The Nickelodeons: The Poor Man’s Elementary Course in the Drama

Source: Joseph Medill Patterson, ‘The Nickelodeons: The Poor Man’s Elementary Course in the Drama’ The Saturday Evening Post, 23 November 1907, pp. 10-11, 38.

Text: Three years ago there was not a nickelodeon, or, five-cent theatre devoted to moving-picture shows, in America. To-day there are between four and five thousand running and solvent, and the number is still increasing rapidly. This is the boom time in the moving-picture business. Everybody is making money- manufacturers, renters, jobbers, exhibitors. Overproduction looms up as a certainty of the near future; but now, as one press-agent said enthusiastically, “this line is a Klondike.”

The nickelodeon in tapping an entirely new stratum of people, is developing into theatregoers a section of population that formerly knew and cared little about the drama as a fact in life. That is why “this line is a Klondike” just at present.

Incredible as it may seem, over two million people on the average attend the nickelodeons every day of the year, and a third of these are children.

Let us prove up this estimate. The agent for the biggest firm of film renters in the country told me that the average expense of running a nickelodeon was from $175 to $200 a week, divided as follows:

Wage of manager $25
Wage of Operator 20
Wage of doorman 15
Wage of porter or musician 12
Rent of film (two reels changed twice a week) 50
Rent of projecting machine 10
Rent of building 40
Music, printing, “campaign contributions,” etc. 18
Total $190

Merely to meet expenses then, the average nickelodeon must have a weekly attendance of 4000. This gives all the nickelodeons 16,000,000 a week, or over 2,000,000 a day. Two million people a day are needed before profits can begin, and the two million are forthcoming. It is a big thing, this new enterprise.

The nickelodeon is usually a tiny theatre, containing 199 seats, giving from twelve to eighteen performances a day, seven days a week. Its walls are painted red. The seats are ordinary kitchen chairs, not fastened. The only break in the red color scheme is made by half a dozen signs, in black and white, NO SMOKING, HATS OFF and sometimes, but not always, STAY AS LONG AS YOU LIKE.

The spectatorium is one story high, twenty-five feet wide and about seventy feet deep. Last year or the year before it was probably a second-hand clothiers, a pawnshop or cigar store. Now, the counter has been ripped out, there is a ticket-seller’s booth where the show-window was, an automatic musical barker somewhere up in the air thunders its noise down on the passersby, and the little store has been converted into a theatrelet. Not a theatre, mind you, for theatres must take out theatrical licenses at $500 a year. Theatres seat two hundred or more people. Nickelodeons seat 199, and take out amusement licenses. This is the general rule.

But sometimes nickelodeon proprietors in favorable locations take out theatrical licenses and put in 800 or 1000 seats. In Philadelphia, there is, perhaps, the largest nickelodeon in America. It is said to pay not only the theatrical license, but also $30,000 a year ground rent and a handsome profit.

To-day there is cutthroat competition between the little nickelodeon owners, and they are beginning to compete each other out of existence. Already consolidation has set in. Film-renting firms are quietly beginning to pick up, here and there, a few nickelodeons of their own; presumably they will make better rates and give prompter service to their own theatrelets than to those belonging to outsiders. The tendency is early toward fewer, bigger, cleaner five-cent theatres and more expensive shows. Hard as this may be on the little showman who is forced out, it is good for the public, who will, in consequence, get more for their money.

Who the Patrons Are

The character of the attendance varies with the locality, but, whatever the locality, children make up about thirty-three per cent. of the crowds. For some reason, young women from sixteen to thirty years old are rarely in evidence, but many middle-aged and old women are steady patrons, who never, when a new film is to be shown, miss the opening.

In cosmopolitan city districts the foreigners attend in larger proportion than the English speakers. This is doubtless because the foreigners, shut out as they are by their alien tongues from much of the life about them can yet perfectly understand the pantomime of the moving pictures.

As might be expected, the Latin races patronize the shows more consistently than Jews, Irish or Americans. Sailors of all races are devotees.

Most of the shows have musical accompaniments. The enterprising manager usually engages a human pianist with instructions to play Eliza-crossing-the-ice when the scene is shuddery, and fast ragtime in a comic kid chase. Where there is little competition, however, the manager merely presses the button and starts the automatic going, which is as apt as not to bellow out, I’d Rather Two-Step Than Waltz, Bill, just as the angel rises from the brave little hero-cripple’s corpse.

The moving pictures were used as chasers in vaudeville houses for several years before the advent of the nickelodeon. The cinemetograph or vitagraph or biograph or kinetoscope (there are seventy-odd names for the same machine) was invented in 1888-1889. Mr. Edison is said to have contributed most toward it, though several other inventors claim part of the credit.

The first very successful pictures were those of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight at Carson City, Nevada, in 1897. These films were shown all over the country to immense crowds and an enormous sum of money was made by the exhibitors.

The Jeffries-Sharkey fight of twenty-five rounds at Coney Island, in November, 1899, was another popular success. The contest being at night, artificial light was necessary, and 500 arc lamps were placed above the ring. Four cameras were used. While one was snapping the fighters, a second was being focused at them, a third was being reloaded, and a fourth was held in reserve in case of breakdown. Over seven miles of film were exposed, and 198,000 pictures, each 2 by 3 inches, were taken. This fight was taken at the rate of thirty pictures to the second.

The 500 arc lamps above the ring generated a temperature of about 115 degrees for the gladiators to fight in. When the event was concluded, Mr. Jeffries was overheard to remark that for no amount of money would he ever again in his life fight in such heat, pictures or no pictures. And he never has.

