Wonders of Cinema

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On the day that Thomas Edison first showed the Kinetoscope to the American public, over $120 was collected without any advertisements (Smith). The invention of cinema established a growing business that paved the way for a popular mode of public entertainment. As the nineteenth century waned, a new industry emerged which grew to what is now the world renowned Hollywood. It took the toil of minds (such as Edison, the Lumiere brothers and Edward Muybridge) to bring this about. Many people got their first glimpse of motion picture through carnivals, circuses and lectures. In the 1890’s, new inventions encouraged this growing business which became the foundation of the motion picture industry of today.

The invention of cinema cannot be credited to one person alone. From 1850 to 1890 many new devices such as the zoetrope and magic lanterns were invented. The Zoetrope (or wheel of life) was the first attempt at cinema. A revolving cardboard cylinder with slits to look through gave the person looking into it the first moving images (Lucas). The magic lantern was the next device which generated the same effect using a handle to rotate the pictures. The human eye sees the illusion of moving images if images are shown at 15 frames per second (Motion Picture) and both these early machines made use of this fact. However, these were simple projection devices and were difficult to make, due to difficulty in projecting pictures and taking a series of continuous photographs. Improvements in photography in the 1890's including the invention of celluloid film by Dr Marey and a camera made to take moving pictures by Freise Greene an English photographer provided the push which led to a surge of inventions that appeared in the 1890's.

In France, the Lumeire Brothers were the first to publicly show the Cinematographe in 1895. It was a one man viewing machine which showed short silent films to the people. In the US Edison invented his own creation combining the Mutascope (work of Edward Muybridge) and his personal ideas to make the Kinetograph which was an improved one person viewing machine (Motion Picture).

As technology progressed, so did the spread of cinema. Many carnivals and circuses carried older inventions (Mutascope) and showed them to the public. The carnival and the circuses showed extremely short and familiar kind of movies due to the lack of sound and poor graphics. As more and more inventions were sold, the viewing machine became part of many scientific lectures where they were used to illustrate their views and points. When projectors emerged, many people watched movies based on songs, movies, fairy tales and other familiar topics. They were silent films and therefore had to be based on well known themes of art. Many carnivals and circuses had narrators who told the story or had background music to create an enjoyable experience (Musser).

The film industry in America started with Edison inventing his Kinetoscope in the 1890's. This was an improved version of the Kinetograph which were quite successful. Parlors carrying Kinetoscopes were a common sight and it exposed the public to the wonders of cinema. Eventually Edison released the Vitascope which was one of the first movie projectors to grace American shores. Special theatres (Nickelodeons) sprang up and started a profitable business showing movies. These special theatres were owned by newly formed companies which eventually grew to become the back bone of the movie business.

Nickelodeons were showing up to 60 shows a day (Motion Picture Article). Movies were now longer and unfamiliar, thanks to advances in graphics and creativity. Genres began to categorize films and they were soon followed by movie stars who popularized their own field (Ingden). Most of the early movies were filmed around New York (which had a majority of the nation’s theatres) but this was not suitable for creating the popular Western films that the public enjoyed. Therefore the headquarters were moved to Hollywood with its ideal environment which was better suited for creating the popular western movies. Soon, small movie companies like MGM and Warner Bros started buying other theatres. This doubled their profits and encouraged others to start too. The basic fact was, the more studios a company owned, the more profit it gained and more movies were made. It was the start of a flourishing era of big business.

The film industry had begun. In the space of a decade, men such as Edison spearheaded technological advancements which led to the surge of newer and better inventions in the field of cinema. The new Vitascope led to the spread of Nickelodeons over America. Circuses and carnivals were vital in adopting and spreading the concept of motion pictures in the late 1800’s. With the increasing popularity of cinema, companies such MGM and Warner Bros. Invested in theatres and studios. They created new cinema genres and popularized cinema actors. The business boomed and attracted more and more people to see and enjoy this new marvel of the 20th century. The foundation of the motion picture industry was set.





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