In the first two decades of its existence the cinema developed rapidly. What in 1895 had been a mere novelty had by 1913 become an established industry. The earliest films were little more than moving snapshots, barely one minute in length and often consisting of just a single shot. By 1905, they were regularly five to ten minutes long and employed changes of scene and camera position to tell a story or illustrate a theme. Then, in the early 1910s, with the arrival of the first 'feature-length' films, there gradually emerged a new set of conventions for handling complex narratives. By this time too, the making and showing of films had itself become a large-scale business. No longer was the film show a curiosity sandwiched into a variety of other spectacles, from singing or circus acts to magic lantern shows. Instead specialist venues had been created, exclusively devoted to the exhibition of films, and supplied by a number of large production and distribution companies, based in major cities, who first sold and then increasingly rented films to exhibitors all over the world. In the course of the 1910s the single most important centre of supply ceased to be Paris, London, or New York, and became Los Angeles -- Hollywood.
The cinema of this period, from the mid- 1890s to the mid-1910s, is sometimes referred to as 'pre-Hollywood' cinema, attesting to the growing hegemony of the California-based American industry after the First World War. It has also been described as pre-classical, in recognition of the role that a consolidated set of 'classical' narrative conventions was to play in the world cinema from the 1920s onwards. These terms need to be used with caution, as they can imply that the cinema of the early years was only there as a precursor of Hollywood and the classical style which followed. In fact the styles of filmmaking prevalent in the early years were never entirely displaced by Hollywood or classical modes, even in America, and many cinemas went on being pre- or at any rate non-Hollywood in their practices for many years to come. But it remains true that much of the development that took place in the years from 1906 or 1907 can be seen as laying the foundation for what was to become the Hollywood system, in both formal and industrial terms.
For the purposes of this book, therefore, we have divided the period into two. The first half, from the beginnings up to about 1906, we have simply called early cinema, while the second half, from 1907 to the mid-1910s, we have designated transitional since it forms a bridge between the distinctive modes of early cinema and those which came later. Broadly speaking, the early cinema is distinguished by the use of fairly direct presentational modes, and draws heavily on existing conventions of photography and theatre. It is only in the transitional period that specifically cinematic conventions really start to develop, and the cinema acquires the means of creating its distinctive forms of narrative illusion.
Various nations lay claim to the invention of moving pictures, but the cinema, like so many other technological innovations, has no precise originating moment and owes its birth to no particular country and no particular person. In fact, one can trace the origins of cinema to such diverse sources as sixteenth-century Italian experiments with the camera obscura, various early nineteenth-century optical toys, and a host of practices of visual representation such as dioramas and panoramas. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, efforts to project continuously moving images on to a screen intensified and inventors/entrepreneurs in several countries presented the 'first' moving pictures to the marvelling public: Edison in the United States; the Lumière brothers in France; Max Skladanowsky in Germany; and William Friese-Greene in Great Britain. None of these men can be called the primary originator of the film medium, however, since only a favourable conjunction of technical circumstances made such an 'invention' possible at this particular moment: improvements in photographic development; the invention of celluloid, the first medium both durable and flexible enough to loop through a projector; and the application of precision engineering and instruments to projector design.
In spite of the internationalization of both film style and technology, the United States and a few European countries retained hegemony over film production, distribution, and exhibition. Initially, French film producers were arguably the most important, if not in terms of stylistic innovation, an area in which they competed with the British and the Americans, then certainly in terms of market dominance at home and internationally. Pride of place must be given to the Lumière brothers, who are frequently, although perhaps inaccurately, credited with projecting the first moving pictures to a paying audience. Auguste and Louis Lumière owned a photographic equipment factory and experimented in their spare time with designing a camera that they dubbed the Cinématographe. It was first demonstrated on 22 March 1895 at a meeting of the Société d'Encouragement à l'Industrie Nationale. Subsequent to this prestigious début, the Lumières continued to publicize their camera as a scientific instrument, exhibiting it at photographic congresses and conferences of learned societies. In December 1895, however, they executed their most famous and influential demonstration, projecting ten films to a paying audience at the Grand Café in Paris.
Precisely dating the first exhibition of moving pictures depends upon whether 'exhibition' means in private, publicly for a paying audience, seen in a Kinetoscope, or projected on a screen. Given these parameters, one could date the first showing of motion pictures from 1893, when Edison first perfected the Kinetoscope, to December 1895 and the Lumières' demonstration at the Grand Café.
