A Wonderful Journey in Motion

Antoniya PETKOVA
      28 Dec 2012


 A Wonderful Journey in Motion

One of the most vivid parts domineering in the 21st century is the motion picture film – nowadays produced with a combination of technologically evolved machinery, capable of creating complicated effects and sequences, which were unthinkable when moving pictures first came to life, and the imagination and story-making skills of writers and directors alike, able to utilise the talents of a good cast and combine them with music and visually stunning cinematography to create what ultimately is a commodity for the consumer. Perhaps the one thing the motion picture film we know today has in common with the motion picture films in the Victorian age is the way in which it provides entertainment to the masses.

  The first experiments in producing moving pictures were considered a novelty, perhaps even an impossible objective. The pinhole camera, the camera obscura, the stroboscope, phenakistoscope and zoetrope – independent inventions, created in the 1830s – were all steps towards what we today know as a feature film. Using those machines, it was possible to create moving images without the means of recording the projection. It was in the 1870s, however, when the evolution of moving pictures and the steps to achieving the recording of film became a plausible goal. The Californian governor Leland Stanford hired Eadweard Muybridge to conduct an experiment in recording a motion film in order to investigate whether a galloping horse had all its hooves off the ground at any given time during a race. Muybridge successfully photographed the horse by arranging 24 stereoscopic cameras to take images of the running horse every 21 inches. Muybridge later continued to invent the zoopraxiscope – early film technology – which used a series of still images projected quickly enough to trick the eye into seeing moving pictures.

In 1882, Etienne-Jules Marey studied animals by photographing 12 consecutive images per second, using his invention chronophotographic gun. In 1888, the experimental film ‘Roundhay Garden Scene’ was filmed by Louis De Prince, and it would be left in history as the earliest surviving motion picture. The attempts at developing and perfecting a motion picture device continued throughout the 19th century as inventors realised creating the technology for feature films was not an impossible task. But it wasn’t until the 1890s when Thomas Edison and his employee William Dixon introduced the kinetoscope and kinetograph whose technology would become the standard for film projection for many years.

With the invention of the cinematograph by Auguste and Louis Lumiére, the idea of projecting film to the masses was born and led to the invention of the movie theatre. Big screens began attracting large crowds and it was a cheap and convenient way to provide entertainment to large audiences, whereas before they had to travel long distances to see a diorama or entertainment parks.  On 28 December 1895 the Lumiére brothers organised the first commercial projection in Paris in front of no more than 35 people. From then on, the feature film technology only needed perfecting – there was no doubt any longer that the projection of motion pictures in a sophisticated way would one day be the standard for mass entertainment.

Film then entered the silent era – mainly due to the technical difficulty of synchronising picture with sound. The silent films would be accompanied by live musicians, intertitles or live human narration to set the scene and introduce dialogue. Before the introduction of synchronised sound in the 1927 film ‘The Jazz Singer’, the most notable moments in the era of motion pictures were the creation of multi-reel films, animation, and symbolic films, as well as developments in film staging, scene cutting, lighting, and elements such as continuity, flash-back techniques and many more.

Since 1927, film writing became a major part of the cinema world we know today. The Warner Brothers Company invented a device called vitaphone, which recorded dialogue and sound and played while the film ran – this not only changed the technical aspects of the film, but introduced the beginning of a new era, as film was going to be essentially different: in the silent era, films were generally short and only had dialogue introduced where necessary; now, it was possible to connect more deeply with the audience  – have the actors speak and be heard and have a complicated story and character development, which could not have been expressed without sound. Film turned away from the physical reactions and situations and focused on the mental and spiritual experience of the actors on screen, their inner battles, thoughts and feelings. Introducing sound to the motion picture was the earliest form of the film of the 21st century. Implementing colour quickly followed and films became an even more realistic form of entertainment.

Movies also became a way of escaping reality during the 1930s, an escape into a fantasy world, where anything was possible – a tendency, associated with film and mass media entertainment even today. Then followed the days of glamour – 1930s and 1940s had notable film-makers such as Hitchcock and Orson Wells, and great film names such as ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Citizen Kane’. What followed were ups and downs throughout what was left of the 20th century, as film struggled with the invention of television and attempted to create grand epics that TV could never replicate. Then film took off once again and entered into the field of the experimental, unusual and magical. It was the era of special effects – with ‘Star Wars’ opening a completely different gate for future film-makers and special effects studios alike. The advancement of Japanese cinema was also a great influence to Hollywood, but film was blossoming in most non-English countries, particularly in Asia.

   What was left to explore in the realm of motion pictures was CGI, 3D cinema and other technologically advanced methods for bringing films as close to reality as possible. Film went through stages of endless re-makes and sequels; then gave birth to documentaries, independent artistic studios, animation, and foreign-language and epic films. Film-makers did their best in improving the quality of film to assimilate reality – James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ used innovative technology to create another world whose inhabitants’ facial expressions and body movements were as close to human as it was ever possible to convey on screen. What was once a pie in the sky and considered a truly spectacular novelty became a simple commodity for entertainment, communication and, in some cases, propaganda. It became the biggest medium for a massive spread of information, selling and convincing. In 1870, when Muybridge recorded a galloping horse, nobody thought film would become such an essential part of our everyday lives and people would almost take it for granted. What an incredible journey it has been through – from those pioneering inventors who started by recording a set of still images and replay them fast enough to trick the eye into seeing motion, to today, where technology makes the impossible possible and creates worlds of imagination and magic to entertain its mass audiences.

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