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Motion Pictures

Page history last edited by Ryan Koch 7 years, 11 months ago

Motion Pictures

film reel


” My invention, (the motion picture camera), can be exploited... as a scientific curiosity, but apart from that it has no commercial value whatsoever.” -Auguste Lumiere


Motion Pictures became a popular source of amusement during the early 20th Century. Early in their development, movies were a novelty act of vaudevilles, but that changed as the length of films increased and nickelodeons grew. The increase in popularity of movies as a commercialized amusement was met with some concern; some saw it as a weakness and shift in the values of American civilization because it decreased the moral significance of recreation. People also worried about the health and moral problems of theaters. Movies were influential in developing the Star System


as people became exposed to actors’ faces repeatedly. Silent movies became highly developed art forms, and the addition of sound presented a whole new dimension to the movie experience that changed the direction of filmmaking.


Between 1900 and World War I, movies emerged as a mass medium, but projected motion picture photography became a reality in the 1890s. Inventors around the world began to build on the reproductive powers of

Photography  and to experiment with motion photography and motion picture work. The possibility of a profit-making commercial amusement drew Thomas Edison into the business [1]. The kinetograph (the first motion picture camera) in 1892 and the kinetoscope (viewing machine) in 1893 were early developments [1]. The kinetoscope (see image below right) was designed for individual viewing rather than a group of people [5]. Further inventions were inspired by the kinetoscope and there was a large competition to create a motion picture projector. Some other inventions included the Latham loop, animatograph projector, cinematograph, biograph, and Edison Vitascope. The Edison Vitascope, displayed in 1896, is considered as the first projection machine. [1]




Motion pictures take advantage of persistance of vision, the idea that the eye retains an image it has seen for 1/20 to 1/10 of a second after it is gone. This is what gives the illusion of motion. Films have stop and go motion from one frame to the next, where they pause briefly at one picture before showing the next one. The viewer also uses thier imagination and fills in what happens in between frames. Successive photos placed together also give the illusion of motion, as used with inventions such as the zoetrope [5].





Motion pictures were never intended for only the elite, but were designed to be a popular mass medium. Movies originally were a novelty act of vaudevilles, but were also shown in theaters and tents by film exhibitors. Arcade owners also began acquiring and showing films. Nickelodeons, early types of storefront theaters named for their five cent admission price, also became a popular avenue for films after 1905, due to a new audience and profit-minded small entrepreneurs. The demand for films led to a black market where a good deal of stealing and copying took place, leading to a large number of lawsuits [1]. The industry drew inventor-entrepreneurs and show business entrepreneurs, which resulted in creating a business of patent infringement and salacious entertainment [4]. The image projection system pioneered by Auguste and Louis Lumiere made moviegoing a group communication and social experience [4].


Edison Kinetoscope Films 1894-1896


Growth of Motion Pictures

In the 'development years' of motion pictures (mid 1890s to early 1920s), production techniques that were necessary for film narrative including parallel-action editing, camera movement, and lighting techniques were developed and established [4]. By 1909, three phases of production, exhibition and distribution were apparent as motion pictures became a large industry. This led to the creation of new specialties like directing, acting,

Photography, writing, and lab work. Innovative and adventurous independents led the way for Hollywood to take the place of New York as the production center for motion pictures, and the star system emerged. [1]


The size of the audience grew from 1905-1918 due to two things: longer films, which allowed for motion pictures to be an art instead of just a novelty, and the use of nickelodeons, allowing movies become their own source of entertainment. In 1907, 3000 to 5000 nickelodeons were established; by 1914, there were approximately 18,000 theaters. [1]