The Lumières may not even have been the 'first' to project moving pictures on a screen to a paying audience; this honour probably belongs to the German Max Skladanowsky, who had done the same in Berlin two months before the Cinématographe's famed public exhibition. But despite being 'scooped' by a competitor, the Lumières' business acumen and marketing skill permitted them to become almost instantly known throughout Europe and the United States and secured a place for them in film history. The Cinématographe's technical specifications helped in both regards, initially giving it several advantages over its competitors in terms of production and exhibition. Its relative lightness (16 lb. compared to the several hundred of Edison's Kinetograph), its ability to function as a camera, a projector, and a film developer, and its lack of dependence upon electric current (it was hand-cranked and illuminated by limelight) all made it extremely portable and adaptable. During the first six months of the Lumières' operations in the United States, twenty-one cameramen/projectionists toured the country, exhibiting the Cinématographe at vaudeville houses and fighting off the primary American competition, the Edison Kinetograph.
The Lumières' Cinématographe, which showed primarily documentary material, established French primacy, but their compatriot Georges Mélièlis became the world's leading producer of fiction films during the early cinema period. Mélièlis began his career as a conjurer, using magic lanterns as part of his act at the Théâtre RobertHoudin in Paris. Upon seeing some of the Lumières' films, Mélièlis immediately recognized the potential of the new medium, although he took it in a very different direction from his more scientifically inclined countrymen. Mélièlis's Star Film Company began production in 1896, and by the spring of 1897 had its own studio outside Paris in Montreuil. Producing hundreds of films between 1896 and 1912 and establishing distribution offices in London, Barcelona, and Berlin by 1902 and in New York by 1903, Mélièlis nearly drove the Lumières out of business. However, his popularity began to wane in 1908 as the films of the transitional cinema began to offer a different kind of entertainment and by 1911 virtually the only Mélièlis films released were Westerns produced by Georges's brother Gaston in a Texas studio. Eventually, competitors forced Mélièlis's company into bankruptcy in 1913.
Chief among these competitors was the Pathé Company, which outlasted both Mélièlis and the Lumières. It became one of the most important French film producers during the early period, and was primarily responsible for the French dominance of the early cinema market. PathéFrères was founded in 1896 by Charles Pathé, who followed an aggressive policy of acquisition and expansion, acquiring the Lumières' patents as early as 1902, and the Mélièlis Film Company before the First World War. Pathé also expanded his operations abroad, exploiting markets. ignored by other distributors, and making his firm's name practically synonymous with the cinema in many Third World countries. He created subsidiary production companies in many European nations: Hispano Film ( Spain); Pathé-Russe ( Russia); Film d'Arte Italiano; and PathéBritannia. In 1908 Pathé distributed twice as many films in the United States as all the indigenous manufacturers combined. Despite this initial French dominance, however, various American studios, primary among them the Edison Manufacturing Company, the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company of America (after 1909 simply the Biograph Company), and the Vitagraph Company of America (all founded in the late 1890s) had already created a solid basis for their country's future domination of world cinema.
The 'invention' of the moving picture is often associated with the name of Thomas Alva Edison, but, in accordance with contemporary industrial practices, Edison's moving picture machines were actually produced by a team of technicians working at his laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey, supervised by the Englishman William Kennedy Laurie Dickson. Dickson and his associates began working on moving pictures in 1889 and by 1893 had built the Kinetograph, a workable but bulky camera, and the Kinetoscope, a peep-show-like viewing machine in which a continuous strip of film between 40 and 50 feet long ran between an electric lamp and a shutter. They also developed and built the first motion picture studio, necessitated by the Kinetograph's size, weight, and relative immobility. This was a shack whose resemblance to a police van caused it to be popularly dubbed the 'Black Maria'. To this primitive studio came the earliest American film actors, mainly vaudeville performers who travelled to West Orange from nearby New York City to have their (moving) pictures taken. These pictures lasted anywhere from fifteen seconds to one minute and simply reproduced the various performers' stage acts with, for example, Little Egypt, the famous belly-dancer, dancing, or Sandow the Strongman posing.
As with the Lumières, Edison's key position in film history stems more from marketing skill than technical ingenuity. His company was the first to market a commercially viable moving picture machine, albeit one designed for individual viewers rather than mass audiences. Controlling the rights to the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope, Edison immediately embarked upon plans for commercial exploitation, entering into business agreements that led to the establishment of Kinetoscope parlours around the country. The first Kinetoscope parlour, a rented store-front with room for ten of the viewing machines each showing a different film, opened in New York City in April 1894. The new technical marvel received a promotional boost when the popular boxing champion Gentleman Jim Corbett went six rounds against Pete Courtney at the Black Maria. The resulting film gained national publicity for Edison's machine, as well as drawing the rapt attention of female viewers, who reportedly formed lines at the Kinetoscope parlours to sneak a peek at the scantily clad Gentleman Jim. Soon other Kinetoscope parlours opened and the machines also became a featured attraction at summer amusement parks.
