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Moving Pictures: The History of Early Cinema
(Released July 2011)

  by Brian Manley  


Key Citations




Resources News Articles
Historical Newspapers

News Articles

  1. Time travel with Pathé Baby: The small-gauge film collection as historical archive

    Schneider, Alexandra, Film History, 10-01-2007

    In May 1927, when Eastman Kodak announced the sale of16mmreduction prints of theatrical and nontheatrical films, the New York Times wrote: 'The "cinegraph" will permit individuals to start Itheir own libraries of short pictures, much as phonograph owners collect records'. Kodak Cinegraphs were sold outright as 400-foot reels, each movie cut to fit this sixteen-minute running time. The brand distinguished itself from Kodascope Libraries, Inc., the rental service set up two years earlier. Kodak thus had its sights set on film collectors as potential customers. Yet, if one were to judge from recent academic publications, it should have taken another fifty years until home video made the movie collector a culturally relevant figure. According to Barbara Klinger, for example, only with the arrival of the VHS and DVD did a 'dramatic democratization' of movie collecting take place. In practice, however, private film collections were not only possible but prevalent, even before Kodak's entry into the market, as Ben Singer and Moya Luckett, pioneers of the subject, have written. The company, in fact, entered the home movie market only when there were no more doubts that good money could be made selling small-gauge films to people who used them outside of the movie theater.

    But the small-gauge nontheatrical film is not only a factor in the history of private film collection. If we take small-gauge prints into account, other historical developments in the consumption of audiovisual material do not appear quite as 'new' or 'revolutionary' as some studies assert. In fact, the history of home viewing began not with television but with the film reels of the 1920s and 30s. Nontheatrical screenings contributed significantly to movie culture throughout most of the twentieth century. Yet small-gauge film and home cinema are only now finding a place in film and media history. They have been consigned to marginalia and footnotes or, at best, n exotic fringe issues taken up only by a few specialists.

    I would like to address the matter of the private collection of purchased and homemade films, little considered even in studies of the home movie. Taking my previous research on home movies in the 1930s as a point of departure, my interest is in the private film collection's status as an archive and a source for film historiography. Private collections typically contain prints of theatrical films reduced to small-gauge formats, as well as unique homemade footage...

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

  2. The coming of the cinema

    Bottomore, Stephen, History Today, 03-01-1996

    One hundred years ago much of the world had its first opportunity to see moving pictures. The cinema was an immediate success, and during its rapid development over the next few years was constantly the object of public debate. The coming of any new technology generates comment and often apprehension, but there were certain aspects of the cinema which made it of especial interest. Firstly, moving pictures were a highly realistic mirror of the world, which people found intriguing and disturbing. Secondly, cinema had the potential to be an art form as well as a technological development, the first new art form that had arisen in historical memory. Finally, it was cheap and popular, appealing to the masses, and, therefore, a likely target for regulation.

    The earliest films were not projected on a screen, but were shown in peep-show machines called Kinetoscopes, developed by W.K-L. Dickson and Thomas Edison, and marketed from 1894. These were followed three years later by similar peep-show devices called Mutoscopes. The latter were to become known as 'What the Butler Saw' machines, based on the risque scenes which they often contained, which soon led to controversy. In 1899 in England, a Member of Parliament wrote to The Times about Mutoscopes. There were, he reported: 'nude female figures represented and ... as the pictures are all moving, it makes them the more dangerous in their influence'.

    Two years later another MP, Mr Caine, raised the matter in Parliament and listed some of the titles of these 'filthy' mutoscope scenes, including Five girls in one bed, Lady undressing, After the bath and Why Marie put out the Eight. The latter 'represented a young woman in a bedroom fully dressed. She removed one article of dress after another to the last garment, and the picture vanished as she prepares to remove that'...

