Moving Images

Topics: Film, Auguste and Louis Lumière, History of film Pages: 6 (2587 words) Published: February 20, 2013
Moving images are so pervasive in our lives today that it is hard to imagine a time when people did without them. They've become an essential element in the way we communicate, the way we think. I dare say they even permeate our dreams. They've certainly influenced every other art form in some way. The reproduction of image, along with the reproduction of sound, has radically changed the world. If we stop for a moment and recognize that less than two centuries ago - an infinitesimal span in comparison to the length of human history - none of this existed, it is even more astounding. The idea of recorded sound is enough to give one pause. A concert, for instance, was a special occasion once. To hear Beethoven's Ninth, you couldn't pop a CD into your player. You probably heard it only a few times in your life, if at all. Such observations may seem obvious when stated, but familiarity has all but erased the oddity of it all. And familiarity breeds contempt too, as the old saying goes - one can grow tired of Beethoven's Ninth if you've heard it hundreds of times. In the same way the barrage of sensory input we experience every day can dull our senses and coarsen our taste while we take it all for granted. When photography was invented in 1839, many artists were repulsed by the new phenomenon. The visual arts of painting and sculpture had reigned for millennia. A painting wasn't just a reproduction - it transformed the objective reality which it portrayed into something new, a result which contained a mysterious quality that, for lack of a better phrase, was a part of the artist's soul. The new invention, which reflected reality back to us through a mechanical device, seemed cold and frightening. But despite resistance, there was something about the industrial age itself which made the development of this trend inevitable. Once the reproduction of the image in still form was established, it became an obsession with many different minds, in different parts of the world, to reproduce the image of life in moving form. The invention of movies was not a sudden revelation bursting from the mind of a single inventor. Their origins are shrouded in many different claims and precedents. Magic lanterns and flip books had created the illusion of movement for centuries. The Zoetrope and the Phenakistoscope are just two examples of devices that were developed in the 19th century. It is interesting that there has always been the element of amusement in the motion picture - an art that was born, so to speak, from toys. It is not my intention here to retrace, as many have done before, all the fascinating, often hesitating, steps that led to the movies. The serial photography of Muybridge and Marey, Goodwin's development of celluloid emulsions, Janssen's experiments with high-speed photography, Dickson's invention of the first effective film camera, along with numerous efforts by lesser known figures - in hindsight they all seem driven by a force beyond conscious will, as if the spirit of the age strove to bring life to the still picture. What I want to do is imagine the strangeness of it all, the experience of newness, the startling sensation that nothing like this had ever been seen before. In fact, it would seem that the birth of the movies as we know it was for a short while hampered by the idea of the toy. Edison, Dickson's backer, believed that the moving picture was destined to be viewed individually, like the Zoetrope or other toys, and so he confined the movies to a device called the Kinetoscope. The people who went into a parlor and paid a quarter to peep into a box and watch about sixteen seconds of film - people dancing, boxing matches, brief slapstick routines, trained animals and whatnot - must have been rather amazed at the sensation at first. But the fact that it was private, the image small, the duration brief, made it familiar to some degree, similar to the magic lantern or flip book experience. It did not occur to Edison...
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