The 1888-1894 period became an explosive race to create and, most importantly to some, to capture the patents for motion picture cameras and viewers. With the industrial revolution touching everyone's life, entrepreneurs and inventors worked on machinery for motion photography. As inventions increased and developments were made, inventors fought to ensure their ideas and labour were not copied without compensation. While various versions of projectors and cameras were patented quickly, it was the American Thomas Edison (1847-1931) who attempted to patent the basic mechanism of movie camera, leading to years of legal struggles that often forced his competitors out of business.
As soon as the motion picture camera and early versions of the projector were invented and patented in 1891, the film industry exploded with new ideas and leapt forward. Edison worked fast to stay ahead of his competitors, and in April 1894, the first Kinetoscope Parlour was opened in Broadway, corner 27th St in New York. The Kinetoscope was arranged in two rows of five with a brass rail around for customers to lean on.
A Kinetoscope Parlour in New York, c1896.
These first commercial motion picture house became an immediate sensation. Patrons paid a small amount to view show snippets in the parlours that ranged from music hall sequences and comic sketches, to historical reconstructions.
It was France that earned the credit of showing the first large-screen projected films, led by brothers Auguste (1862-1954) and Louis Lumière (1864–1948). The Lumières held their first private screening of projected moving images in 1895 at Paris' Salon Indien du Grand Café. This history-making presentation featured 10 short films, including their first film “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”. Each film that went through the projector was 17 metres long and ran for 50 seconds. The Lumière Brothers’ landmark depiction of a train hurtling toward and past the camera in 1895 was very significant. Their films were an important part of a series of simultaneous artistic and technological breakthroughs that flourished at the end of the 19th century.
In May 1895, the first moving picture ever to be shown on a screen to a paying audience was shown in New York, in the shop-front of 135 Broadway. The movie was a four-minute film of a boxing match between the American Battling Charles Barnett and a heroic Australian boxer from Sydney called Young Griffo, filmed on the roof of Madison Square Garden by Woodville Latham. American film makers quickly realised that comedy, action, sports and provocative images would sell tickets. They clearly understood that film parlours, or peep shows, were never expected to be the last word in high class entertainment.
poster for a Paris cinema, 1896
As the powers of the industry shifted, the content and direction of films continued to evolve. The newcomer who created one of the biggest excitements in the earliest wave of movies was the French magician Georges Méliès (1861-1938), who was influenced by the early work of Edison’s director William Dickson and the films of the Lumières. Méliès loved the 1895 Edison film The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, directed by Alfred Clark, who had taken over Dickson’s role at Edison’s Co.
Despite his innovations, Méliès still approached filmmaking as a play, so his films remained thoroughly theatrical and stage-based. Most films leading up to 1900 reflected the turn-of-the-century fascination with transportation and travel, spawning countless train films.
The collection of London's Cinema Museum, which opened in 1986, grew far beyond its origins as an enthusiast’s treasure trove in Aberdeen. The Cinema Museum houses a collection of artefacts, memorabilia and equipment that preserves the history and grandeur of cinema from the 1890s on.
Since its opening in 1988, Museum of the Moving Image has been recognised as a major, internationally renowned institution and the only museum in the USA dedicated to exploring the art, history and technology of the moving image. The Museum occupies one of the thirteen New York buildings that comprised the former Astoria Studio complex. As Paramount made this their East Coast production facility in 1920, the studio was the site of hundreds of silent and early sound era film productions.
Tuscany Arts recommends the newish Museum of Media Communication in Arezzo which sounds particularly interesting for people interested in the early history of cinema. Visitors can see the first experiments of pre-cinema (optical lenses, mirrors, magic lanterns), early cinematic creations, and projects creating sound and colour.