Since that mighty fight, manufacturers have learned a good deal about cheapening their process. Pictures instead of being 2 by 3 inches are now 5/8 by 1 1/8 inches, and are taken sixteen instead of thirty to the second, for the illusion to the eye of continuous motion is as perfect at one rate as the other.

By means of a ratchet each separate picture is made to pause a twentieth of a second before the magic-lantern lens, throwing an enlargement to life size upon the screen. Then, while the revolving shutter obscures the lens, one picture is dropped and another substituted, to make in turn its twentieth of a second display.

The films are, as a rule, exhibited at the rate at which they are taken, though chase scenes are usually thrown faster, and horse races, fire-engines and hot-moving automobiles slower, than the life-speed.

How the Drama Is Made

Within the past year an automatic process to color films has been discovered by a French firm. The pigments are applied by means of a four-color machine stencil. Beyond this bare fact the process remains a secret of the inventors. The stencil must do its work with extraordinary accuracy, for any minute error in the application of color to outline made upon the 5/8 by 1 1/8 inches print is magnified 200 times when thrown upon the screen by the magnifying lens. The remarkable thing about this automatic colorer is that it applies the pigment in slightly different outline to each successive print of a film 700 feet long. Colored films sell for about fifty per cent. more than black and whites. Tinted films – browns, blues, oranges, violets, greens and so forth – are made by washing, and sell at but one per cent. over the straight price.

The films are obtained in various ways. “Straight” shows, where the interest depends on the dramatist’s imagination and the setting, are merely playlets acted out before the rapid-fire camera. Each manufacturing firm owns a studio with property-room, dressing rooms and a completely-equipped stage. The actors are experienced professionals of just below the first rank, who are content to make from $18 to $25 a week. In France a class of moving-picture specialists has grown up who work only for the cameras, but in this country most of the artists who play in the film studios in the daytime play also behind the footlights at night.

The studio manager orders rehearsals continued until his people have their parts “face-perfect,” then he gives the word, the lens is focused, the cast works rapidly for twenty minutes while the long strip of celluloid whirs through the camera, and the performance is preserved in living, dynamic embalmment (if the phrase may be permitted) for decades to come.

Eccentric scenes, such as a chalk marking the outlines of a coat upon a piece of cloth, the scissors cutting to the lines, the needle sewing, all automatically without human help, often require a week to take. The process is ingenious. First the scissors and chalk are laid upon the edge of the cloth. The picture is taken. The camera is stopped, the scissors are moved a quarter of an inch into the cloth, the chalk is drawn a quarter of an inch over the cloth. The camera is opened again and another picture is taken showing the quarter-inch cut and quarter-inch mark. The camera is closed, another quarter inch is cut and chalked; another exposure is made. When these pictures so slowly obtained we run off rapidly, the illusion of fast self-action on the part of the scissors, chalk and needle is produced.

Sometimes in a nickelodeon you can see on the screen a building completely wrecked in five minutes. Such a film was obtained by focusing a camera at the building, and taking every salient move of the wreckers for the space, perhaps, of a fortnight. When these separate prints, obtained at varying intervals, some of them perhaps a whole day apart, are run together continuously, the appearance is of a mighty stone building being pulled to pieces like a house of blocks.

Such eccentric pictures were in high demand a couple of years ago, but now the straight-story show is running them out. The plots are improving every year in dramatic technique. Manufacturing firms pay from $5 to $25 for good stories suitable for film presentation, and it is astonishes how many sound dramatic ideas are submitted by people of insufficient education to render their thoughts into English suitable for the legitimate stage.

The moving-picture actors are becoming excellent pantomimists, which is natural, for they cannot rely on the playwright’s lines to make their meanings. I remember particularly a performance I saw near Spring Street on the Bowery, where the pantomime seemed to me in nowise inferior to that of Mademoiselle Pilar-Morin, the French pantomimist.

The nickelodeon spectators readily distinguish between good and bad acting, though they do not mark their pleasure or displeasure audibly, except very rarely, in a comedy scenes by a suppressed giggle. During the excellent show of which I have spoken, the men, woman and children maintained steady stare of fascination at the changing figures on the scene, and toward the climax, when forgiveness was cruelly denied, lips were parted and eyes filled with tears. It was as much a tribute to the actors as the loudest bravos ever shouted in the Metropolitan Opera House.

To-day a consistent plot is demanded. There must be, as in the drama, exposition, development, climax and denouement. The most popular films run from fifteen to twenty minutes and are from five hundred to eight hundred feet long. One studio manager said: “The people want a story. We run to comics generally; they seem to take best. So-and-so, however, lean more to melodrama. When we started we used to give just flashes- an engine chasing to a fire, a base-runner sliding home, a charge of cavalry. Now, for instance, if we want to work in a horse race it has to be as a scene in the life of the jockey, who is the hero of the piece – we’ve got to give them a story; they won’t take anything else – a story with plenty of action. You can’t show large conversation, you know, on the screen. More story, larger story, better story with plenty of action- that is our tendency.”

………

Civilization, all through the history of mankind, has been chiefly the property of the upper classes, but during the past century civilization has been permeating steadily downward. The leaders of this democratic movement have been general education, universal suffrage, cheap periodicals and cheap travel. To-day the moving-picture machine cannot be overlooked as an effective protagonist of democracy. For through it the drama, always a big fact in the lives of the people at the top, is now becoming a big fact in the lives of the people at the bottom. Two million of them a day have so found a new interest in life.

