In 1881 Eadweard Muybridge
devised the "Zoopraxiscope," a device whit which he was able to project animated pictures onto a screen. In time he increased
the number of cameras to help him ‘investigate" the action of the hooves of horses running as well as humans in various
activities. The results were exhibited widely.
From 1887 to 1885 many photographers were attempting ‘moving
pictures’ by making ingenious attempts to cluster their negatives into a ‘moving series.’
Here are some of the inventions and films that started it all:
W. K .L. Dickson invented the Kinetoscope
which he thought would 'improve the lot of humanity and make people more educated and happy.' The device was commonly used
more like a ‘peep show’ allowing room for a single viewer only. His associate, Thomas Edison,
used the contrivance to develop a film system that could be projected onto walls to display historical scenes for a larger
In 1895 Auguste and Louis Lumière
developed the Cinematographe which was capable of shooting, printing, and projecting film. The first film was "Workers Leaving
the Factory." It allowed mobility; cameramen could leave a studio and roam around to show live action with the new technology.
They were like home movies that preserved the real world– political leaders, social reality, and far-away places. (a
precursor to "Man With a Movie Camera," in 1929.)
George Mèliés, on the other hand,
made films of lyrical, whimsical fantasies. He was a professional magician and used his sleights-of-hand techniques in the
new medium. Serving as performer, director, and scenarist, he made hundreds of films with sophisticated vision between 1896
and 1912. In 1902 he produced his highly-regarded 14-minute film "A Trip to the Moon."
"The Great Train Robbery," created by Edwin
Porter in 1902, had a clear narrative flow based in reality-- a style that quickly became popular. At Pathé Films "The
Policeman’s Little Run" elaborated the possibilities of complex story-telling with shifts of consecutive space, cuts,
and continuity of story.
In 1909, "Nero, Or the Fall of Rome" was a wide-screen costume
drama that started a trend toward epic films which upped production values-- and costs. When it opened it was hailed as ‘the
most marvelous picture in the world.’ and inspired grandiose historical films– influencing D. W.Griffith and Cecil
In "Winsor McCay and his Moving Comics," (1911), the Vitagraph
Company hired McCay, the clever cartoonist at the New York Herald, to use his unique drawing abilities (four thousand
drawings for one short) in charming live-action narrative structures. Subsequent films utilized his technical innovations,
eventually leading to Disney’s Mickey Mouse.
In "The Girl and Her Trust," (1912), a story of tramps assaulting
the telegraph office, D.W. Griffith displayed a new sophistication with extreme close-ups and long
shots, rapidly moving cameras, multiple story lines cleanly cut together, a variey of camera angles, and a mix of moods and
The earliest films were typically two to five minutes in length.
Here are some that have survived. Although it should be said that most of the early films weren’t silent, as they were
usually accompanied by narrations and musical scores.
Edison Kinetoscope Films produced
a lot of action movies, such as The Kiss, Serpentine Dances, Sandow the Strong Man, The Glenroy Brothers Boxing, Cockfight,
The Barber Shop, Feeding the Doves, and a pillow fight in Seminary Girls.
Lumière Films released a wide array
of entertaining films from 1895 to 1897. Each depicted as much action and interesting situations as they could devise. Examples
are: Exiting the Factory, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, Baby’s Lunch, The Sprinkler Sprinkled, Dragoons Crossing
the Sâone, Promenade of Ostriches in the Paris Botanical Garden, Childish Quarrel, Lion at the London Zoological Garden, Demolition
of a Wall, Transformation with Hats, Charmaux: Drawing Out the Coke, Poultry Yard, Snowball Fight, Card Party, New York: Broadway
at Union Square, President McKinley at Home, and Pack Train in Chilkoot Pass. In1903 they shot Skyscrapers of New York City
from North River, and in 1906 they produced San Francisco Aftermath of Earthquake.
Pathé Films produced influential
"shorts" such as ‘The Dog in His Various Merits’ and 'The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog.’ In 1903
came more full-blown dramas, like "The Great Train Robbery, and, in 1910, "Aerophane Flight and Wreck. Extended comedies include
"Policeman’s Run: Chasing the Dog," and the multi-chapter "Troubles of a Grass-widower."
Early on, Keystone Films were doing
farce comedies like "Bangville Police." Max Linder was a frequent star who had a background in comedy and vaudeville–
and grealy influenced Charlie Chaplin. The Biograph Company was in the competition with a library
of releases of extended dramas, such as "The Girl and Her Trust." Innovations were the rule. In 1907's whimsical "The Golden
Beetle," director Ferdinand Zecca hand-colored the film for a visual ‘wow.’
The goal of early film was to entertain audiences in ways that
enthralled, excited, and amazed. That they did. The art form continued until 1929. By the late twenties, there were true masters
producing, writing, directing, and acting in ‘silents.’
For example: The amazing 80-minute "Passion of Joan of Arc."
written and directed (mostly in close-ups) by Carl Theodor Dreyer, was shot in France in 1927. The role of Joan was affectingly
played by Melle Falconetti in her only screen role.The gripping impact of the film needed no words (explaining why it is considered a
masterpiece of the art). The original negative of "Joan" was thought to have been destroyed by fire– but the story doesn’t
end there. In 1981 a Danish copy of the original film was found in a Norwegian mental hosopital. It was cleaned up and restored
in 1985 and later ‘perfected’ by Mathematical Technologies software. The results inspired the musician Richard
Einhorn to compose the Oratorio "Voices of Light" to accompany the film. Sung by ‘Anonymous 4' with a full symphony
orchestra– it’s a perfect fit.