Until the spring of 1896 the Edison Company devoted itself to shooting films for the Kinetoscope, but, as the novelty of the Kinetoscope parlours wore off and sales of the machines fell off, Thomas Edison began to rethink his commitment to individually oriented exhibition. He acquired the patents to a projector whose key mechanism had been designed by Thomas Armat and C. Francis Jenkins, who had lacked the capital for the commercial exploitation of their invention. The Vitascope, which projected an image on to a screen, was advertised under Edison's name and premièred in New York City in April of 1896. Six films were shown, five produced by the Edison Company and one, Rough Sea at Dover, by the Englishman R. W. Paul. These brief films, 40 feet in length and lasting twenty seconds, were spliced end to end to form a loop, enabling each film to be repeated up to half a dozen times. The sheer novelty of moving pictures, rather than their content or a story, was the attraction for the first film audiences. Within a year there were several hundred Vitascopes giving shows in various locations throughout the United States.
In these early years Edison had two chief domestic rivals. In 1898 two former vaudevillians, James Stuart Blackton and Albert Smith, founded the Vitagraph Company of America initially to make films for exhibition in conjunction with their own vaudeville acts. In that same year the outbreak of the Spanish-American War markedly increased the popularity of the new moving pictures, which were able to bring the war home more vividly than the penny press and the popular illustrated weeklies. Blackton and Smith immediately took advantage of the situation, shooting films on their New York City rooftop studio that purported to show events taking place in Cuba. So successful did this venture prove that by 1900 the partners issued their first catalogue offering films for sale to other exhibitors, thus establishing Vitagraph as one of the primary American film producers. The third important American studio of the time, the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, now primarily known for employing D. W. Griffith between 1908 and 1913, was formed in 1895 to produce flipcards for Mutoscope machines. When W. K. L. Dickson left Edison to join Biograph, the company used his expertise to patent a projector to compete with the Vitascope. This projector apparently gave betterquality projection with less flicker than other machines and quickly replaced the Lumières as Edison's chief competitor. In 1897 Biograph also began to produce films but the Edison Company effectively removed them from the market by entangling them in legal disputes that remained unresolved until 1902.
At the turn of the century, Britain was the third important film-producing country. The Edison Kinetoscope was first seen there in October 1894, but, because of Edison's uncharacteristic failure to patent the device abroad, the Englishman R. W. Paul legally copied the non-protected viewing machine and installed fifteen Kinetoscopes at the exhibition hall at Earl's Court in London. When Edison belatedly sought to protect his interests by cutting off the supply of films, Paul responded by going into production for himself. In 1899, in conjunction with Birt Acres, who supplied the necessary technical expertise, Paul opened the first British film studio, in north London. Another important early British film-maker, Cecil Hepworth, built a studio in his London back garden in 1900. By 1902 Brighton had also become an important centre for British filmmaking with two of the key members of the so-called 'Brighton school', George Albert Smith and James Williamson, each operating a studio.
At this time, production, distribution, and exhibition practices differed markedly from those that were to emerge during the transitional period; the film industry had not yet attained the specialization and division of labour characteristic of large-scale capitalist enterprises. Initially, production, distribution, and exhibition all remained the exclusive province of the film manufacturers. The Lumière travelling cameramen used the adaptable Cinématographe to shoot, develop, and project films, while American studios such as Edison and Biograph usually supplied a projector, films, and even a projectionist to the vaudeville houses that constituted the primary exhibition sites. Even with the rapid emergence of independent travelling showmen in the United States, Britain, and Germany, film distribution remained nonexistent. Producers sold rather than rented their films; a practice which forestalled the development of permanent exhibition sites until the second decade of the cinema's history.
As opposed to the strict division of labour and assemblyline practices that characterized the Hollywood studios, production during this period was non-hierarchical and truly collaborative. One of the most important early film 'directors' was Edwin S. Porter, who had worked as a hired projectionist and then as an independent exhibitor. Porter joined the Edison Company in 1900, first as a mechanic and then as head of production. Despite his nominal position, Porter only controlled the technical aspects of filming and editing while other Edison employees with theatrical experience took charge of directing the actors and the mise-en-scène. Other American studios seem to have practised similar arrangements. At Vitagraph, James Stuart Blackton and Albert Smith traded off their duties in front of and behind the camera, one acting and the other shooting, and then reversing their roles for the next film. In similar fashion, the members of the British Brighton school both owned their production companies and functioned as cameramen. Georges Mélièlis, who also owned his own company, did everything short of actually crank the camera, writing the script, designing sets and costumes, devising trick effects, and often acting. The first true 'director', in the modern sense of being responsible for all aspects of a film's actual shooting, was probably introduced at the Biograph Company in 1903. The increased production of fiction films required that one person have a sense of the film's narrative development and of the connections between individual shots.
