Edison's Latest Invention

Source: George M. Smith, ‘Edison’s Latest Invention’, St. Paul Daily Globe, 8 April 1894, p. 18

Text: EDISON’S LATEST INVENTION.
The Kinetoscope and the Marvels it Accomplishes.

INTERESTING CHAT WITH THE WIZARD.
He Calls His Latest Work a Toy But Grows Enthusiastic Over What he Hopes to do With it in the Future — Some of its Uses Forecast by the Wizard

“The kinetoscope does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” That is a phrase which has often been on the lips of Thomas A. Edison during the past several weeks, and it conveys an idea which has been very much in his mind for several years. It is a perfect epigrammatic definition of his latest invention, for it is a fact that the kinetoscope reproduces the eye effect of motion just as the phonograph reproduces to the ear the effect of sound. How this is done and what the machine that does it is like, it is the purpose of this article to tell.

Several days ago the writer called by appointment at the Edison laboratory in West Orange, N. J., and sent his card up to Mr. Edison. Mr. Edison sent back word that W.K.L. Dickson would show and explain the kinetosoope to me and that afterward he himself would talk with me about it. Mr Dickson is one of Mr. Edison’s right-hand men, and a history of the kinetoscope would be incomplete without seme account of his connection with it. He is an electrical engineer, and has had much to do with the development of the ore separator on which Mr. Edison is now working. He is also a fine chemist, and one of the greatest experts in photography in the world. A fine biography of Mr. Edison has recently come from his pen and that of his sister, Miss Antonia Dickson. Between six and seven years ago Mr. Edison formulated the problem the result of which is the kinetoscope, and communicated it to Mr. Dickson. Since then they have been developing the idea, and although their experiments are not yet carried to their conclusion, they have reached a point where Mr. Edison is willing that the public should see what they have done.

edison

Mr. Dickson greeted me cordially, and pointed to an oak cabinet standing in the middle of one of the rooms of the photograph department. It was the kinetoscope. In appearance it is very like the nickel-in-the-slot phonograph, with which most people are already familiar. If an oak parlor organ with the keys covered were reduced some what in size, it would look somewhat like the kinetoscope. Mr. Dickson took a piece of brass exactly the size of a nickel and dropped it into the slot, while I looked into a glass in top. An electric light was burning inside, and the noise of rapidly running machinery was audible. The scene that was reproduced was that of a barber shop, and a placard on the wall informed the observer that it was “The Latest Wonder, Shave and Haircut for a Nickel.” It pictured a man being shaved while two others sat by and enjoyed a joke which one of them had discovered in a comic paper. All the movements of the different persons seen were reproduced clearly and precisely as they took place before the camera. This is the picture that has been shown oftenest to those who have looked into the kinetoscope. Many other pictures are ready to be put into the marvelous instrument, and before long twenty-five of the machines will have been sold and stationed in public places, where any one may enjoy thorn for five cents a look.

The kinetoscope is a sequel to the kinetograph, the invention of which was announced some time ago. The business of the kinetograph is to take the pictures, and the function of the kinetoscope is to display them to the eye, one after another, so rapidly that they all seem like one scene, with the figures moving about as they do in actual life. The forerunner of these inventions was the zoetrope, a child’s toy which passed before the gaze of the beholder four pictures in a second, and created a semblance of the effect of motion. Then Muybridge got a battery of cameras that would take from eighteen to twenty impressions in a second. But neither of these was quick enough to deceive the human eye – that is to say, if eighteen or twenty pictures a second were presented to the sight the eye could easily detect when one went and another came. Mr. Edison discovered that, in order to create the illusion of a stationary or continuous picture, forty-six views would have to be presented every second, and each one of them would have to pause about the one-forty-sixth part of a second, and then be replaced by the next in the one hundred and eighty-fifth part of a second. This is the rate at which the impressions are received by the kinetograph, and reproduced by the kinetoscope. In the kinetoscope every picture must stop in exactly the same place as every other picture. If it did not there would be a tremor which the eye would notice, and the illusion would be dispelled.

blackmaria

Suppose, for example, it were desired to show a man in the act of taking a step. While he was moving his foot through the air a number of pictures would be recorded, each one of which would show the foot and the whole of his body in a slightly different position, as the step progressed. The series of pictures would be passed before the eye so rapidly that only one picture would appear, and there would be a perfect reproduction of the step.

