnitude of its excess stock return post launch. Movies with above average prelaunch advertising have lower postlaunch stock returns than films with below average advertising. Our findings also suggest that movies that are hits at the box office may result in a lowering of stock price if they had high media support because of high performance expectations built up prior to launch. Thus prelaunch advertising plays a dual role of informing consumers about a movie’s arrival as well as helping investors form expectations about the studio’s profit performance.

McKenzie J 2012 The economics of movies: a literature survey, Journal of Economic Surveys 26 (1): 42-70.

The film industry provides a myriad of interesting problems for economic contemplation. From the initial concept of an idea through production, distribution and finally exhibition there are many aspects to the film project and the film industry that present new and interesting puzzles worthy of investigation. Add to this the high level of data availability, and it is little wonder that an increasing number of researchers are being attracted to this industry. To date, however, there are no comprehensive surveys on the contribution of economists to this literature. This paper attempts to fill this void and unify what is known about the industry. It also identifies and discusses potential areas for new research.

Pokorny M and Sedgwick J 2010 Profitability trends in Hollywood, 1929 to 1999: somebody must know something, The Economic History Review 63 (1): 56-84.

This article presents an overview of the development of the US film industry from 1929 to 1999. Notwithstanding a volatile film production environment, in terms of rate of return and market share variability, the industry has remained relatively stable and profitable. Film production by the film studios is interpreted as analogous to the construction of an investment portfolio, whereby producers diversified risk across budgetary categories. In the 1930s, high-budget film production was relatively unprofitable, but the industry adjusted to the steep decline in film-going in the postwar period by refining high-budget production as the focus for profitability.

Wang F, Zhang Y, Li X, and Zhu H 2010 Why do moviegoers go to the theater? The role of prerelease media publicity and online word of mouth in driving moviegoing behaviour, Journal of Interactive Advertising 11 (1): http://jiad.org/article139.

Using the Bass new product diffusion model, the authors explore how media publicity and word of mouth (WOM) about a to-be-released new movie drive moviegoing behavior in emerging markets. Empirical data collected from the Chinese motion picture industry reveal that prerelease media appearance (a proxy for publicity) and online WOM conversation (a proxy for WOM) influence moviegoing decision making, but they play different roles. Media publicity determines moviegoers’ innovation probability, whereas WOM determines both innovation and imitation probability. This article provides a better understanding of the decision making involved in moviegoing, as well as effective ways to market and release new movies in emerging markets.

Werck K, Grinwis M, and Heyndels B 2008 Budgetary constraints and programmatic choices by Flemish subsidized theatres, Applied Economics 4 (18): 2369-2379.

We analyse programmatic choices of Flemish theatres and examine how they are affected by the theatres’ budgetary situation. Following Lancaster’s characteristics approach, we identify several output characteristics of individual Flemish theatres during the period 1980 to 2000. A simultaneous equation approach is used to capture the theatre managers’, subsidizing government’s and consumers’ behaviour. We find that changes in the budgetary situation of a theatre are translated into changes of both the ‘amount’ and the nature of the theatre’s output. The budgetary impact on artistic choices has intensified since the introduction of a 4-yearly instead of yearly allocation of subsidies. The decrease in financial risk for the individual theatres leads to an increase in artistic risk-taking.

Research on movie studios

This week it was announced that Twickenham Film Studios in west London is to close just one year shy of its centenary. Among the many films to be shot at Twickenham are Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Repulsion, Help, Alfie, Superman, 1984, Bladerunner, and The Iron Lady. You can find articles on the closure of Twickenham from the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC, Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times.

So this week I though we would have a collection of papers looking at movie studios, focussing how they have operated in the past and how they operate today. This is an area reasonably well covered in film studies, but there is also a lot of interesting research done in management and business schools, and economics and geography departments that should also be used by film scholars.

Corts KS 2001 The strategic effects of vertical market structure: common agency and divisionalization, Journal of Economics and Management Strategy 10 (4): 509-528.

I examine the release date scheduling of all motion pictures that went into wide release in the US in 1995 and 1996 to investigate the effects of vertical market structure on competition. The evidence suggests that complex vertical structures involving multiple upstream or downstream firms generally do not achieve efficient outcomes in movie scheduling. In addition, analysis of the data suggests that the production divisions of the major studios act as integrated parts of the studio, rather than as independent competing firms.

DeFillippi RJ and Arthur MB 1998 Paradox in project-based enterprise: the case of filmmaking, California Management Review 40 (2): 125-139.

This article describes field research into the creation of an independently produced UK-US feature film.

Finney A 2010 Value chain restructuring in the global film industry, The 4th Annual Conference on ‘Cultural Production in a Global Context: The Worldwide Film Industries, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Grenoble, France, 3-5 June, 2010.

The global film industry is currently experiencing a significant restructuring of its existing value chain. This digitally-driven restructuring provides a dynamic framework for business strategy analysis, with potential lessons and future indicators that have wider implications for global film strategy. To date, academics, industry commentators and practitioners have exclusively focused on the disruptive aspects of changing user behavior; the ‘free’ versus ‘paid’ business models for distribution of filmed content via the Internet; the collapse of ‘windows’ within the exploitation chain; and the actions of Hollywood, an entrenched oligopoly comprising six studios. A key sector of cultural and commercial significance that so far has been excluded is the non-Hollywood film industry- the ‘independent’ film sector. The independent film value chain (FVC) is considerably more fragmented and vulnerable when compared to the studio system of content creation. This paper establishes in what ways the chain models differ, how changes in business models and exploitation are affecting recoupment, and therefore film financing models, and then examines and posits a range of methodological and qualitative approaches to study this ‘current restructuring’ dynamic. While the author’s main focus is on the value chain prior to exploitation, it should be acknowledged that the advent of rapidly compressed exploitation windows has a reflexive impact – both commercial and cultural – on the architecture of film content creation. This article is intended as a precursor to the author’s ensuing doctoral research into film value chain restructuring, rather than a definitive piece of academic research in of itself. Therefore comments and advice on global value chain restructuring – with the film industry serving as the research case study – are encouraged and welcomed by the author at this early stage of research and analysis.

