Film, Television, & American Society: Lectures on the Media & on Empire [NOTES]
Chapter 1- The Movies Begin
Major factors in the 1980’s that allowed the motion pictures to take off:
(1) Almost simultaneous refinement of a number of technologies by scientists and inventors
that made the movies possible
(2) The rise of mass urban populations. Demand for cheap entertainment for new urban
industrial working class
Impulse is apparent in the drawing of animals in motion on the cave walls of our
Early inventors pursuing the development of practical cinematic apparatus were
interested in applying it primarily as a tool of science in order to seek an answer to one
question: How can we record dynamic images of the physical world and then later study
them to gain insight into the workings of natural phenomenon? (Sklar 1994, 5-12)
They tried to create the illusion of realistic motion through the manipulation of images:
the magic lantern, the fantasmagorie, the stereopticon and serial photography
Documentary films (called “actualities” then) made up the bulk of films of this period
When Did the Movies Begin?
Eadweard Muybridge employed a process that comes closest to resembling the
technology we now call cinema or the movies
1877: Muybridge conducted an experiment to answer whether a horse, in full stride, lifts
all of its four legs off the ground. After the success of the experiment, Muybridge
travelled around the country delivering lectures on his work and demonstrating his results
with a new device of his own invention—the zoopraxiscope. This device was a kind of
circular wheel that allowed drawings and, later, still photographs, to be projected onto a
The Peep Show
Thomas Edison invented the Kinetoscope in 1893 and in 1894 started charging
amusement park patrons money to view images. However, the kinetoscope was not a
financial success due to the fact that it could only be viewed by one person at a time.
Lumiere brothers of France (Auguste & Louis Lumiere) were the first to offer the
projection of a series of moving images on a screen to a paying audience.
They were the first to develop an apparatus called a Cinematographe (a camera/projector)
that could both record and project moving images. First screenings for a paying audition
was held in Paris on December 28, 1895. This marked the beginning of cinema.
In early1896 Edison quickly developed and marketed the Vitascope projector to compete
with the Lumieres.
The Social Context
Movies appeared as part of a constellation of commercial cultural activities. Forms of
entertainment such as the circus, Wild West show, amusement park and vaudeville
theatre. Primarily, but not exclusively, activities of the new industrial working class.
The universal language of the silent film made the early movies particularly attractive to
immigrants (Southern & Eastern Europeans).
Film as a Working Class Medium
The American cinema had a mainly working class audience. Early American films were
primarily centered on the concerns of American workers. Before 1914 a large number of American films were made that dealt explicitly with class
conflict: movies about strikes and trade unionism.
Cultural workers in New York began to see themselves as part of the working class and
as part of the struggle against capitalism.
Early American film production (1896-1907) was organized primarily around one person:
Manufacturers of film equipment wanted control over the industry from early on. Edison
began suing all his competitors for patent infringement in the hopes of driving them out
Film producers would sell their films directly to exhibition houses, particularly the
Movies were presented as part of other forms of mass entertainment. Audiences watched
movies at amusement parks.
Films were also brought to smaller urban centres and rural areas where movies were
screened in available community locales such as churches and union halls.