The kinetoscope runs about thirty seconds every time a nickel is dropped into it, and in that time, it will be seen, more than a thousand separate views are slid under the little glass window in the top.

As we left the building in which the kinetoscope stood Mr. Dickson pointed to the remarkable photographic theatre in which the kinetograph does its work. It is called the “Black Maria,” and it is so arranged upon a pivot and a track that one can easily move lt around to the position required to meet the light of the sun. We then walked to the room on the second floor of the laboratory in which Mr. Edison was sitting.

He was deep in thought, and did not seem to notice that we had entered; but when Mr. Dickson spoke to him he drew two chairs close together, sat down on one, bade me me seated on the other, and signified that he was ready to be questioned.

It is said to be a peculiarity of Mr. Edison’s habit of thought that he cares comparatively little for what he has done, and dwells with pleasure on the prospect of what he is about to do. This would seem, to be true with regard to his estimate of the kinetoscope. He speaks of the nickel-in-the-slot machine that we have just been considering as though it were a mere toy, but becomes enthusiastic in unfolding the future greatness of the invention.

“Mr. Edison,” said I, “what do you expect to accomplish in the development of the kinetoscope?”

“I expect to be able to reproduce a whole opera, showing the people on the stage in their natural size and moving around, and to make their voices heard just they sang and talked. I expect to be able to show any celebrated orator on the platform delivering a speech, so that people may see how lie looked and acted and hear the sound of his voice. This I will do by throwing the scenes from the kinetoscope on a large screen by means of a stereopticon, and having the sounds issue from a phonograph at tho proper moment to comport with the movements of those who made them.

“I may say that this has already been done. Down in the library perhaps you noticed a large white screen, extending across one end of the room, wound upon a ratchet roller. I have also a stereopticon, and with these, the kinetoscope and the phonograph, we have reached some very satisfactory results. It will be some time, however, before we secure that absolute perfection which we aim to achieve before we give any public exhibitions. You should see the figures on the screen,” said he, with a glow of pardonable pride, showing that he contemplated that part of his work with sincere pleasure.

“The pictures that are taken at present for the kinetoscope are one inch by three-quarters of an inch in size. The difficulty increases with the dimensions of the picture, because the larger the picture is the further it must move during the fraction of a second that elapses between the time one view disappears and another takes its place. We expect, however, to be able to work successfully with pictures at inch and a half high, and that, we think, will be the limit of the possibilities of the kinetoscope.”

“Do you expect to make any money out of this invention?”

“No, I do not see where there is anything to be made out of it. I have been largely influenced by sentiment in the prosecution of this design. But, said he, with a merry twinkle in his eye, “as I have no steam yacht, or fast horses, or anything of that sort, I thought I could afford to sink a little money in the kinetoscope.

“Although it occurred to me six or seven years ago that something might be done in this way, the broad idea, as I have stated it to you, came to me only four or five years ago, and for the past two years we have been working at it diligently. My. first experiments in this direction were conducted with a phonograph and a micro-camera.

“That little nickel-in-the-slot affair is only intended to let the people know what our ideas is.”

Two men engaged in wrestling are shown in one of the series of illustrations that accompany the kinetoscope. They were photographed in the “Black Maria” by the kinetograph and the kinetoscope portrays the whole bout from beginning to end, with every move that the wrestlers made. As the struggle carried them about over considerable space they were placed at quite a distance from the camera, and their figures are smaller than those of Sandow, which form another series of illustrations.

sandow

Sandow, the strong man, is an intimate friend of Mr. Dickson, which accounts for his being the first celebrity to have his fame perpetuated by the kinetoscope. The picture shown herewith is only one of a hundred of which include Sandow’s complete performance. It has been stated that Sandow was photographed while holding Mr. Edison out at arm’s length with one finger, but this is not true. Sandow could easily have done it, even had Mr. Edison been a much heavier man than he is, and during his visit to the laboratory it was suggested that such a picture should be taken, but for some, reason or other the idea was not carried out.

During the experiments that were made with the kinetograph an incident occurred that was calculated to test the nerves of those who took, part in it. It was decided to attempt to photograph a bullet fired from a rifle while it was flying through the air, and this was accomplished; but as the same thing has been done by others, Mr. Edison and Mr. Dickson claim no credit for originality in their success. A bullet was heated white-hot, and a charge of powder was poured into a rifle barrel. The bullet was then put into the muzzle of the gun and allowed to roll until it reached the powder, which instantly ignited and sent the ball flying through the room within range of the kinetograph. This delicate operation had to be repeated three times before a good impression could be obtained, and, as may be imagined, it was mighty ticklish business.