The prosperous Westerners, who take their week or fortnight, fall and spring, in New York, pay two dollars and a half for a seat at a problem play, a melodrama, a comedy or a show-girl show in a Broadway theatre. The stokers who have driven the Deutschland or the Lusitania from Europe pay five cents for a seat at a problem play, a melodrama, a comedy or a show-girl show in a Bowery nickelodeon. What in the difference?

The stokers, sitting on the hard, wooden chairs of the nickelodeon, experience the same emotional flux and counter-flux (more intense is their experience, for they are not as blase) as the prosperous Westerners in their red plush orchestra chairs, uptown.

The sentient life of the half-civilized beings at the bottom has been enlarged and altered, by the introduction of the dramatic motif, to resemble more closely the sentient life of the civilized beings at the top.

Take an analogous case. Is aimless travel “beneficial” or not? It is amusing, certainly; and, therefore, the aristocrats who could afford it have always traveled aimlessly. But now, says the Democratic Movement, the grand tour shall no longer be restricted to the aristocracy. Jump on the rural trolley-car, Mr. Workingman, and make a grand tour yourself. Don’t care, Mr. Workingman, whether it is “beneficial” or not. Do it because it is amusing; just as the aristocrats do.

The film makers cover the whole gamut of dramatic attractions. The extremes in the film world are as far apart as the extremes in the theatrical world- as far apart, let us say, as The Master Builder and The Gay White Way.

If you look up the moving-picture advertisements in any vaudeville trade paper you cannot help being struck with this fact. For instance, in a current number, one firm offers the following variety of attractions:

Romany’s Revenge (very dramatic) 300 feet
Johnny’s Run (comic kid chase) 300 ”
Roof to Cellar (absorbing comedy) 782 ”
Wizard’s World (fantastic comedy) 350 ”
Sailor’s Return (highly dramatic) 535 ”
A Mother’s Sin (beautiful, dramatic and moral) 392 ”
Knight Errant (old historical drama) 421 ”
Village Fire Brigade (big laugh) 325 ”
Catch the Kid (a scream) 270 ”
The Coroner’s Mistake (comic ghost story) 430 ”
Fatal Hand (dramatic) 432 “

Another firm advertises in huge type, in the trade papers:

LIFE AND PASSION OF CHRIST
Five Parts, Thirty-nine Pictures, 3114 feet Price, $373.78
Extra for coloring $125.10

The presentation by the picture machine of the Passion Play in this country was undertaken with considerable hesitation. The films had been shown in France to huge crowds, but here, so little were even professional students of American lower-class taste able to gauge it in advance, that the presenters feared the Passion Play might be boycotted, if not, indeed, indeed, in some places, mobbed. On the contrary, it has been the biggest success ever known to the business.

Last year incidents leading up to the murder of Stanford White were shown, succeeded enormously for a very few weeks, then flattened out completely and were withdrawn. Film people are as much at sea about what their crowds will like as the managers in the “legitimate.”

Although the gourdlike growth of the nickelodeon business as a factor in the conscious life of Americans is not yet appreciated, already a good many people are disturbed by what they do know of the thing.

Those who are “interested in the poor” are wondering whether the five-cent theatre is a good influence, and asking themselves gravely whether it should be encouraged or checked (with the help of the police).

Is the theatre a “good” or a “bad” influence? The adjectives don’t fit the case. Neither do they fit the case of the nickelodeon, which is merely the theatre demociatized.

Take the case of the Passion Play, for instance. Is it irreverent to portray the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension in a vaudeville theatre over a darkened stage where half an hour before a couple of painted, short-skirted girls were doing a “sister-act”? What is the motive which draws crowds poor people to nickelodeons to see the Birth in the Manger flashed magic-lanternwise upon a white cloth? Curiosity? Mere mocking curiosity, perhaps? I cannot answer.

Neither could I say what it is that, every fifth year, draws our plutocrats to Oberammergau, where at the cost, from first to last, of thousands of dollars and days of time, they view a similar spectacle presented in a sunny Bavarian setting.

It is reasonable, however, to believe that the same feelings, whatever they are, which drew our rich to Oberammergau, draw our poor to the nickelodeons. Whether the powerful emotional reactions produced in the spectator by the Passion Play are “beneficial” or not is as far beyond decision as the question whether a man or an oyster is happier. The man is more, feels more, than the oyster. The beholder of the Passion Play is more, feels more, than the non-beholder.

Whether for weal or woe, humanity has ceaselessly striven to complicate life, to diversify and make subtle the emotions, to create and gratify the new and artificial spiritual wants, to know more and feel more both of good and evil, to attain a greater degree of self-consciousness; just as the one fundamental instinct of the youth, which most systems of education have been vainly organized to eradicate, is to find out what the man knows.

In this eternal struggle for more self-consciousness, the moving-picture machine, uncouth instrument though it be, has enlisted itself on especial behalf of the least enlightened, those who are below the reach even of the yellow journals. For although in the prosperous vaudeville houses the machine is but a toy, a “chaser,” in the nickelodeons it is the central, absorbing fact, which strengthens, widens, vivifies subjective life; which teaches living other than living through the senses alone. Already, perhaps, touching him at the psychological moment, it has awakened to his first, groping, necessary discontent the spirit of an artist of the future, who otherwise would have remained mute and motionless.

The nickelodeons are merely an extension course in civilization, teaching both its “badness” and its “goodness.” They have come in obedience to the law of supply and demand; and they will stay as long as the slums stay, for in the slums they are the fittest and must survive.

Comments: Joseph Medill Patterson (1879-1946) was an American journalist and newspaper publisher, founder of the New York Daily News. Nickelodeons (a nickname given in America to the shop-conversions that preceded purpose-built cinemas) came to the interest on general newspapers and magazines in 1907. The illustrations come from the original publication.

