Turning the Century: Essays in Media and Cultural Studies

By Carol A. Stabile | Go to book overview

6
Trotting Horses and
Moving Pictures: A Sporting
View of Early Cinema

ANDREW C. MILLER

The early history of cinema is often narrated along a simple linear trajectory. Magic lantern shows, zoetropes, and dioramas combine with the technology of photography to form the proto-cinematic images of Muybridge and Marey, which in turn point the way toward the "complete" cinema of Edison and the Lumièes. As André Bazin wrote, "The cinema was born from the converging of these various obsessions, that is to say, out of a myth, the myth of total cinema." 1 In fact, for Bazin and many other film scholars, the drive toward cinema prefigured the technological apparatus itself. Motion pictures were merely the culmination of the fundamental desire to recreate reality, and therefore, it seems natural for many historians to envision the history of filmmaking as following a rather straightforward chronological narrative that is founded on a fundamental desire for moving pictures. 2 But this simplistic cinematic narrative ignores the multiplicity of historical discourses that surround the development of motion pictures within a late nineteenth-century American cultural moment exploding with mass amusements.

As urban populations swelled with European immigrants (as well as migrating rural-to-urban "Americans"), new entertainment sites (in both the geographic and the social sense of the phrase) such as dance halls, freak shows, dime museums, amusement parks, nickelodeons, theaters, and sporting arenas were assembled and developed into popular destinations for the burgeoning mass audience of the United States. Upon its arrival, cinema quickly asserted itself among these amusements that were rapidly transforming the cultural landscape of the United

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