These inventions, the kinetograph, the kinetoscope and the phono-kinetoscope, put Mr. Edison as certainly in the foremost place among photographers and electro-photographers as the other products of his genius entitle him to rank first in the school of electricians. It is difficult, while the revelation is fresh in our thoughts and new to our understanding, to estimate what the kinetoscope will contribute to the progress of science and the education of man. It will disclose movements that hitherto have eluded the eye, and as to which speculation has been misleading, and it will make the great leaders of the present live again in the future as their contemporaries see and know them. What other uses will be found for it it is too early to say. That it will enhance Mr. Edison’s fame and increase the sum of the world’s debt to him is beyond question.

Comment: This is a typical example of the many eulogistic reports of the Kinetoscope peepshow which appeared in the American press around this time. It was syndicated across several newspapers. The Kinetoscope was launched commercially shortly after this article, at a parlour opened by the Holland brothers at 1155 Broadway, New York on 14 April 1894. The films referred to in this article are Barber Shop (1893), Wrestling Match (1894) and Sandow (1894). Eugen Sandow was a renowned bodybuilder. William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson was Edison’s principal engineer working on motion picture devices. The images of Edison, the Black Maria and Sandow all feature in the original article, which was published in St Paul, Minnesota.

Links: Copy on Chronicling America

Edison’s Latest Invention

Source: George M. Smith, ‘Edison’s Latest Invention’, St. Paul Daily Globe, 8 April 1894, p. 18

Text: EDISON’S LATEST INVENTION.
The Kinetoscope and the Marvels it Accomplishes.

INTERESTING CHAT WITH THE WIZARD.
He Calls His Latest Work a Toy But Grows Enthusiastic Over What he Hopes to do With it in the Future — Some of its Uses Forecast by the Wizard

“The kinetoscope does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” That is a phrase which has often been on the lips of Thomas A. Edison during the past several weeks, and it conveys an idea which has been very much in his mind for several years. It is a perfect epigrammatic definition of his latest invention, for it is a fact that the kinetoscope reproduces the eye effect of motion just as the phonograph reproduces to the ear the effect of sound. How this is done and what the machine that does it is like, it is the purpose of this article to tell.

Several days ago the writer called by appointment at the Edison laboratory in West Orange, N. J., and sent his card up to Mr. Edison. Mr. Edison sent back word that W.K.L. Dickson would show and explain the kinetosoope to me and that afterward he himself would talk with me about it. Mr Dickson is one of Mr. Edison’s right-hand men, and a history of the kinetoscope would be incomplete without seme account of his connection with it. He is an electrical engineer, and has had much to do with the development of the ore separator on which Mr. Edison is now working. He is also a fine chemist, and one of the greatest experts in photography in the world. A fine biography of Mr. Edison has recently come from his pen and that of his sister, Miss Antonia Dickson. Between six and seven years ago Mr. Edison formulated the problem the result of which is the kinetoscope, and communicated it to Mr. Dickson. Since then they have been developing the idea, and although their experiments are not yet carried to their conclusion, they have reached a point where Mr. Edison is willing that the public should see what they have done.

edison

Mr. Dickson greeted me cordially, and pointed to an oak cabinet standing in the middle of one of the rooms of the photograph department. It was the kinetoscope. In appearance it is very like the nickel-in-the-slot phonograph, with which most people are already familiar. If an oak parlor organ with the keys covered were reduced some what in size, it would look somewhat like the kinetoscope. Mr. Dickson took a piece of brass exactly the size of a nickel and dropped it into the slot, while I looked into a glass in top. An electric light was burning inside, and the noise of rapidly running machinery was audible. The scene that was reproduced was that of a barber shop, and a placard on the wall informed the observer that it was “The Latest Wonder, Shave and Haircut for a Nickel.” It pictured a man being shaved while two others sat by and enjoyed a joke which one of them had discovered in a comic paper. All the movements of the different persons seen were reproduced clearly and precisely as they took place before the camera. This is the picture that has been shown oftenest to those who have looked into the kinetoscope. Many other pictures are ready to be put into the marvelous instrument, and before long twenty-five of the machines will have been sold and stationed in public places, where any one may enjoy thorn for five cents a look.