Links:
Copy at Hathi Trust
Transcribed copy at The Silent Bookshelf (archived site)

The Spell of China

Source: Archie Bell, The Spell of China (Boston: The Page Company, 1917), pp. 97-102

Text: The Chinese are becoming infatuated with the motion picture exhibition to such an extent that they will gladly attend a performance, the program of which extends through four, five, or even six hours, which is quite in keeping with the time limit of native theatrical representations. I saw a crowd quite overcome with joy at the vicissitudes that befell the heroine in the American-made film, “The Hazards of Helen.” The thrilling scenes were greeted by outbursts of applause, many of the spectators rising to their feet and shouting lustily when the hero saved Helen and her baby by venturing onto the railroad bridge and jumping into the river with the two in his arms as the express train whizzed across the screen.

Such a demonstration meant much more in China than it would mean in a Western country. It is not “good form,” not even “proper,” for a Chinese to betray his emotions; at least, he must not let them rise to the surface. He may applaud at the theater, but even while making this demonstration, which is not in accordance with ancient custom, he must not smile or laugh. The comedian may grimace; gentlemen in the audience are not supposed to do so. The
scene may be very thrilling and tense, but Chinese gentlemen should have better control of themselves than to show by any facial movement that they are excited.

But Helen, assuredly very modern, as seen in the motion pictures, caused them to forget some of the things that they had been taught by their fathers. They not only betrayed the fact that they received the thrill, but they seemed to be delighted to do so and seemed to desire to let the hero know that they appreciated what they had done. When “close-up” portraits of the characters were shown, smirking and “looking pleasant,” which is so contrary to all the canons of Chinese theatric art, they stood up and waved their hands. When the express train was flashed on the screen, whizzing along at a mile a minute — in a country where trains seem likelier to move a mile in ten minutes — they applauded as we in America applaud when a favorite star makes her “big speech” in the third act. Certainly they enjoyed “The Hazards of Helen.” It was the first time that I saw a Chinese audience witnessing a film that was “Made in America.” If I had never seen another Chinese audience beholding a “Made in America” film, I would have had the impression that the motion picture was more popular in China than in America. But I saw many of them. I saw audiences only mildly interested, and I saw some that were quite visibly bored, because they did not know what it was all about, and, not knowing, they could not feel an interest any more than the popular American audience would feel for Greek tragedy or the sacred dances of Siam. At Chinese motion picture houses a lecturer frequently stands on the stage and explains the action, even in such stories of primitive situations as “The Hazards of Helen.”

“Now you see the little child going out on the railroad bridge,” he says. “She is a thoughtless infant, who does not know that death is lurking in her path. She is as happy as any innocent little child can be. She skips over the railway ties, having found a new amusement. But what will happen when the fast train comes thundering along the track? What will become of the child!”

Oh, he is an eloquent extemporaneous speaker, this Chorus who explains the play! He weaves much into his “explanation” that is prompted by the picture itself, much that never entered the mind of the scenario writer.

“Helen sees the little girl,” he continues; “What can she do? How can she save her?” (Helen is flashed on the screen gazing bridge-ward, with a sort of hunted-deer expression.) “Will she stand there and see the child run over by the train, or thrown into the river below? No, she does not think twice, but rushes out onto the bridge and snatches the child into her arms. But the cruel train is coming; see, it is coming around the mountain. It will plunge into the tunnel and then out onto the bridge.” (Business of express train plunging into a tunnel.) “The hero sees Helen and he, too, rushes out onto the bridge. Will he reach her and the child before the train comes? That is the great question. See! He has reached them, but it is too late! In ten seconds the train will be upon them. There is no time to escape, so the hero takes both Helen and the child in his arms and jumps off the bridge into the river. Will he be strong enough to swim and reach the shore in safety with his precious load?”

And so forth, the “lecturer” creates action, when he thinks the interest is flagging. During the scenes that make merely an “exposition” of the characters and plots he is obliged to keep up his story, or at least he does so. He invents enough plots and counterplots to provide another instalment of the serial. I was unable to learn the origin of these gentlemen, who seem so important to the movie in China, but they must have had much theatrical experience in their native country. They must have as ready knowledge of all the old plots as the average
dramatist in America. Perhaps some of them have acted in Chinese plays, the plots of most of which are the same as the stereotyped plots in American drama. They remember, but the audience does not, apparently, because, as in America, it appears to enjoy the unraveling of the same old stories. It is the “lecturer” who makes the American motion picture intelligible to the oriental audience, at least the Chinese audience, which insists upon knowing something about what is transpiring. Chinese actors carry “suggestion” so much further than the Americans would attempt to do their speeches are so absolutely inaudible, on account of the strumming and squawking of the various instruments of the orchestra, that people do not expect to hear too much and have learned to trust to their eyes. Or perhaps they do not care to understand. In the course of a six-to-ten hour entertainment, which is not an uncommon length of time for a Chinese play to run, they will hear enough to satisfy them and reward them for going to the theater. It is useless to permit one’s self to become overwrought and excited about mere play acting. Life itself is much more comic, much more tragic; and they do not become excited about life, seeming to value it very lightly, and not worrying about death.