As the emergence of the film director illustrates, changes in the film texts often necessitated concomitant changes in the production process. But what did the earliest films actually look like? Generally speaking, until 1907, filmmakers concerned themselves with the individual shot, preserving the spatial aspects of the pro-filmic event (the scene that takes place in front of the camera). They did not create temporal relations or story causality by using cinematic interventions. They set the camera far enough from the action to show the entire length of the human body as well as the spaces above the head and below the feet. The camera was kept stationary, particularly in exterior shots, with only occasional reframings to follow the action, and interventions through such devices as editing or lighting were infrequent. This long-shot style is often referred to as a tableau shot or a proscenium arch shot, the latter appellation stemming from the supposed resemblance to the perspective an audience member would have from the front row centre of a theatre. For this reason, pre-1907 film is often accused of being more theatrical than cinematic, although the tableau style also replicates the perspective commonly seen in such other period media as postcards and stereographs, and early film-makers derived their inspiration as much from these and other visual texts as from the theatre.
Concerning themselves primarily with the individual shot, early film-makers tended not to be overly interested in connections between shots; that is, editing. They did not elaborate conventions for linking one shot to the next, for constructing a continuous linear narrative, nor for keeping the viewer oriented in time and space. However, there were some multi-shot films produced during this period, although rarely before 1902. In fact, one can break the pre-1907 years into two subsidiary periods: 18941902/3, when the majority of films consisted of one shot and were what we would today call documentaries, known then, after the French usage, as actualities; and 19037, when the multi-shot, fiction film gradually began to dominate, with simple narratives structuring the temporal and causal relations between shots.
Many films of the 1894-1907 period seem strange from a modern perspective, since early film-makers tended to be quite self-conscious in their narrative style, presenting their films to the viewer as if they were carnival barkers touting their wares, rather than disguising their presence through cinematic conventions as their successors were to do. Unlike the omniscient narrators of realist novels and the Hollywood cinema, the early cinema restricted narrative to a single point of view. For this reason, the early cinema evoked a different relationship between the spectator and the screen, with viewers more interested in the cinema as visual spectacle than as story-teller. So striking is the emphasis upon spectacle during this period that many scholars have accepted Tom Gunning's distinction between the early cinema as a 'cinema of attractions' and the transitional cinema as a 'cinema of narrative integration' ( Gunning, 1986 ). In the 'cinema of attractions', the viewer created meaning not through the interpretation of cinematic conventions but through previously held information related to the pro-filmic event: ideas of spatial coherence; the unity of an event with a recognizable beginning and end; and knowledge of the subject-matter. During the transitional period, films began to require the viewer to piece together a story predicated upon a knowledge of cinematic conventions.
The work of the two most important French producers of this period, the Lumières and Mélièlis, provides an example of the textual conventions of the one-shot film. Perhaps the most famous of the films that the Lumières showed in December 1895 is A Train Arriving at a Station (L'Arrivé d'un train en gare de la Ciotat), which runs for about fifty seconds. A stationary camera shows a train pulling into a station and the passengers disembarking, the film continuing until most of them have exited the shot. Apocryphal tales persist that the onrushing cinematic train so terrified audience members that they ducked under their seats for protection. Another of the Lumières' films, Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (Sortie d'usine), had a less terrifying effect upon its audience. An eye-level camera, set far enough back from the action to show not only the full-length figures of the workers but the high garage-like door through which they exit, observes as the door opens and disgorges the building's occupants, who disperse to either side of the frame. The film ends roughly at the point when all the workers have left. Contemporary accounts indicate that these and other Lumière films fascinated their audiences not by depicting riveting events, but through incidental details that a modern viewer may find almost unnoticeable: the gentle movement of the leaves in the background as a baby eats breakfast; the play of light on the water as a boat leaves the harbour. The first film audiences did not demand to be told stories, but found infinite fascination in the mere recording and reproduction of the movement of animate and inanimate objects.
work, which depicted events that might have taken place even in the camera's absence, this famous film stages action specifically for the moving pictures. A gardener waters a lawn, a boy steps on the hose, halting the flow of water, the gardener peers questioningly at the spigot, the boy removes his foot, and the restored stream of water douses the gardener, who chases, catches, and spanks the boy. The film is shot with a stationary camera in the standard tableau style of the period. At a key point in the action the boy, trying to escape chastisement, exits the frame and the gardener follows, leaving the screen blank for two seconds. A modern film-maker would pan the camera to follow the characters or cut to the offscreen action, but the Lumières did neither, providing an emblematic instance of the preservation of the space of the pro-filmic event taking precedence over story causality or temporality.
