Discovery Guides Areas


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

podcast link 
  by Brian Manley  


Key Citations






Magic Lantern
Magic Lantern, 1818, Musée des Arts et Métiers

The history of film cannot be credited to one individual as an oversimplification of any history often tries to do. Each inventor added to the progress of other inventors, culminating in progress for the entire art and industry. Often masked in mystery and fable, the beginnings of film and the silent era of motion pictures are usually marked by a stigma of crudeness and naiveté, both on the audience's and filmmakers' parts. However, with the landmark depiction of a train hurtling toward and past the camera, the Lumière Brothers’ 1895 picture “La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon” (“Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”), was only one of a series of simultaneous artistic and technological breakthroughs that began to culminate at the end of the nineteenth century. These triumphs that began with the creation of a machine that captured moving images led to one of the most celebrated and distinctive art forms at the start of the 20th century. Audiences had already reveled in motion pictures through clever uses of slides and mechanisms creating "moving photographs" with such 16th-century inventions as magic lanterns. These basic concepts, combined with trial and error and the desire of audiences across the world to see entertainment projected onto a large screen in front of them, birthed the movies. From the “actualities” of penny arcades, the idea of telling a story in order to draw larger crowds through the use of differing scenes began to formulate in the minds of early pioneers such as Georges Melies and Edwin S. Porter. This Discovery Guide explores the early history of cinema, following its foundations as a money-making novelty to its use as a new type of storytelling and visual art, and the rise of the film industry.   

Go To Prehistory of Film

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