1888-1927 Cinematography

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Louis Le Prince, Thomas Edison, Auguste and Louis Lumière optics Cinematography


A sequence of inventions in rapid succession appear to be continuous animating an allegory of life.

Phi phenomenon

Early forms of animation, including toys that relied on persistence of vision, led to motion pictures. A child can make a flip book in minutes by drawing stick figures in the margins of a book. John Barnes Linnett patented this as the “kineograph” in 1868, but the history of cinema starts before the first flip book. * In 1437, Leone Battista Alberti created a perspective box an idea later developed and called a peepshow, which was exploited for entertainment in Europe and China using a set of pictures pulled with strings across the view. * In 1658, Christiaan Huygens invented the magic lantern, although Giovanni Fontana had invented a projecting lantern by 1420, and Athanasius Kircher described an image projector in 1646 based on the devices of earlier mystics and con men. Kircher advised projectionists to inform spectators that the animated images were not supernatural; however, a common use of magic lanterns were Phantasmagoria, theaters designed to frighten with images of skeletons, demons, and ghosts. The magic lantern was a direct ancestor of the modern 35 mm slide projector. * A thaumatrope is a disk with an image on both sides which blend together when the disk is spun. A prehistoric thaumatrope is reported to have been discovered in the Chauvet Caves of France. Thaumatropes were popular in the nineteenth century and might have been invented or reinvented in 1825 by William Henry Fitton, or the year before by John Ayrton Paris, or by Peter Mark Roget, who wrote Roget’s Thesaurus. * The phenakistoscope is a spinning slotted disk, through which you view a sequence of images. In 1834, Joseph Plateau described it, and Simon von Stampfer, inspired by Michael Faraday, reinvented it and called it a stroboscopic disk. In 1877, Charles-Émile Reynaud invented the praxinoscope, which replaced the slits with twelve mirrors on the inside, In 1879, Eadweard Muybridge called his a zoopraxiscope, but he also produced zoopraxiscopes on glass disks, printed a sequence of photographs on them, and projected them with an oxy-hydrogen lantern. In 1888, Muybridge proposed working with Edison to create synchronizing sound recording with his zoopraxiscope, but Edison had his own ideas. * A historian reports that Ding Huan and others made devices similar to zoetropes in 100 BCE— rotating sequences of images on cylinders turned by the heat of lamps or censers. William George Horner, aware of the phenakistoscope, created the Victorian zoetrope in 1834, and called it a dædaleum. A sequence of images on the inside of a cylinder are viewed one at a time through slits between the images. William F. Lincoln moved the slits above the images and named it the zoetrope from the Greek for life and turning. * In 1822, Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype, created a diarama theater—showing cityscapes and landscapes that transformed from day to night before a large audience. The same year, Pierre Seguin followed Daguerre’s example and created a portable diarama, the Polyorama Panoptique. Frederick Scott Archer developed the collodion process, which replaced the daguerreotype, and in 1855 patented collodion stripping film on paper, the first flexible transparent negative for film. This film is called “stripping film” because the transparent emulsion is steamed from the paper during processing. * Lionel Smith Beale patented the choreutoscope in 1866, a slide cartridge for a magic lantern that was moved and shuttered by a hand crank, the first projecting device to create intermittent movement. * In 1882, Étienne-Jules Marey invented the chronophotographic gun. Like Muybridge, Marey studied the locomotion of animals. His gun made twelve images in a second in one celluloid disc. His assistant, Georges Demenÿ, invented the Phonoscope in 1892, which captured images on glass disks, and, in 1896, the Biographe camera, which used the beater movement with 60 mm unperforated film. * In 1887, Ottomar Anschütz invented the electrotachyscope, which used intermittent light to show images printed on a large glass disc, and in 1891 a slightly smaller, powered version, the Electrical Schnellseher. * John Arthur Roebuck Rudge made magic lanterns and in 1875 made his Biophantic Lantern, which projected seven photographic slides with a synchronized mirrored shutter that was cranked by hand. William Friese-Greene collaborated with Rudge. By 1887, their Biophantascope used celluloid film. * In 1888 Charles-Émile Reynaud showed his Théâtre Optique, which projected images onto the back of a semi-transparent screen from a reel of hand-painted gelatine plates mounted in leather bands and aligned with the lantern by pins fitting into metal connectors. Reynaud’s system was the first to use a perforated image band, an idea later used by Thomas Edison’s team for celluloid film. * Daguerre taught photography to Louis Le Prince in 1875, and Le Prince had seen much of the work done by Eadweard Muybridge. Le Prince created the first true motion-picture camera and projector in 1888 using gelatin stripping film on paper. Le Prince and his luggage disappeared in 1890 while on a train from Dijon to Paris, and his achievement was forgotten for many years. * In 1889, William Friese-Greene patented his chronophotographic camera, and claimed it could take up to ten photos per second on perforated celluloid film. In 1892, Léon Bouly coined the term “cinematography” for his Cinématographe, which was both a motion-picture camera and projector. * William Kennedy Dickson developed the kinetoscope for Thomas