13/01/2017

THE EARLY YEARS OF MOVING FILM ...


The VV can only apologise for not posting as often as she should, but what with the publication of a new book at the end of 2016, and since then the excitement of Christmas ~ and the ensuing festive bout of flu ~ things have been a little busy.






One of her favourite Christmas gifts was a book that kept her occupied for many a wintery afternoon. It is called A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE SILENT SCREEN and was compiled and written by Daniel Blum, an American theatre director who was clearly in love with silent films, amassing a remarkable archive of photographic material.

We may think of  the silents as being screened in the 1920s, but moving films were being made from the late Victorian era on. At the forefront of this technology, at least in America (I have, and shall write more about the vibrant UK film business in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and for more on this at the present time please see the posts in my sister blog The Eclectic Edwardian), was the businessman, Thomas Edison.

Thomas Edison


Edison was actually of the mind that the moving pictures industry was a flash in the pan that wouldn't last, but he still invested heavily in the production of Kinetoscopes ~ which were cabinets with a peephole that contained long looping reels of film. When a customer put a coin in a slot and turned a handle on the side, they saw - through a shining beam of light ~ the flicker of moving images.






The first kinetoscope was built in East Orange, New Jersey. Unveiled on February 1 1893, it  was called the Black Maria, and the interest shown in it was such that, by 1894, the machines were in commercial use in Kinetoscope Parlors in New York; and soon all across America.




The first film recorded for these machines showed a performer called Fred Ott in the process of having a jolly good sneeze. It's astonishing to see this now ~ with the film so short and seemingly of very little interest. But it marked the start of the film industry, and what a world of visual delights was soon to follow on. Films that showed contortionists, boxers, dancers, and carnival acts ~ and later the charismatic stars who appeared in dramatic narratives, to shimmer across the silver screen.



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