There is no single or simple history of film. As an object of both academic and popular interest, the history of film has proven to be a fascinatingly rich and complex field of inquiry. Coffee-table books, multipart documentaries, television networks that predominantly feature movies, scholarly monographs, and textbooks have cut different paths through this field. As a result, film history can look quite different, depending on whether the focus of attention is on individual films, institutional practices, national cinemas, or global trends. Indeed, the history of film's remarkable rise in the twentieth century has been told in a variety of ways: as the story of artistic triumphs and box-office winners; of movie moguls and larger-than-life stars; of corporatization and consumption; of auteur directors and time-honored genres; of technology and systemization; and of audiences and theaters. Taken even more broadly, the history of film becomes an account of the shifting roles and multiple effects of cinema—culturally, socially, and politically.
Across this range of options, film history confronts, implicitly or explicitly, a number of provocative and knotty questions: From a larger historical perspective, what is the role of the individual film and the individual filmmaker? What are the social and cultural contexts within which the movies were produced and consumed? What does the history of film have to do with other twentieth-century histories—of technology, business, commercial entertainment, the modern nation-state, globalization?