The kinetoscope is a sequel to the kinetograph, the invention of which was announced some time ago. The business of the kinetograph is to take the pictures, and the function of the kinetoscope is to display them to the eye, one after another, so rapidly that they all seem like one scene, with the figures moving about as they do in actual life. The forerunner of these inventions was the zoetrope, a child’s toy which passed before the gaze of the beholder four pictures in a second, and created a semblance of the effect of motion. Then Muybridge got a battery of cameras that would take from eighteen to twenty impressions in a second. But neither of these was quick enough to deceive the human eye – that is to say, if eighteen or twenty pictures a second were presented to the sight the eye could easily detect when one went and another came. Mr. Edison discovered that, in order to create the illusion of a stationary or continuous picture, forty-six views would have to be presented every second, and each one of them would have to pause about the one-forty-sixth part of a second, and then be replaced by the next in the one hundred and eighty-fifth part of a second. This is the rate at which the impressions are received by the kinetograph, and reproduced by the kinetoscope. In the kinetoscope every picture must stop in exactly the same place as every other picture. If it did not there would be a tremor which the eye would notice, and the illusion would be dispelled.

blackmaria

Suppose, for example, it were desired to show a man in the act of taking a step. While he was moving his foot through the air a number of pictures would be recorded, each one of which would show the foot and the whole of his body in a slightly different position, as the step progressed. The series of pictures would be passed before the eye so rapidly that only one picture would appear, and there would be a perfect reproduction of the step.

The kinetoscope runs about thirty seconds every time a nickel is dropped into it, and in that time, it will be seen, more than a thousand separate views are slid under the little glass window in the top.

As we left the building in which the kinetoscope stood Mr. Dickson pointed to the remarkable photographic theatre in which the kinetograph does its work. It is called the “Black Maria,” and it is so arranged upon a pivot and a track that one can easily move lt around to the position required to meet the light of the sun. We then walked to the room on the second floor of the laboratory in which Mr. Edison was sitting.

He was deep in thought, and did not seem to notice that we had entered; but when Mr. Dickson spoke to him he drew two chairs close together, sat down on one, bade me me seated on the other, and signified that he was ready to be questioned.

It is said to be a peculiarity of Mr. Edison’s habit of thought that he cares comparatively little for what he has done, and dwells with pleasure on the prospect of what he is about to do. This would seem, to be true with regard to his estimate of the kinetoscope. He speaks of the nickel-in-the-slot machine that we have just been considering as though it were a mere toy, but becomes enthusiastic in unfolding the future greatness of the invention.

“Mr. Edison,” said I, “what do you expect to accomplish in the development of the kinetoscope?”

“I expect to be able to reproduce a whole opera, showing the people on the stage in their natural size and moving around, and to make their voices heard just they sang and talked. I expect to be able to show any celebrated orator on the platform delivering a speech, so that people may see how lie looked and acted and hear the sound of his voice. This I will do by throwing the scenes from the kinetoscope on a large screen by means of a stereopticon, and having the sounds issue from a phonograph at tho proper moment to comport with the movements of those who made them.

“I may say that this has already been done. Down in the library perhaps you noticed a large white screen, extending across one end of the room, wound upon a ratchet roller. I have also a stereopticon, and with these, the kinetoscope and the phonograph, we have reached some very satisfactory results. It will be some time, however, before we secure that absolute perfection which we aim to achieve before we give any public exhibitions. You should see the figures on the screen,” said he, with a glow of pardonable pride, showing that he contemplated that part of his work with sincere pleasure.

“The pictures that are taken at present for the kinetoscope are one inch by three-quarters of an inch in size. The difficulty increases with the dimensions of the picture, because the larger the picture is the further it must move during the fraction of a second that elapses between the time one view disappears and another takes its place. We expect, however, to be able to work successfully with pictures at inch and a half high, and that, we think, will be the limit of the possibilities of the kinetoscope.”

“Do you expect to make any money out of this invention?”

“No, I do not see where there is anything to be made out of it. I have been largely influenced by sentiment in the prosecution of this design. But, said he, with a merry twinkle in his eye, “as I have no steam yacht, or fast horses, or anything of that sort, I thought I could afford to sink a little money in the kinetoscope.