Goldsmith B and Regan T 2003 Cinema Cities, Media Cities: The Contemporary International Studio Complex, Australian Key Centre for Cultural and Media Policy and Australian Film Commission.

This comprehensive study of contemporary international studios considers the circumstances in which the rash of studio complex building and renovating has occurred in places as diverse as Rome, London, Berlin, Prague, Toronto, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Melbourne.

Miller D and Shamsie J 1996 The resource-based view of the firm in two environments: the Hollywood film studios from 1936 to 1965, The Academy of Management Journal 39 (3): 519-543.

This article continues to operationally define and test the resource-based view of the firm in a study of the major U.S. film studios from 1936 to 1965. We found that property-based resources in the form of exclusive long-term contracts with stars and theaters helped financial performance in the stable, predictable environment of 1936-50. In contrast, knowledge-based resources in the form of production and coordinative talent and budgets boosted financial performance in the more uncertain (changing and unpredictable) post-television environment of 1951-65.

Robins JA 1993 Organization as strategy: restructuring production in the film industry, Strategic  Management Journal 14 (S1): 103-118.

Few changes in the structure of firms have attracted as much attention during the last decade as the movement away from integrated production and toward cooperative relations among independent organizations. Despite recent emphasis on these strategies of ‘disaggregation’ and ‘network’ organization, little quantitative research exists on the impact of this type of reorganization on economic performance—at least in part due to the difficulty of obtaining appropriate data. The economic impact of disaggregation is examined in this paper using data on film production in the period after World War II.

Storper M and Chistopherson S 1987 Flexible specialization and regional industrial agglomerations: the case of the US motion picture industryAnnals of the Association of American Geographers 77 (1): 104-117.

In the contemporary motion picture industry, production is vertically disintegrated, organized around transactions among a network of small firms. In this regard, motion picture production resembles other industries whose production organizations can be characterized as flexibly specialized. In this theoretically informed case study, we trace the transformation of the industry from vertically integrated to vertically disintegrated flexibly specialized production and elucidate how this transformation affects the spatial location of production activities and labor market dynamics.

Research on blockbusters

As we all know blockbusters are the bane of the film industry: a recent article in The Telegraph quoted Steven Spielberg’s opinion that contemporary Hollywood has produced few films that will still be viewed in 20 years time. The article can be read here. I think that in general, Spielberg has a point about the general quality of Hollywood films since the mid-1990s. Personally, I just do not find the cinema of the past few years as exciting as I did when I was 18 and going to Canterbury to study film, and the endless repetition and extension of comic book adaptations is evidence of a great amount tedium that I just do not want to watch. (And it’s not like I don’t own scores of comics books and graphic novels). However, much of the blame can be laid at Spielberg’s feet for encouraging big-budget franchise films (Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park). Some of Spielberg’s comments are remarkably self-serving and more than a little disingenuous:

Attacking the prevalence of film franchises – movies based on toys, or video games, that are intended to sell a product as much as they are to entertain – Spielberg said: “I think producers are more interested in backing concepts than directors and writers.

“I don’t think that’s the right way of making a decision about whether you’re going to back a film or not, but a lot of these hedge funds – these independent groups that are coming up with the money – are looking at the big idea more than who the director or writer is. And of course, they all want the guarantee of a big actor.

“My whole career has survived without big movie stars. Yes, I’ll do movies with Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks, and I enjoy that, but most of my movies have had unknowns in them. And they’ve done pretty well.”

Make of that what you will.

The problem isn’t ‘blockbusters’ per se, but rather the lack of diversity in the film industry. As I showed here, the action/adventure, family, and fantasy/science fictions films have become increasingly dominant at the US box office at the expense of crime/thriller films, dramas, and (to a lesser extent) comedies.

But we shouldn’t always be disappointed with blockbusters – they can be great movies, and the scale of the cinema is one thing that makes experiencing a film on the big screen so thrilling. They are also the focus of a number interesting research papers that cover many different aspects of the cinema, and a selection are set out below.

As ever, the version linked to may not be the final published version.

Aldred J 2006 All aboard The Polar Express: a ‘playful’ change of address in the computer-generated blockbuster, Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 1(2): 153-172.

Following Tom Gunning’s assertion that each change in film history implies a change in its address to the spectator, this article closely analyses The Polar Express (Robert Zemeckis, 2004) in order to interrogate what kinds of changes are at stake for the contemporary spectator of the wholly computer generated blockbuster. The article also considers the extent to which the immersive, video game-like visual aesthetic and mode of address present in The Polar Express strive to naturalize viewer relations with digital spaces and characters such as those inherent to both computer-generated films and the ‘invisible’ virtual realm of cyberspace. Finally, the article argues that The Polar Express functions as a compelling historical document of an era when cinema and video games have never been more intertwined in terms of aesthetics, character construction, and narrative, and raises compelling questions about whether video games have begun to exert the type of formative influence upon cinema that cinema previously exerted on video games.

Elsaesser T 2001 The blockbuster: everything connects, but not everything goes, in J Lewis (ed.) The End of Cinema as We Know It. New York: New York University Press: 11-22.

… What characterizes a blockbuster? First, a big subject and a big budget (world war, disaster, end of the planet, monster from the deep, holocaust, death battle in the galaxy). Second, a young male hero, usually with lots of firepower, or secret knowledge, or an impossibly difficult mission. The big movie is necessarily based on traditional stories, sometimes against the background of historical events, more often a combination of fantasy or sci-fi, with the well-known archetypal heroes from Western mythology on parade. In one sense, this makes blockbusters the natural, that is, technologically more evolved, extension of fairy tales. In another sense, these spectacle “experiences,” these “media events,” are also miracles, and not at all natural. Above all, they are miracles of engineering and industrial organization. They are put together like supertankers, aircraft carriers or skyscrapers, office blocks, shopping malls. They resemble military campaigns, and that’s one of the main reasons they cost so much to make. …

Fernandez-Blanco V, Ginsburgh V, Prieto-Rodriguez J, and Weyers S 2011 As good as it gets? Blockbusters and the inequality of box office results since 1950, in J Kaufman and D Simonton (eds.) The Social Science of the Cinema.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This paper analyses how success, measured by box office revenues, is distributed in the movie industry. The idea that “the winner takes all” is pervasive in describing the high degree of inequality in revenues, since we are all subject to the cognitive bias known as “recency effect,” and have myopic perceptions which make us think that recent events are more relevant. This makes us believe that inequalities are much more important today than they used to be. Blockbusters such as Avatar, The Black Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest or even Titanic lead us to overestimate revenue inequality. As is the case with many simplifications, this one is also misleading.

