The History of Cinema

It is probably worth noting that the idea of the cinema was not created by a single person but rather evolved from one thing to another. This started with the Kinetoscope, the first prototype for which was demonstrated by the Edison Company in 1891. The machine showed a series of still images in rapid succession giving the illusion of motion. The images were held on a film that could be observed by a single viewer through an eyepiece at the top. Running in a continuous loop, the film would last for about 20 seconds or so.

A few years afterwards, Kinetoscope parlours started to open, first in New York and then in London offering a choice of films for people to see. However, the plan to open more of these parlours was halted by the Lumiere brothers who demonstrated projected movie images to a fee-paying public, the first true cinema experience, in Paris in December 1895.

Over the next twenty years, the technology gradually caught on with film industries becoming established in the USA, Europe and Russia, although the USA would become dominant due to advances in Europe and Russia being slowed by the First World War.

As more people paid to see the films, more money was invested into the industry with longer and more diverse films being produced. Money was also invested into distribution as more and more people were able to watch the films in purpose-built cinemas.

Not all early cinema was silent. In fact, the very early films were often accompanied by a lecturer as well as music and there was often a lot of audience participation which added to the excitement.

The first attempts to synchronise sound with the film used phonograph technology in the form of either cylinders or discs. The first full-length movie to successfully add synchronised sound was 1927’s The Jazz Singer which used a separate disc for each reel of film. This process, which was called Vitaphone by Warner Brothers was unreliable and was soon replaced with an optical system that was incorporated into the edge of the film itself. Although some thought that it would never catch on at the cinema, by the 1930s pretty much all films were accompanied by sound and by the 1950s stereo sound would be standard.

Colour had been used in cinema very early on, with a British system called Kinemacolor being used commercially by 1909. These early systems used black and white film but photographed and projected the images through coloured filters. Technicolor was the main system used in Hollywood from 1922 until well into the 1950s and was well known for its spectacular use of colour saturation. Kodachrome was born in 1935 and this was followed in 1936 by Agfacolor. These were the first true colour films where the film itself was coated with three different layers of colour sensitive emulsion. This type of film was still being used well into the 21st century.

Becoming more common in the 1950s was a wider screen aspect ratio which allowed for more information to be presented on screen thus getting the viewer more involved. More importantly, it set cinema apart from television which by this time was starting to become very popular. CinemaScope led the way. It still used 35mm film with the wider images squeezed onto it, which resulted in them having to be ‘unsqueezed’ by the projector lens to enable the images to fit the wider screens.

Although this and other innovations had some success in the battle against television, audience figures steadily declined over the next thirty years. In Great Britain, the highest attendance figure achieved for cinemas was over 31 million per week in 1946. By 1985, this was down to a million.

Cinema has fought back somewhat in recent years, especially since the advent of the multiplex cinema which gives the ticket-buying audience more choice with multiple screens in one location showing several different films. The first of these to open in Britain was in Milton Keynes in 1985 and viewer figures went back up to around 3 million per week as a result.

We also now have IMAX cinemas which use 70mm film to allow projection onto huge screens. IMAX screens typically measure 22 meters by 16.1 meters, but the largest of them can be found in Darling Harbour which is in Sydney, Australia. Its IMAX screen measures a whopping 35.72 meters by 29.57 meters. Films are also often shown in 3D which gives the viewer a totally immersive experience, especially when coupled with IMAX.

Probably the biggest relatively recent innovation in film production is the introduction of digital technology, especially for providing special effects and for animation. Over the past twenty years, a trend towards digital technology has started to see fewer and fewer movies shot on traditional film. Post-production often sees a final transfer of the movie from a computer to the film to be used in the cinema projector, but even this is becoming less and less of a requirement as more and more cinemas are investing in digital projection technology.

It is difficult to predict what will happen to the cinema in the future and there is no doubt that the movie industry will continue to innovate. However, there is a possibility that we could soon see its total demise as more and more people watch their movies on televisions courtesy of a plethora of internet-based services. This would be a shame though, as watching a movie at home where the kids are also paying attention to their social media accounts is just not the same as a family trip out to the cinema, where the only distraction is trying to find the popcorn in the dark.

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