American Cinema, 1890-1909: Themes and Variations

American Cinema, 1890-1909: Themes and Variations

American Cinema, 1890-1909: Themes and Variations

American Cinema, 1890-1909: Themes and Variations

Synopsis

At the turn of the twentieth century, cinema was quickly establishing itself as a legitimate form of popular entertainment.

The essays in American Cinema 1890-1909 explore and define how the making of motion pictures flowered into an industry that would finally become the central entertainment institution of the world. Beginning with all the early types of pictures that moved, this volume tells the story of the invention and consolidation of the various processes that gave rise to what we now call "cinema." By examining the battles over patents, production, exhibition, and the reception of film, readers learn how going to the movies became a social tradition in American society.

In the course of these two decades, cinema succeeded both in establishing itself among other entertainment and instructional media and in updating various forms of spectacle.

Excerpt

Peter Bogdanovich: Was it true that one director told you not to call them
“movies” but “motion pictures”?

Orson Welles:… Nowadays, I’m afraid the word is rather chic. It’s a good Eng
lish word, though—“movie.” How pompous it is to call them “motion pic
tures.” I don’t mind “films,” though, do you?

Peter Bogdanovich: No, but I don’t like “cinema.”

Orson Welles: I know what you mean.

(Bogdanovich and Welles 23)

This book deals with a very special topic: the beginnings. The beginnings of cinema, some would say. The beginnings of moving pictures, others would say. Or, to use less familiar terms—but terms that would have been familiar in the period covered by this book—the beginnings of animated views or animated pictures. The choice of words in the question we intend to formulate here is important, because each could give rise to a different answer. The answer to the question “Who invented the movies?” is not necessarily the same as the answer to the question “Who invented cinema?” or “Who invented moving pictures?” Generally speaking, these terms all refer today to the same phenomenon, but each of them involves a series of specific meanings, especially if we delve into the history of the invention of the various processes that gave rise to what we now call “cinema.” The problem of the invention of what we today call “cinema” is certainly complex, but we are obliged to address it here before setting out, if only because it will enable us to put into perspective some of the conditions in which the new technology emerged. We must first of all determine who invented what, and when.

The present volume could very well have begun with the year 1895. That would have been the result of a different editorial choice than the one . . .

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