The movie industry has come a long way from the one-second clips that once captivated early movie audiences.
what was the first movie ever made? we take you through the history of early cinema.
the moving horse (1878) brought photographs to life to answer a simple question about a racehorse.
the roundhay garden scene (1888) saw a 2.11 second clip that made cinema history.
thomas edison’s dickson salute (1891) brought the allure of cinema to the united states.
Since the late 1800s, film has been one of the most important visual art mediums for capturing the artistic spirit of the public. There’s nothing quite as captivating as walking into a dark theater and leaving the world behind for a couple of hours.
However, the first movies that existed were not long and complex as movies today tend to be. rather, the first movies were simple one-second-long scenes with as much narrative as a shopping list… but they wowed audiences around the world.
the moving horse (1878)
One of the first movies wasn’t even created for entertainment. Instead, it was produced to answer a simple scientific question posed by racehorse owner Leland Stanford: Do all four hooves of a horse ever leave the ground as it gallops? eadweard muybridge was the visionary behind this simple film. he would go on to enjoy a fruitful career in film production.
To uncover the truth, Muybridge arranged for multiple cameras to be fired at once to capture a galloping horse. then he arranged all the captured images into the first motion picture. while this technique may be simple to implement now, at the time, she was a visionary. the project received the name of the moving horse (1878). Not only did she answer Stanford’s question (yes!), but the movie paved the way for other silent films to come onto the scene.
round garden scene (1888)
what was the first film with narration? That came 10 years later, with Roundhay Garden Scene (1888). you know, the “narrative” can be pressing…especially considering the movie was only 2.11 seconds long. however, it was the first short film with action. features a small group of well-dressed people walking in a semi-circle in a garden, and…scene. pretty fascinating, right?
The film, directed by French inventor Louis le Prince, may be remarkably short, but it’s an important part of movie history. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Roundhay Garden Scene is the oldest surviving film we know of. however, it is not the only film of its time. Similar short films depicting everyday scenes were created throughout the 19th century and were often shown to audiences during traveling vaudeville acts.
dickson greeting (1891)
Meanwhile, in America, an unlikely filmmaker was rising to prominence: Thomas Edison. well, his movie successes were thanks to edison’s assistant, william kennedy, and laurie dickson. With Edison’s help, he invented the kinetograph, a motion picture camera, in his laboratory. the camera would pave the way for filmmakers throughout the 20th century. Edison also had some fun using the device to create some of his own movies.
His first film, Dickson’s Salute (1891), shows William Dickson passing a flat white hat across his chest and passing it from one hand to the other. The 3-second clip was shot in New Jersey at Edison’s famous Black Maria studio. Lots of lucky women in the National Federation of Women’s Clubs were among the first to witness the film. The Dickson Salute was credited as the first American film presented to the public.
the arrival of a train (1896)
One of the most famous pieces of early film history today is the iconic short film The Arrival of a Train (1896). this piece has been widely discussed and used in current artworks, not only because of the work itself but because of the unique reaction of the audience. the 50 second movie terrified the bejesus of the first group of people who witnessed the simple scene. what made watching the movie so scary?
subjectively, the movie doesn’t seem all that scary. features a train entering the French town of la ciotat, with the passengers exiting and boarding the train as the film concludes. It’s not a scary movie, but the continuous shot scared the audience.
many of them had never seen a movie of this nature, or a movie at all. they were sure that the train would go through the screen and run over them.
Legend has it that audience members tripped over themselves trying to get to the back of the theater to avoid being hit by the train. when the movie ended (and no one had died), everyone was amazed. a year later, the film industry was booming, popularized by photographers-turned-filmmakers as well as entertainment venues eager to make money off emerging talent.
employees leaving the lumière factory (1895)
That brings us to the historic French Lumière brothers. Auguste and Louis Lumière were arguably the biggest early contributors to the film industry we know and love today. they developed numerous pieces of technology that paved the way for longer narrative films, essentially starting the industrialization, mass viewing, and art form of modern motion pictures. his first film was titled Clerks Leaving the Light Factory (1895).
The documentary film, now often recognized as the first genuine film ever made, shows workers exiting the grand doors of the Lumière brothers’ photographic plate factory. an eclectic collection of women, men and animals exit the factory before the doors close again. The film was nearly two minutes long, and by capturing such a simple scene, it exposed audiences to the first non-fiction film to tell a true story.
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