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An Analysis of Early Cinema

In: Film and Music

Submitted By CynthiaT
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An Analysis of Early Cinema Movies play a very important role in our daily life. From the invention of first motion-picture camera in 1891 to the development of the concept of continuity editing, there were many films made. I have watched 15 of these early films and got to know some filmmakers at that time, found out their distributions and photography techniques. These films can be divided chronologically, the earliest films in the period from 1891 to 1895, like Edison Kinetoscope Record of a Sneeze; films in the late 1900s, such as Wash Day in Mexico, and developed films at the beginning of 20th century, like Life Rescue at Long Branch. This study will focus on the characteristics of patterns, contrast of different films and the evolution of early cinema. It can be said that Thomas Alva Edison invented the kinetoscope involuntarily. He meant to provide a visual accompaniment for his phonograph, however, with the improvement done by Dickson, the viewing machine, or kinetoscope, emerged. Edison attempted to design a machine that can make images and sounds synchronized and recorded simultaneously. But, synchronization proved impossible and kinetoscope films seldom have sound. As the first motion-picture camera, the kinetoscope represents the big progress in the field of cinema, and it obviously has many advances. First, it used perforated film to accomplish the synchronization of camera and projector. Second, the frames were held intermittently. Because of the rapid transit through the camera, the unexposed film strips needs to be stopped before the lens for a second when the shutter opens to let the light from the photographed object come in and expose the frames. Third, the kinetoscope made a standardized film gauge, thus 1.5 inches equals 35mm. On the other hand, with the limitation of technology, the kinetoscope also has some drawbacks. For example, it was non-portable, big, heavy, and electric powered. It was studio-bound, because the film needed to be made in Black Maria, which is covered with protective tar-paper strips to avoid the light. Another one is the short film length; even the longest film at that time was 90 seconds. For instance, the first film made by kinetoscope in 1891, Dickson Greeting, lasts just for 3seconds. In this film, the static camera was located in front of the main character, and as it was projected in Black Maria, the whole background was black, just the main character could be seen because of the light source from one direction. As a consequence, the whole screen seems plain. (Dickson Greeting, 1891) Although Edison is the pioneer for early cinema, the most important device was perfected by Auguste and Louis Lumiere. They improved the camera made before, and obviously, there are some similarities and differences between Lumieres and Edison. Compared with the kinetoscope, the camera invented by Lumiere, dubbed cinematographe, is not only portable, also versatile. Furthermore, it can be taken out of doors and make location shooting. In this way, the films became brighter and more interesting, like natural film. In addition, it also standardized the film speed as 16 frames per second. However, some drawbacks still existed. For instance, the camera was static as before, and theater influences didn’t be removed, either. The other one is that the length of movie was still limited. For example, comparing Arrival of a Train at a Station made by Lumiere in 1895 with Dickson Experimental Sound Film made by Edison-Dickson in the same year, we can find that the former is projected outside and the other one is made in Black Maria. In Lumiere’s film, the foreground, middle ground and background can be separated and the screen seems more stereoscopic. In addition, the camera was not just located frontally, so the train in the film seems moved in a diagonal line from far and near. Nevertheless, the camera was still static, which leads to the train’s moving out of frame finally. (Arrival of the Train in a Station, 1895) At the beginning, people created the prototype of camera, but didn’t focus on the research of viewing machine until Edison invented kinetoscope. Since that time, cinema developed at a high speed. At first, early films made in 1891 were all in black except for the main character, because it got light source from just one direction, and couldn’t be taken outside. At this time, the camera was static, so the range of subjects’ movement was limited, or they would be out of frame. For example, in the film Boxing Cats, there had to be someone controls the cats in case they jumped out of frame. (Edison Kinetoscope Record of a Sneeze, 1894) (Boxing Cats, 1894) Nonetheless, in White Wings on Review, in order to make the camera project the whole procession, photographer moved the camera slightly to the right. It might be the first time that the camera was moved in Edison’s film. (White Wings on Review, 1903) With the invention of cinematographe in 1895, films could be projected outside, and became more natural with brighter screen. In these films, actors could move in bigger range. However, films at that time told single, linear, episodic story and the camera could just record what people can see at daily life. For instance, in Wash Day in Mexico, the screen was brighter and the camera captured the washers with diagonal line. However, there still showed static shot and sometimes the overseer in the left side was out of frame. (Wash Day in Mexico, 1898) Developing continuously, during the 1890s, near the end of the decade, with the invention of special effects, like photographic double exposures and superimposition, trick film emerged. In addition, at that time, fake background, which turned films to be more fantastic, was also created. Thanks to these dramatic innovations, people could watch the scenes that they might have never seen before. As a result of utilizing of moving camera, cross-cut, fade-out, fade-in and other photography, films turned to be more vivid, and narrative film also developed and multiple storyline began to take place in most films. Taking An Artist’s Dream for example, at the 25th second, the artist wanted to hug the woman, however, the woman disappeared suddenly, where the filmmaker used cross-cut. (An Artist’s Dream, 1900)
In the whole period of development of early cinema, film styles changed much. At the beginning of the 1900s, just the main characters could be watched and the whole background was black. In the mid-19th century, based on the improvement of camera, the film could be projected outside and the film style became brighter and more natural. Although the angle was no longer frontal, the camera was still static, which still prevented the movement of subjects. Till the late 1900s, with the arising of different photography, films became longer and more attractive. At the beginning of 20th century, the moving camera was used, and some advanced photography like double exposure and superimposition were also applied. Since these progresses, films became fantastic.…...

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