From Peepshow to Palace: The Birth of American Film / Edition 1

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Overview

Film critic David Robinson chronicles the early use of film as vaudeville sideshow; as sheer spectacle of moving images precluding any notion of plot development or drama; and as a fledgling dramatic effort, ranging from prizefights to Passion plays. He also takes readers to the nickelodeon theaters, and replete with more than 150 drawings and photographs, shows how the earliest devices of cinematic prehistory--machines with colorful names like the Phantascope and the Wheel of Life--led to the technology of filmmaking we know today.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

A diligent overview from the moment cinema was just a flicker in a magic lantern to the golden years between 1893 and 1913, when scientists and technicians laboriously fitted together the 'pieces in a puzzle' and created feature films.

New Yorker

This concise history takes us from footage of an Edison employee sneezing to multireel features with a sophistication appropriate to the lavish theaters in which they were shown

New Yorker
This concise history takes us from footage of an Edison employee sneezing to multireel features with a sophistication appropriate to the lavish theaters in which they were shown.
New York Times Book Review
A diligent overview from the moment cinema was just a flicker in a magic lantern to the golden years between 1893 and 1913, when scientists and technicians laboriously fitted together the 'pieces in a puzzle' and created feature films.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-detailed examination of the early cinema, from the magic lantern to the watershed year of 1913.

While crude slide projecting devices and toys that mimicked cinematic motion have been around since the 18th century, the problem of actually projecting motion remained elusive. Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope of 1891, essentially a film in a box, was only a partial solution—especially since the first films ran only 15 seconds and could be seen by only one viewer at a time. But as with many technological leaps, a number of other inventors were working along similar lines, and vast improvements soon followed. By 1895, the French Lumière brothers had developed the first real projector, the Cinématographe (it was also a camera and a film developer and is still regarded as a masterwork of machinery). What had seemed a fading fad quickly became a major new industry. As Robinson (Chaplin—His Life and Art, 1985, etc.) ably chronicles, the next two decades saw an enormous outpouring of increasingly sophisticated films. Theaters were opened, D.W. Griffith invented the medium's visual language, shorts became features, stars were born, there were experiments with sound and color, and Hollywood took its place as the world's leading film producer. By 1913 almost every major aspect of movies as we know them today was in place or in development. While there is much that is new in this account, there is also some material that, inevitably, is overly familiar as Robinson strays into the same rutted paths as every standard history of cinema. But his extensive research, level of detail, and shrewd, fresh insights make this a useful addition to any film library.

An intelligent reappraisal of an important but undervalued period of film history.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231103398
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 10/7/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 7.01 (w) x 9.13 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

David Robinson is a film historian and critic.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Foreword
Preface and Acknowledgments
1 Pieces in a Puzzle: Prehistory of the motion picture 2
2 Sorcerer and Apprentice: Edison, Dickson, and the Kinetoscope 18
3 From Science to Show Business: Development of the Kinetoscope, as medium and commerce 36
4 The Race to the Screen: Projecting the motion picture 52
5 The Inherited Repertoire: Origins of motion picture content 68
6 Finding a Home: The rise of the nickelodeon and the purpose-built cinema 88
7 Wars and Order: Patents wrangles and industrial organization 100
8 Production and the Way West: The migration to California 112
9 Telling Stories: Development of film narrative 120
10 International Rivalries: America and Europe struggle for market domination 132
11 Features and Palaces: Revolutions in exhibition 140
12 The Year 1913: The cinema comes of age 150
Principal Works Consulted 177
Picture Credits 181
Index 187
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