Professional / Visual Arts & Film Studies Essay

History of Film: 1895 - 1929

As an artistic medium, the film did not develop in isolation; it was influenced heavily by other art forms. There is no exact date that can be said to mark the beginning of the film, but the screening of ten Lumière Brothers’ short films on 28 December 1895 in Paris marked the first public and commercially successful projection of motion pictures (History). There have been screenings before then, but none of them had the financial backing, quality, or the right opportunity for the momentum that Lumière had.

Precursor of Films

As stated before, the film was influenced by art forms that existed before it. The precursors of the film represent devices and concepts that existed before the film and have many things in common with the techniques and art of cinema. Some of these precursors include:

Theatre: One of the words that were first used to describe the film is Photoplay. This shows how films were regarded as photographed plays, and this view is indeed true. Even today, there are many similarities that exist between movie and theatre play. The production process is similar, and the role of actors, director, producers, costume designer, set designer, composer, lighting designer, etc. has not changed much since the days of the theatre. Many of the terms that are now used in the theory and criticism of film were used for theatre before then. At the onset of the film, many pioneer films consisted of vaudeville acts that are performed for the camera rather than the audience. Most films then only allowed certain tricks that could not be performed on a live stage. With cinema development, films began to deviate from the traditional live theatre experience as newer technology allowed the filmmakers to do things creatively that could not be achieved on stage. Editing, camera movements, special effects, closeups, etc. are a few of the options that the film provided.

Camera Obscura: This is a natural projection of an image that occurs when light rays pass a hole to produce a reversed image on the surface of the dark space on the other end of the hole. It is also called the pinhole image and date back to 400 BCE in China or even long before then. Some historians opined that the distortion in animal shapes that is found on some Paleolithic paintings might be due to distortion, as seen through pinhole images. There are a few instances where camera obscura is used to project live performances for the audience's entertainment. It is believed that it was done in the 13th century. Later on, in 1527, the camera became mobile as a lightweight wooden hut and continued to develop to become a portable wooden box that has a mirror and viewing pane. It was this wooden box camera that would later become the photographic camera.

Shadow Play: The origin of this can be traced to primitive shadowgraphy, which later evolved into shadow puppetry. Here, flat cutout figures are placed between a translucent screen and a light source, thereby allowing the shape to form on the screen. Shadow puppetry is believed to have been developed in about 200 BCE in India. In Indonesia, its origin is traced to 840 CE. From these places and china, it was from these places that it reached the Ottoman kingdom and, subsequently, Europe. Its popularity soared in France towards the ending of 18th century, which also coincided with the development of cinema. Many shadow puppetry shows were put up in the cinema, and the renowned Le Chat noir alone produced forty-five shows from 1885 - 1896.

Stroboscopic Principle: Before the advent of film, the motion picture was created with stroboscopic animation invented in the 1830s. Using the stroboscopic effect, the thaumatrope made the brain combine incomplete pictures on both sides of a twirling cardboard disk. This technology could be used to show repetitive and simple animation in which either side of the cardboard shows different one or two stages of the action.

There were also photographic sequences such as chronophotography, which could not be classified as moving pictures but were close enough. It was this that further led to the development of the film.

By the 1890s, films could be produced, but they were too short with many of them under one minute and usually in white and black and without sound. They were considered a mere novelty for a while but quickly blossomed into the motion pictures industry. Movie theatres soon became social hubs and entertainment venues.

Silent Films

This is a film with no audible dialogue or synchronized sound. In such movies, the plot and other details were portrayed using title cards. The term silent film might be seen as a misnomer because the films were not silent. They were usually accompanied by live music from an orchestra, sound effects, theatre organ, or commentary from a projectionist or showman. Most countries did not need narrators as intertitles were used for dialog and narration. However, the Japanese cinema used narrators throughout the silent era. It was not until the late 1920s that the technical problem that made synchronized dialogue impossible in silent films was finally resolved with the Audio amplifier tube and the Vitaphone system's creation.

There are misconceptions regarding the silent film era, with some believing that the films were primitive and barely watchable using modern standards. All these are wrong opinions that are a result of ignorance and unfamiliarity. Silent movies had high visual quality, with many of them even appearing in color derived through film toning, tinting, or hand coloring. The failure to preserve most silent films from that era is responsible for the misconceptions today.

Conclusion

The era of silent film marked the first real development of the motion picture industry as it was during this period, basic film production techniques such as editing, lightingHistory of Film, began to emerge and improve.


References

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-commercial-movie-screened

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