Thomas Edison And The Invention Of The Movies
By Bill Dobbins
It has been well known for a long time that viewing still images with slight difference one after another in rapid succession can create the illusion of continuous motion. For example, there have been various kinds of devices that use a spinning cylinder to create this kind of illusion – such as the Zoetrope.
“The zoetrope consists of a cylinder with cuts vertically in the sides. On the inner surface of the cylinder is a band with images from a set of sequenced pictures. As the cylinder spins, the user looks through the slits at the pictures across. The scanning of the slits keeps the pictures from simply blurring together, and the user sees a rapid succession of images, producing the illusion of motion. From the late 19th century, devices working on similar principles have been developed, named analogously as linear zoetropes and 3D zoetropes, with traditional zoetropes referred to as “cylindrical zoetropes” if distinction is needed.”
“The zoetrope works on the same principle as its predecessor, the phenakistoscope, but is more convenient and allows the animation to be viewed by several people at the same time. Instead of being radially arrayed on a disc, the sequence of pictures depicting phases of motion is on a paper strip. For viewing, this is placed against the inner surface of the lower part of an open-topped metal drum, the upper part of which is provided with a vertical viewing slit across from each picture. The drum, on a spindle base, is spun. The faster the drum is spun, the smoother the animation appears.” Wikipedia
There is also the flip book that most are introduced to as children. Flipping through its pages we see this same kind of illusion of motion.
After the invention of still photography in 1839, there were numerous attempts to create a system that would use images like this to create the illusion of motion. But the breakthrough invention that made the beginnings of modern movie making possible was the invention of celluloid film by George Eastman of Kodak.
The commercial, public screening of ten of Lumière brothers‘ short films in Paris on 28 December 1895 can be regarded as the breakthrough of projected cinematographic motion pictures. There had been earlier cinematographic results and screenings but these lacked either the quality or the momentum that propelled the cinématographe Lumière into a worldwide success. Wikipedia
But the real creator of what eventually became the Hollywood movie industry was inventor and entrepreneur Thomas Edison, who had a close relationship with George Eastman. Edison’s invention of a workable movie camera combined with a projector system lead to the explosion of interest in the Nickelodeon, movie theaters and then the whole modern movie industry.
Of course, projectors like the one Edison pioneered as well as that of the Lumiere Brothers were both dependent on the creation of celluloid film by George Eastman. It was this film that allowed early movie makers to make “flickers,” for the proliferation of nickelodeons and then the evolution of the feature length movie that lead to the movie business that gave us Hollywood and the world-wide movie industry.
Edison’s experimental motion pictures were first publicly exhibited on May 9, 1893, at the Brooklyn Institute. On April 14, 1894, the kinetoscope made its commercial debut when the Edison kinetoscope parlor was opened at 1155 Broadway. A parlor opened in Chicago in May, and another in San Francisco on June 1. At that point, the American movie business exploded, and it had Edison’s name plastered all over it. Though he hadn’t done the inventing, he had spearheaded it, financed it, cultivated the talent to accomplish it, and then orchestrated its release to the public. – TCM Film Article
The first films made in the 1890a were short, such as the recording of a sneeze or a sexy (for the time) filming of a kiss. Originally movies were watched on single viewer Kinetoscopes which eventually gave way to films projected for mass audiences. The Edison Manufacturing Co. (later known as Thomas A. Edison, Inc.) not only built the equipment for filming and projecting motion pictures, but also produced films for the public. Originally, the emphasis was on real events like locomotives or disasters but eventually shifted to dramas and, especially, comedies.
By the second decade of the 20th century movies had become a big business. The industry was initially centered on the east coast but then moved to Hollwyood – because of the weather and to avoid litigation involving disputes over patents involving movie making equipment and processes.
So movies began with the technical innovations of George Eastman and Thomas Edison, neither of whom contributed much “creative” input. But the earliest Edison films had a dramatic effect on viewers who had never before seen motion images. When a movie showed a steam train speeding toward the audience people were known to duck and scream. The history of motion pictures reveals how quickly Nickelodeons morphed into projected one reelers, than longer films and finally full length features.
By the way, it is interesting how many great cinematographers were also ardent still photographers. But not that strange when you think about the requirement for visual perception, lighting and composition involved in creating both types of images involves. But there have been directors who were also accomplished photographers. One primary example is Stanley Kubrick, director of 2001 Space Odyssey and other masterpieces, who earlier in his career was a photographer for Life Magazine.
FILMS OF THOMAS EDISON
Bill Dobbins is a veteran photographer and videographer located in Los Angeles who has exhibited his fine art images in two museums and a number of galleries and has published eight print and 16 eBooks, including two fine art photo books:
The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Tashen)
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