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In the first two decades of its existence the cinema developed rapidly. What in 1895 had been a mere novelty had by 1913 become an established industry. The earliest films were little more than moving snapshots, barely one minute in length and often consisting of just a single shot. By 1905, they were regularly five to ten minutes long and employed changes of scene and camera position to tell a story or illustrate a theme. Then, in the early 1910s, with the arrival of the first 'feature-length' films, there gradually emerged a new set of conventions for handling complex narratives. By this time too, the making and showing of films had itself become a large-scale business. No longer was the film show a curiosity sandwiched into a variety of other spectacles, from singing or circus acts to magic lantern shows. Instead specialist venues had been created, exclusively devoted to the exhibition of films, and supplied by a number of large production and distribution companies, based in major cities, who first sold and then increasingly rented films to exhibitors all over the world. In the course of the 1910s the single most important centre of supply ceased to be Paris, London, or New York, and became Los Angeles -- Hollywood.
The cinema of this period, from the mid- 1890s to the mid-1910s, is sometimes referred to as 'pre-Hollywood' cinema, attesting to the growing hegemony of the California-based American industry after the First World War. It has also been described as pre-classical, in recognition of the role that a consolidated set of 'classical' narrative conventions was to play in the world cinema from the 1920s onwards. These terms need to be used with caution, as they can imply that the cinema of the early years was only there as a precursor of Hollywood and the classical style which followed. In fact the styles of film- making prevalent in the early years were never entirely displaced by Hollywood or classical modes, even in America, and many cinemas went on being pre- or at any rate non-Hollywood in their practices for many years to come. But it remains true that much of the development that took place in the years from 1906 or 1907 can be seen as laying the foundation for what was to become the Hollywood system, in both formal and industrial terms.
For the purposes of this book, therefore, we have divided the period into two. The first half, from the beginnings up to about 1906, we have simply called early cinema, while the second half, from 1907 to the mid-1910s, we have designated transitional since it forms a bridge between the distinctive modes of early cinema and those which came later. Broadly speaking, the early cinema is distinguished by the use of fairly direct presentational modes, and draws heavily on existing conventions of photography and theatre. It is only in the transitional period that specifically cinematic conventions really start to develop, and the cinema acquires the means of creating its distinctive forms of narrative illusion.
Various nations lay claim to the invention of moving pictures, but the cinema, like so many other technological innovations, has no precise originating moment and owes its birth to no particular country and no particular person. In fact, one can trace the origins of cinema to such diverse sources as sixteenth-century Italian experiments with the camera obscura, various early nineteenth-century optical toys, and a host of practices of visual representation such as dioramas and panoramas. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, efforts to project continuously moving images on to a screen intensified and inventors/entrepreneurs in several countries presented the 'first' moving pictures to the marvelling public: Edison in the United States; the Lumière brothers in France; Max Skladanowsky in Germany; and William Friese-Greene in Great Britain. None of these men can be called the primary originator of the film medium, however, since only a favourable conjunction of technical circumstances made such an 'invention' possible at this particular moment: improvements in photographic development; the invention of celluloid, the first medium both durable and flexible enough to loop through a projector; and the application of precision engineering and instruments to projector design.
In spite of the internationalization of both film style and technology, the United States and a few European