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In speaking of film history, we should be wary of talking about origins. Motion pictures (which here as elsewhere will be variously and interchangeably called film, cinema, the movies) had many beginnings. While we seek to pinpoint exact moments in order to celebrate the medium's anniversaries and centennials, the fact remains that large-screen projection of multiple moving images forming a narrative has existed for centuries, delivered by a variety of technologies. Claiming to specify where things started begs more questions than it answers. Let us speak instead of an emergence—of cinema arising at a particular time out of a prior history, to captivate and dominate an epoch, and destined perhaps to stand as prehistory to some other medium of moving images preparing in turn to emerge.
THE PREHISTORY OF CINEMA
A shift away from an emphasis on origins casts new light on cinema's prehistory—the period of motion picture devices and entertainments before the development of filmmaking apparatus in the 1890s. It makes possible a way of thinking about the past that does not treat the narrative of time as, inevitably, a story of progress: as if we stood on the shoulders of our ancestors, growing bigger and better with each new generation. Earlier in time does not have to mean—as it sometimes has in modern histories—less sophisticated, less civilized, more crude. While our machinery undoubtedly has grown more sophisticated, the same is not necessarily the case for the human mind or character, or for people's capacity to experience life in complex and sophisticated ways. We would do well to regard earlier times not as diminished in relation to our own, but simply in some ways different.
When this principle is applied to cinema's prehistory, what becomes apparent is a rich and varied world of screen presentations in the time before movies (fig. 1.1). If the cinema was something new for spectators of the 1890s, seeing larger-than-life projections of still and moving images was not. In Asia, shadow puppets had formed a part of popular entertainment and ceremonies for centuries; their most widely known manifestation appeared on the Indonesian island of Java, where intricately perforated puppets made of thin leather, in lamplight, cast filigree shadows. Different kinds of screen entertainment had also been seen in early modern Europe. Inventors in the Netherlands in the mid-seventeenth century used the sun as a light source (or at night, light from a candle) to project images painted on a reflecting surface through a lens onto a wall. Within a few years others had devised a projector which contained light source, image, and lens all in one portable apparatus. This was called the magic lantern.
Over the next two centuries magic lanterns and their entertainments became more and more elaborate (figs. 1.2-1.4). One of the most impressive magic lantern presentations was the Fantasmagorie (known in English as Phantasmagoria) staged by a Belgian, Étienne Gaspar Robert (1763-1837), who went by the name Robertson. It premiered in Paris in 1798 and later toured Europe. With his audience on one side of a translucent screen, Robertson on the other side had his lantern mounted on wheels. Moving the lantern, adjusting the lens to maintain focus, and using a shutter for dissolves (the fading of one image into another), Robertson projected macabre scenes of skeletons, ghosts, and other frightening figures simulating lifelike motion.
The development in subsequent years of dual- and even triple-lens projectors made it possible for operators to surpass Robertson's spectacle without having to match his athleticism. These machines smoothed the transition from image to image, enabling lanternists to construct complex narratives out of multiple slides in a manner not unlike a sequence of shots in a movie. Magic lantern entrepreneurs put together a full evening's program with segments such as travel scenes, popular science, art appreciation, comedy, and melodrama (see box, page 19).
As screen entertainment for public consumption expanded in the years before cinema, so too did devices proliferate for enjoying moving images privately in the home. These are often thought of merely as toys: small portable units that came with disks or paper strips containing a sequence of images which, when set in motion, gave the illusion of movement. Yet their origins lay in scientific experimentation. Scientists in the 1820s became intrigued with a phenomenon they called persistence of vision—the eye's capacity to retain a visual image after its source has been removed. A paper by Peter Mark Roger (1779-1869), famous later for his Thesaurus prompted several efforts to construct mechanisms that could turn separate still pictures into a single moving image. Though the concept of persistence of vision continues to surface in film histories the term is no longer accepted in the field of perceptual psychology; the visual image retained by the eye has become known as a positive afterimage, and its connection to the perception of apparent motion is not clear. No one disputes, however, that these devices produce the illusion of motion.