Edison between 1889 and 1992. Whereas Edison had thought that microphotographs could be stored on a cylinder in a spiral. Instead Edison and his team borrowed the ideas of an intermittent light source from Ottomar Anschütz’s electrotachyscope, and of flexible celluloid film from Marey’s chronophotographic gun. The kinetoscope provided a peep-show for one person with fifty feet of perforated 35 mm film showing for a minute and a half. In 1895, to create the Kinetophone, Edison added a phonograph for a music track, which a user could listen to using ear-pods. In 1894, Woodville Latham hired former Edison employees Eugène Augustin Lauste and William Kennedy Dickson to help with his Panoptikon, which was renamed the Eidoloscope, employing the first widescreen film format and Lauste’s invention, the “Latham loop.” Major Latham had been a Confederate ordnance officer during the American Civil War. Based on work by Charles Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat in 1895 on a machine called the Phantoscope, Edison released the Vitascope film projector in 1896. * In 1895, Max and Emil Adolf Skladanowsky invented the Bioskop projector, which alternated between two loops of 54 mm film to show 16 frames per second, and projected the first films to a paying audience in Europe. * Auguste and Louis Lumière, inspired by Edison’s Kinetoscope created the cinematograph, both a camera and film projector, in 1895. Although it was based on the name and the patent by Léon Bouly, the Lumière brothers’ projector was largely their own work, and by the end of 1895 they had established the first commercial cinema theater. The Lumière brothers hired Jules Carpentier to build their cameras and projectors, and in 1896 Carpentier patented the Maltese cross mechanism for moving the film. In 1903 the Lumières patented a color photography process, the Autochrome Lumière. * Starting in 1896, Georges Méliès, the first “cinemagician” and science-fiction film maker, pioneered split-screen effects, superimpositions, fade-outs, slow and stop-motion, double exposures, dissolves, and hand-painted colorization. Méliès bought a camera and projector from Robert W. Paul. Paul had begun by copying Edison’s Kinetoscope, Because his machines couldn’t legally run Edison’s films, Paul borrowed ideas from Marey for making his own camera, and because kinetoscopes were only for a single-person, Paul created his own film projector, the Animatograph. Méliès worked with Lucien Korsten and Lucien Reulos to copy Paul’s machine to make their own camera and projector. Starting in 1903, Méliès built a two-lens, two film camera to make two simultaneous copies of his films, unintentionally filming in 3D. Méliès also created advertisements on film for whiskey, chocolate, and baby cereal. * In 1894, Herman Casler created a mechanized flip book called the Mutoscope, mounting photos on a rotating cylinder. The Mutoscope quickly dominated the peep-show business. A coin dropped in a slot let anyone see what the butler saw. In 1896, Casler created the Biograph projector, which projected from unperforated large-format 68/70 mm film. In 1912, the Lumières’ Kinora, a portable mutoscope with a clockwork mechanism, became popular in British homes and established the movie rental business. * In 1897, Alfred Wrench and Alfred Darling patented their Cinématographe projector that used a sprocket based on a ratchet and pawl to move the film, and Raoul Grimoin-Sanson made a projector for Edison’s films that moved the film with a four-arm Maltese cross. The same year, Grimoin-Sanson created the Cinéorama, with ten synchronized cameras. He captured an ascent from the basket of a balloon and intended to project a theater in the round at the Paris Exposition of 1900, but it was shut down because heat from ten arc lamps caused problems. * In 1899, François Dussaud exhibited a system for sound accompanying film called the Cinemacrophonograph or Phonorama that required everyone to use earphones. Henri Lioret and film director Clément-Maurice Gratioulet produced the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre for the Paris Exhibition of 1900. The sound was recorded using a Lioretograph on a cellophane cylinder and the projectionist had to match the speed of the recording with a hand-cranked projector. * In 1903, George Albert Smith filmed “Mary Jane’s Mishap,” which introduced modern cinematic effects, combining closeups and longshots. In 1906, Smith invented, based on the Lee-Turner process, the first successful color motion picture film process, Kinemacolor. * Casler and William Kennedy Dickson’s studio, Biograph, hired D. W. Griffith who directed the first film shot in Hollywood, California, in 1910. * EugèneLauste moved to Britain where in 1904 he invented the first sound-on-film, but his method, converting sound to light using a mechanical method, proved unreliable. Many inventors worked to improve sound-on-film— Eric Tigerstedt in 1914, Denes Mihaly in 1918, and Lee De Forest in 1919— leading to the first successful talkie, the Jazz Singer, in 1927.


Images flicker in my memory yet I know a shadowy being, always behind the camera, is me, wavering, fading over the years, but me. I can’t help wishing for the impossible; I wish some scenes hadn’t happened at all. But in other scenes I glowed and in remembering them I glow again. Altogether, like an after-image after seeing a brightly lit figure, I recognize an identity, a gift, and I don’t know what else to call it except somehow a receiving of grace. I’m grateful. Whether my life now is a summation or a remnant, I’m grateful for the process.

The motion picture becomes a symbol of perception, an allegory of life, and its history is altogether more complicated than shown.

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