“Although it occurred to me six or seven years ago that something might be done in this way, the broad idea, as I have stated it to you, came to me only four or five years ago, and for the past two years we have been working at it diligently. My. first experiments in this direction were conducted with a phonograph and a micro-camera.

“That little nickel-in-the-slot affair is only intended to let the people know what our ideas is.”

Two men engaged in wrestling are shown in one of the series of illustrations that accompany the kinetoscope. They were photographed in the “Black Maria” by the kinetograph and the kinetoscope portrays the whole bout from beginning to end, with every move that the wrestlers made. As the struggle carried them about over considerable space they were placed at quite a distance from the camera, and their figures are smaller than those of Sandow, which form another series of illustrations.

sandow

Sandow, the strong man, is an intimate friend of Mr. Dickson, which accounts for his being the first celebrity to have his fame perpetuated by the kinetoscope. The picture shown herewith is only one of a hundred of which include Sandow’s complete performance. It has been stated that Sandow was photographed while holding Mr. Edison out at arm’s length with one finger, but this is not true. Sandow could easily have done it, even had Mr. Edison been a much heavier man than he is, and during his visit to the laboratory it was suggested that such a picture should be taken, but for some, reason or other the idea was not carried out.

During the experiments that were made with the kinetograph an incident occurred that was calculated to test the nerves of those who took, part in it. It was decided to attempt to photograph a bullet fired from a rifle while it was flying through the air, and this was accomplished; but as the same thing has been done by others, Mr. Edison and Mr. Dickson claim no credit for originality in their success. A bullet was heated white-hot, and a charge of powder was poured into a rifle barrel. The bullet was then put into the muzzle of the gun and allowed to roll until it reached the powder, which instantly ignited and sent the ball flying through the room within range of the kinetograph. This delicate operation had to be repeated three times before a good impression could be obtained, and, as may be imagined, it was mighty ticklish business.

These inventions, the kinetograph, the kinetoscope and the phono-kinetoscope, put Mr. Edison as certainly in the foremost place among photographers and electro-photographers as the other products of his genius entitle him to rank first in the school of electricians. It is difficult, while the revelation is fresh in our thoughts and new to our understanding, to estimate what the kinetoscope will contribute to the progress of science and the education of man. It will disclose movements that hitherto have eluded the eye, and as to which speculation has been misleading, and it will make the great leaders of the present live again in the future as their contemporaries see and know them. What other uses will be found for it it is too early to say. That it will enhance Mr. Edison’s fame and increase the sum of the world’s debt to him is beyond question.

Comment: This is a typical example of the many eulogistic reports of the Kinetoscope peepshow which appeared in the American press around this time. It was syndicated across several newspapers. The Kinetoscope was launched commercially shortly after this article, at a parlour opened by the Holland brothers at 1155 Broadway, New York on 14 April 1894. The films referred to in this article are Barber Shop (1893), Wrestling Match (1894) and Sandow (1894). Eugen Sandow was a renowned bodybuilder. William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson was Edison’s principal engineer working on motion picture devices. The images of Edison, the Black Maria and Sandow all feature in the original article, which was published in St Paul, Minnesota.

Links: Copy on Chronicling America

Will you take me in, mister?

Source: David Rayner, contributed by the author.

Text: My earliest memory of picturegoing was on my fourth birthday in April, 1951, when I was taken by my mother and my godmother to the Essoldo, Wellington Road South, Stockport, to see Victor Mature and Hedy Lamaar in Cecil B. DeMille’s Technicolor epic “Samson and Delilah”. I can still remember being very impressed by the sight of Samson pushing apart the pillars of the temple of Dagon and quite literally bring the house down (or in this case, the temple)! I also remember I kept turning around in my seat and looking up at the dancing beam of blue light that came from way up there and that seemed to have something to do with the happenings on the large screen, never dreaming at the time that, eleven years later, I, too, would become a cinema projectionist (although not at the Essoldo, Stockport).

“Will you take me in, mister?”