Unlike the Lumières, Georges Mélièlis always shot in his studio, staging action for the camera, his films showing fantastical events that could not happen in 'real life'. Although all Mélièlis's films conform to the standard period tableau style, they are also replete with magical appearances and disappearances, achieved through what cinematographers call 'stop action', that is, stopping the camera, having the actor enter or exit the shot, and then starting the camera again to create the illusion that a character has simply vanished or materialized. Mélièlis's films have played a key part in film scholars' debates over the supposed theatricality of early cinematic style. Whereas scholars had previously thought that stop action effects required no editing and hence concluded that Méliès's films were simply 'filmed theatre', examination of the actual negatives reveals that substitution effects were, in fact, produced through splicing or editing. Mélièlis also manipulated the image through the superimposition of one shot over another so that many of the films represent space in a manner more reminiscent of photographic devices developed during the nineteenth century than of the theatre. Films such as L'Homme orchestre (The One-Man Band, 1900) or Le Mélomane (The Melomaniac, 1903) showcased the cinematic multiplication of a single image (in these cases of Mélièlis himself) achieved through the layering of one shot over another.
Despite this cinematic manipulation of the pro-filmic space, Mélièlis's films remain in many ways excessively theatrical, presenting a story as if it were being performed on a stage, a characteristic they have in common with many of the fiction films of the pre-1907 period. Not only does the camera replicate the proscenium arch perspective, but the films stage their action in a shallow playing space between the painted flats and the front of the 'stage', and characters enter or exit either from the wings or through traps. Mélièlis boasted, in a 1907 article, that his studio's shooting area replicated a theatrical stage 'constructed exactly like one in a theatre and fitted with trapdoors, scenery slots, and uprights'.
For many years film theorists pointed to the Lumière and Mélièlis films as the originating moment of the distinction between documentary and fiction film-making, given that the Lumières for the most part filmed 'real' events and Mélièlis staged events. But such distinctions were not a part of contemporary discourse, since many pre-1907 films mixed what we would today call 'documentary' material, that is, events or objects existing independently of the film-maker, with 'fictional' material, that is, events or objects specifically fabricated for the camera. Take, for example, one of the rare multi-shot films of the period, The Execution of Czolgosz with Panorama of Auburn Prison ( Edison, 1901), a compilation of four self-contained individual shots dealing with the execution of the assassin of President William McKinley. The first two shots are panoramas of the exterior of the prison, the third shows an actor portraying the condemned man in his cell, and the fourth re-enacts his electrocution. Given films of this kind, it is more useful to discuss very early genres in terms of similarities of subject-matters rather than in terms of an imposed distinction between fiction and documentary.
Many turn-of-the-century films reflected the period's fascination with travel and transportation. The train film, established by the Lumières, practically became a genre of its own. Each studio released a version, sometimes shooting a moving train from a stationary camera and sometimes positioning a camera on the front of or inside the train to produce a travelling shot, since the illusion of moving through space seemed to thrill early audiences. The train genre related to the travelogue, films featuring scenes both exotic and familiar, and replicating in motion the immensely popular postcards and stereographs of the period. Public events, such as parades, world's fairs, and funerals, also provided copious material for early cameramen. Both the travelogue and the public event film consisted of self-contained, individual shots, but producers did offer combinations of these films for sale together with suggestions for their projection order, so that, for example, an exhibitor could project several discrete shots of the same event, and so give his audience a fuller and more varied picture of it. Early film-makers also replicated popular amusements, such as vaudeville acts and boxing matches, that could be relatively easily reenacted for the camera. The first Kinetoscope films in 1894 featured vaudeville performers, including contortionists, performing animals, and dancers, as well as scenes from Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Again, the shots functioned as self-contained units and were marketed as such, but exhibitors had the option of putting them together to form an evening's entertainment. By 1897 the popular filmed boxing matches could potentially run for an hour. The same was true of another of the most popular of early genres, Passion plays telling the life of Christ, which were often filmed recordings of theatrical companies' performances. A compilation of shots of the play's key events could last well over an hour. A third group of films told one-shot mini-narratives, most often of a humorous nature. Some were gag films, resembling the Lumières' Watering the Gardener, in which the comic action takes place in the pro-filmic event, as for instance in Elopement by Horseback ( Edison, 1891), where a young man seeking to elope with his sweetheart engages in a wrestling match with the girl's father. Others relied for their humour upon trick effects such as stop action, superimposition, and reverse action. The most famous are the Mélièlis films, but this form was also seen in some of the early films made by Porter for the Edison Company and by the film-makers of the English Brighton school. These films became increasingly complicated, sometimes involving more than one shot. In Williamson's film The Big Swallow ( 1901), the first shot shows a photographer about to take a picture of a passer-by. The second shot replicates the photographer's viewpoint through the camera lens, and shows the passerby's head growing bigger and bigger as he approaches the camera. The man's mouth opens and the film cuts to a shot of the photographer and his camera falling into a black void. The film ends with a shot of the passer-by walking away munching contentedly.