Concern and Opposition

As movies became a commercial amusement, they “inhabited the physical and psychic space of the urban street life”. People saw this development as opposition to parks, playgrounds, libraries, museums, YMCA’s, and school and church recreation centers. Edward A. Ross, a sociologist, saw the competition between the two sides as a battle between “warring sides of human nature-appetite and will, impulse and reason, inclination and ideal.” Some saw it as a weakness and shift in the values of American civilization. The moral significance of play and commercialized amusements and leisure became a great concern. Frederick C. Howe warned that “commercialized leisure is moulding our civilization-not as it should be moulded but as commerce dictates…And leisure must be controlled by the community, if it is to become an agency of civilization rather than the reverse.” Recreation became a matter of public concern. [1]


“One of the joys of going to the movies was that it was trashy, and we should never lose that.” -Oliver Stone

Nickelodeons presented both health and moral problems. Their conditions included poor sanitation, poor ventilation, dangerous overcrowding, and lack of fire protection. The darkness was also thought to encourage acts of evil doing and careless conduct, reinforcing the fear of theaters as havens for prostitutes and places where innocent girls could be taken advantage of. “It is an evil pure and simple destructive of social interchange, and of artistic effect” declared John Collier. As a solution, economist Simon Patten suggested that other cultural institutions need to be portrayed as places of happiness, security, and pleasure in life. Vaudeville acts in conjunction with movies was considered socially objectionable and hard to regulate. “In 1910 an Indianapolis civic committee denounced the vaudeville performances in local movie theaters as unfit for any stage” Czitrom (181), and movie exhibitors eliminated them by 1918. People began to also push for other regulation in movie theaters, including fire protection, ventilation, sanitation, fire exits, and structural requirements. Legislation in 1913 included provisions to meet these demands. [1]

Artistic Development

“Of all the things I've done in life, directing a motion picture is the most beautiful. It's the most exciting and the nearest that an interpretive craftsman, such as an actor can possibly get to being a creator.” –Sir Laurence Olivier

Georges Melies was a pioneer director who helped develop the artistic aspect of motion pictures. He discovered the fade, dissolve, and artificially arranged scenes. Melies thought of films in terms of the stage and took orginzation and artistry into consideration. He anticipated the development of complexity and specialization of films. In making

A Trip to the Moon, Melies showed that films are not limited to actuality, but can play with the parameters of reality and imagination. [5]

A Trip to the Moon

In 1927 and 1928, silent movies exploded in style, dramatic intensity, and thematic complexity. Silent films became well developed and advanced both aesthetically and commercially. They were an art using light and music to transmit emotion. Studies had a pride in making pictures that relied on visuals rather than the titles. Any speech involved in the film was shown with subtitles. Actors actually spoke their lines during filming, and music ensembles helped to express the emotion of different scenes. The experience of seeing a silent film involved superb orchestras and plush theaters. Lillian Gish often insisted that silent movies were more than an accomplished popular art; they were a universal language. The films forced audiences to use their imagination and provide voices and sound effects. The addition of sound, however, not only changed how movies were made, but also what movies were. The primarily visual medium changed to a primarily verbal one. Silent movies as an art form were eradicated at the height of their splendor and success. [2]

The Addition of Sound

Made in 1927, The Jazz Singer was the first movie with sound. Sound standardized movies, not allowing for as much individual interpretation. Scott Eyman stated that “Allusion and metaphor were the bedrocks of the silent medium, but dialogue literalized every moment, converted it from subjective to objective”. Sound provided more than just music; it allowed for personalities to project themselves with words and engage the audience. Stars became models of personality, their behavior on screen thought to reveal the person within that audiences should replicate. With sound, the audience knew the actor’s voice as well as their image. Motion pictures were the primary technology that played a role in creating and perpetuating the Star System. The close-up shot was also pivotal in this; it erased the distance between the viewer and the star and captured attention like nothing else. Everything else in the movies, such as the plot, and dialogue, was there to highlight the star’s personality. [2]


