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The Invention of Cinema at the End of the XIX Century Research Paper



The thesis of this paper underscores the development of cinema. The social and cultural influences of film are critical in comprehension of the means by which communities made films and consumed them. Its ardor and focus on technology advancement is vital for drawing conclusions. Hansen studied D.W Griffith films to construe the spectatorship. By eager study of the film industry, (since the invention of cinema to the exhibition of D.W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation) this study reveals the reaction of film creators and their audience to different moments in cinema history from precursor motion picture to early twentieth century, 1915.

Precursor of Motion Picture Technology

It is obvious that, in the past centuries, one of the most inspirational entertainment technologies was the invention of cinema. Motion pictures have revolutionized entertainment and documentary. As perfect as it seems today, the technology developed from a long series of technical inventions over time.

Before significant technological discoveries in the sphere of photochemistry, the precursors of motion pictures were fare beyond science. First attempt to introduce the idea of moving pictures traces back to middle of the seventeenth century, when Athanasius Kircher “who projected crude hand-painted images of the Devil…on the wall of a darkened chamber by the light of a smoky lamp” (Ramsaye 2). Two centuries later, Mark Roger conducted research on the perception. His worked called Persistence of Vision presents “the first scientific inquiry into the phenomena upon which the motion picture illusion of to-day is based” (Ramsaye 2). Further explorations came to the forth in 1835 when Joseph Ferdinand Antoine Plateau presented a twirling disc, what he called the Phenakistoscope where “a frieze of hand-drawn figures…could be seen as a single figure in apparent motion” (Ramsaye 2). One of the major precursors of this technology is Zoetrope.

This technology was invented in 1853 in Vienna, and it was widely used to view rapidly changing series of still images where it gave the impression of movement (Ramsaye 3). Further development and study of realistic pictures were closely associated with the study of photography in France. In 1829, Daguerre and Niepce initiated their study on photography viewing it as a means of making painting more realistic (Ramsaye 3). In the second half of nineteenth century, photography progressed significantly, but not enough for perpetuating objects in motion. However, Coleman Sellers managed to make a series of pictures to record his sons with the help of pictures “mounted on the blades of a paddle wheel with which they were rotated in rapid succession” (Ramsaye 3).

One of the most significant precursors of the motion pictures was the invention of Phasmatrope, a device embracing the findings of Uchatius, Daguerre, and other scientists. The motion picture was created, but the speed of movement was not congruent with speed of the real-to-life events. The second evolutionary step made before the introduction of motion pictures made by John Isaacs. The young engineer built the chronophotographic devices that could record the horse in motion to prove that it “lifted all four feet of the ground” (Ramsaye 3). The electronic control of cameras managed to record this moment, which was a step forward toward creating real motion pictures.

Significant Social and Cultural Pressures Leading to Creating Motion Pictures

The motion picture industry applies the basic art of imaging in a manner that it can recreate an event to appear to happen in real time once again. The art is more fundamental in character and import compared to the pomp, practice and drama of plays on a stage. By looking at the motion picture technology, it is evident that particular atavistic aspects of the moving pictures are the sparkle of entertainment. The idea of narration or retelling a story, and the traditional passing on of the communities’ tradition by narration to the next generation, inspired rather than influenced the creation of motion picture to recreate a story (Gunning Now You See It 3).

Language has been tremendously valuable, as it has helped people for years to tell a story (Gunning Now You See It 3). Language and the arts as part of literacy have to be comprehended in their true relationships, like temporary measure, assuaged, and recreating a context. The motion picture forms the simplest way to give an account. More importantly, there is also an assumption that early attempts to record still images in motion sought to create a new cinematic arts differentiating from theatricality and drama (Gunning Now You See It 3). Looking at the still images since ancient days, as on wall paintings, the ancient sculptures, and pictograms, it is evident they all endeavor at being motion pictures.

Film as a cultural expression became vital in promoting equal opportunities for every race, culture ethnicity and nationality. The famous films like “Life of an American Fireman” attracted wider audience because of spectacular film feature promoting the chanson de Roland as a culturally significance work, which had developed over time to express culture (Musser 214). However, the circumstances that influenced such kinds of narrative were short-lived.

Modes of Cinematic Changes since Late 19th Century To 1915

Emergence of cinematography had a potent historical impact on the available modes of perception. In this respect, Hansen states, “…film had been prepared for by realistic directions in the theater as well as screen entertainments like the magic lantern and stereopticon shows” (25). More importantly, cinema was considered as a specific kind of aesthetic and social experiences shaping cultural practices among the viewers. A cinema, therefore, represented a spectacle, someone else’s vision of a specific event. Many films created before 1903 were based on vernacular iconography and familiar acts and, therefore, early cinema supplied predominantly visual sensations and ideological images.

It also aimed to produce diversity. However, later period of classical cinema development amplified a homogenous of mode of production (Hansen 30). In particular, most of the scenes and events represented in motion picture production reflect fictional genres originated from comic skits, erotic scenes, melodramatic episodes and historical events retrieved from the Wild West period. The Invaders belongs to one of the brightest examples of the Western movies. Directed by Ford and Ince, the motion picture presents important moments from the American history (Simmon 58). Looking through prism of Western movies, The Invaders aimed to “explore what sort of “authenticity” initial audience could have seen in it, and what sort of validity, if any might still claim” (Simmon 60). The development of melodrama and erotic motives in cinema production was also aimed at supplying the visual perception.

