Early Cinema 01 – 19th century film history
As filmmaker coming from art university and a degree in design I think I have a serious lack of film history knowledge. Well, it’s never too late, and I thought I’ll blog about my progress while going through the decades of the last 120 years. Information I’m blogging about is largely based on “Film History – An Introduction” by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell.
Let’s start at the beginning with Early Cinema.
Film was invented during the three decades prior to World War I and grew from a small amusement-arcade business to an international industry. During World War I the European countries experienced a severe cutback in their film productions, ultimately enabling Hollywood to step in and fill the gap.
During the 19th century inventors and engineers explored the option of moving images. The first toys were just capable of showing the same scene over and over again, similar to a flip book. A device to project a series of images was needed. And with the advancing technology in photography it was in 1888 when “George Eastman devised a still camera that made photographs on rolls of sensitized paper. This camera […] he named the Kodak. […] The next year Eastman introduced transparent celluloid roll film, creating a breakthrough in the move toward cinema.”(1)
The Projecting Praxinoscope built by the Frenchman Émile Reynaud in 1877 showed a scene through a series of mirrors.
He fine tuned the concept and starting in 1892 he gave public performances on a regular basis – the first public exhibitions of moving images.
“It is difficult to attribute the invention of the cinema to a single source. there was no one moment when the cinema emerged. Rather, the technology of the motion picture came about through an accumulation of contributions, primarily from the United States, Germany, England and France.”(1)
Thomas Edison and his assistant Dickson were responsible for the world’s first film production studio, the Black Maria in West Orange, New Jersey. By 1891 they had built the Kinetograph camera and the Kinetoscope viewing box, “ready to be patented and demonstrated. Dickson sliced sheets of Eastman film into strips 1 inch wide (roughly 35 millimeters), spliced them end to end, and punched four holes on either side of each frame so that toothed gears could pull the film through the camera and Kinetoscope. Dickson’s early decisions influenced the entire history of the cinema; 35mm film stock with four perforations per frame has remained norm.”(1) To exploit their machines commercially Edison and Dickson needed films, hence built a production studio.
Here are two of their films:
Fred Ott’s Sneeze 1894
“In 1894, a local Kinetoscope exhibitor asked the Lumière brothers to produce short films that would be cheaper than teh ones sold by Edison.”(1) Soon after the brothers patented the Cinématographe.
Their first film was “Workers Leaving the Factory” (1895)
One of the most popular English films was “Rough Sea at Dover” by Acres and Paul (1895)
In the mid 1890s all technological standards were set to project films. “But what kind of films were being made? Who was making them? How and where were people seeing them?”(1)