Glastein J, Ludomirsky O, Lyettefi D, Vaish P, Joglekar NR 2003 Blockbusters: building perceptions and delivering at the box office, 21st System Dynamics Conference, 20-24 July 2004, New York.

The Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX) is an on-line market that tracks the perceived value of movie talent and their product: the movies themselves, while they are in development or production. We model the decision rules that drive this market place and estimate the underlying decision parameters by calibrating the evolution of a selected sample of 23 movies released in 2001-2002. Our results show systematic differences in the decision rules followed by the market for the eventual winners (a.k.a. the blockbusters) and the losers at the box office. Regression analysis of combined decision parameters for winners and losers cannot explain the variance in the box office performance. However, segmenting these data between winners and losers provides selective insights about how the aggregate market perceptions evolve.

Mélat H 2007 Order and disorder in contemporary Russian blockbusters, Przeglad Rusycystyczny 120: 90-98.

One of the most striking phenomena in the Russian culture at the turn of the 21st century is the explosion of popular culture (detective literature and cinema, romance, fantasy) and its diversification. For a scholar, popular culture is interesting because, on the one hand, it reflects the state of mind of the population and, on the other hand, it helps to create a special ‘populous’ state of mind. It is a powerful tool for the political establishment that helps to convey an ideology because it is both entertaining and easily accessible. In this vein, modern fairy tales for adults can tell us a lot about the Russian society of our days.

Due to the powerful changes within the Russian society at the beginning of the 1990s, the market for literature and cinema was heavily influenced by the Western type bestsellers and blockbusters. For example, first introduced in translation, the crime fiction became an almost universally celebrated genre, and by the middle of the 1990s, Russia’s own crime fiction, represented by the novels by Aleksandra Marinina, Dar’a Dontsova, and Boris Akunin, dominated the literary scene. The television and cinema adaptations of these books only further promoted this genre.

In this paper, I intend to focus on the few Russian blockbusters and their sequels that are traditionally qualified as thrillers. My analyses will deal with the direct correlation between those films and their sequels, and, first and foremost, how the artistic universe created in these first films evolves and changes in their sequels. I would like to suggest that this evolution is highly reflective of the ideological changes within the Russian society itself.

Ravid SA 1999 Information, blockbusters, and stars: a study of the film industry, Journal of Business 72 (4): 463-492.

This article presents two alternative explanations for the role of stars in motion pictures. Either informed insiders signal project quality by hiring an expensive star, or stars capture their expected economic rent. These approaches are tested on a sample of movies produced in the 1990s. Means comparisons suggest that star-studded films bring in higher revenues. However, regressions show that any big budget investment increases revenues. Sequels, highly visible films and ‘‘family oriented’’ ratings also contribute to revenues. A higher return on investment is correlated only with G or PG ratings and marginally with sequels. This is consistent with the ‘‘rent capture’’ hypothesis.

Riegg RM 2009 Opportunism, uncertainty, and relational contracting – antitrust rules in the film industry, unpublished article.

For a long time, economists and investors have been baffled as to why Studios continue to produce movies with “blockbuster”-sized budgets (i.e. movies with budgets over $100 million) when producing those movies expose Studios to considerable economic risk.

By explaining the unique economics of the Film industry, and the effect of the Paramount (antitrust) rules on Film distribution contracts, this article provides an explanation to the puzzle of the blockbuster that is confirmed by recent trends in Film industry. Additionally, by using the Film industry as a model, this article also demonstrates how relational contracting can be understood as a means of coping with extreme uncertainty and under what circumstances relational contracting can be more efficient than formal contracts.

As a practical resource, this article has several uses. First, the article can provide support to attorneys concerned about a revival of stiff antitrust rules in the Film industry. Second, it can provide a potential guide to investment for Studio executives deciding how to best allocate their resources. Third, it can provide a model of contracting for businesses concerned with preventing opportunism in those industries marked by extreme uncertainty.

Pre-film studies research on film

A couple of weeks ago I posted about some empirical research on editing and the viewer’s experience of pace in the visual media from the 1970s.

A fascinating read on the same topic is the UNESCO report on mass communication research published in 1961, which presents a comprehensive and global bibliography of research on the influence of the cinema on children and adolescents. The report can be accessed here, and it is definitely worth taking an afternoon to read through it.

UNESCO 1961 The Influence of the Cinema on Children and Adolescents: An Annotated International Bibliography. Reports and Papers on Mass Communication 31. Paris: UNESCO.

The report provides details on 491 different pieces of research from around the world, and provides an insight into the type of research that was done before film studies came along. Areas covered include the social effects of cinema on young people, the use of film in education, film and juvenile delinquency, motives behind film choice, and there is good coverage of what we would now call cognitive film theory.

There are all sorts of interesting things to discover. For example, item 62 on the list provides a fascinating insight into the habits of younger viewers in Michigan in the 1940s.

Gibson, Harold J. (Mrs .) and Nahabedian, Vaskey (Mrs .) . A Survey of the Reading, Radio and Motion Picture Habits of Royal Oak Public School Students and their Parents. Royal Oak, Michigan, Royal Oak Public School, 1949, 21 p.

