Review: Birth of the Motion Picture

Discoveries: Birth of the Motion Picture - Emmanuelle Toulet

This is a tiny book, the kind you'd find nearly hidden between others at the bookstore, or perhaps at a museum shop. But that size is deceptive. From the many texts I've read on cinema history (hello, former grad student here!) this one has some of the most interesting photographs and information. Which is why it's particularly sad that it's so small - many of the images deserve to be seen in a larger size. Note that I didn't say it contained the best writing - there's a lot of awkward phrasing in the text, but the images almost make up for it. The book is also impressive (for its size) as a resource - in the back is a 30 page section called documents which contains interviews, quotes from newspapers and letters, etc. All you could wish is for the bibliography to be longer, and perhaps more information given on hunting down all these images (there are sources given, but I bet the researcher had some stories about finding them all).


While it's a short read it's also a great introduction to cinema history, and again, I can't say enough about the images. But then I do love looking at old camera equipment, the still shots from early films, and the great old lobby posters.



Early ways of viewing movies that you might not have heard of before:


p. 104-5: "The Cineorama, A Circular Cinema, Tried to Simulate the Experience of a Balloon Trip.


The name of Raoul Grimoin-Sanson will be recorded in film history...for a device called the Cinecosmorama, based on which he built a novel form of entertainment, the Cineorama. This celebrated attraction never really got off the ground, so to speak, and in retrospect it was more of a utopian idea than a reality.


The Cinecosmorama, patented by the inventor in 1897, was an apparatus formed by ten radiating cameras, which permitted filming and projection in 360 degrees. More than anything the device evoked the concept of the panorama and the idea of a voyage, much in the spirit of the time.


Grimoin-Sanson conceived of a vast circular building more than 300 feet in circumference, whose white walls served as a continuous screen. The center of the hall was occupied by an immense balloon gondola equipped with the usual accessories - anchor, rigging, sacks of ballast, and a ladder. ...The ten synchronized cameras were placed under the gondola  and, when the lights were dimmed, would project views of balloon ascents, voyages, and landings (the latter achieved by running the film backward)."


Problem: that many cameras produced a lot of heat, which was both a fire hazard and uncomfortable for the viewers. So there were only four performances.


Another film seen within a specially-built setting: the movie shown as if you were traveling inside a train:


p 108-9: "The Spectacle Known as Hale's Tour Was the Basis of an American Industry


Beginning in 1905, the attraction, baptized Hale's Tour, spread across the United States, making the fortunes of its promoters - including, among others, Sam Warner, Adolph Zukor, and Carl Laemmle... Zuckor...opened the first New York Hale's Tour in a building resembling a train station, staffed by employees in uniform who ushered spectators into a hall seating sixty for a half hour trip. ...The illusion, reinforced by opening shots of rails streaming under the train, was convincing."


This kind of "train cinema" was short lived and was pretty much over by 1912.


If you know that these were films most people experienced at state fairs or amusement parks you can probably think of some modern day "rides" that are similar - most of them now have something to do with 3D.







I. The Beginning of a New World

II. Invention After Invention

III. Early Masters

IV. An Untamed Industry

V. The Discovery of the World

VI. Images Running Wild


Film Libraries and Museums


List of Illustrations