film history


In 1963, Sidney Poitier became the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Lilies of the Field. When presenting Poitier with his Oscar statuette, the actress Ann Bancroft congratulated him with a kiss on the cheek, a gesture that caused a mild scandal among the show’s most conservative audiences. Poitier accepted his award with grace and said in his speech “…it has been a long journey to this moment.” [x]

Carla Laemmle

(October 20, 1909 — June 12, 2014)

The niece of Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle, she danced as the prima ballerina in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and spoke the first line of dialogue in the first sound horror film, Dracula (1931). May she rest in peace and be forever remembered.

I have also published a tribute to Carla which you can read here.


“Things that become famous in movies are a concatenation of so many things that are out of control that have to do with the theme and with the way that the theme strikes a time and a moment and people in their unconscious and all sorts of things that we don’t control. But the process of choosing the pieces, the beads for the necklace that … gets put on the princess as she’s made into the queen—the process of making the beads … is always the same. You just look for the shot that most clearly expresses what’s happening.“

- Director Mike Nichols speaking to Terry Gross in 2001

Listen here:

Fresh Air Remembers Film And Broadway Director Mike Nichols

This is a film studio in Paris. The year is 1905. Can you spot the director?

I’ll give you a hint. She’s wearing a corset. 

The woman silhouetted in the center foreground is Alice Guy, the world’s first female filmmaker and head of production at Gaumont. Unfortunately, we can’t hear what she’s saying to the cast and crew, but if you watch this entire clip, you will see her arranging actors and turning on music to help them dance in time.


May 25th 1977: Star Wars released

On this day in 1977, the iconic film Star Wars - later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope - was released in the United States. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Alec Guinness starred in the space opera which depicted the struggle between the Rebel Alliance and the villainous Galactic Empire. George Lucas’s film was not expected to be a huge success, but when it was released earned $460 million in the United States and $337 million overseas, thus defeating Jaws as the highest-grossing film of all time; this record was later surpassed by E.T. the Extra Terrestrial in 1983. The hit film was critically praised, being nominated for 10 Academy Awards and winning 6. Star Wars was followed by two sequels and a later prequel trilogy which was released between 1999 and 2005, and the franchise ultimately grossed over $4 billion. Star Wars was a groundbreaking piece of cinema and remains a highly popular and significant series in the history of film. This year, a long-waited seventh installment of the series will be released, directed by J.J. Abrams and featuring some of the original stars of the 1977 film.

The 110th Anniversary of The Great Train Robbery

Moving images changed with the debut of The Great Train Robbery in December of 1903.  Produced by Thomas Edison, inventor of many audio and visual playback machines, the film began to shift the focus from novelty films such as Carmencita to plot-based cinema.

The Great Train Robbery was one of the first crime dramas and archetype of the western genre.  The film introduced moviegoers to robberies, chase scenes, and gun shoot-offs.  The film was also one of the first to incorporate a full cast of actors and to shoot on-location.

Most of the films preserved at the National Archives were produced by government agencies.  Yet The Great Train Robbery was produced by the Edison Company.  This raises the question, how did it get here?

Learn the answer - and more background to The Great Train Robbery at our Media Matters blog: Media Matters » The Great Train Robbery