Cinema's Role in Society

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Cult. Change & Comm Tech Essay 1: Cinema/Film

Many young people today are learning about their world through electronic means – radio, television, video movies, computer games, virtual reality games and the Internet. In particular the visual environment of the electronic media is greatly attracting the print media in all its forms. How many children read comic books these days? Most would rather watch cartoons, or play arcade games or hand-held video games. We will be focusing on cinema and how it has culturally played a role in society.

The 1990s have been a significant time for film and video. Nineteen ninety-five was the one-hundredth birthday of the movies (Film theory and criticism, 1985). In 1996 the movie Independence Day became the fastest and largest grossing movie of all time, replacing Jurassic Park (1994) at the top of the list (Film theory and criticism, 1985). Video stores have proved that they are here to stay, so much so that now all feature films are made in such a way that they can be easily adapted to both video and television.

Films and videos are rarely a simple record of what the camera sees. The reaction of audiences may vary according to what part of the world they are from, together with their customs and beliefs, when and where the film was made and set, and the ability of the film makers to lead the audience to a “willing suspension of disbelief” (Films in our lives, 1953) so that when the audience watch the film they are to think that what they are watching is actually happening rather than being played out by actors. Films tell stories about people – the way they live, behave, think, feel and interact. They show us in pictures, actions, words and sound what the world is like, was like, or might be like – or what the director’s particular view of the world might be. The film and video cameras provide us with a lens to look more closely at ourselves and our world (Films in our lives, 1953).

Some clear examples of this is, shortly before the film Fatal Attraction appeared in 1987, the AIDS epidemic had led to mass media warnings about the dangers of unprotected sex (Readings, Cinema). In the 1980s, growing numbers of American men were feeling threatened by successful, financially independent, career-minded, sexually active single women. That is why when you see the film Fatal Attraction, the film shows horrible con...

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... and the values held by the characters in the movies, whom we see as heroes and villains that help us to question our own motives and actions. All films try to influence our thinking and behaviour in some way by presenting us with views or alternatives to certain ways of behaving. It is up to us to recognise, reflect and act upon those views rather than be influenced mindlessly. At the same time we need to be aware that film may reflect or shape values and that values change over time.


1. Rosenthal, Newman Hirsch, 1953. Films in our lives, Melbourne, Cheshire.

2. Marshall Cohen, 1985. Film theory and criticism, New York, Oxford University Press.

3. John Izod, 1984. Reading the screen, Harlow, Longman York.

4. Louis D. Giannetti, 1976. Understand Movies, Englewood Cliff, Prentice Hall.

5. Graham Eather, 1998. Reading and viewing film and video texts, Reed International Books, Port Melbourne, Australia.

6. Cultural Change & Communication Technologies, 2000. Cinema, Readings.
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