Comments: Archie Bell was an American travel writer. The Hazards of Helen was an American serial, originally starring Helen Holmes (later episodes starred Rose Gibson in the role), that was originally released 1914-1917 in 119 episodes. Lecturers explaining the action of silent films were common in many cultures, most famously the benshi of Japan. The film shows described were probably in Shanghai.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Moving Picture Show

Source: Howard D. King, ‘The Moving Picture Show’, The Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. LIII no. 7, 14 August 1909, pp. 519-520

Text: The development of the cheap moving picture and musical theaters as factors in the health of the community seems to have escaped the notice of the medical press. To-day every village and hamlet in the United States boasts a moving picture show. In the large cities of the north and cast it is not unusual for a hundred and often more to be in operation. In Europe they are outnumbered only by the public houses and cabarets. As is well known, the great majority of these theaters exist where the population is greatly congested, as in tenement districts and laboring settlements. The reason for this is obvious. It is the patronage of the poorer classes which makes the moving picture industry a paying proposition. These cheap theaters are usually located in old rookeries or poorly paying commercial sites, as abandoned shops of small tradesmen, etc. In the construction or building alteration of these places for their special needs the one object in view is to obtain a maximum seating capacity in as small a space as possible. No attention whatever is paid to ventilation and not the slightest heed given to the simplest sanitary details. The health or comfort of the patron is a secondary consideration. Municipal regulation is limited to fire prevention and safety exits – and this only after several serious catastrophes.

The performances are continuous, and thus an ever-moving stream of humanity, constantly passing in and out, stirs up dust and dirt that verily reeks with tubercle bacilli. The programs in these resorts have been considerably lengthened owing to the keenness of competition. The result is that an audience is confined within these ill-ventilated and poorly sanitated amusement resorts often for more than an hour and a half, breathing in air which has become befouled and disease-laden through lack of sufficient air capacity. The superabundance of carbon dioxid and organic matter in the air gives rise to sick stomach, headache and a drowsy feeling. The small fee of admission is responsible for a class of patronage which is entirely oblivious of the simplest health precautions. Spitting on the floor is a common practice and is allowed to go unnoticed. Signs calling attention to the dangers of the vicious habit of indiscriminate expectoration are rare. The use of the electric fan in certain of these resorts, while refreshing to the overheated patron, also serves to dry up the sputum with greater dispatch, thus increasing its disease productiveness. Cleaning the premises is impossible during the hours of operation, which gives some idea of the amount of filth that accumulates.

Robust and vigorous individuals employed as singers and musicians, appearing as often as twelve and thirteen times a day in these crowded resorts, soon undergo a remarkable change of health. Poor ventilation produces not only discomfort and loss of energy, but greater susceptibility to disease, especially tuberculosis. Many of the singers are raw amateurs and know nothing of the care and preservation of the voice, and in many instances a voice capable of greater things is lost to the public through exposure to such unfavorable conditions. Laryngeal troubles are a frequent source of annoyance to this class of people through excessive vocal effort and constant confinement. I have treated many of the singers employed by the cheap moving picture shows and found the majority of them to be of a decided phthisical tendency. The film operator who is confined cubby-hole at an exceedingly high temperature falls an easy prey to tuberculosis. Constant attendance at the scene of employment, coupled with the irregularity of meals and uncertain hours, is responsible for the fact that many of the male artists become alcoholics. Taken all in all, the cheap provincial picture theater artist has no easy task and sooner or later another victim is enrolled under the banner of the white plague.

The general practitioner is often consulted by a patient complaining of headache and burning eyes which run water as soon as they come in contact with strong light. After a thorough examination, including urinalysis, the patient is referred to an ophthalmologist in order that a refractive error may be corrected and the patient relieved of the heartache and the visual irritation. In a great number of cases the ophthalmologist will report that there is no error of refraction and that he is unable to account for the headache and the running burning eyes. An inquiry into the habits of the patient will elicit the information that he is a devotee of the moving picture show. The constant gazing on a rapidly moving and scintillating film with every mental faculty alert to maintain the connection of the story is sufficient to produce an eyestrain of great severity and thus cause headache and burning eves. The only remedy is rest and cessation from this form of amusement. After a few weeks vision becomes normal or nearly so and no ill results are experienced unless the patient resumes his former habits. In many cases the eye trouble assumes a severity that calls for long and persistent treatment on the part of the ophthalmologist.

Moving picture shows in tenement districts and labor settlements should exhibit pictures that tend to elevate the mind and improve the moral condition of their audiences. Pictures portraying scandal, illicit amours and criminal cupidity very often have a debasing effect on a mind that is already morally warped through environment and surroundings, thereby bringing to the surface a latent criminality. If the moving picture shows are to remain, radical changes must be made.

Rigid inspection by the health authorities is absolutely necessary. Proper ventilation by means of exhaust air fans, airifiers and other ventilating appliances and numerous apertures with sufficient air intake must be provided. The number of cubic feet of air necessary for health should be determined by the seating capacity. The flooring should be oiled, not carpeted or covered with dust-gathering material. Plush-covered and velvet-covered seats should also be prohibited for obvious reasons. Suspension of the performance at the end of every five hours, when the orchestra or seating hall should undergo a thorough cleaning, is of urgent necessity. The cleaning could be accomplished within forty-five minutes by the aid of the vacuum cleaner and should be followed by a draught of pure air throughout the place, it possible. At the termination of the day’s performance the whole resort should be given the proper sanitary attention. Signs should be conspicuously posted as to the evils of spitting.

CONCLUSIONS

That a great deal of eye trouble is due to moving picture shows cannot be denied. The singers, musicians and film operators of these resorts fall an easy prey to tuberculosis through excessive vocal efforts, constant confinement, irregular habits and long hours. As a disseminator of tuberculosis the moving picture theater ranks high and it will become necessary to enact special health laws to remedy the evil.