In this period, the multi-shot film emerged as the norm rather than the exception, with films no longer treating the individual shot as a self-contained unit of meaning but linking one shot to another. However, film-makers may have been using a succession of shots to capture and emphasize the highpoints of the action rather than construct either a linear narrative causality or clearly establish temporal-spatial relations. As befits the 'cinema of attractions', the editing was intended to enhance visual pleasure rather than to refine narrative developments.
One of the strangest editing devices used in this period was overlapping action, which resulted from film-makers' desire both to preserve the pro-filmic space and to emphasize the important action by essentially showing it twice. Georges Mélièli's A Trip to the Moon, perhaps the most famous film of 1902, covers the landing of a space capsule on the moon in two shots. In the first, taken from 'space', the capsule hits the man in the moon in the eye, and his expression changes from a grin to a grimace. In the second shot, taken from the 'moon's surface', the capsule once again lands. These two shots, which show the same event twice, can disconcert a modern viewer. This repetition of action around a cut can be seen in an American film of the same year, How They Do Things on the Bowery, directed by Edwin S. Porter for the Edison Manufacturing Company. An irate waiter ejects a customer unable to pay his bill. In an interior shot the waiter throws the man out and hurls his suitcase after him. In the following exterior shot, the customer emerges from the restaurant followed closely by his suitcase. In a 1904 Biograph film The Widow and the Only Man, overlapping action is used not to cover interior and exterior events but to show the same event a second time in closer scale. In the first shot a woman accepts her suitor's flowers and smells them appreciatively. Then, rather than a'match cut', in which the action picks up at the beginning of the second shot from where it left off at the end of the first, as would be dictated by present-day conventions, a closer shot shows her repeating precisely the same action.
While overlapping action was a common means of linking shots, film-makers during this period also experimented with other methods of establishing spatial and temporal relations. One sees an instance of this in Trip to the Moon: having landed on the moon, the intrepid French explorers encounter unfriendly extraterrestrials (who remarkably resemble those 'hostile natives' the French were encountering in their colonies at this very time!). The explorers flee to their spaceship and hurry back to the safety of Earth, their descent covered in four shots and twenty seconds of film time. In the first shot, the capsule leaves the moon, exiting at the bottom of the frame. In the second shot, the capsule moves from the top of the frame to the bottom of the frame. In the third the capsule moves from the top of the frame to the water, and in the fourth the capsule moves from the water's surface to the sea-bed. This sequence is filmed much as it might be today, with the movement of the spaceship following the convention of directional continuity, that is, an object or a character should appear to continue moving in the same direction from shot to shot, the consistent movement serving to establish the spatial and temporal relationships between individual shots. But while a modern film-maker would cut directly from shot to shot, Mélièlis dissolved from shot to shot, a transitional device that now implies a temporal ellipsis. In this regard, then, the sequence can still be confusing for a modern viewer.
Linking shots through dissolves was not in fact unusual in this period, and one can see another example in Alice in Wonderland ( Hepworth, 1903). However, another English film-maker, James Williamson, a member of the Brighton school, made two films in 1901, Stop Thief! and Fire!, in which direct cuts continue the action from shot to shot. Stop Thief! shows a crowd chasing a tramp who has stolen a joint from a butcher, motivating connections by the diagonal movement of characters through each of the individual shots; the thief and then his pursuers entering the frame at the back and exiting the frame past the camera. The fact that the camera remains with the scene until the last character has exited reveals how character movement motivates the editing. Film-makers found this editing device so effective that an entire genre of chase films arose, such as Personal ( Biograph, 1904), in which would-be brides pursue a wealthy Frenchman. Many films also incorporated a chase into their narratives, as did the famous 'first' Western The Great Train Robbery ( Edison, 1903), in which the posse pursues the bandits for several shots in the fllm's second half.
In Fire!, Williamson uses a similar editing strategy to that employed in Stop Thief!, the movement of a policeman between shots 1 and 2 and the movement of fire engines between shots 2 and 3 establishing spatial-temporal relations. But in the film's fourth and fifth shots, where other film-makers might have used overlapping action, Williamson experiments with a cut on movement that bears a strong resemblance to what is now called a match cut. Shot 4, an interior, shows a fireman coming through the window of a room in a burning house and rescuing the inhabitant. Shot 5 is an exterior of the burning house and begins as the fireman and the rescued victim emerge through the window. Although the continuity is 'imperfect' from a modern perspective, the innovation is considerable. In his 1902 film Life of An American Fireman, undoubtedly influenced by Fire!, Porter still employed overlapping action, showing a similar rescue in its entirety first from the interior and then from the exterior perspective. A year later, however, Williamson's compatriot G. A. Smith also created an 'imperfect' match cut, The Sick Kitten ( 1903), cutting from a long view of two children giving a kitten medicine to a closer view of the kitten licking the spoon.