The average pupil in the school surveyed attends the cinema much more frequently than his parents. At the age of 8, he goes to the cinema once a week; until the age of 12 he attends the Saturday afternoon performance. When he reaches junior high school he goes to the cinema on Friday evening, generally with a friend. His parents help him in the selection of films, and he generally appreciates the films his parents consider suitable for him. Westerns, cartoons and animal films are his favourites; later his interest in westerns wanes and his interest in musicals grows. He now chooses films on the basis of cast and publicity. When he reaches high school, he will be more influenced in his choice by official film criticism, and he tends to have the same criteria as his parents.

Some of the research is a bit prosaic: item 61 is a study of the cinema-going habits of Italian young people and concludes that as they get older ‘boys go more frequently with girls.’ Isn’t that what the cinema is for?

However, I’m really not sure about the study from 1949 that showed Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) to some Italian 8-to-14 year olds (no. 130) that concluded that children had difficulty understanding the film. An 80 minute silent documentary about an Eskimo is hardly suitable viewing for children as young as eight. I know I’ve never been that enamoured of this film, but I’m certainly glad I didn’t have to watch it as a child. The comments about spatial awareness and recognition of regular geometric forms do sound more interesting though.

Albertini. Laura and Caruso, Ada, Percezione e interpretazione di imagini cinematografiche nei ragazzi. [Perception and interpretation of film images by children] In: Bianco e Nero, Rome, (X), 5 May 1949, p. 9-27. Also in: Baumgarten, Franziska, Compte rendu du lle Congrbs international de psychotechnique, Berne, 12-17 September 1949. La psychotechnique dans le monde moderne. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1952, p. 557-561.

A study of the reactions of 576 children, aged 8 to 14, to Flaherty’s film “Nanook’. Four hundred and ninety children were questioned: 86 made unsolicited comments. Particularly apparent were the many errors in observation and the discrepancy between what actually occurred in the film and what the children thought they had seen. The rapid succession of images, the inability to understand clearly, to compare precisely and to interpret exactly when drawing up a report has the following results for children: real difficulties in making accurate comparisons as to sizes and likenesses, in recognizing regular geometric forms, in establishing the position of persons in relation to a known object, and in interpreting some of their movements and attitudes. Such difficulties as these do not seem to lessen proportionately as the child grows older. Further research is recommended to study the choice of motion-pictures for children of different age groups.

Perhaps the researchers might have asked the children if they wanted to watch Nanook?

There is an extensive series of entries describing quite detailed studies by the Japanese Ministry of Education on cinema attendance among young people from the 1930s that sound very interesting.

In his ‘Foreword’ to Moving Image Theory: Ecological Considerations, David Bordwell wrote that film studies ‘got off on the wrong foot methodologically. Instead of framing questions, to which competing theories might have responded in a common concern for enlightenment, film academics embraced a doctrine-driven conception of research’ (2005: xi, original emphasis). [Bordwell D 2005 Foreword, in JD Anderson and B Fisher Anderson (eds.) Moving Image Theory: Ecological Considerations. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005: ix-xii].

This is may be an accurate description of film studies, but it is not an accurate description of the study of film.

What stands out from reading much of the research in the UNESCO report  is that pre-film studies research in the cinema is (1) primarily concerned with psychology of the cinema and (2) that it is empirical research and is NOT doctrine-driven. And yet this research has had relatively little impact on film studies as it is taught in universities today. The institutionalisation of film studies as an academic discipline does not appear to have drawn on any of this tradition going back well into the silent era. Why not? And what are the consequences of this? What did these earlier researchers understand about the cinema that we have forgotten?

For example, Tim Smith has written about viewer’s eye movements when watching Hollywood films. You can find his blog describing his research here and his guest piece about eye movements in watching There Will Be Blood on David Bordwell’s blog is here. But if we go back to 1964 we can find this paper, which was addressing the same questions some 47 years ago.

Guba E, Wolf W, de Groot S, Knemeyer M, Van Atta R, and Light L 1964 Eye movements and TV viewing in children, Educational Technology Research and Development 12 (4): 386-401.

This paper, like those in the UNESCO report, does not feature in the film studies curriculum due to the collective amnesia of film scholars who, it would seem, simply ignored decades of prior research when creating university courses in film. Why this should be the case is one of the most important and most interesting questions in film studies.

In the comments on the last update to my bibliography on cognitive film theory, someone asked why I hadn’t included the French Filmology research of the 1940s and 1950s. You can find the bibliography and the comments here. Part of my response was that I simply did not come across this research that often and that translations of this work are relatively rare. It is much harder, for example, to find the works of Gilbert Cohen-Seat in English than it is to find those of Christian Metz. Why should this be so?

The study of film existed before film studies, and it existed as a body of empirical research that looked at how viewers experienced and comprehended the cinema, at the behaviour of audiences, and at the social impact of cinema. And it did so by asking questions years before Bordwell began writing about a mid-level research programme as a means of moving forward.

Film studies really screwed up the study of the cinema.

Paintings of cinemas

This week we have a mini art exhibition of paintings of cinemas. This post contains only a small selection of paintings by a handful of artists, and it is easy to find many more examples using Google’s image search.

This first work is by Anna King, and is of the now disused Odeon cinema in Bradford (just down the road from the National Media Museum).

Anna King, Disused Cinema, Bradford, 2007, Oil and pencil on paper and board, 51cm x 36 cm

Anna’s website can be found here, and you can learn about the history of Bradford’s cinemas here.

This next painting is by William E. Rochfort. Many of his paintings are inspired by cinema and you can find out about his work from the Surrey Artists website here.

William E. Rochfort, Friday Night Date

Next is David Stuttard, and you can find The World of David Stuttard website here.

David Stuttard, Scene Outside A Cinema, 1999, Oil on canvas paper, 20″ x 16″

Hilarie Lambert is a painter from Charleston, SC, and has painted numerous theatres (mostly in the eastern and midwestern US) as part of a large project on old cinemas. You can see them here. My favourite is this , which begs an obvious question about the nature of authorship and adaptation in the cinema:

Hilarie Lambert, The Aldine, Philadelphia, PA, Oil, 12″ x 12″

You can also find out more about Lambert’s work at her blog here, including some more recent paintings of theatres.

This piece is by Peter Hobden, and you can find this and his other paintings of cinemas at his blog here.