Comments: Dr Howard D. King practiced in New Orleans. Early motion picture venues were regularly criticised for their poor hygiene, and the films condemned as the cause of eye-strain. It was common practice at this time for singers to perform in American nickelodeons, along with illustrative slides, in between reel changes.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Homestead

Source: Margaret Frances Byington, Homestead: The Households of a Mill Town [The Pittsburgh Survey vol. 4] (New York: Charities Publication Committee, 1910), pp. 110-112

Text: Practically the only public amusements in Homestead, during my stay there, were the
nickelodeons and skating rinks. Six of the former, all but one on Eighth Avenue, sent out their penetrating music all the evening and most of the afternoon. There was one ten-cent vaudeville house, but the others charge five cents for a show consisting of songs, moving pictures, etc., which lasts fifteen minutes or so.

The part these shows play in the life of the community is really surprising. Not only were no other theatrical performances given in Homestead, but even those in Pittsburgh, because of the time and expense involved in getting there, were often out of the reach of workingmen and their families. The writer, when living in Homestead, found few things in Pittsburgh worth the long trolley ride, forty-five minutes each way. Many people, therefore, find in the nickelodeons their only relaxation. Men on their way home from work stop for a few minutes to see something of life outside the alternation of mill and home; the shopper rests while she enjoys the music, poor though it be, and the children are always begging for five cents to go to the nickelodeon. In the evening the family often go together for a little treat. On a Saturday afternoon visit to a nickelodeon, which advertised that it admitted two children on one ticket, I was surprised to find a large proportion of men in the audience. In many ways this form of amusement is desirable. What it ordinarily offers does not educate but does give pleasure. While occasionally serious subjects are represented, as for example pictures of the life of Christ given in Easter week, the performance usually consists of song and dance and moving pictures, all of a mediocre type. Still, for five cents the nickelodeon offers fifteen minutes’ relaxation, and a glimpse of other sides of life, making the same appeal, after all, that theatre and novel do. As the nickelodeon seems to have met a real need in the mill towns, one must wish that it might offer them a better quality of entertainment. Many who go because they can afford nothing expensive would appreciate something better, even at a slightly higher price.

Comments: Margaret Frances Byington (1877-1952) was an American social investigator. Homestead was part of the 1907-08 Pittsburgh Survey into social conditions, sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation. Homestead is in Allegheny County, Pennyslvania, and is famed for the Homestead Strike of 1892.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Picture Shows Popular in the 'Hub'

Source: Anon., ‘Picture Shows Popular in the ‘Hub’, Moving Picture World, 16 May 1908, p. 433

Text: A lady correspondent of the Boston Journal finds that the picture theaters in the city of culture are equally popular with rich and poor, and draw their support from both sexes and all ages and nationalities. Her remarks are as follows:

Have you contracted the moving picture show habit yet? Most of the folks I know have, though for some reason they one and all seem loath to acknowledge the fact. Perhaps it is because it seems a childish pastime and not just the form of amusement one would expect worldly men and women to patronize to any extent. The man or woman who occupies a desk at your elbow may be a regular attendant upon these instructive and wholly entertaining little picture performances of an hour’s duration. You will not know it unless by chance you happen to see him or her buying an admission at the window, or after groping your way to a seat in the dark find one or the other filling the chair at your side.

Visiting the little theaters that offer an attractive assortment of pictures has long been a custom of mine, though curiously enough I have not confided my liking for this sort of thing to even my intimate friends. In the past I have paid my admission, and slipping into a seat, watched whatever the screen had to offer. Yesterday afternoon, quite by accident, I learned that a congenial friend of mine had the same interest in these fascinating views of foreign
shores, of mirth-provoking happenings and of events in the news which form the basis of the entertainment, so we made an appointment to attend one.

While waiting the young lady’s arrival, I lingered in the entrance and for the brief space of ten minutes was absorbed in watching the manner of men and women who singly and in groups approached the box office and paid their admittance fee of a dime. All kinds were represented in the steady throng that sought an entrance. The first man who held my attention looked as though he might be a bank official or broker. He had that cast-iron, blank expression that attaches itself to men who constantly handle money or constantly think about it in the day’s work. The next were a family party of three — father, mother and a two-year-old child.

Then came a woman who looked as though she might be employed in one of the great department stores. She was followed by another group of three, all women, winding up an afternoon’s shopping in town with a few moments’ recreation before returning to their homes to preside over their own supper tables and afterward put the babies to bed.

Next came two men whom I know by sight and reputation. They are partners in a flourishing business in the down-town section. I caught sight of a doctor next, whose name proclaims him prominent in his realm of endeavor, and then of a man of whom I have bought steaks and chops and other good things for several years. Beside those whom I recognized or had some inkling of their object in life, there were twenty others as interesting and as different in appearance as those I have described.

I was about to give my friend up and venture in alone when another figure loomed before me which made me feel quite conscious. It was that of a woman friend of mine who seemed to shrink within herself when she saw me. She felt as I felt no doubt — like a child caught at the jam-pot. We smilingly exchanged greetings, she murmured something about “enjoying them so much,” to which promptly responded. “So do I.” The friend whom I had been expecting pushed me through the door, brandishing the tickets as she did so, and we gave ourselves up to the enjoyment of an entertainment that appeals to all sorts, rich and poor, intelligent and unintelligent, which is instructive and helpful as well as amusing.