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

  3. 1914-1918, the first media war of the twentieth century: The example of French newsreels

    Véray, Laurent, Film History, 12-01-2010

    War newsreels distributed in France from 1914 to 1918 comprise a body of work which has long been ignored by traditional film historians. In order to draw attention to this material, this article, summarising many years of the author's work on the subject, places these films in their context of production and analyses them in detail, showing that they are valuable sources both for documenting the socio-cultural history of the time and for the history of the cinematograph.

    In France, when war broke out in August 1914, the newsreels already occupied a substantial place in cinemas. They interested the elite as well as the more popular audience.1 In fact, photography of war, which is what we are dealing with here, was already well established by this time, having been born during the Crimean War (1854-1855) and then developed during the American Civil War (1861-1865). The first cinematic news reports, photographed or filmed for the press, began during the Boer War (1899-1902) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), and increased during the Balkan conflicts (1912-1913).2 But it was during the First World War - a critical moment in the tragic modernity of the twentieth century - that images of war proliferated to an unprecedented extent in all Western countries. Their production and distribution, in fact, became a mass phenomenon, as people were eager to see the events, to see what happened at the front...

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

Historical Newspapers
  1. EDISON'S VITASCOPE CHEERED.; " Projecting Kinetescope" Exhibited for First Time at Koster & Bial's.

    New York Times, Apr 24, 1896.

    Abstract (Summary) The new thing at Koster & Bial's last night was Edison's vitascope, exhibited for the first time. The ingenious invertor's latest toy is a projection of his kinetoscope figures, in stereopticon fashion, upon a white screen in a darkened hall. In the centre of the balcony of the big music hall is a curious object, which looks from below like the double turret of a big monitor.

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  2. RIGHTS TO MOVING PICTURES.; Injunctions Applied for by an Alleged Original Inventor.

    The Washington Post, Oct 19, 1897.

    Abstract (Summary) T. Cushing Daniel, trustee for Christopher Armat, John H, Armat, and Selden B. Armat instituted a suit in equity yesterday against H. S. Griffith and the American Mutoscope Company, owners of the Biograph, seeking to restrain the defendants from manufacturing or using certain patented improvements in an apparatus called the phantoscope, which is alleged to be an infringement upon the rights of the plaintiffs, inasmuch as it is claimed that the device made use of by the Mutoscope Company embodies principles invented and patented by Charles Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat.

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  3. TRAINS TAKEN BY CAMERA; MOTION PICTURES MADE OF ILLINOIS CENTRAL'S SERVICE. Snap Shots at the Rate of Forty a Second Made at the Flying Cars and Engines on the Eight Tracks Along the Lake Front from Forty—third to Fiftieth Street—Description of the Work of the Lens' and Strip of Film. How the Pictures Were Taken. Scene of Great Activity.

    Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan 9, 1899.

    Abstract (Summary) People in cities all over America who witness exhibitions of the biograph or peep into the nickel-in-the-slot mutoscope machines will be able soon to get a glimpse of the Chicago lake front suburban train service of the Illinois Central road,...

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

Taken from ProQuest's Historical Newspapers.


  1. Modern realism: Early silent cinema and the perception of reality

    by Verrone, William E. B., Ph.D., Temple University, 2006 , 191 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    The dissertation examines the cultural, historical, and social climate of the United States from 1900-1917, and articulates a better, more enhanced understanding of the shifting relations among film, aesthetic realism, and modernity. I center my analysis on how and why cinematic representations of actuality altered or improved levels of individual subjective perceptions and consciousness. The methodological approach is based on principles of aesthetic realism. Realism becomes the dominant mode for film production, and spectatorship and the social problem film genre become important places to study individual and collective perception. I also suggest that ideology and aesthetic naturalism inform cinematic narrative construction for the social problem film genre. Additionally, the impact of modernity and techno-realism from this time frame highlights subjectivity and fragmentation, creating in turn new ways of perceiving reality. Cinema, as an example of modern realism, portrays society in new, dynamic ways, and touches upon realism's claims of authenticity and veracity, as well as modernism's foregrounding of subjectivity. To exemplify my argument, I focus on style and narrative in Edwin S. Porter's Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery , both 1903, theme and genre-specific codes of the social problem film in D.W. Griffith's A Corner in Wheat (1909), and characterization and the "modern" individual in Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant (1917). I raise questions about our received models of modernity by linking realist aesthetics to modernism, and develop a new, dynamic, and analytical approach that helps elucidate and broaden our understanding of early twentieth century American culture.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  2. Moving pictures before motion pictures: The pictorial tradition and American media aesthetics, 1890--1920