The common thought that talkies grew out of silent films is incorrect; sound grew up alongside silents. Scott Eyman says “Talkies were not an evolution, but a mutation, a different art form entirely”. The fascination with the new technology caused an art form to be eliminated, along with hundreds of careers. Amplification and electrical recording allowed for sound to be incorporated into films. Previously, the immaculate presentation of silent films and the reactionary attitudes of producers and exhibitors delayed the acceptance of sound into movies. But once it was integrated, its power took over silent films and changed their course forever. [2]

Competing with Television

Between 1920 and 1950, major studios had gained control over the careers of actors, directors, writers, cinematographers, and other talent. They also made all decisions concerning production, distribution, and exhibition of their movies. Studios also had a hand in changing and raising the social stature of moviegoing. They changed the image of motion pictures and public opinion through Propaganda. As studios developed, they also became able to cater to the tastes of audiences at almost every socioeconomic level, producing films that were more 'sophisticated' with 'fine arts' aspirations as well as more popular gangster movies and westerns. [4] The introduction of

Television caused a decline in motion pictures as a mass medium. "In the four-year period 1948-1951, for example, there was a 50 percent decline in weekly attendance, a trend that continued until 1971, when weekly attendance bottomed out at 15.8 million—less than one-fifth the number of the 1945-1948 peak (Robertson, 1994). This occurred even as the U.S. population grew at a rapid rate in the "baby boom" years that lasted from the late 1940s to the early 1960s" [4]. Television had the appealing aspects of both motion pictures and radio, and was a free home entertainment, which appealed to those who didn't have the money to spend on going to the movies. To combat this problem, producers of motion pictures turned to producing products for theaters that Television

couldn't replicate including: widescreen processes, more color, huge budget costume epics, and special effects such as 3D. Content of motion pictures also became more specialized an dcontrervial in an attempt to draw people away from television. Drive-in theaters became common in rural and suburban areas and by the 1960s and 1970s, multiscreen theaters were standard. The addition of multiple screens allowed theaters to offer all types of movies, attracting a wider audience with a variety of tastes. [4]

Movies Today

Today, movies have become cinematic spectacles and Hollywood promotes the image of glamour, publicity, fashion, and excess. Grand movie palaces, spectacular openings, paparazzi, Oscars, and hi-tech film all add to the movie experience. There are massive obsessions with certain trends of movies such as Star Wars, Gladiator, Spiderman, Austin Power, The Matrix, and Terminator. Douglas Kellner explains his views on the growing trend: “These cinematic spectacles are an expression of a culture that generates ever-more fantastic visions as technology and the society of the spectacle continue to evolve in novel and surprising, sometimes frightening, forms”. As technology and society change, so does their taste and desire of movies. [3]


New genres of movies have begun to sprout out over the last several years. Disney, Colombia, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and 20th Century Fox are among the studios that have jumped on the ever popular “Superhero” genre, producing all sorts of hero films, from the X-Men trilogy and follow on movies such as “X-Men: First Class”, to a whole new Batman and Spiderman franchise, as well as the Avenger series: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk. The growing popularity of the superhero genre has created a whole new market in the film industry, grossing anywhere from $8 million (Punisher: War Zone) to $447 million (The Dark Knight Rises). With the growing success of the genre, filmmakers have began to develop sequels at a rate of nearly one every other year, and have also began re-making franchises that were just recently finished, such as “The Amazing Spiderman”, released in July 2012 which was a remake of the “Spiderman” trilogy that started in 2002 and was just recently completed in 2007.


Another major factor in the evolution of movies is the rapid development of 3-D films. 3-D films are created by using two different cameras, slightly off-set from each other. The way it works is very similar to that of the human eye. With just one eye open, what we see appears to be a flat, 2-D image. With both eyes, our brain takes in two separate pictures, combining them into one image appearing three dimensional.

3-D has been around in television, books, and video games for a while, but just recently has it started gaining popularity in the film industry. The release of the 2009 film “Avatar”, which was made specifically for 3-D, sparked off the next generation of filmmaking. 7


"Avatar" trailer, the movie that is often thought of as the film to bring 3-D into the spotlight. 