Peter Hobden, Cinema, 2010, Oil on canvas, 60cm x 50cm

This is the Osio Cinema, Monterey, by Karen Mazzarella.

Karen Mazarella, Osio Cinema, Monterey, Oil on canvas, 24″ x 18″

What is interesting to note is that these artists have chosen to paint  small cinemas rather than multiplexes. The exception is Anna King’s painting of the former Bradford Odeon, which she included in a series of works about wastelands and disused buildings.

Finally, this is one of Finnish artists Janne Parviainen’s light paintings, and presents a very different perspective to William Rochfort’s painting of cinemagoing. You can find his website here and his flickr page is here.

Janne Parviainen, Late Night Show

The Mann-Whitney U Test

There is a dire need for film scholars to understand elementary statistics if they intend to use it to analyse film style. See here for the problems a lack of statistical education creates.

This post will illustrate the use of the Mann-Whitney U test using the median shot lengths of silent and sound Laurel and Hardy short films produced between 1928 and 1933 (see here). I will also look at effect sizes for interpreting the result of the test. Before proceeding, it is important to note that the Mann-Whitney U test goes by many different names (Wilcoxon Rank Sum test, Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney, etc) but that these are all the same test and give the same results (although they may come in a slightly different format).

The Mann-Whitney U test

The Mann-Whitney U test is a nonparametric statistical test to determine if there is a difference between two samples by testing if one sample is stochastically superior to the other (Mann and Whitney 1947). By stochastic ordering we mean that data values from one sample (X) are more likely to assume small values than the data values from another sample (Y) and that the data values in X are less likely to assume high values than Y.  If Fx(z) ≥ Fy(z) for all z, where F is the cumulative distribution function, then X is stochastically smaller than Y.

We want to find out if there is a difference between the median shot lengths of silent and sound films featuring Laurel and Hardy. The null hypothesis for our experiment is that

the two samples are stochastically equal

(Ho: Fsilent (z) = Fsound (z) for all z).

In other words, we assume that there is no difference between the samples – the median shot lengths of the silent films of Laurel and Hardy are no more likely to be greater or less than the median shot lengths of the sound films of Laurel. (See Callaert (1999) on the nonparametric hypotheses for the comparison of two samples).

In order to perform the Mann-Whitney U test we take our two samples – the median shot lengths of the silent and sound films – and we pool them together to form a single, large sample. We then order the data values from smallest to largest and assign a rank to each value. The film with the smallest median shot length has a rank 1.0, the film with second smallest median shot length has a rank of 2.0, and so on. If two or more films have a median shot length with the same value, then we give each film rank an average rank. For example, in Table 1 we see that five films have a median shot length of 3.3 seconds and that these films are 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th in the ordered list. Adding together these ranks and dividing by the number of tied films gives us the average rank of each film: (5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9)/5 = 7.0.

Table 1 Rank-ordered median shot lengths of Laurel and Hardy silent (n = 12) and sound (n = 20) films

Notice that in Table 1, the silent films (highlighted blue) tend to be at the top of the table with lower rankings than the sound films (highlighted green) that tend to be in the bottom half of the table with the higher rankings. This is a very simple way to visual the stochastic superiority of the sound films in relation to the silent films. If the two samples were stochastically equal then we would see more mixing between the two colours.

Now all we need to do is to calculate the U statistic. First, we add up the ranks of the silent and sound films from Table 1:

Sum of ranks of silent films = R1 = 1.0 + 4.0 + 7.0 + 7.0 + 7.0 + 10.5 + 12.0 + 13.0 + 14.0 + 18.0 +18.0 +22.5 = 134.0

Sum of ranks of sound films = R2 = 2.0 + 3.0 + 7.0 + 7.0 + 10.5 + 18.0 + 18.0 + 18.0 + 18.0 +18.0 +22.5 +24.0 + 25.0 + 26.0 + 27.0 + 28.5 + 28.5 + 30.0 + 31.0 + 32.0 = 394.0

Next, we calculate the U statistics us the formulae:

where n1 and n2 are the size of the two samples, and R1 and R2 are the sum of ranks above. For the above data this gives us

We want the smallest of these two values of U, and the test statistic is, therefore, U = 56.0. (Note that U1 + U2 = n1 × n2 = 240).

To find out if this result is statistically significant we can compare it to a critical value for the two sample sizes: as n1 = 12 and n2 = 20, the critical value when α = 0.05, is 69.0. We reject the null hypothesis if the value of U we have calculated is less than the critical value, and as 56.0 is less than 69.0 we can reject the null hypothesis of stochastic equality in this case and conclude that there is a statistically significant difference between the median shot lengths of the silent films and those of the sound films. As the median shot lengths of the sound films tend to be larger than the median shot lengths of the silent films we can say that they are stochastically superior.

Alternatively, if our sample is large enough then U follows a normal distribution and we can calculate an asymptotic p-value using the following formulae:


For the above data, U = 56.0, μ = 120.0, and σ = 25.69. Therefore z = -2.49, and we can find the p-value from a standard normal distribution. The two-tailed p-value for this experiment is 0.013. (Note that ‘large enough’ is defined differently in different textbooks – some recommend using the z-transformation when both sample sizes are at least 20 whilst others are more generous and recommend that both sample sizes are at least 10).

If some more restrictive conditions are applied to the design of the experiment, then the Mann-Whitney U test is a test of a shift function (Y = X + Δ) for the sample medians and is an alternative to the t-test for the two-sample location problem. Compared to the t-test, the Mann-Whitney U test is slightly less efficient when the samples are large and normally distributed (ARE = 0.95), but may be substantially more efficient if the data is non-normal.

The Mann-Whitney U test should be preferred to the t-test for comparing the median shot lengths of two groups of films even if the samples are normal because the former is a test of stochastic superiority, while the latter is a test of a shift model and this is not an appropriate hypothesis for the design of our experiment. It simply doesn’t make sense to speak of the median shot length of a sound film in terms of a shift function as the median shot length of a silent film plus the impact of sound technology. You cannot take the median shot length of Steamboat Bill, Jr (X), add Δ number of seconds to it, and come up with the median shot length of Dracula (Y = X + Δ). Any such argument would be ridiculous, and only the null hypothesis of stochastic equality is meaningful in this context.