Comments: This piece was originally published in the Boston Journal (date unknown) and reproduced with introduction in the film trade journal Moving Picture World. ‘The Hub’ is a nickname for Boston.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Picture Shows Popular in the ‘Hub’

Source: Anon., ‘Picture Shows Popular in the ‘Hub’, Moving Picture World, 16 May 1908, p. 433

Text: A lady correspondent of the Boston Journal finds that the picture theaters in the city of culture are equally popular with rich and poor, and draw their support from both sexes and all ages and nationalities. Her remarks are as follows:

Have you contracted the moving picture show habit yet? Most of the folks I know have, though for some reason they one and all seem loath to acknowledge the fact. Perhaps it is because it seems a childish pastime and not just the form of amusement one would expect worldly men and women to patronize to any extent. The man or woman who occupies a desk at your elbow may be a regular attendant upon these instructive and wholly entertaining little picture performances of an hour’s duration. You will not know it unless by chance you happen to see him or her buying an admission at the window, or after groping your way to a seat in the dark find one or the other filling the chair at your side.

Visiting the little theaters that offer an attractive assortment of pictures has long been a custom of mine, though curiously enough I have not confided my liking for this sort of thing to even my intimate friends. In the past I have paid my admission, and slipping into a seat, watched whatever the screen had to offer. Yesterday afternoon, quite by accident, I learned that a congenial friend of mine had the same interest in these fascinating views of foreign
shores, of mirth-provoking happenings and of events in the news which form the basis of the entertainment, so we made an appointment to attend one.

While waiting the young lady’s arrival, I lingered in the entrance and for the brief space of ten minutes was absorbed in watching the manner of men and women who singly and in groups approached the box office and paid their admittance fee of a dime. All kinds were represented in the steady throng that sought an entrance. The first man who held my attention looked as though he might be a bank official or broker. He had that cast-iron, blank expression that attaches itself to men who constantly handle money or constantly think about it in the day’s work. The next were a family party of three — father, mother and a two-year-old child.

Then came a woman who looked as though she might be employed in one of the great department stores. She was followed by another group of three, all women, winding up an afternoon’s shopping in town with a few moments’ recreation before returning to their homes to preside over their own supper tables and afterward put the babies to bed.

Next came two men whom I know by sight and reputation. They are partners in a flourishing business in the down-town section. I caught sight of a doctor next, whose name proclaims him prominent in his realm of endeavor, and then of a man of whom I have bought steaks and chops and other good things for several years. Beside those whom I recognized or had some inkling of their object in life, there were twenty others as interesting and as different in appearance as those I have described.

I was about to give my friend up and venture in alone when another figure loomed before me which made me feel quite conscious. It was that of a woman friend of mine who seemed to shrink within herself when she saw me. She felt as I felt no doubt — like a child caught at the jam-pot. We smilingly ex/hanged greetings, she murmured something about “enjoying them so much,” to which promptly responded. “So do I.” The friend whom I had been expecting pushed me through the door, brandishing the tickets as she did so, and we gave ourselves up to the enjoyment of an entertainment that appeals to all sorts, rich and poor, intelligent and unintelligent, which is instructive and helpful as well as amusing.

Comments: This piece was originally published in the Boston Journal (date unknown) and reproduced with introduction in the film trade journal Moving Picture World. ‘The Hub’ is a nickname for Boston.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Going to the Cinema

Source: Luke McKernan, ‘Going to the Cinema’, from lukemckernan.com, http://lukemckernan.com/2012/12/16/going-to-the-cinema, published 16 December 2012

Text: I am out in London, and it has been a long day. I am walking towards the train station for the journey home, when I pass close by a shopping centre with an art house cinema in the middle of it. It is still early evening, and I think to myself why not see if that film you read about is still screening. I turn up at the cinema and find that its next showing will be in ten minutes’ time.

There are two queues, one for each person manning the the ticket office. I join one of them. The people in the queue are a mixed crowd, some young, some middle-aged, generally of the sort one expects to see queuing for this sort of film. It is to be a cultural treat. We stand by a display of DVDs of other art house films, each with quotations announcing that film’s exceptional qualities. There is nothing average on display here; everything proclaims itself remarkable. I wonder how so many films can all be so good and worry about those that I have not heard of, let alone seen. I feel reassured about those that are familiar to me. I have come to the front of the queue. It will cost £11.50 to see this film, which seems a lot of money to purchase something that you cannot take away with you afterwards. Were it a DVD I would hope to pay less.

I pay the money, take my ticket, and go down a set of stairs, where there is a bar with a few people seated on stools with drinks and snacks. There are posters on the walls for films past and film to come. I go down a second set of stairs. A young man takes my ticket, tears it in two and hands it back to me. It occurs to me that this is not much of an occupation for anyone. I go into a darkened room with seats in rows, each with a letter to differentiate it from the next. There are seats for around 200 people. Probably 50 or so people are arranged at various points, facing a large screen. I calculate how much revenue the cinema may take from a single screening such as this and how this helps pay for the women at the box office and the young man tearing tickets. I find a corner three-quarters of the way back, away from other people and with some leg room. I set down my bag of recently-purchased clothes, take off my coat and switch off my mobile phone. The seat is soft and comfortable. The room itself is sloped so that those at the back are higher than those nearer the front, enabling those behind to see over the heads of those in front, so long as we are all of uniform height.

The screen in front of us is showing advertisements for products. These advertisements help pay for the cinema; we understand this. There is one for a Beetle car, another an animation with young men self-consciously walking down a street with their shoes changing colour – it is advertisement for sports shoes of some kind. Another advertisement attempts to be amusing in a laboured way, and I concentrate on my knees until it is over. Two women behind me laugh at what they see on the screen. Then we are shown trailers for films that the cinema will screen in future days. One trailer tells us that its film is the best produced in Ireland this century. I try to consider what this might mean. I have not heard of any of the films trailed, nor do I feel any compulsion to see any of them. The screen then shows us advertisements for the cinema itself, including its upcoming screenings of live opera from New York. The operas look sumptuously staged. I almost forget that I do not much care for opera. The trailers show the highlights and none of the trials that may come between.