I began going to the pictures on my own in 1957, when I was ten years old. Going to the pictures in those days was a very different experience to what such things are like today. For my ninepence admission money, I could get to see a feature; a supporting feature; a cartoon; a newsreel; a short and the adverts and trailers. Performances were continuous from 1 p.m. until 10:15 p.m. and you could go into the cinema at any time and, if, when you got inside, the feature was halfway through, you simply sat through the rest of the programme until the feature came on again and then you watched it around to the part where you had come in. I had moved from Stockport to Stoke-on-Trent by that time and, with around 25 cinemas in the Stoke-on-Trent area in the 1950s, there were plenty of films to choose from, especially with most cinemas changing their programme three times a week, on a Sunday, Monday and Thursday.

Of course, I was too young to be allowed in to see an X certificate film, but when an A certificate film was showing (children not allowed in unless accompanied by an adult), I, like many other youngsters at the time, used to wait outside the cinema and ask a man going in if he would take me in with him. None ever refused and, if the man took a liking to me, he would pay for my ticket, thus saving me having to spend my pocket money. After you got inside, sometimes the man would go and sit somewhere else and leave you to it, or sit alongside you and share a bag of sweets with you. These days, modern parents would be totally horrified by such a then commonplace practice. However, incidents of being groped by a man who had taken a boy in to see an A film were rarer than you might think, and, although it did happen to me a couple of times, when I was 12 and 13, I never heard of it happening to any other boy.

Comment: David Rayner was born in 1947 and in adult life became a cinema projectionist (now retired). X certificates were introduced in the UK in 1951, limiting exhibition to those aged over 16 (raised to over 18 in 1970).

The Ultimate Constituents of Matter

Source: Bertrand Russell, ‘The Ultimate Constituents of Matter’, in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1917), pp. 128-129

Text: My meaning in regard to the impermanence of physical entities may perhaps be made clearer by the use of Bergson’s favourite illustration of the cinematograph. When I first read Bergson’s statement that the mathematician conceives the world after the analogy of a cinematograph, I had never seen a cinematograph, and my first visit to one was determined by the desire to verify Bergson’s statement, which I found to be completely true, at least so far as I am concerned. When, in a picture palace, we see a man rolling down hill, or running away from the police, or falling into a river, or doing any of those other things to which men in such places are addicted, we know that there is not really only one man moving, but a succession of films, each with a different momentary man. The illusion of persistence arises only through the approach to continuity in the series of momentary men. Now what I wish to suggest is that in this respect the cinema is a better metaphysician than common sense, physics, or philosophy. The real man too, I believe, however the police may swear to his identity, is really a series of momentary men, each different one from the other, and bound together, not by a numerical identity, but by continuity and certain intrinsic causal laws. And what applies to men applies equally to tables and chairs, the sun, moon and stars. Each of these is to be regarded, not as one single persistent entity, but as a series of entities succeeding each other in time, each lasting for a very brief period, though probably not for a mere mathematical instant. In saying this I am only urging the same kind of division in time as we are accustomed to acknowledge in the case of space. A body which fills a cubic foot will be admitted to consist of many smaller bodies, each occupying only a very tiny volume; similarly a thing which persists for an hour is to be regarded as composed of many things of less duration. A true theory of matter requires a division of things into time-corpuscles as well as into space-corpuscles.

Comment: Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British philosopher, logician and social commentator. The essay from which the above is an extract was originally an address to the Manchester Philosophical Society in 1915. Henri Bergson used cinema as an analogy for the illusory qualities of perception (‘the cinematographical mechanism of thought’) in his book Creative Evolution (1907). Later writers, notably Gilles Deleuze, have criticised Bergson for not properly understanding the nature of the moving image. Bergson’s book makes no reference to going to a cinema.

Links: Available on the Internet Archive (American edition)

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 19, white, college sophomore’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 75-76

Text: My very earliest recollection of a movie is vague in a way and yet one part is very vivid. I do not even know where I saw my first movie, but it was in some very small theater in Englewood. I do not know who the heroine was, but I do remember that at the most dramatic part she was bound, laid on a pile of sticks and burned. At this point, I became hysterical and had to be taken from the theater. I never knew if the unfortunate girl was rescued or burned to death, but I never forgot the smoke and flames curling around her slender body. This little episode characterizes to a great extent my reactions to my early movies. I never could be convinced that the actors were not really suffering the horrible tortures depicted in many films and my sympathy knew no bounds.