 After a $2.7 billion worldwide gross and three Academy Awards, “Avatar” paved the way for filmmakers to go back and re-edit previous movies as 3-D. In 2012, the producers of “Titanic” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet re-formatted the movie to 3-D 6. Since then, at least half of movies released to theaters have a 3-D counterpart, such as Silent Hill 2 and Pixar’s “Wreck It Ralph”.




Film to Digital


A major development in film came about recently when filmmakers switched from the traditional film to digital recording when making motion pictures. This cut production time dramatically as editors no longer had to go through and physically cut the film strips and put them together. Digital recording made the editing process much cheaper and less time-consuming, since footage could be loaded onto a computer and easily deleted, moved, edited with effects, and so on.


 Filming costs also dramatically dropped, as footage could be stored on a memory card, backed up on a hard drive, and deleted from the card if necessary. Memory cards are significantly less expensive than the reels of film that were used in the past, and can be reused over and over for different film projects. 70 pounds of film print would typically cost about $1,500, whereas with the growing digital age, the same storage space could be achieved for only $150. 8


The Future of Movies?


100 years ago, just the thought of having sound in motion pictures was unheard of. Today, because of rapid advances in technology, we are well into advanced stages of film production. With the popularity of 3-D movies growing, the recent switch from film to digital production as well as projection in movie theaters, and increasing technology to allow for more realistic special effects, it's very obvious that we have come a long way from the first motion picture done with twelve cameras spaced out to give the appearance of a horse running. What one must ask is, "What's next?" Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and things that we deem as impossible may be obsolete within the next six months. Several theme park venues have been featuring 4-D shows, such as Disney World's "A Bug's Life" show and Universal Studios' "Terminator" show. Will that be the next step in the evolution of film? How would we achieve that? What about holographic projections? Maybe there will be a day when we literally standing in the middle of a civil war battle, or floating through space during an intergalactic star ship war. Technology is changing the way we experience movies all the time, so we can only speculate on the next step until it happens.




Implications for Media Ecology

Motion pictures have had an effect on society ever since their first introduction. A lot of the effect is apparent in the

Star System. With the ever increasing access to stars’ faces, voices, and behaviors, people become more enthralled with their favorite personalities. This affects what stars get roles in movies and how successful movies are economically. Films play a large role in promoting celebrities and perpetuating the Star System. Both the actors people become fascinated with and the movies that they watch can reflect new trends in societies. The films that become popular can often voice a common feeling or want that society has. The new trends and genres in films can give insight into current trends in society. Motion pictures today can do for audiences what it did to those first viewers-it can provide them with a means to escape their current lives and temporarily place them in a fantasy.


With continuing advances in technology, the way we experience those two hours we spend in a movie theater is rapidly changing. What started as multiple cameras has turned into 3-D projections that give you some sense of being involved in the story line of the film. In the short time of barely over 100 years, the motion picture industry has been revolutionized dozens of times. People can now feel more involved in a movie, and can feel as if what they're watching is some form of reality. People can escape the day-to-day rigors of life into a fantasy world that makes them feel like they can relate to the hero of the story. As technology progresses, filmmakers will be able to enhance that feeling.


[1] Czitrom, Daniel. "Early Motion Pictures". Communication in History. Pearson Education, Inc. 2007.

[2] Eyman, Scott. "Movies Talk". Communication in History.Pearson Education, Inc. 2007.

[3] Kellner, Douglas. Media Culture and the Triumph of the Spectacle.

[4] Bellamy, Rober V. "Film Industry." Encyclopedia of Communication and Information. Vol 1. New York: Macmillan Reverance USA, 2002. p320-325. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=RELEVANCE&inPS=true&prodId=GVRL&userGroupName=mt85337&tabID=T003&searchId=R1&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&currentPosition=4contentSet=GALE|CX3402900097&&docId=GALE|CX3402900097&docType=GALE>

[5] Fulton, A. R. Motion Pictures. Norman, Oklahoma: Norman University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.

