Feature Film - History

History

The term feature film came into use to refer to the main film to be presented in a cinema, and the one which was promoted or advertised. The term was used to distinguish the main film from the short films (referred to as shorts) typically presented before the main film, such as newsreels, serials, animated cartoons and live-action comedies and documentaries. These types of short films would precede the featured presentation - the film given the most prominent billing and running multiple reels. There was no sudden jump in the running times of films to the present-day definitions of feature-length; the "featured" film on a film program in the early 1910s gradually expanded from two to three to four reels.

Early proto-features had been produced in America and France, but were released in individual scenes, leaving the exhibitor the option of running them together. The American company S. Lubin released a Passion Play in January 1903 in 31 parts, totaling about 60 minutes. The French company Pathé Frères released a different Passion Play, La Vie et la passion de Jésus Christ, in May 1903 in 32 parts running about 44 minutes. There were also full-length records of boxing matches, such as The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight (1897).

Defined by length, the first dramatic feature film was the Australian 70-minute film The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906). Similarly, the first European feature was the 90-minute film L'Enfant prodigue (France, 1907), although that was an unmodified record of a stage play; Europe's first feature adapted directly for the screen, Les Misérables, came from France in 1909. The first Russian feature was Defence of Sevastopol in 1911. The first UK features were the documentary With Our King and Queen Through India (1912), filmed in Kinemacolor, and Oliver Twist (1912). The first American features were a different production of Oliver Twist (1912), From the Manger to the Cross (1912), and Richard III (1912), the latter starring actor Frederick Warde. The first Asian feature was Japan's The Life Story of Tasuke Shiobara (1912), the first Indian feature was Raja Harishchandra (1913), the first South American feature was Brazil's O Crime dos Banhados (1913), and the first African feature was South Africa's Die Voortrekkers (1916). 1913 also saw China's first feature film, Zhang Shichuan's Nan Fu Nan Qi.

By 1915 over 600 features were produced annually in the United States. The most prolific year of U.S. feature production was 1921, with 682 releases; the lowest number of releases was in 1963, with 213. Between 1922 and 1970, the U.S. and Japan alternated as leaders in the quantity of feature film production. Since 1971, the country with the highest feature output has been India, which produces a thousand films in more than twelve Indian languages each year.

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