The probability of superiority

A test of statistical significance is only a test of the plausibility of the model represented by the null hypothesis. As such the Mann-Whitney U test cannot tell us how important a result is. In order to interpret the meaning of the above result we need to calculate the effect size.

A simple effect size that can be quickly calculated from the Mann-Whitney U test statistic is the probability of superiority, ρ or PS.

Think of PS in these terms:

You have two buckets – one red and one blue. In the red bucket you have 12 red balls, and on each ball is written the name of a silent Laurel and Hardy film and its median shot length. In the blue bucket you have 20 blue balls, and on each ball is written the name of a sound Laurel and Hardy film and its median shot length. You select at random one red ball and one blue ball and note down which has the larger median shot length. Replacing the balls in their respective buckets, you draw two more balls – one from each bucket – and note down which has the larger median shot length. You repeat this process again, and again, and again.

Eventually, after a large number of repetitions, you will have an estimate of the probability with which a silent films will have a median shot length greater than that of a sound film. (On Bernoulli trials see here).

The probability of superiority can be estimated without going through the above experiment: all we need to do is to divide the U statistic we got from the Mann-Whitney test by the product of the two sample sizes – PS = U/(n1 × n2). This is equal to the probability that the median shot length of a silent film (X) is greater than the median shot length of a sound film (Y) plus half the probability that the median shot length of a silent film is equal to the median shot length of a sound film: PS = Pr[X > Y] + (0.5 × Pr[X = Y]).

If the median shot lengths of all the silent films were greater than the median shot lengths of all the sound films, then the probability of randomly selecting a silent film with a median shot length greater than the median shot length of sound film is 1.0.

Conversely, if the median shot lengths of all the silent films were less than the median shot lengths of all the sound films, then the probability of randomly selecting a silent film with a median shot length greater than the median shot length of sound film is 0.0.

If the two samples overlap one another completely, then the probability of randomly selecting a silent film with a median shot length greater than the median shot length of sound film is equal to the probability of randomly selecting a silent film with a median shot length less than the median shot length of a sound film, and is equal to 0.5.

So if there is no effect PS = 0.5, and the further away PS is from 0.5 the larger the effect we have observed.

There are no hard and fast rules regarding what values of PS are ‘small,’ ‘medium,’ or ‘large.’ These terms need to be interpreted within the context of the experiment.

For the Laurel and Hardy data, we have U = 56.0, n1 = 12, and n2 = 20. Therefore, PS = 56/(12 × 20) = 56/240 = 0.2333.

Let us now compare the effect size for the Laurel and Hardy paper with the effect size from my study on the impact of sound in Hollywood in general (access the paper here). For the Laurel and Hardy data PS = 0.2333, whereas for the Hollywood data PS = 0.0558. In both studies I identified a statistically significant difference in the median shot lengths of silent and sound films, but it is clear that the effect size is larger in the case of the Hollywood films than for the Laurel and Hardy films.

The Hodges-Lehmann estimator

If we have designed our experiment to understand the impact of sound technology on shot lengths in Laurel and Hardy films around a null hypothesis of stochastic equality, then it makes no sense to subtract the sample median of the silent films from the sample median of the sound films because this implies a shift function and therefore a different experimental design and a different null hypothesis.

If we are not going to test for a classical shift model, how can we estimate the impact of sound technology on the cinema in terms of a slowing in the cutting rate?

To answer this question, we turn to the Hodges-Lehmann estimator for two samples (HLΔ), which is the median of the all the possible differences between the values on the two samples.

In Table 2, the median shot length of each of the Laurel and Hardy silent films is subtracted from the median shot length of each of the sound films. This gives us a total set of 240 differences (n1 × n2 = 12 × 20 = 240).

Table 2 Pairwise differences between the median shot lengths of Laurel and Hardy silent films (n = 12) and sound films (n = 20)

If we take the median of these 240 differences we have our estimate of the typical difference between the median shot length of a silent film and the median shot length of a sound film. Therefore, the average difference between the median shot lengths of the silent Laurel and Hardy films and the median shot lengths of the sound Laurel and Hardy films is estimated to be 0.5s (95%: 0.1, 1.1). (I won’t cover the calculation of the (Moses) confidence interval for the estimator HLΔ in this post, but for explanation see here).

The sample median of the silent films is 3.5s and for the sound films it is 3.9s, and the difference between the two is 0.4s, but as the shift function is an inappropriate design for our experiment this actually tells us nothing. Now it would appear that the difference between the two sample medians and HLΔ are approximately equal: 0.4s and 0.5s, respectively. But it is important to remember that they represent different things and have different interpretations. The difference between the sample medians represents a shift function, whereas the Hodges-Lehmann estimator is the average difference between the median shot lengths.

Note than we can calculate the Mann-Whitney U test statistic directly from the above table. If we count the number of times a silent film has a median shot length greater than that of a sound film (i.e Δ < 0, the green-highlighted numbers) and add this to half the number of times the silent and sound films have equal median shot lengths (i.e. Δ = 0, the red-highlighted numbers), then we have the Mann-Whitney U statistic that we derived above: U2 = 47 + (0.5 × 18) = 56. Equally, if we add the number of times a silent film has a median shot length less than that of sound film (i.e. Δ > 0, the blue-highlighted numbers) to half the number of times the medians are equal, then we have U1 = 175 + (0.5 × 18) = 184.

Bringing it all together

Once we have performed out hypothesis test, calculated the effect size, and estimated the effect we can present our results:

The median shot lengths of silent (n = 12, median = 3.5s [95% CI: 3.2, 3.7]) and sound (n = 20, median  = 3.9s [95% CI: 3.5, 4.3]) short films featuring Laurel and Hardy produced between 1927 and 1933 were compared using a Mann-Whitney U test, with a null hypothesis of stochastic equality. The results show that there is a statistically significant but small difference of HLΔ = 0.5s (95% CI: 0.1, 1.1) between the two samples (U = 56.0, p = 0.013, PS = 0.2333).