[6] Box Office Mojo, "Titanic 3D", http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=titanic3d.htm

[7] "Avatar", IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0499549/

[8] Lumenick, Lou. "Film Dinos be Damned",  http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/movies/film_dinos_be_damned_LHLpJgOH6rMWka2oZibHVM


Original Author:  Kathy Rodine


Comments (12)

Jeff Martinek said

at 7:40 pm on Sep 8, 2008

Maybe you could explain what nickelodeons are briefly in the introduction. I may just be ignorant, but I hadn't heard of them (other than the channel on TV) until this class. Also, you could link to your Star System article in the introduction and in your "Implications for Media Ecology" section, and link to my article on Propaganda in your "Competing with Television" section, with regard to the control by large corporations. :)
-- RobynWilson (2008-04-10 16:16:05)

Jeff Martinek said

at 7:41 pm on Sep 8, 2008

McLuhan believed that motion pictures, along with other technologies, served as a means of restoring an oral culture. Its worth considering, even if you don't use it.
-- ZachReiter (2008-04-13 22:36:39)

Jeff Martinek said

at 7:41 pm on Sep 8, 2008

You have written a fine essay; it is a joy to read. I would like to see more about the “toys” which came before projection, the persistence of vision toys. The toys are really important in contributing to the cultural desire to view pictures in motion. They are important because they merged with the magic lantern, early projection devices. Eadward Muybridge, who used a series of cameras to capture motion, put his photographs onto glass slides and projected them via a magic lantern. In a sens Muybridge made the invention of the Lumière brothers possible.

Jeff Martinek said

at 7:42 pm on Sep 8, 2008

There is another theory which counters the persistence of vision theory. But my memory is very week. You find a reference to the alternative theory in Film Art by David Bordwell. Sometimes I bring an 8mm editor into the class. When I turn the crank very slowly, one can see that the screen goes blank between film frames. For that reason, many people believe that if you watch a 90 minute films, the screen is blank for 45 minutes, but our visual memories negate the darkness of the screen.
Ironically Edison thought the motion picture would simply be a novelty. He invented the kinetoscope, or least his staff invented it, as an adjunct to the phonograph. He was surprised when the film image became popular.

Jeff Martinek said

at 7:42 pm on Sep 8, 2008

My grandmother told me, this is just an aside about the Nickelodeons, that my great-grandfather Biel refused to let her go to the nickelodeon because it was cheap and coarse entertainment. Film entrepreneurs had to buy the films they showed. In the emergent years of cinema, about 1903-1910, films were either one reel long ( 10 minutes on the average) or split reels (two films on one reel), so the nickelodeon showman needed about three or four films per show, and the shows were changed three times a week on the average. This sudden boom in pictures created a new market for actors who didn’t quite have what it takes to be on Broadway. The proliferation of films made ti easy to bootleg a film, put a new title on it, and claim it to be a new original. Interestingly enough, the American Biograph Corporation put their logo on the sets used in their films to prevent copyright infringement. How this primitive films developed narrative is an interesting and long story. You may want to read
PN1993.5.U6 F4 1974 Fell, John L.,Film and the narrative tradition [by] John L. Fell. [Norman] University of Oklahoma Press [1974]

which is in our library. (I have read it about five times!)
I enjoyed your choices of early film. I do wish you had included the Lumière film about the gardener being sprayed with a garden hose. (Truffaut “quotes from that film and other early films in this first movie Les Mistons. I also wish you had added Edison’s “The Great Train Robbery” which begins the push toward the Hollywood style of film making. Also, Edison and Melies represent two strands of filmmaking that we are used to, realism and fantasy.
The above are just some thoughts, not criticism. I really enjoyed the thoughtful essay. Good Work!
--William Weiershauser

Jeff Martinek said

at 11:54 pm on Oct 12, 2008

Great history of cinema site: http://www.precinemahistory.net/

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