On 15th May 1928, the first animated cartoon to feature Mickey and Minnie Mouse was shown to a theatre audience. However, the cartoon that was shown that day was not Steamboat Willie, which is the cartoon most people know as Mickey Mouse’s debut. In fact Mickey’s first animated appearance was in a silent short called Plane Crazy, but the cartoon failed to secure a distributor until a soundtrack was added a year later. It was finally released on the 29th March 1929, 11 months after its first – silent – showing.
The Mickey shown in Plane Crazy is nothing like the mouse we know today. Whereas the modern Mickey is caring and compassionate, in Plane Crazy he was rather mischievous and – some might say – cruel. In his first appearance he was aggressive towards Minnie, and took dangerous risks when flying the aeroplane that is central to the storyline. Visually he was also different – he didn’t wear his famous gloves, or shoes. These developments came much later, and demonstrate how rough the original ideas for Mickey Mouse really were.
Although it was an underwhelming first appearance for Mickey, Plane Crazy was an important release for the Disney studio. Animated almost exclusively by Disney’s trusted friend Ub Iwerks, it featured a range of highly developed techniques including the very first animated Point Of View sequence and a range of sophisticated perspectives. Although it has since been overshadowed by the success of Steamboat Willie, Plane Crazy is still a vitally important part of animation history.
Put on for an audience of 200 invited attendees at the “Society for the Development of the National Industry”, the reaction to the moving black-and-white pictures caught the brothers by surprise. They had attended the conference to share Louis’ recent work on colour photography and only showed the 45-second film La Sortie des Usines Lumière (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory), as a novelty after Louis’ lecture.
The machine used to project the film had been patented by the brothers the previous month. Their father owned a photographic materials factory in Lyon and told his sons about the Edison kinetoscope that he had seen in Paris in 1894. Inspired by their father’s enthusiasm they invented the Cinématographe which combined a camera, developer and projector into a single unit. Its drive mechanism was based on the “presser foot” used in sewing machines, and used a clawed gear to engage with perforations in the side of a roll of film. As the gear rotated, individual frames moved in front of the lens to capture the moving image at a rate of 12 frames every second. The same mechanism could later be used to project the captured images.
The positive reception to the first film screening led the brothers to refine their invention and, on 28 December 1895, they staged their first public show at the Grand Café in Paris. Within less than a decade, however, the brothers withdrew from the motion picture industry and instead turned their attention to the development of colour photography, a technology that they went on to dominate for a number of years with their Autochrome process.
The Exorcist is one of the highest-grossing films of all time, but originally opened in just twenty-six American cinemas. Famed for its ground-breaking special effects, the film terrified audiences yet was nominated for ten Academy Awards of which it won two.
The film, directed by William Friedkin who had previously had success with The French Connection, was adapted from William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name. This was itself inspired by reports of the real-life exorcism of an anonymous boy known by the pseudonym Roland Doe that emerged in the late 1940s. Blatty described his novel as ‘an apostolic work’ that sought to prove that if supernatural evil existed then so too must supernatural good.
These themes came through in Friedkin’s film, but for many audience members it was the sight of the twelve year-old Regan’s spinning head, levitation, vomiting and other extreme behaviour that proved most shocking and most memorable. With newspapers reporting cases of people fainting at screenings, The Exorcist quickly became a social phenomenon.
The film went on to sell 6 million tickets within just three months of its release in the United States despite a mixed response from the critics. While Variety praised its “expert telling of a supernatural horror story”, the New York Times criticised it as “a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap”.
Such negative responses failed to affect the film’s success, however. The Exorcist was the second most popular film of 1974 and, once gross earnings are adjusted for inflation, remains the ninth highest-grossing film of all time.
On the 16th September 1978, filming began on Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Seen by some as the greatest comedy film of all time, the film has courted controversy since its release due to its satirical portrayal of religion that is interpreted by some as blasphemous.
Life of Brian was the third motion picture to be released by the Monty Python comedy troupe, and is said to have had its origins in the publicity circuit accompanying their previous film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The box-office success of Holy Grail had proved that there was significant demand for feature-length creations from the group, and soon the idea of lampooning organised religion became a focus for development.
Two members of Monty Python, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, dismissed the idea of a direct satire of Jesus Christ since they agreed that – despite both being non-believers – there was nothing to mock in his teachings. Therefore they settled on the idea of his neighbour, Brian, being mistaken for the Messiah despite not wanting the attention.
It took just over a year for the script to be completed, and EMI Films had been lined up to fund the project. However, just two days before filming was due to begin the funding was withdrawn on direct orders of the company chief executive. Faced with catastrophe Eric Idle confided in his friend, ex-Beatle George Harrison, who stepped in to save the film by providing £3 million through his production company HandMade Films. It grossed over $19 million in America alone during its first year of release.
The first instalment of the Star Wars film series was released in cinemas in the United States of America.
The iconic space opera was written and directed by the American filmmaker George Lucas. His directional debut, the dystopian science fiction film THX 1138 was not received well by critics or filmgoers. However his second release, American Graffiti, was much more successful and was a key factor in securing financial support for Star Wars from 20th Century Fox President Alan Ladd, Jr.
