The Birth of the "Movie"

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Movies were the most imporexternal image thomas-edison.jpgtant form of mass entertainment during the 1880's. Several inventors created the technology that made motion pictures possible, most influencail of them was Thomas Edison.

Thomas Edison's intrerest in motion pictures began before 1880, but a visit from Eadweard Muybridge in February stimuated his resolve to invent a camera for motion pictures. Muybridge proposed that they collaborate and combine the Zoopraxiscope with the Edison phonograph. Edison decided not to participate in the partnership, realizing that the Zoorpraxiscope was not a very practical or efficent way of recording motion. In fear that others would take his idea, Edison filed a caveat with the Patents Office on October 17,1888. In his patent he described ideas for a device which would "do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear." The task of inventing the machine fell to Edison's associate William K.L. Dickson. Dickson initially experimented with a cylinder-based device for recording images, befor turning to a celluiod strip. In October of 1889, Dickson greeted Edison on his return from Paris with a new device that projected pictures and contained sound. Edison external image kinetoscope-engraving.jpgpatented the product and called it a Kinetoscope which in Greek means "movement to watch." Kinetoscope parlors opened in New York and soon spread to other major cities during the 1890's. Edison's first motion picture emerged soon after. The picture showed one of Edison's assocciates sneezing. Although it was a huge step in the entertainment industry, Edison's short film was far from what was considered a "great" movie. Eastman Kodak in 1893 began supplying motion picture film stock, making it possible for Edison to step up the product of new motion pictures. He built a motion picture studio later named the Black Maria that was opened at the West Orange complex. This studio had a roof that could be opened to let in day light , and the entire building was constructed so that it could be moved in line with the sun.

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Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat invented a film projector called the Vitascope and asked Edison to supply the films and manufacture it under his name. Edison was reluctant to the development of a motion picture projector, feeling that more profit was to be made with the peephole viewers. However, his company eventually developed its own projector, known as the Projectoscope, and dropped the Vitascope all together. Short films became available to individuals through the peeny arcades, "peep shows", and amusment parks. Soon after because of these projectors pictures were able to be viewed on big screens, which allowed for a larger audience to see films. The first motion picture shown in a "movie theater" in America were presented to audiences on April 23, 2896, in New York City.

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During the 1900's Americans became more attracted to these early movies that were usually plotless films. As time past a new name emerged that would take motion picture into a whole new era, D.W. Griffith. D.W. Griffith produced two silent epics-The Birth of a Nation in 1915 and Intolerance in 1916. The films were the first to introduce elaborate filmmaking and serious plots to the field of filmmaking. The Birth of a Nation in particuarlly contained racist messages with its celebration of the Ku Klux Klan that were seen by the overwhelmingly white audiences.

Motion pictures nevertheless were the first step in mass entertainment medium, reaching althroughout the United States and just about every group of the population.

D.W. Griffith
Thomas Edison
Motion Pictures
U.S. History Book

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