    by Askari, Kaveh, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2005 , 203 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    This dissertation investigates the aesthetic problem of pictured movement in silent cinema's cross-media history, that is, the challenge recorded movement poses to nineteenth-century theories of movement in painting and sculpture. Examining the suggestion of movement in static photographs and the suggestion of stasis in motion pictures, I trace transformations in the aesthetics of movement from 1890s instantaneous photography, through early cinema, into the period of the silent feature. My analysis of moving pictures before motion pictures begins with the reconstruction of the magic lantern performances of Alexander Black and ends with a discussion of the legacy of pictorialism in early American feature films and film theory. I argue that Alexander Black's 1890s touring "picture plays," in which he projected successively photographed tableaux of professional actors and artists' models, offer a vantage point from which to view cinema's relation to other pictorial media. Black's representation of movement poses a set of challenges to cinema's flickering, mechanical illusion of movement. Furthermore, in the picture play's reception, Black's own writings, and his interaction with prominent figures in American media culture such as Eadweard Muybridge, Thomas Eakins, Thomas Edison, Joseph Pulitzer, and William Dean Howells, there is a rich discourse about how photographs and films should depict bodies in motion. I read this discourse as a type of film theory a decade before the first explicit theories of film were written. Moving from the rediscovery of Black's work in the 1910s to the first theories of the feature film written by Victor Freeburg, Vachel Lindsay, Frances Patterson, and Hugo Münsterberg, I argue that neoclassicist aesthetics based in pictorial contemplation became a foundation for the feature film's own aesthetic identity. At opposite ends of a period of radical transformation, the early feature film and Black's "slow movies" engage a parallel set of concerns and mark the boundaries of a coherent pictorially based aesthetic tradition in American silent film history.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  3. A space and time machine: actuality cinema in New York City, 1890s to c.1905

    by Walsh, J., Ph.D., The University of Nottingham (United Kingdom), 2005

    Abstract (Summary)
    Urban actuality films are short, single shot views of street scenes, skyscrapers or construction sites, or views from moving vehicles. They are, typically, regarded as simple filmic snap-shots. Conversely, early cinema is conventionally thought to be a complex hybrid medium, a crucible for the idea and representation of the modern. Through close, contextualised analysis of a series of New York films, this study addresses the discrepancy between the putative insubstantiality of actuality films and the evident complexity of early cinema. A hitherto overlooked historical coincidence of actuality cinema, the modernisation of New York and its intermedial culture is shown to provide both a subject and setting for filmmakers. Actuality cinema is a technology of the present; accordingly, temporality is pivotal for this study. Tom Gunning's 'cinema of attractions' thesis and a neurological conception of modernity posit a familiar shocks-and-jolts axis of the relations between cinema and modernity. In contrast, I argue for an alternative axis, founded in periods, rather than moments, of time and seek to demonstrate cinema's role as a technology of an expanded present time. Fifteen films of transport systems, skyscraper building sites and ways of seeing New York's streets, make up the primary source material. In these films, time provides a space for the representation and negotiation of the modern. An expanded present fosters a thickened visuality. Within New York's intermedial culture, the adoption of stereoscopic visual practices was key to constructing a coherent filmic present, and a place for the spectator within a cinematic world. As a functioning space and time machine, a cinema of simultaneity, the complexity of actuality filmmaking practices increasingly moved actualities towards, and enabled their interrelation with, an emerging narrative cinema. Rather than a failed experiment, New York actuality cinema is here demonstrated to be an example of cinema working.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database