Technical Advances March on

         Personally, I believe there were technical advances in camera mechanisms; film sound recording, speakers, microphones and projectors caused major contributions to the advances in cinema. One was the advent of the motor driven film “a stop-motion device to insure the intermittent but regular motion of the film strip.” The film strip in the camera, which maintained at a constant speed as the film went through] the camera. This greatly influenced quality and continuity of action captured “live action could be simulated photographically, but not recorded spontaneously and simultaneously as it occurred” (Cook 6, 3).

         The first cameras were hand cranked by the operator to record the action onto the film. The projectors, which played the film after it was recorded, were also hand cranked. The first films were not real cinema productions but more demonstrations of the capabilities of the new medium of entertainment. Typical early films were like films of dancing (sometimes pornographic), a boxing match and staged single shot one scene plays. “The cameras of this time could only record what could be seen and viewed by a single individual standing in a fixed spot focusing on a single event for a given length of time” (Cook 6). Most of the places showing these types of films were peep show type places “kinetoscope parlors.” Modern viewers of today would find these very early films quite primitive.

         As cameras and projectors advanced the cinema experience changed over time. Seeing a moving picture became more of an activity to be shared. The films, while still short, were shown on a large screen to an audience sitting on benches and chairs. The camera capturing the action is still static at a fix point of perspective. Moving the recording camera as it captures the action is not a concept that develops in cinema until much later. However, films come to be conceptualized more as entertaining narrative dramatic scenes. “The scenes themselves are composed of single shots taken with a motionless camera from a fixed point of view…” to be viewed by a “…theater specter sitting in orchestra center aisle with an excellent eye-level view of the action; the actors move across the film frame…” I wonder how many movie goers actually had this experience. These early movie houses were primitive when compared to the movie palaces that came later on. These magic lantern (store front theaters) viewing experiences were a far cry from the theater spectacles so many of us are accustomed to today. I cannot imagine what one of these 1890’s audience members would think if they were brought forward in time, and treated to even just a few minutes of one of our modern film in a modern theater.

         Then the cinema concept of film editing comes about so that it comes to be more of a photographed stage play, save for the inclusion of some optical tricks such as the fade in, fade out and dissolve. The films are all still silent; the ability to have sound with the recorded moving action does not occur until much later. The actor of some of these early films therefore took a lot of liberties such as not actually saying the lines of what they were recording. I imagine this would make viewing these early works quite hysterical to someone who had the ability to read lips. In fact some audience members complained about some of the bawdiness of the “silent speech.”

         Talking movies or the advent of cinema sound caused a great deal upheaval in the motion picture, as well as the end of many actors’ careers, especially those whose natural voices were deemed unsuitable. By now cinema has become if not yet major and respectable at least a stable commercial venture of a permanent nature. Advances in lighting and microphone would later vastly further impact these talkies as studios were built to house and conduct the production of this infant industry. Outdoor filming could not be controlled in the new talking film, so the practice of filming outdoor stops for a long stretch of time until the sound recording equipment improves vastly. So filming is done on sets; the camera may now be moved around on tracks; and movies have become spectaculars viewed in ornate movie palaces. Going to the movies must have been quite an event during this time.

         My grandmother was born in 1919 and died in 1998 when she was almost eighty years old. It is hard to believe she been gone twelve years already. She would talk about going to the movies during the war to see the news reels and the latest pictures, while my grandfather was away chasing Rommel around the dessert. When I was a small girl and she would take me to see the kiddy Walt Disney films, she would be as enthralled with the shows. I always thought she was humoring me, but this class has shown me that she had probably really been impressed with the show and all the changes in the cinema movie going experiences since she herself was a little girl. I wonder how it will be for my grandchildren.

Work Cited
Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th Ed. New York: Norton & Co., 2004.

Alice Bradshaw

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