A disembodied voice asks us to switch off our phones. Some rustle with objects in their coat pockets. The film we have paid to see is about to begin. There is a message from the British Board of Film Classification to tell us that this film has been classified as 12A, which means that it is considered unsuitable for children under 12 unless they are accompanied by an adult. There are no children aged 12 or under in the cinema. All is well.

The film has started. It is an earnest work about an elderly couple, one of whom suffers from a stroke, leaving the other one to care for her. Probably we would not normally have chosen to pay money to see a film with such a theme, but it has received awards and many favourable reviews, and the director has made notable films before now, so we expected to be impressed. Certainly we are not expecting fast-paced action or the any of the other kinetic thrills of a cinema film. We are prepared for what we see. A mobile phone goes off five minutes into the proceedings, and I wonder for a moment whether it is part of the film. But it comes from the women behind me and is swiftly turned off. The film rolls on. It is in French, and there are subtitles. It is very accomplished work, with exceptional cinematography capturing interior natural light with a quality that makes me think of Norwegian paintings of the late 19th century. Perhaps this is intentional. The director is clearly very skilled, and nothing seems incidental or without relevance. One cut from close-up to medium shot of the couple jars by its unnaturalness, but that is all. There is no story to speak of. There are incidents, because a film is drama and must have incidents, but they are not important.

We admire the flat where the couple live. It is filled with books and paintings and interesting objects. I wish my own home had some of these books and paintings and interesting objects. Probably others in the audience are thinking the same. The film shows us some of the paintings in close-up, filling the screen. The director knew that we would like to look more closely, and knew when we would want to do so.

The film runs for around two hours, during which time we sit still and watch it. I sometimes arrange my legs to the left, sometimes to the right. Sometimes I think of other things, such as whether I will want to eat after the film or not, but mostly the film holds my attention. Occasionally I wonder when it will end, and how, but I never look at my watch. One of the subtitles has a grammatical error, and this bothers me. The film is filled with significant sounds, such as a tap running, a pigeon flapping or the clink of plates being washed. There is no music, except that which is played on a CD player or by the people who are acting in the film. It is a film about musicians. The main protagonists are more cultured and accomplished than we the audience watching them, but we do not resent or envy them for this. It is simply who they are. This is one of the film’s accomplishments.

The ending comes, and end credits follow which tell us all the names of the many talented people who made the film. They roll past in silence. Some of the audience get up, but I stay to the end out of a long habit which says that I must see the name of every person who contributed to this work, even though their names mean nothing to me. When the film has had its final say, we get up and walk out of the auditorium and up the stairs once more. The film has been bleak and sad and all are silent at first, then turn to chatter as they near the open air above.

I come up to the foyer, where a new set of people is gathering to see either a further screening of this film or another film showing on a second screen. I step out of the doors, where the cold air greets me. I do up my coat, head out into the dark and think not so much of the film but rather of the strange rituals involved in seeing a film. Once it was an act of faith, now it is an act of remembrance. What did that film mean, and why did I see it? I knew these things once, but now no more.

The cold wind blows and I head for home.

Comments: Luke McKernan (born 1961) is a film historian, news curator, and editor of the Picturegoing website. This posting from his personal site lukemckernan.com documents a visit to the Renoir Cinema, Bloomsbury, London to see Amour (France/Germany/Austria 2010 d. Michael Haneke).

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Extract from interview with Anne Lillian Winifred Chambers, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-2000-1

Text: A: Oh yes, he’d do that. Oh yes, I’ve known him to do that. He was very capable. A very quiet – lovely character my father. Mother was a bit forceful with us but – never a harsh word from him. I had the slipper though from him when I was seventeen for being out late. I was only half an hour late but our time to be in was – half past nine. And I was – I had met my first husband you see then and used to go to the pictures and I kept saying I must be home by half past nine. Well this particular night there was a very nice picture on I thought, oh dear, I’m tired of saying I must be home by half past nine. I’ll wait until it’s finished. And I got home at ten o’clock. And we had the semi-basement, you know, the sort of London houses, they have the steps down to the – lower part of the house and step up to the front door. Well we had this meadow opposite and I found the house all in darkness, the door was bolted. Oh I was terrified. I went to the front, knocked on the front door. I stood there for some time and then my father opened the door, he said, where have you been to this time of night? I suppose mother had been on to him that he must be really cross, and he had this slipper. He said, where have you been? I said, to the pictures. Who have you been with? So I said, George Allard. He said, I’ll give you ten o’clock at night, get up those stairs, you go out no more this week and I was so surprised when he hit me with his slipper I turned round and got another one. I chased up stairs and the top of the house, of course that was the large bedroom and that went over the hall, you see so we had a doubled bed and a single bed, we three elder girls slept there and my sisters were absolutely killing themselves with laughter because I had the slipper. And I never went out for the rest of the week. That was my punishment.

Q: How did you feel about that incident?

A: Never forgotten, because it was so surprising that my father should hit – hit me.

Q: Were you upset?

A: I was rather because – very much in love with the boyfriend and I thought to stay in for the rest of the week – so I had to write to him and tell him that I was in trouble for being home late.

Comments: Anne Chambers was born in Norwood, London, in 1892. The incident described here occurred in 1909. She married George Allard in 1913; he was killed during the First World War. She was one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975).

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.

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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.

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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.

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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