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Silent Movies

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Silent Movies

Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope provided the first commercial screening of moving pictures in April 1891. The invention was not a projector, but rather a cabinet which housed the film - film whose animated images could be seen only by a single viewer.

Film projection? There was no financial future in that - or so Edison thought. As Kinetoscope viewing parlors sprang up around the United States and similar and more perfected devices emerged at home and around the world, Edison would have to rethink the theory. (In France, Louis Lumiere, who had his own film projection machine, became the first to project a movie to a paying audience in 1895.) By 1896, Edison was marketing a projection model of the Kinetoscope.

The earliest films were "actualities," simple subjects featuring glimpses of daily life, people working, children playing, even a sneeze. Most were just a few minutes long. Boxing rounds, dancers and other vaudeville acts were soon added to the line-up. By 1898, film caught on as a tourist lure, whetting the appetites of would-be visitors for both domestic destinations and foreign lands.

Meanwhile, a former Edison associate, largely credited with the heavy-lifting in inventing Edison's motion picture machines, William Kennedy Dickson, had formed his own company by the end of 1895, directly competing with its own productions of short-subject images.

After 1900, short subjects began to give way to actual stories or narrative films. Fairytales like "Jack and the Beanstalk" were among early story-telling attempts. But it would be Edison's "The Great Train Robbery," released in 1903, that would turn the tide. The 12-minute feature, which was wildly popular, is largely credited as the first narrative film. More than half of all silent films were narratives by 1905.

Once relegated to traveling screenings, set up in vaudeville theaters, at fairgrounds or even in stores, movies began to warrant their own spaces. Before 1910, "movie houses" were becoming the norm, and regular film casts were acting out the earliest repeatable movie plot lines. The golden age of silent films was born.

Tags:   Silent Movies   Edison   Images   Kinetoscope   Projection  

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Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope provided the first commercial screening of moving pictures in April 1891. The invention was not a projector, but rather a cabinet which housed the film - film whose animated images could be seen only by a single viewer.

Film projection? There was no...

By: Richard Martine Created 74 months ago

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