Comment: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. Most of the evidence relates to picturegoing in the 1920s. The interview above comes from the chapter ‘Emotional Possession: Fear and Terror’.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

The Movies in the Age of Innocence

Source: Edward Wagenknecht, The Movies in the Age of Innocence (New York: Limelight Editions, 1997 [orig. 1962]), pp. 12-13

Text: I saw my first motion picture, somewhere along about 1905 0r 1906, in a little barn-like theater at “The Chutes,” a small amusement park, at Kedzie Avenue and Van Buren Street, Chicago, where the West Side carbarns now stand. It was all about the adventures of the devil and a beautiful girl whom he had lured to his picturesque domains. From its general resemblance to the French Pathé films which I was soon to see at my first neighborhood theater, I judge it to have been of French manufacture. The devil was a prominent character in many of these early films. He was essentially the Faust operatic devil – with horns and a very realistic tail – and he usually appeared and disappeared in a puff of smoke, which, to us who were new to the movies, was in itself a very wonderful photographic effect. Indeed I have often said that the devil was the first movie star and that if we had known some of the things that the future had in store for us, we might have appreciated him more than we did.

Hell, it appeared in this old French film, was a very beautiful place, full of couches and bowers and drapes and hangings. Indeed it might be described as a kind of Frenchified version of the notion Bernard Shaw was almost contemporaneously presenting in Man and Superman. I remember very well that I, who had been taught to fear hell, and was doing my best – intermittently at least – to keep out of it, at once began to wonder if it was not possible that the place might have been maligned. I can personally testify, therefore, that the very first time I approached the movies, they proved themselves the insidiously corrupting influence which their critics have always declared them to be.

Comment: Edward Wagenknecht (1900-2004) was an American literary critic.

Louis Olivier to Louis Lumière

Source: Louis Olivier, in Jacques Rittaud-Hutinet (ed.), Letters: Auguste and Louis Lumière (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), translation by Pierre Hodgson, pp. 21-22

Text: Paris, 13 July 1895

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you once more for the enchanting evening you gave me and my friend last night. Wherever I was yesterday and again this morning, people said what a brilliant session it was, and how enthusiastic the audience was, as you know from the extent of the applause. We were delighted to discover these marvels, never before seen in Paris. I am sure that they will spread throughout the country.

I am most grateful to you for having given my guests a preview of this fine show which is an important landmark in the story of the photographic sciences. Allow me to compliment you, you and your brother, on the magnificent results you have obtained and to express the pleasure which I ex[p]erienced on viewing them.

Further, I enclose all the letters I received in response to my invitations, filed according to whether they are acceptances or not. Several people who said they would come did not and others who did not reply, did come. The entire Bouvier dinner came as a gang. All in all, about one hundred and fifty people probably passed through the rooms where the projection was held on Thursday night. A pleasure for everyone.

Yours etc.

Louis Olivier

Comment: The Cinématographe Lumière was shown to the Revue Générale des Sciences Pure et Appliquées in Paris on 11 July 1895. The films exhibited were La Voltige, Un Incendie, Les Forgerons, Place des Cordeliers, Répas de Bébé and Pêche aux Poissons Rouges. This was its fifth showing to private audiences. Other private shows followed before the first commercial screening on 28 December 1895.

The Kinetoscope

Source: ‘The Kinetoscope’, The Morning Post, 18 October 1894, p. 5

Text: Mr. F.Z. Maguire, the representative of Mr. Edison in Europe, last evening received a large number of visitors at a private view of Mr. Edison’s latest invention, the kinetoscope, which was held at No. 70, Oxford-street. Mr. Edison has devoted four years to the experiments which have led to the completion of the kinetoscope, an instrument which by presenting a series of photographs in rapid succession gives a continuous picture of moving objects. Among the scenes represented in the apparatus last evening were a blacksmith’s shop in which three men are at work, with all their movements as they strike the anvil realistically displayed, while the smoke from the furnace gradually ascends; Carmencita, the celebrated Spanish dancer, executing her graceful evolutions; Bertholdi, a female contortionist, going through her performance; a bar-room fight, and a cock-fight. The photographs are exhibited at the rate of 2,000 a minute on a continuous celluloid film 45ft. long. The pictures, which are all perfect in themselves, are magnified in the machine and illuminated by the electric light. The present exhibition, however, does not represent the degree of perfection to which Mr. Edison promises to carry his invention, and it suffers by the smallness of the pictures and the want of clearly defined light and shade as well as by the inconvenience of looking down into the instrument. The inventor intends in future developments to throw moving pictures of life-size figures on a screen, and by the aid of a perfected phonograph which can reproduce every vibration of the violin to perpetuate the voices concurrently with the gestures of orators and actors, and even to show entire scenes from operas and plays, with all the speeches and songs as well as the movements of the performers. The instruments at present exhibited are offered to the public at the price of £70 apiece. They can, however, only be regarded as an amusing toy and as a preliminary to the greater achievements that are promised in the future. Probably an improvement may be effected by reducing the rapidity of the display, for it is recognised in the science of optics that the human eye is incapable of appreciating more than eight impressions in a second, while Professor Tyndall places the number at only seven.

