Early Cinema - Primitives and Pioneers

Discussion in 'Classic' started by dwatts, Jun 28, 2008.

  1. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    I have spent some time today watching (well, rewatching actually) this DVD set. Early Cinema - Primitives and Pioneers from Bfi is an excellent place to visit in order to enjoy examples of the earliest films still remaining.

    The structure of the DVD - for good or bad - is around the studios that were producing films for public distribution at the time. So the menu options include Lumière, Melies, R.W. Paul, George Albert Smith Films, Sheffield Photographic Company and so on. Within each of these sections you get a selection of films. Each film includes an optional (albeit sparse) commentary, and some good musical accompaniment.

    Personally I think it's pretty awesome being able to watch this stuff at all. These were made before, but were clearly formative of, modern cinematic techniques. By watching the films on these two DVD's you get introduced to the first narratives, the first suggestion of space beyond the frame, the first use of editing to make films longer, the first use of editing to illustrate zoomed magnification (telescopes etc), the first continuity (people exiting from one room and going into anther or leaving off the right hand side of the screen to appear on the left of the next frame), the first examples of animation, the first examples of color, and so on.

    These were made before any rules had been set up, and as such they're fascinating. You can Phantom Rides (cameras affixed to the front of trains), are introduced to "actualities" which were simple films of events or situations, and of course are presented with the first films that shocked audiences - trains running right at you, guns being fired into your face, people being run over etc.

    If you have an interest in early cinema, and how cinema developed both stylistically and technically, then you can do a lot worse than investing in this neat collection of films.

    I'd forgotten Melies was represented here - but sadly due to licensing they were only able to show a single film, and then it's simply an excerpt. However, his contribution "Voyage a travers i'impossible" is stunning to say the least. If this doesn't wet the appetite for a larger set of his work nothing will. The FX, humor, and drama are all there - in full color!

    Wonderful stuff this, and highly recommended.


    Amazon.co.uk



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  2. x666x

    x666x Well-Known Member

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    This would be fascinating. Noticeably, the best directors over the past 30 years are film nerds, and come from a formal film education. Scorcese, Copolla etc know their Sergei Eisensteins.

    Admittedly, I have not matured yet in this arena. Old school films has slowly become an aquired taste for me. Even though I haven't got around to shooting the short I also wanted to do, this would be a great way to see film technics (as a study) broken down from an era where they themselves were learning. Thanks for the heads up!
     
  3. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    These are great because they illustrate a developing artform. On the other hand, they also show cinema when there were no rules, and when the simplest of things offered fascination. From here you can branch into the so-called "avant garde" filmmakers, who - beside the actual avant garde artists of the day - were also simply people who, operating at a time of no rules, were simply suggesting ways cinema might go. There was absolute freedom, yet they weren't consciously putting technique aside, it just wasn't there.

    We can't have that freedom today, where films such as Begotten are always compared and contrasted with the modern rules of cinema.

    I just watched a movie about a fire at a home, which is one of the first films to have both interior and exterior scenes. Great stuff.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2008
  4. Mattapooh

    Mattapooh Member

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    Melies' stuff isn't in the public domain? That's bizarre... you'd figure they'd be able to license his stuff anywhere.

    I find this stuff interesting in terms of how people were figuring out the things that worked vs. what didn't. How editing's evolved over the past 100 years is really amazing when you look at it objectively. I was watching episodes of Three's Company recently and wondering what audiences in the late 1970s would've thought about something like Arrested Development if you had a time machine and showed it to them. Would they find the handheld camerawork amateurish? Would they have gotten the jokes? What's weird is that we're talking less than 30 years difference, which MTV had a lot of impact on.
     
  5. VenicuS

    VenicuS Guest

    Good write up, dwatts. But, if I might offer another perspective, if you haven't seen it, Kino's "The Movies Begin" Box set is a fantastic presentation of the early history of cinema, with an entire disc dedicated to Melies' pioneering visual effects, including "Le Voyage dans la Lune" (Voyage To The Moon). This set is one of my absolute favorites. I'd think you'd dig it as well.
     
  6. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    Thanks for that, I'm sure I would like that! As you'll see in three other threads I created today, I've ordered a five disc set of Melie, a three disc set of Houdini, and two sets of Avant-Garde films this week. So I'll have a lot of watching to do.

    What's interesting here is how challenging these films are, without being complicated (quite the opposite). I have to be super aware all the time to catch the new things (swipes, cuts, perspectives) because the rules of cinema are so ingrained in my mind I forget they even exist. I think we forget that the things we expect from movies - from characters we empathize with, to narrative structures, to technical details - have all been learned. They're not immutable. They are, however, difficult to set aside.

    Along with these films I'd also recommend people do some research into the technical side, because it's equally fascinating. Here are some factoids I've been noting down:



    • On October 28th 1898, a surgeon Eugene Louis Doyan, paid for some of his work to be filmed. They were subsequently shown to the British Medical Association. The first showings were films of a Hysteractomy and a craniectomy. First Mondo? :D


    • 15th May 1900: Lumiere Cinematograph were taking part in a presentation of their equipment at the World Fair. The screen they used was 25 meters by 15 meters, and was stored (it had to be raised and then put away each evening) in a water tank. When the screen was raised, it was wet. Which meant they could have audience members on both sides of the screen, with equal quality.


    • 1st September 1902: Melies premiered Voyage to the Moon, which is a 13 minute film including the iconic image of a space rocket embedded in the eye of the moon. The film was pirated by Thomas Edison's company, and shown in the US without profits going back to the maker.



    • Silent films weren't often shown in black and white, they were all tinted (blue for night, red for twilight etc.) This tinting process was done by hand - for every print of the film. Therefore, no two prints looked the same, there were always slight differences in the tints (which is something of a debate in the silent film community as today we strive to "get things right", whereas, there really is no "right" in this case.


    • Intertitles often contain grammatical mistakes and spelling errors. This wasn't because filmmakers of the time were uneducated, but was in fact because the intertitles had often been translated from foreign prints by people for whom English was a second language.



    • The first known piece of widescreen cinema was made in 1897 by Emoch Rector. The film was "The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight", and was a boxing match. Rector used 63mm film in order to show the entire ring in a single shot.


    • The first projected color films were shown by the Lumière Brothers in 1900 at The Paris Exhibition. They also made widescreen movies using 75mm film.


    • The Lumière Brothers also projected some of their films with sound - with a synchronized record being played alongside the film.


    • At the 1900 Paris Exhibition the Lumière Brothers also demonstrated the Cineorama. This is the same concept that is now known as IMAX. Viewers sat on a circular projection box, and ten separate projectors threw their images onto a screen 330 foot, 360 degree screen. It didn't take off because of the enormous heat the projectors generated.


    • George Hale invented "Hales Tours". This was a converted train carriage which audience members would sit inside. The film of movement would be projected inside the carriage, while on the outside the carriage would be rocked to give the impression of moving. Similar technology can be seen today in "Virtual Roller Coasters" in amusement arcades.


    • One of the earliest barriers to cinema was the lack of a common standard. In the US power supplies varied from town to town - film size varied and was tied to specific projectors - and content was made for one format and not others. Piracy was rampant. Just like we have had with VHS v. beta, and more recently between HD-DVD v. Blu-Ray.


    • Thomas Edison didn't personally invent anything to do with cinema. His company, Edison General Electric, did however provide the research financing and allow its employees to invent things. Recording images on celluloid was an invention of William Dickson, an Edison employee. This was done in 1891. Edison was king of Patents and lawsuits. He's credited with the invention largely because it's his name on the patent of Dickson's invention.


    They're just things I find interesting.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2008

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