Lucas himself has often presented conflicting accounts of the film’s development, but what is clear is that it took him over three years to write the screenplay. Yet despite the significant time spent crafting both the script and the universe in which it was set, Lucas continued to rewrite the script while shooting.
External scenes for the film were filmed in Tunisia, Guatemala and Death Valley while the internal shots were completed on sets based at the massive sound stages of Elstree and Shepperton Studios near London. Within a week of the start of filming, the production had already begun to run behind schedule, and Star Wars ended up going nearly a third over its original $8 million budget.
Demand for the finished film from theatres was initially so low that 20th Century Fox forced them to show it in return for copies of the more eagerly anticipated The Other Side of Midnight. Despite this difficult start, when adjusted for inflation the science fiction epic went on to become the third highest-grossing film in the world.
Star Wars was nominated for ten Academy Awards of which it won six, alongside a Special Achievement for Sound Effects Editing. However, the film’s impact on both popular culture and the development of cinema is immeasurable.
On the 5th October 1962, two cultural icons made their first appearance when Dr No – the first of the James Bond series of films – hit cinema screens on the same day as the Beatles released their debut single Love Me Do. Both James Bond and the Beatles went on to be huge worldwide successes from their humble low-budget beginnings in Britain, and their legacy as dominant forces in film and music continues to this day.
It may seem ironic now, but most Hollywood studios at the time were not interested in making the James Bond films because they were seen as being ‘too British’. Eventually United Artists agreed to provide $1 million dollars to fund the film, which was jointly produced by two expatriate Americans in Britain – Harry Saltzman and Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli – but this only covered the most basic production. Only one sound editor was employed, for example, and sets were built on a shoestring budget.
The Beatles’ debut single, meanwhile, was recorded on three separate occasions due to problems with the drums. More precisely, the problem was the drummer – producer George Martin was unhappy with the loose R&B drum of the band’s first drummer, Pete Best, when they had first done an artist test in June. By the time the band arrived for their first official recording session Ringo Starr had replaced Best in the band, but a further session with professional session drummer Andy White was arranged because Martin didn’t like Ringo’s drum sound. Very early pressings of the single featured Ringo’s drumming, but later ones used the White recordings instead.
On the 29th February 1940, American actress Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Oscar at the Academy Awards. She won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of ‘Mammy’, an outspoken house slave, in the 1939 motion picture Gone with the Wind. Although the film won a total of ten awards, it was arguably McDaniel’s award that was most significant at the time.
Hattie McDaniel was born in Wichita, Kansas to two ex-slaves, and by the early 1930s had begun to establish herself as a film actress almost exclusively playing maids or cooks. Although criticised by the NAACP for perpetuating the stereotype of black women as servants, she auditioned for and won the role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind.
The Southern United States’ Jim Crow laws meant the McDaniel was banned from attending the film’s premier at Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. While she was able to attend the subsequent Hollywood premier two weeks later, the Twelfth Academy Awards ceremony the following February highlighted the extent of racial inequality in the United States. McDaniel and her escort were racially segregated from her co-stars, and were forced to sit at a separate table at the back of the Coconut Grove Restaurant of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where the ceremony was held.
While McDaniel winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress was a breakthrough for African-Americans, Gone with the Wind itself was sharply criticised for its positive portrayal of the Old South. Despite this, it is heralded as one of the greatest films of all time and, when adjusted for inflation, is the most successful film in history.
At 4.29pm on the 21st October 2015, Marty McFly arrives from 1985 in a flying DeLorean car. Yes – today is the actual, 100% official, Back To The Future Day. Numerous false viral images over the past few years may have reduced its impact, but for those of us who grew up with the films and continue to love their time-scrambling storyline, today is a pretty big thing.
A recent commercial for Toyota sees original actors Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd reunite for a short conversation in which they discuss how accurate Back To The Future II’s predictions for 2015 really were. They identify the existence of 3D movies and fingerprint technology, but the reason for Toyota’s involvement is their new Mirai car which is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell – the same technology used to power Doc Brown’s time machine.
The movie magazine TotalFilm is generally held as being responsible for the original date hoax, when they published a tweet on the 5th July 2010 suggesting that it was Back To The Future Day. As they explain on their website, this was because that date is mentioned in the film – but the characters never actually go there. TotalFilm even Photoshopped an image of the DeLorean’s time circuits showing the false date, and tweeted a tongue-in-cheek comment as ‘proof’ that it was true. Their tweet even stated that they “totally didn’t Photoshop” the image. Which, as any student of sarcasm knows, is them admitting that they did.
However, the internet being a hotbed of people willing to take information out of context, the image began circulating without the explanatory text from TotalFilm in what they describe as “a Twitter version of Chinese whispers”. It was even retweeted by the film’s producers. The image continued to be Photoshopped by others over the next few years, each time going viral and spreading the hoax even further.
But today it’s real. Check the film if you don’t believe me. At 4.29pm on 21st October 2015 you can expect Doc, Marty and Jennifer to appear in stormy skies above Hill Valley in California. Except that even in 2015 Hill Valley doesn’t actually exist.
See a clip from the original Back To The Future II below.