These two sentences provide a great deal of information to the reader in a simple and economical format – we have the experimental design, the result of the test, and the practical significance of the result.

Note that at no point in conducting this test have we employed a ‘dazzling array’ of mathematical operations – in fact the most complicated thing in the while process was to find the square root in the equation for σ above and everything else was numbering items in a list, addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division.

Summary

The Mann-Whitney U test is ideally suited to our needs in comparing the impact of sound technology on film style, and has numerous advantages over the alternative statistical methods:

  • it is covered in pretty much every statistics textbook you are ever likely to read
  • it is a standard feature in statistical software (though you will have to check which name is used) and so you won’t even have to do the basic maths described above
  • it is easy to calculate
  • it is easy to interpret
  • it allows us to test for stochastic superiority rather than a shift model
  • it is robust against outliers
  • it does not depend on the distribution of the data
  • it can be used to determine an effect size (PS) that is easy to calculate and simple to understand
  • we have a simple estimate of the effect (HLΔ) that is consistent with the test statistic

If you want to compare more than two groups of films, then the non-parametric k-sample test is the Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA test (see here). The Mann-Whitney U test can also be applied as post-hoc test for pairwise comparisons.

References and Links

Callaert H 1999 Nonparametric hypotheses for the two-sample location problem, Journal of Statistics Education 7 (2): www.amstat.org/publications/jse/secure/v7n2/callaert.cfm.

Mann HB and Whitney DR 1947 On a test of whether one of two random variables is stochastically larger than the other, The Annals of Mathematical Statistics 18 (1): 50-60.

The Wikipedia page for the Mann-Whitney U test can be accessed here, and the page for the Hodges-Lehman estimator is here.

For an online calculator of the Mann-Whitney U test you can visit Vassar’s page here.

For the critical values of the Mann-Whitney U test for samples sizes up to n1 = n2 = 20 and α = 0.05 or 0.01, see here.

Comparing shot scales in films

In earlier posts I have used rank-frequency plots to compare the changing use of shot scales. See here for a comparison of the changing use of shot scales in Hollywood and German cinema from the 1910s to the 1930s, here for a comparison of shot scales in Hollywood films from 1959 and 1999, or here for a piece on Alfred Hitchcock.

The rank-frequency plot is very useful for comparing how the use of shot scales varies between groups of films by looking at the dominance of the most frequent (2nd most frequent, etc) scale (irrespective of which scale that actually is), but is less useful if we want to compare the variation of shot scales in individual films or between groups of films without ordering the data by rank. To meet this need, we can use the index of qualitative variation (IQV). The IQV is the ratio of the observed variation in a categorical variable to the maximum amount of variation that could exist. If all the observed elements were in a single category, the would be no variation and IQV = 0. If the observed elements are distributed equally across all the categories, then IQV = 1. The greater the value of the index, the greater the heterogeneity of the shot scales.

To calculate the IQV we use the equation

where K is the number of categories and Pi is the proportion of elements in the ith category.

Using the same data for Hollywood films from the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s that I used in the study linked to above, we can look at the variation in the use of shot scales between individual films and groups of films.

First, we calculate the IQV of each film. For example, if we want to calculate the IQV for The Front Page (Lewis Milestone, 1931) we calculate the square of the proportion of shots of each scale and sum these together (see Table 1). (The data source for this film and others studied here and other information is given in the paper referred to).

Table 1 Calculation of the IQV for The Front Page (Lewis Milestone, 1931)

From Table 1, we can see that the sum of the squared proportions is 0.20. Subtracting this value from 1 gives us the index of diversity: 1 – 0.20 = 0.80. Standardising this value by the factor k/(k-1) gives us the index of qualitative variation. As the shot scales in this film have been sorted into seven shot scales, the standardisation factor is 7/6 = 1.17. The IQV for The Front Page is 1.17 × 0.80 = 0.93, and indicates a high degree of variation.

Completing this process for all the Hollywood films I looked we get the results presented in Tables 2 through 4. We can see that the variation in shot scales in The Front Page is consistent with the style of other Hollywood films of the 1930s (Table 4), but is very different from the films of the 1910s (Table 2). From Table 2, we can see that the variation of shot scales in Traffic in Souls and David Haurm exhibit less heterogeneity than other films of the 1910s. The data in these tables also suggests a trend over time: the IQVs in Table 2 indicates that films from the later 1910s show greater variation than films from the years prior to 1918; and, to a lesser extent, the IQV is lower for films in the early 1920s than in the later 1920s (Table 3). There is no such trend in the 1930s.

Table 2 Index qualitative of variation for Hollywood films produced in the 1910s (n = 18): median  = 0.85 (0.77, 0.92)

Table 3 Index qualitative of variation for Hollywood films produced in the 1920s (n = 29): median  = 0.93 (0.92, 0.95)

Table 4 Index qualitative of variation for Hollywood films produced in the 1930s (n = 28): median  = 0.95 (0.94, 0.96)


The distribution of the IQV for the films listed in Tables 2 through 4 is presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Index of qualitative variation for Hollywood films produced in the 1910s (n = 18), 1920s (n = 29), and 1930s (n = 28)

From Figure 1 we can see that the variation of shot scales in Hollywood films shows increasing heterogeneity from the 1910s to the 1930s. We can also see that the distribution the IQV becomes narrower over time, indicating that Hollywood films converge to a single style. This is, of course, exactly what we should expect to find with the emergence of the dominant continuity style of classical Hollywood.

The IQV is a simple way of comparing the style of films that can make dealing with a large amount of data much more manageable.

Claude Hamilton Verity III

I have drawn attention to the Leeds inventor Claude Hamilton Verity and his efforts to develop a sound-on-disc system for the synchronization of image and sound in two earlier posts that can be accessed here and here. This week I bring to your attention some other references to Verity I have come across recently.