The inventors of motion toys gave them high-sounding, tongue-twisting names. The Thaumatrope (1826, attributed to John Ayrton Paris) was simply a round card attached to a string, with separate but related drawings on either side: for example, a horse on one side, a rider on the other side; when the card was spun, the rider appeared to be riding the horse. The Phenakistoscope (early 1830s, several inventors) was a plate-sized, slotted disk with a sequence of drawings around its circle; when the disk was spun in front of a mirror, a person looking through the slots would see the drawings appear to move (figs. 1.5-1.7). The Zoetrope (1860s, also several inventors) was a bowl-like device with a strip of drawings around the interior circumference; when the bowl was spun, viewers peered through slots in the sides to watch drawings seemingly in motion (fig. 1.12). (The name Zoetrope resurfaced in the 1970s when the United States producer-director Francis Ford Coppola used it for his production company and studio.) The Praxinoscope, developed in the 1870s in France by Émile Reynaud (1844-1918), was like a Zoetrope, only it also utilized mirrors (fig. 1.13).
Motion devices soon outgrew the home. They began to compete with magic lanterns in the public entertainment sphere. Reynaud, after inventing the Praxinoscope, developed a projecting version, using a reflector and a lens lo enlarge the apparatus's moving images (on the same principles of projection that had been used for still images as far back as the seventeenth century). Expanding his efforts, he constructed tire Théâtre Optique, an even more sophisticated projection system (fig. 1.14). He drew pictures on long bands which wound through the apparatus much like a reel of film moves through its own projecting device; his individual narratives contained up to seven hundred separate drawings and a single story went on for fifteen minutes. The Théâtre Optique made its debut in Paris in 1892 and lasted until 1900, when it was undone by competition from the cinema.
As screen entertainment, the Théâtre Optique fell just short of what cinema was to provide. Only its lack of a catchy name may have kept it from enduring fame as a symbol of technological futility, like the Stanley Steamer, the steam-driven automobile that failed against the challenge of the internal-combustion engine.
Panoramas and Dioramas
While we focus inevitably on the late nineteenth century's historic transformation of moving image technology and culture, the end of the eighteenth century also marked significant innovation in screen entertainment. The era of the 1780s-90s saw not only Robertson's Fantasmagorie and other enhanced magic lantern programs, but also the panorama, a large-scale painting designed to take up the complete interior circumference of a circular building. What is credited as the first of these opened in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1788, and the idea spread to London and France. (On this principle, the Walt Disney company opened at its Disneyland park in 1955 a circular moving image photographed by eleven cameras, called Circarama.) Strictly speaking, the early panoramas were not moving images, but smaller-scale versions were produced for home use, some on scrolls that could be unrolled to create an illusion of movement.
In the early nineteenth century, the sensation of movement was introduced into public exhibitions of static pictures through the diorama. (One of its developers was Louis Jacques Mondé Daguerre [1789-1851], who later became an inventor of photography.) The diorama involved either a singe pointing or a canvas painted on both sides. Audiences sat in front of the work as shifts in lighting produced changes in the image. In the case of two-sided paintings especially, diorama shows offered narratives of visual spectacle—changes in the weather, in seasons, from day to night—that effected substantial transformations and lasted up to fifteen minutes with a singe work.
As with the panorama, the magic lantern, and motion toys, the diorama concept was developed into products for home entertainment. A popular diorama toy was the Polyrama Panoptique, a viewing box into which pairs of slides could be inserted. By manipulating a hinged lid, the viewer could shift the light and change the picture.
What Reynaud's device lacked was images of movement recorded at the source. Ever since the development of still photography in the 1830s, inventors had been exploring ways to take a sequence of photographs rapidly enough to record a movement in all its phases, not just arrest a single image. These efforts gained the substantial support in the 1870s of the railroad tycoon and former governor of California Leland Stanford, who was determined to find out whether a trotting horse ever had all four legs off the ground at the same time. To settle the question, he hired British émigré Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), who was well-known in California as a wilderness photographer.
