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Haskin Article 1 “Moving Picture Shows Appeal to all Classes and all Ages”

October 10, 2011

MOVING PICTURE SHOWS APPEAL TO ALL CLASSES AND ALL AGES: In City or Country the Picture Show Is the Same, for Rich, Poor, Learned and Ignorant

By Frederick J. Haskin

In the moving picture show one touch of science makes the whole world kin. It has all come about so quickly –all within the space of 15 years–that it is difficult to realize fully what the moving picture show means to mankind. It is already the most universal form of amusement ever known and it may be tomorrow the most catholic instrument of education the race has ever possessed. It has been abused, it requires to be regulated, and it is not altogether free from evil but nevertheless the moving picture has conquered the whole world. It respects no barrier of race or tongue, knows no pride of class nor prejudice of creed, appeals alike to the scholarly savant and the untutored savage; and delights all ages from toddling tots to doddering dotard.

Is Democratic Amusement

It is the most democratic amusement the world has ever known since its cheapness has brought it within the range of the slenderist purse and since its mechanical perfection has sent it into all the byways and the hedges.

For five or ten cents the millionaire and the street gamin see the same moving picture show; and the people of the rural hamlet in their turn see exactly the same pictures that delighted the people of the metropolis.

The motion picture is to be the histrian of this and the future ages. Alread the name of William McKinley belongs to the past. But there is a moving picture showing him as he was making his last speech at Buffalo, only a few moments before he was shot. That film is a priceless possession of a historical collection, for it will preserve for all future ages the living McKinley, something that not all the writers ever wrote could do.

Preserves Great Events.

The coronation of King George V. will require no written history. The English people of a century hence will be able to see that great spectacle and to describe it to themselves. Suppose now that we could see a moving picture of Lincoln delivering the famous Gettysburg speech; or of Washington taking the oath as the first president of the United States; or of the Boston Tea Party. What would it mean for the sake of truth in history? That is what our descendants will have.

Much is to be said of the moving picture of the present and the past without dipping into the future. In its practicable form the moving picture is not quite 16 years old. As is frequently the case with respect to great mechanical inventions, the moving picture as it is known now is the product of many minds. It is now being improved from day to day, and even in a mechnaical sense it is yet in its infancy. But without detracting from the merit of the hundreds of inventors who have done their part to make it successful, the moving picture may be credited to the genius of three men. Edward Muybridge, J. Maray and Thomas A. Edison.

Muybridge was an Englishmen living n the United States, and it was he who devised the plan of taking a series of instantaneous photographs and of shwing them in rapid succesion and as to simulate motion. Maray was a Frenchman, and it was he who first used a continuous film and took the series of photographs from one camera. Edison is, it is hardly necessary to say, an American, and it was he who made the film practical by perforating the ribbon and gearing it to a pin sprocket wheel so that each successive picture would register exactly over its predecessor.

Really Starts in America

These are the three great discoverers tha thave made the modern moving picture possible. Although Muybridge was English born, he did his work in California under the financial patronage of Leland Stanford; although Maray was a Frenchman and worked in France, his experiments were made possible because of a subsidy obtained for him from the Smithsonian institution; and as Edison is American born, therefor the United States may justly claim credit for this great mechanical invention.

The limitations of space prevent any adequate appreciation of the work of Lumiere, who invented the cinematograph, or Herman Castler, who invented the biograph or the mutoscope, or of score of others. The whole course of the experiments from 1872 untl 1895 was concerned more with taking the photographs than with exhibiting them. Edison’s plan for exhibition was the kinetoscope, a peep-show contrivance now relegated to the penny arcades. It was Lumiere, a Frenchman, who in 1895 invented the cinematograph and successfully projected the picture on a screen by means of the familiar principle of the magic lantern. The next year Edison followed with the vitascope.

Then there was a veritable avalanche of inventions, so that by 1898 there were no less than 105 (109?) different moving picture machines with 109 different names, ranging from the familiar biograph and cinematograph to the forgotten klondikoscope and the parlorgraph.

Following this came a plague of lawsuits and this in not yet cleared away. Probably there is not one single claim of priority of invention that is generally admitted, unless it be that of Muybridge. Even Edison’s claim to the device of punching holes in the film to secure a perfect register is disputed, although Mr. Edison gets a half cent a foot royalty on all films made by a great photographic supply house, one that controls the film patents, a circumstance that now brings the inventor a weekly income of about 87000.

Two Factions at War.

The disputes over the patents perturb the moving picture business in this country to this day, dividing the entire business into two factions, the “licensed” and the “independent.” The general dispute is not unlike that of the automobile manufacturers during the life of the famous Selden patent. The owners of many of the original American moving picture patents, after fighting each other for several years, joined forces and pooled their interests by organizing the Motion Picture Patents Company, to which all the patents were assigned. Those on the outside continued to fight by attacking the validity

of the patents. But that is another story.

Leland Stanford, sometime governor and senator of California, 40 years ago made a wager with a friend as to whether a running horse ever has all four feet off the ground at the same time. Muybrldge was a photographer in San Francisco then engaged in making a photographic survey of the state. He

was called In to settle the wager, and his expenses were guaranteed bv Stanford. Muybrldge became an enthusiast and resolved to determine the character of animal motion, a problem requiring a quicker eye than is possessed byhuman beings.

Led to Motion Pictures.

His experiments were begun at the race track at Sacramento in 1872. He set a number of cameras around the track at equal distances, sometimes using more than two dozen. Small strings were attached to the shutters. These strings were broken by the running horse and tbe photographs taken. Later an electrical device was employed to open and close the shutters. In his experiments Maybridge used only wet plates, employing a total of more than half a million plates. His was a task that might well have staggered a Hercules. He proved that the running horse never has all Its feet off the ground at any time. But that was only the beginning.

Muybridge made glass positives from the negatives of a series of running horse photographs, mounted them on a wheel no less than 13 feet in diameter and employing a magic lantern, projected them onto a screen at varying rates of speed, from 12 to 82 a second. This machine is called a “zoopraxicope.” He had based it upon the principle of the “zoetrope,” a toy popular in the early part of the nineteenth century. It was a revolving, open pasteboard cylinder with many lateral silts through which was pulled a strip on which were drawn imaginary figures of constantly changing postures. By reason of the persistence of vision, the zoetrope had produced crude moving pictures, but such as were subsequently proved to be entirely false.

Muybridge's zoopraxiscope, image from the Kingston Museum

Muybridge first publicly exhibited his “zoopraxiscope” in San Francisco in 1880 in a lecture on animal locomotion, so that the California city may claim to have been the cradle of the moving picture art. He repeated the lecture and the exhibition in Paris in 1881. in London in 1882, and in New York, Boston and Philadelphia in 1883. While in Paris in 1881 he met and talked with J. Marey of the Institute of France. He had already conferred with Edison about the possibility of combining the zoopraxiscope with the newly invented phonograph a problem that is still far from a satisfactory solution although successful “talking pictures” are a possibility of the future. Of his own experiments and of these two conversations with Marey and Edison was born the moving picture apparatus of today.

The invention of the projecting machine in 1895 made the moving picture a practicable thing and in 1896 the exhibition of pictures was begun on a commercial scale. The pictures were crude and the exhibitors were for a long time content to make pictures of anything that moved, depending upon the mere wonder of a motion in a picture for their popularity.

Haskin, Frederick J.  “Moving Picture Shows Appeal to All Classes and all Ages.” El Paso Herald. 10 October 1911, 6.

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