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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
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.
|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|