During this period, film-makers also experimented with cinematically fracturing the space of the pro-filmic event, primarily to enhance the viewers' visual pleasure through a closer shot of the action rather than to emphasize details necessary for narrative comprehension. The Great Train Robbery includes a medium shot of the outlaw leader, Barnes, firing his revolver directly at the camera, which in modern prints usually concludes the film. The Edison catalogue, however, informed exhibitors that the shot could come at the beginning or the end of the film. Narratively non-specific shots of this nature became quite common, as in the British film Raid on a Coiner's Den ( Alfred Collins , 1904), which begins with a close-up insert of three hands coming into the frame from different directions, one holding a pistol, another a pair of handcuffs, and a third forming a clenched fist. In Porter's own oneshot film Photographing a Female Crook, a moving camera produces the closer view as it dollies into a woman contorting her face to prevent the police from taking an accurate mug shot.
Even shots that approximate the point of view of a character within the fiction, and which are now associated with the externalization of thoughts and emotions, were then there more to provide visual pleasure than narrative information. In yet another example of the innovative film-making of the Brighton school, Grandma's Reading Glasses ( G. A. Smith, Warwick Trading Company, 1900), a little boy looks through his grandmother's spectacles at a variety of objects, a watch, a canary, and a kitten, which the film shows in inserted close-ups. In The Gay Shoe Clerk ( Edison/ Porter, 1903) a shoeshop assistant flirts with his female customer. A cut-in approximates his view of her ankle as she raises her skirt in tantalizing fashion. This close-up insert is an example not only of the visual pleasure afforded by the 'cinema of attractions' but of the early cinema's voyeuristic treatment of the female body. Despite the fact that their primary purpose is not to emphasize narrative developments, these shots' attribution to a character in the film distinguishes them from the totally unmotivated closer views in The Great Train Robbery and Raid on a Coiner's Den.
The editing strategies of the pre- 1907 'cinema of attractions'were primarily designed to enhance visual pleasure rather than to tell a coherent, linear narrative. But many of these films did tell simple stories and audiences undoubtedly derived narrative, as well as visual, pleasure. Despite the absence of internal strategies to construct spatial-temporal relations and linear narratives, the original audiences made sense of these films, even though modern viewers can find them all but incoherent. This is because the films of the 'cinema of attractions' relied heavily on their audiences' knowledge of other texts, from which the films were directly derived or indirectly related. Early film-makers did learn how to make meaning in a new medium, but were not working in a vacuum. The cinema had deep roots in the rich popular culture of the age, drawing heavily during its infant years upon the narrative and visual conventions of other forms of popular entertainment. The pre-1907 cinema has been accused of being 'non-cinematic' and overly theatrical, and indeed film-makers like Mélièlis were heavily influenced by nondramatic theatrical practices, but for the most part lengthy theatrical dramas provided an inappropriate model for a medium that began with films of less than a minute, and only became an important source of inspiration as films grew longer during the transitional period. As the first Edison Kinetoscope films illustrate, vaudeville, with its variety format of unrelated acts and lack of concern for developed stories, constituted a very important source material and the earliest film-makers relied upon media such as the melodrama and pantomime (emphasizing visual effects rather than dialogue), magic lanterns, comics, political cartoons, newspapers, and illustrated song slides.
Magic lanterns, early versions of slide projectors often lit by kerosene lamps, proved a particularly important influence upon films, for magic lantern practices permitted the projection of 'moving pictures', which set precedents for the cinematic representation of time and space. Magic lanterns employed by travelling exhibitors often had elaborate lever and pulley mechanisms to produce movement within specially manufactured slides. Long slides pulled slowly through the slide holder produced the equivalent of a cinematic pan. Two slide holders mounted on the same lantern permitted the operator to produce a dissolve by switching rapidly between slides. The use of two slides also permitted 'editing', as operators could cut from long shots to close-ups, exteriors to interiors, and from characters to what they were seeing. Grandma's Reading Glasses, in fact, derives from a magic lantern show. Magic lantern lectures given by travelling exhibitors such as the Americans Burton Holmes and John Stoddard provided precedents for the train and travelogue films, the lantern illustrations often intercutting exterior views of the train, interior views of the traveller in the train, and views of scenery and of interesting incidents.