Muybridge's famous experiments, begun in 1872, culminated in 1878 with a sequence of photographs that proved that yes, a galloping horse did indeed have all tour legs raised at once. He placed twelve cameras in a row alongside a track, spread threads across the track, and attached them to a contact with each camera's shutter (fig. 1.15). As the horse moved, its legs broke the threads, causing the cameras to operate in sequence. The result wax a dozen photographs showing successive phases of a horse's gait (fig. 1.16). Within a year he expanded the system to twenty-four cameras with timed electronic controls, which made the sequence more accurate than the thread method. The international acclaim for Muybridge's achievements prompted him to go out on the lecture circuit, and he joined the world of screen entertainment with his own version of a magic lantern device, the Zoopraxiscope. This was a projecting version et the Phenakistoscope using rotating disks on which were painted images of horses in motion drawn from his sequence photographs (he discovered, however, that he had to elongate the drawings in order for the projected illusion of movement to look natural). Over the next decade he greatly publicized the possibilities for sequence photography of motion.
The French scientist Étienne-Jules Marcy (1830-1904), a specialist in animal motion, was among the many whom Muybridge stimulated. When he utilized the photographer's methods, however, Marey found them inadequate for recording birds in flight. He adapted a device that had been developed by an astronomer, Pierre-Jules-César Janssen (1824-1907), for recording the transit of the planet Venus across the sun. Marey's own version, developed in 1882, was a "photographic gun" equipped with a disk functioning as a shutter to record sequential images on a rotating photographic plate (fig. 1.17). This worked well to capture the flight of birds, but it was limited to twelve separate images. As a next step, Marcy devised a stationary camera (called a chronophotographic camera) that could take a considerably greater number of images superimposed on one another, producing a single picture of motion for scientific study (fig. 1.18).
The pace of development quickened. In England, France, Germany, the United States, and elsewhere during the 1880s, inventors and entrepreneurs worked on machinery for motion photography. Key advances in the still photographic field came from the work of the American inventor and manufacturer George Eastman (1854-1932). In 1885, with William H. Walker, Eastman developed a new kind of recording material to replace individual coated glass or gelatin plates: sensitized paper, coated with gelatin emulsion, on a roll, called film. In 1888 Eastman introduced a box camera with the film roll loaded inside it under the trade name "Kodak." A year later, the paper roll was replaced by celluloid, a synthetic plastic material invented in the 1870s, which utilized the chemical compound cellulose nitrate. Marcy immediately took up this innovation for his chronophotographic camera, constructing a mechanism that could move roll film through the apparatus, hold it still momentarily for an exposure to be taken, and systematically repeat the operation. This fulfilled his desire for an ample number of separately recorded images of movement. Almost alone among the many experimenters in the medium, Marey was uninterested in carrying his work forward into the world of screen entertainment and was motivated chiefly by the development of technology for research purposes.
Excerpted from A WORLD HISTORY OF FILM by ROBERT SKLAR. Copyright © 2002 by Harry N. Abrams, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Preface and Acknowledgments||12|
|Pt. I||Emergence of Cinema||14|
|1||Cinema, Society, and Science||16|
|3||Film as Art and Industry||52|
|4||The Global Spread of Film||76|
|Pt. II||The Silent Era||90|
|5||Hollywood in the 1920s||92|
|6||The Cinemas of Europe||116|
|8||The Transition to Sound||156|
|Pt. III||Classic Cinema||180|
|10||Meeting Hollywood's Challenge||204|
|11||Documentary, Propaganda, and Politics||220|
|12||Film and World War II||236|
|Pt. IV||Postwar Transformation||254|
|15||Art Cinema of Europe and Asia||292|
|16||Hollywood in the 1950s||312|
|Pt. V||The Revival of Cinema||332|
|17||The French New Wave||334|
|18||Cinema of Liberation||350|
|19||The New Documentary||368|
|20||American Film: Turmoil and Transformation||382|
|Pt. VI||The Expansion of Cinema||404|
|21||European Films of the 1960s and 1970s||406|
|23||The Cinematic Avant-Garde||448|
|24||The Global Advance of Cinema||466|
|Pt. VII||Cinema Begins its Second Century||484|
|25||English-Language Art Cinema||486|
|26||New European Film|
|28||American Cinema: Special Effects and Beyond||536|