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Page 1




It is arbitrary to say where the development of the moving pictures
began and it is impossible to foresee where it will lead. What invention
marked the beginning? Was it the first device to introduce movement into
the pictures on a screen? Or did the development begin with the first
photographing of various phases of moving objects? Or did it start with
the first presentation of successive pictures at such a speed that the
impression of movement resulted? Or was the birthday of the new art when
the experimenters for the first time succeeded in projecting such
rapidly passing pictures on a wall? If we think of the moving pictures
as a source of entertainment and esthetic enjoyment, we may see the germ
in that camera obscura which allowed one glass slide to pass before
another and thus showed the railway train on one slide moving over the
bridge on the other glass plate. They were popular half a century ago.
On the other hand if the essential feature of the moving pictures is the
combination of various views into one connected impression, we must look
back to the days of the phenakistoscope which had scientific interest
only; it is more than eighty years since it was invented. In America,
which in most recent times has become the classical land of the moving
picture production, the history may be said to begin with the days of
the Chicago Exposition, 1893, when Edison exhibited his kinetoscope. The
visitor dropped his nickel into a slot, the little motor started, and
for half a minute he saw through the magnifying glass a girl dancing or
some street boys fighting. Less than a quarter of a century later twenty
thousand theaters for moving pictures are open daily in the United
States and the millions get for their nickel long hours of enjoyment. In
Edison's small box into which only one at a time could peep through the
hole, nothing but a few trite scenes were exhibited. In those twenty
thousand theaters which grew from it all human passions and emotions
find their stage, and whatever history reports or science demonstrates
or imagination invents comes to life on the screen of the picture

Yet this development from Edison's half-minute show to the "Birth of a
Nation" did not proceed on American soil. That slot box, after all, had
little chance for popular success. The decisive step was taken when
pictures of the Edison type were for the first time thrown on a screen
and thus made visible to a large audience. That step was taken 1895 in
London. The moving picture theater certainly began in England. But there
was one source of the stream springing up in America, which long
preceded Edison: the photographic efforts of the Englishman Muybridge,
who made his experiments in California as early as 1872. His aim was to
have photographs of various phases of a continuous movement, for
instance of the different positions which a trotting horse is passing
through. His purpose was the analysis of the movement into its component
parts, not the synthesis of a moving picture from such parts. Yet it is
evident that this too was a necessary step which made the later
triumphs possible.

If we combine the scientific and the artistic efforts of the new and the
old world, we may tell the history of the moving pictures by the
following dates and achievements. In the year 1825 a Doctor Roget
described in the "Philosophical Transactions" an interesting optical
illusion of movement, resulting, for instance, when a wheel is moving
along behind a fence of upright bars. The discussion was carried much
further when it was taken up a few years later by a master of the craft,
by Faraday. In the _Journal of the Royal Institute of Great Britain_ he
writes in 1831 "on a peculiar class of optical deceptions." He describes
there a large number of subtle experiments in which cogwheels of
different forms and sizes were revolving with different degrees of
rapidity and in different directions. The eye saw the cogs of the moving
rear wheel through the passing cogs of the front wheel. The result is
the appearance of movement effects which do not correspond to an
objective motion. The impression of backward movement can arise from
forward motions, quick movement from slow, complete rest from
combinations of movements. For the first time the impression of movement
was synthetically produced from different elements. For those who fancy
that the "new psychology" with its experimental analysis of
psychological experiences began only in the second half of the
nineteenth century or perhaps even with the foundation of the
psychological laboratories, it might be enlightening to study those
discussions of the early thirties.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Wed 26th Jan 2022, 19:28