First, an article by Frank H. Lovette and Stanley Watkins, titled ‘Twenty Years of “Talking Movies:” an Anniversary’ and published in the 1946 volume of Bell Telephone Magazine, refers to Verity as someone who made a notable contribution to the development of talking pictures alongside such illustrious names as Thomas A. Edison, Pathé Freres, Leon Gaumont, and Orlando E. Kellum. The article can be accessed here.

The authors clearly do not take The Jazz Singer in 1927 to be point at which pictures began to talk, and instead choose as their starting point the demonstration of the Vitaphone system on 6 August, 1926, for the screening of Don Juan, starring John Barrymore. This is unsurprising given that Bell was itself involved in the development of this system, but they do describe this screening somewhat poetically:

Before the applause could die away, the dramatic sequences of Don Juan unfolded against their synchronized musical background. Scientists, public officials, prominent figures from many walks of life sat in amazement until the last crescendo and finale of this scientific marvel. The men who brought it into being by their refinement of existing arts were hailed as having made possible “the greatest invention of the twentieth century.” And Dr. Michael I. Pupin was led to exclaim that “no closer approach to resurrection has ever been made by science.” The pioneers of Western Electric and Bell Telephone Laboratories and their collaborators of Warner Brothers and Vitaphone experienced that night a measure of accomplishment which few men of science ever live to taste or see.

We can forgive the authors a touch of hyperbole when writing about Bell-developed technology in a Bell-funded journal, but this raises an interesting question about when we should date the earliest successful demonstration of synchronized sound in cinema. There were other inventors to successfully demonstrate the synchronization of sound and image prior to 1926, including Kellum’s Photo-kinema system and Verity’s system both of which were demonstrated in 1921. D.W. Griffith used the Photo-kinema system for Dream Street, which premiered on 2 May, 1921, with two sound segments; and we have reports of the demonstration of two original shorts produced by Verity in Harrogate on 30 April, 1921 (see the first link above). We also know that in November 1923, Verity sailed to New York to meet with J. Stuart Blackton of the Vitagraph Film Company and gave an interview to The New York Times regarding the synchronization of sound and image in January 1924 (see the second link above). We do not know what impact Verity’s work in England had – if any – on the development of ‘the greatest invention of the twentieth century.’

The article refers to Verity’s system as Veritiphone, but this term appears only infrequently in other articles.

Second, two articles in the Wellington Evening Post from 1921 and 1923 refer to Verity’s efforts. These articles are available from Papers Past at the National Library of New Zealand, and rather wonderfully, they can be reproduced under a creative commons licence.

The first article was published on 3 June, 1921, and is largely a direct quote from an earlier article published in The Daily Mail. I have not found this earlier article, but given the timing I assume that the demonstration referred to was the one that took place in Harrogate in April 1921.

TALKING FILMS

PERFECT VOICE MOVEMENT CLAIM

Talking kinema films, it is claimed, have definitely advanced a stage as ‘the result of the invention of a synchroniser by Mr. Claude H. Verity, a Harrogate engineer. With this instrument in the projector-box, it is stated, an operator, by simply sliding a knob quite independently of watching the screen, can work synchronisation to 1-24th of a second.

In a Harrogate building where secrecy has been maintained for nearly five years of experimenting, writes a correspondent to the London Daily Mail, who has witnessed a straight drama and cross-talk comedy exhibited in conjunction with a gramophone. “There was no mistaking the accuracy of voice and lip movement. If it should vary a tenth of a second it would be due to the fact that the actors were so much out in repeating for the gramophone recorder what they had done for the screen. These processes are separate and are linked up by an expert stenographer.

“The synchroniser does away with the necessity for stopping the action of a picture to introduce worded explanations; indeed, dialogue becomes a distinct part of the picture.

“For operas with singing and music a child could work it because there is a fixed tempo. Should the film break the speaking can be stopped and taken up again.”

A great advantage of the invention, it is urged, is that with the apparatus in projecting-boxes the synchronised film could be circulated in the ordinary way.

The two films referred to above would be The Playthings of Fate (the drama) and A Cup of Beef Tea (the comedy). I would assume that this is the first time the term ‘cross-talk comedy’ is used in reference to the cinema.

The second article was published on 1 September 1923, and is only a passing reference to Verity as part of a much larger piece.

Synchronization of the film and its musical counterpart seems to be solved by the “Veritphone,” an invention of Claude H. Verity, of Leeds, England. It aims at the alliance of sound and movement by the combination of a double set of “super-gramophones,” and an ingenious indicator, which shows when the film and the sound record are together.

Details of Verity’s patents that give a more detailed explanation of how the system worked can be accessed in my earlier posts.

Third, and slightly confusingly, there is another reference to Verity derived from an article published in The Daily Mail in De Sumatra Post published on 11 November 1922. I have no idea what this says because it is in Dutch. The complete issue of De Sumatra Post can be downloaded as a pdf file here (it’s about 7.1 MB and I think it is from the Dutch equivalent of Papers Past), and the short piece referring to Verity is at the bottom of page 14.

Fourth, a notice in The Electrical Review 90 1922: 416 announces the successful demonstration of Verity system at the Albert Hall in Leeds in 1922 (the date is given as 3 March whereas other articles give the date as 3 April), noting that

By experiment over a considerable time past, Mr. Verity has provided an apparatus which certainly yields co-timing of the lip movements of the persons on the screen with the sounds emitted from the electrically-controlled gramophone, …

By the time of his 1922 demonstrations, Verity had spent at least 5 years and (by his own estimation) some £7000 of his own money developing his synchronisation system.

Finally, and a good deal less wonderful than anything from New Zealand, is a reference to Verity in an article published in Political Science Quarterly in 1948. The full reference is Swensen J 1948 The entrepreneur’s role in introducing the sound motion picture, Political Science Quarterly 63 (3): 404-423. I do not know how this piece refers to Verity – it may be only as a name in a footnote, possibly derived from the Bell Telephone Magazine article referred to above – because the article lies behind a paywall at JSTOR. There is no good reason why an article from 1948 should be behind a paywall in 2011.

 

 

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