In Mid 1910, Hollywood had been built and the style changed drastically. The classical style was developed where the essential principle was to tailor the film production into telling a story in the most comprehensive and inconspicuous manner as possible. Classical production begun to take center stage as there was elaborate type of narration, which seemed to anticipate action, or was strategically set to frustrate spectators’ desire in every shot. The viewers were part of the movie as a product (Hansen 30). Before then, there was no anticipation of how the film would be received. Scenes were divided into closer short by editing and moving the viewer’s eye to another part of the action every time (Gunning Primitive Cinema 6). A new trend had begun where filming was done in dark studios, where only artificial light was used; acting also changed to have simpler and less distracting movements.

The Aesthetics of the Cinema Of Attractions

Before 1906 cinema is represented as a means of attraction (Gunning Now You See It 3). Gunning further states that unlike the modern narrative cinemas, which mainly seek voyeuristic spectatorship, the early cinemas were mainly exhibitionist films. The main idea of early filmmaking was confined to the principles of demonstration, display, and showmanship (Hansen 33). The films directly address the audience where the showman presents an attraction to the viewers (Gunning Now You See It 4). The cinemas were built on spectacle, surprise, and sensations. The direct address of the audience forms that attraction.

The address of the silent cinema is crucial in expressing the way exhibitionism function in the public eye. With the creation of direct contact with the spectators, there are crucial films that openly show that exhibitionism was for attracting the audience (Gunning Now You See It 4). Hence, film should be perceived as a “series of visual illusions”, magical theatre contributing to a new understanding of early cinema (Gunning Primitive Cinema 5). The concept of cinema as a representation of attraction aimed at involving the viewers into film scenes. Using musical accompaniment provides as a sense of collective participation of the audiences into the movie events (Hansen 43).

Continuity Editing and Its Features

The art of motion picture substantially relied on the continuity of shots rather than the individual shots alone; hence, he made films with more than one shot (Gunning Primitive Cinema 5). In this respect, a single shot can reproduce long shot framing, or the theatrical proscenium, and the lengthy uninterrupted shot, which is also called the theatrical scene (Gunning Primitive Cinema 5). The presented explanation, however, simplifies the role and place of early cinema traditions. In fact, early filmmaking relies on the traditions similarly to forms of entertainment emerging at the end of the nineteenth century. Hansen states, “…cinematic techniques like editing belonged to the context of a particular presentation rather than to the film as a finished product and mass-cultural commodity” (43). In this respect, the editing contributed to the sense of participation and immediacy.

The concept of displaying events is closely associated with the shot analyzes in terms of editing and framing. At this point, significance is connected to creating a single frame and a unity of views, irrespective of transformations and manipulations. In addition, the shot is often considered as a relatively autonomous unit opposing a classical representation of the terms as an element of a narrative space (Hansen 34). All these features, along with spatio-temporal characteristics and noncentered composition provide the aesthetics of cinema representation.

Hansen’s Notion of the Spectator

Miriam Hansen provides an insightful perception of American film especially spectatorship and the historical transformation. Accordingly, she explains that the concept of spectatorship emerged as a crucial aspect of classical Hollywood paradigm. This was one of the industry’s strategies to allow ethnical integration in the modern world. The films done by D.W. Griffith exemplify some of the important aspects of film (Simmon 56). Spectatorship gets complicated because of sexuality and gender especially with women being used as objects of sex and male audience as consumers of the films (Engberg 66). Cinema is of the imaginary nature, created through imaginative work to pass a given message to the audience coupled with causing thrill. In order to attain the state of wholeness, three steps are involved viz. voyeurism, fetishism, and identification. The audience today usually sits in movie theatre in the dark intimacy halls, and they are not inhibited to see and gaze. Most films products in Hollywood today couples the concept of voyeurism with sadism to spark more emotions (Hansen 35). Fetish gaze involves the turning of certain figure into obsession that is reassuring.

Identification in the film is more active than it is passive recognition. For instance, a female audience may tend to identify with an alpha male when the actor in the film performs activities that excite her. Spectatorship should enable the audience to capture every move and activity that takes place in the shooting area. Therefore, the ability to edit and include all the continuity features helps the spectators follow the narrative and assist in the complex identification with an intriguing narrative, which includes different scenes and sources of information helping to build the story to its completion.

Works Cited

Engberg, Marguerite. “The Erotic Melodrama in Danish Silent Films 1910-1918”, Film History. 5.1 (1993): 63-67. Print.

Gunning, Tom. “Now You See It, Now You Don’t: The Temporality of the Cinema of Attractions, The Velvet Light Trap.” A Critical Journal of Film and Television 32 (1993): 3-12. Print.

Gunning, Tom. “Primitive Cinema – A Frame-up? Or The Trick’s on Us.” Cinema Journal 28.2 (1989): 3-10. Print

Hansen, Miriam. Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005. Print

Musser, Charles. Before the Nickelodeon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. Print.

Ramsaye, Terry. “The Motion Picture.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 128 (1926): 1-19. Print.

Simmon, Scott. The Invention of Western Film. A Cultural History of the Genre’s First Half Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Invention of Cinema at the End of the XIX Century." May 28, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-invention-of-cinema-at-the-end-of-the-xix-century/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Invention of Cinema at the End of the XIX Century'. 28 May.

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