American Cinema 1890-1909: Themes and Variations (Screen Decades: American Culture/American Cinema)
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The essays in American Cinema 1890-1909 explore and define how the making of motion pictures flowered into an industry that would finally become the central entertainment institution of the world. Beginning with all the early types of pictures that moved, this volume tells the story of the invention and consolidation of the various processes that gave rise to what we now call "cinema." By examining the battles over patents, production, exhibition, and the reception of film, readers learn how going to the movies became a social tradition in American society.
In the course of these two decades, cinema succeeded both in establishing itself among other entertainment and instructional media and in updating various forms of spectacle.
Dickson’s staging gave glimpses of the strongman that only a few front-row spectators could have seen, an intimate view of the play of Sandow’s muscles. The ﬁlms’ intensely erotic overtones have caused modern viewers to speculate about what they say about late Victorian taste. These ﬁlms, and many other early productions, owe a debt to the chronophotographic images that Eadweard Muybridge, Ottomar Anschütz, and Étienne-Jules Marey had already published—and sometimes projected. Chronophotography
as the basis for attracting audiences. By presenting movies as a form of 72 PATRICK LOUGHNEY edifying entertainment more akin to an educational activity, they operated outside the standard entertainment model of exhibition at the close of the nineteenth century. Film programs accompanied by lecturers were a major mode of presentation in this period. According to Musser and Nelson, there were at least thirteen ﬁlm lecturing companies traveling America in 1898–1899, bringing their programs to
bodies in solemn procession were sailors, ofﬁcers, and other dignitaries. Those producers who couldn’t afford to send cameramen to Cuba either looked to military installations in their vicinity for appropriate actuality subjects or turned to restaging battle scenes with as much realism as possible. For example, Chicago-based producers William Selig and Edward Amet both separately produced a series of actuality ﬁlms on military activities. Selig’s ﬁlms included several taken at Camp Tanner in
time when people in industrial societies had the ﬁrst great palpable sense that the technologies of their era were truly conquering time and space. For the ﬁrst time in 1898–1899 North American audiences saw the pope in lifelike action and received his blessing; through the various Passion Play ﬁlms, they saw the life of Jesus Christ depicted as a narrative entertainment; over a two-year period they were exposed to hundreds of ﬁlms about all aspects of an international war; and they were able to
“travelogue” views found in ﬁlm producers’ catalogues during these early years of cinema, this Western social conception of the Other, and the Western identity it helped create, must be borne in mind. These views and human zoos, the ﬁrst massive encounter between the West and nonwestern peoples, had a lasting effect on the West’s collective imagination and fantasies about other cultures, which had to be “civilized” and thus colonized. As the authors of a book on human zoos remark, The function of