Comment: The Kinetoscope peepshow was introduced to the UK on 17 October 1894 at a press showing organised by Maguire & Baucus, Edison’s European agents, at 70 Oxford Street, London. There were ten machines on display, showing the Edison films Blacksmiths, Cock Fight, Annabelle Serpentine Dance, The Bar Room, Carmencita, Wrestling Match, Bertoldi and Barber Shop.

Silent Magic

Source: Ivan Butler, Silent Magic: Rediscovering the Silent Film Era (London: Columbus Books, 1987), p. 15

Text: I saw my first film in 1915 – from the wrong side of the screen. It was at a private show at a school and my mother had brought me in, aged all of six, by a door at the back of the room. We were probably there for only a few minutes before someone discovered us and found us seats in the proper place. I have no memory of the programme apart from that brief glimpse, through wooden struts holding the makeshift screen in place, of what appeared to be a lot of pumpkins careering down a hill to the accompaniment of raucous laughter of (to me) enormous boys almost drowning a well-thumped piano. It must have been a very primitive production, probably a comedy short made some years previously, but in those pre-television days it was miraculous to a child that a picture could move at all – and I was hooked.

Comment: Ivan Butler (1909-1998), after a career as an actor, went on to become a notable writer on the art and history of cinema. His Silent Magic is a particularly evocative memoir of the silent films he could remember when in his eighties.

Ben’s Limehouse

Source: Ben Thomas, Ben’s Limehouse: Recollections by Ben Thomas (London: Ragged School Books, 1987), p. 43

Text: The first moving film I saw was of a man being chased, who kept falling over and tripping over things. I thought it very funny, and there were roars of laughter from the children. The other picture was a sad one with a woman holding a little girl’s hand going through the snow. This was at the Brunswick Chapel, and they charged ½d to go in. The next moving picture I went to see, was at a little cinema in the High Street Poplar, called the Star, and it also cost ½d to go in. I saw John Bunny, Pearl White, and a lot of big stars of them days. We used to see two comics, two dramas and slides about what was being shown next week. The other cinemas I was taken to by my youngest sister, these were the Kinema, or Fleapit (its nickname) in Whitehorse Street, also the Ben Hur in Whitehorse Street.

Whitehorse Street was a busy market then, near the Church, and nicknamed the ‘Old Road’. The other cinema was the Majestic, which was in a cul de sac and near a school in Ben Jonson Road.

I remember people reading aloud in the days of the silent films. In them days a lot of people, especially the elderly, couldn’t read owing to little schooling or bad eyesight. So while you would be looking at the picture being shown, as soon as the captions or wording came on someone would read it aloud to the person they were with. It might be a man reading to his wife, or vice versa, or a couple of women, or some woman would have one of her kids read to her. So there was always a good deal of mumbling going on and if the cinema wasn’t too packed, you kept away from them. Jews done a lot of this reading aloud, for there were a lot of Russian, Polish and German Jews in the East End who couldn’t read or speak English.

Another thing at the Ben Hur cinema was women doing their potato peeling, during the 1914-1918 War and on until the late 1920’s. The ‘Old Road’ was a very cheap market, so what some women used to do, was to do their bit of shopping just before 2 o’clock, then queue up at Ben Hur’s which opened at 2 o’clock. While watching the films the women would peel their spuds or when the film changing was on, for the lights would go up then. So the cleaners, besides nut shells and orange peelings to clear up, had potato peelings as well, some women peeled carrots, swedes and parsnips as well.

Comment: Ben Thomas was born in London’s East End 1907, youngest in a lighterman’s family of seven. The cinema he refers to was the Palaceadium, 137 Whitehorse Street, which was run by a local businessman nicknamed ‘Ben Hur’.