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Summer 1998
Modern Times
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By the late twenties, the film business was ensconced in Los Angeles and soon enough the task of film education was taken up by the region’s two big schools: UCLA and USC. During the 1929-’30 school year, the Harvard course was reprised at USC and then packaged as a series of mimeographed lecture transcripts by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The course was marketed to universities across the nation, but purchased by just three: Iowa State, Stanford, and UCLA.

USC founded the nation’s first film school in 1932 and UCLA followed suit in 1947. In retrospect, the interval proved fateful. Throughout the war years, a new understanding of film as a persuasive medium for communication had emerged. Feature films, cartoons and documentaries were produced to support and document the war effort. Servicemen affiliated with the signal corps received training in film production. And numerous technological advances (faster film for night and low resolution shooting, new lenses with better depth of field) revealed film’s intrinsic relationship to the coming electronic age. Film was no longer just “the movies.” As a UCLA College of Applied Arts report of the day concluded, “motion pictures have the power to change world habits and culture.”

From the moment of its founding, UCLA’s Theater Arts Department included a Motion Pictures division. Kenneth Macgowan was appointed as the department’s first chair, a choice which proved significant. Macgowan was an accomplished theater critic (with a Harvard pedigree) as well as a successful Hollywood film producer. He was a man as much at home in an academic department meeting as a studio story conference. Macgowan understood early on that the UCLA program would have to establish its own identity; it could not prosper and grow as a trade school living off the industry. His vision was for a viable and independent scholarly enterprise.

The first task for the UCLA film school was to make the case for cinema studies as a stand alone academic discipline within the larger humanities curriculum. In 1947, theater and film students took the same introductory classes in their freshman and sophomore years: The Social Aspects of Mass Media, Fundamentals of Acting, History of the Theater Arts. There were also courses in set construction, costumes, lighting. Only upper classmen were allowed to specialize in film or theater and regardless of their choice, they were required to study both production and history.

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