In addition to mimicking the visual conventions of other media, film-makers derived many of their films from stories already well known to the audience. Edison advertised its Night before Christmas ( Porter, 1905) by saying the film 'closely follows the time-honored Christmas legend by Clement Clarke Moore'. Both Biograph and Edison made films of the hit song 'Everybody Works but Father'. Vitagraph based its Happy Hooligan series on a cartoon tramp character whose popular comic strip ran in several New York newspaper Sunday supplements. Many early films presented synoptic versions of fairly complex narratives, their producers presumably depending upon their audiences'pre-existing knowledge of the subject-matter rather than upon cinematic conventions for the requisite narrative coherence. L'Épopée napoléonienne ('The Epic of Napoleon', 1903-4 Pathé) presents Napoleon's life through a series of tableaux, drawing upon well-known historical incidents (the coronation, the burning of Moscow) and anecdotes ( Napoleon standing guard for the sleeping sentry) but with no attempt at causal linear connection or narrative development among its fifteen shots. In similar fashion, multi-shot films such as Ten Nights in a Barroom ( Biograph, 1903) and Uncle Tom's Cabin (Vitagraph, 1903) presented only the highlights of these familiar and oftperformed melodramas, with shot connections provided not by editing strategies but by the audiences' knowledge of intervening events. The latter film, however, appears to be one of the earliest to have intertitles. These title cards, summarizing the action of the shot which followed, appeared at the same time as the multi-shot film, around 1903-4, and seem to indicate a recognition on the part of the producers of the necessity for internally rather than externally derived narrative coherence.
Cinema initially existed not as a popular commercial medium but as a scientific and educational novelty. The cinematic apparatus itself and its mere ability to reproduce movement constituted the attraction, rather than any particular film. In many countries, moving picture machines were first seen at world's fairs and scientific expositions: the Edison Company had planned to début its Kinetoscope at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair although it failed to assemble the machines in time, and moving picture machines were featured in several areas of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris.
Fairly rapidly, cinema exhibition was integrated into pre-existing venues of 'popular culture' and 'refined culture', although the establishment of venues specifically for the exhibition of films did not come until 1905 in the United States and a little later elsewhere. In the United States, films were shown in the popular vaudeville houses, which by the turn of the century catered to a reasonably well-to-do audience willing to pay 25 cents for an afternoon or evening's entertainment. Travelling showmen, who lectured on educational topics, toured with their own projectors and showed films in local churches and operahouses, charging audiences in large metropolitan areas the same $2 that it cost to see a Broadway show. Cheaper and more popular venues included tent shows, set up at fairs and carnivals, and temporarily rented store-fronts, the forerunners of the famous nickelodeons. Early film audiences in the United States, therefore, tended to be quite heterogeneous, and dominated by no one class.
Early exhibition in Britain, as in most European countries, followed a similar pattern to the United States, with primary exhibition venues being fairgrounds, music halls, and disused shops. Travelling showmen played a crucial role in establishing the popularity of the new medium, making films an important attraction at fairgrounds. Given that fairs and music halls attracted primarily working-class patrons, early film audiences in Britain, as well as on the Continent, had a more homogeneous class base than in the United States.
Wherever films were shown, and whoever saw them, the exhibitor during this period often had as much control over the films' meanings as did the producers themselves. Until the advent of multi-shot films and intertitles, around 1903-4, the producers supplied the individual units but the exhibitor put together the programme, and single-shot films permitted decision-making about the projection order and the inclusion of other material such as lantern slide images and title cards. Some machines facilitated this process by combining moving picture projection with a stereopticon, or lantern slide projector, allowing the exhibitor to make a smooth transition between film and slides. In New York City, the Eden Musée put together a special show on the Spanish-American War, using lantern slides and twenty or more films from different producers. While still primarily an exhibitor, Cecil Hepworth suggested interspersing lantern slides with films and 'stringing the pictures together into little sets or episodes' with commentary linking the material together. When improvements in the projector permitted showing films that lasted more than fifty seconds, exhibitors began splicing twelve or more films together to form programmes on particular subjects. Not only could exhibitors manipulate the visual aspects of their programmes, they also added sound of various kinds, for, contrary to popular opinion, the silent cinema was never silent. At the very least, music, from the full orchestra to solo piano, accompanied all films shown in the vaudeville houses. Travelling exhibitors lectured over the films and lantern slides they projected, the spoken word capable of imposing a very different meaning on the image from the one that the producer may have intended. Many exhibitors even added sound effects -- horses' hooves, revolver shots, and so forth-and spoken dialogue delivered by actors standing behind the screen.
By the end of its first decade of existence, the cinema had established itself as an interesting novelty, one distraction among many in the increasingly frenetic pace of twentieth-century life. Yet the fledgeling medium was still very much dependent upon pre-existing media for its formal conventions and story-telling devices, upon somewhat outmoded individually-driven production methods, and upon pre-existing exhibition venues such as vaudeville and fairs. In its next decade, however, the cinema took major steps toward becoming the mass medium of the twentieth century, complete with its own formal conventions, industry structure, and exhibition venues.
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En: The Oxford History of World Cinema EDITED BY GEOFFREY NOWELL-SMITH