There is one linking force behind what connects the essence of cinema, movies, and magic; the magicians behind the camera lens that capture these creations. Filmmakers, along with everyone directly and indirectly associated with crafting a motion picture, have throughout their existence perfected their craft as the spread of technological growth reached them. Many may take art for granted in our current post-modern societies, but in the dawn of its existence, they were seen for what they truly were. Magic. And this notion only began to grow without ceasing with filmmakers such as Georges Méliès and Segundo de Chomón pioneering 30-minute adventures that no one audience could have possibly even dreamt of. But these dreams, this magic, all began in the most likely of places. A place where magic has been thought to be nonexistent for centuries. New Jersey.
The way films have come to be perceived can be attributed to non-other than Thomas Edison. Although Edison’s idea, he proposed to the workers of his factory (which is still located in West Orange) to try to fabricate “an instrument which does for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear” (NPS). One of the men under Edison, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, managed to make a breakthrough and is largely acknowledged for further creating what was known as the Kinetograph. Although, the kinetograph was not the first introduction to the birth of motion pictures. Movies, even now in their raw form, are nothing more than “moving pictures”. They are thousands of pictures and frames being projected. But before the advancement of cameras, which capture all these frames, many inventors had machinery that was able to create the illusion of a frame in motion. Inventor Joseph Plateau, alongside the assistance of his sons, introduced what was known as the Phenakistoscope. Like other toys of its kind, the Phenakistoscope was one of the more successful illusion toys. Pictures on one disc, viewed through slots in the other, appeared to move when the two were spun and viewed in a mirror. It was a literal interpretation of what a moving picture what. And soon after Plateau’s creation came more. The Zoetrope, the Praxinoscope, and the Zoopraxinoscope. (EarlyCinema) They all served as variations and advancements that paved the path to Edison’s workshop.
With the prototype now in hand, Edison gathered a group of workers that was headed by Dickson in order to further produce and perfect it. They managed to make a Strip Kinetograph, which was what we can look to as the mirror to today’s film camera. They utilized pieces of long, flexible film that would have been normally used for photography. However, unlike traditional film, it iconically could be wrapped around a wheel or a spool. With both film and the camera in hand, Edison and his inventors set out to actually put it to use. With pictures on the film, they needed a way to actually project it, so Edison built a Kinetoscope in order to play it. It started out as only allowing one person to view a silent movie that lasted no longer than thirty seconds for the fee of five cents. The first kinetoscope salon, what we now easily associate with a movie theater, opened its doors on April 14, 1894, in New York City, where it would soon begin to flourish into what Edison could have never possibly imagined at the time. (NPS)
In order to actually produce all these films, Edison’s team needed a studio. There weren’t billions of dollars easily accessible in order to build epic sets and hire over-rated acts, so they settled with the best they could do. They needed a stage to perform on. Edison’s own light bulbs, which he had created, did not offer proper lighting to actually make these films. The studio that they constructed in 1893 was made out of wooden planks and tar paper, with a sunroof overhead that provided better natural light. It was called The Black Maria. Due to its odd design and building structure, it resembled a police wagon (which was sometimes referred to as a “black Maria.” Edison used this building for nearly 10 years after building it until finally fully moving this production into his studios in New York. (Black Maria)
The advancements that we have now can heavily be attributed to one man, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson. Although not heavily credited for the creation of the kinetograph, being able to piece together the fragments of Edison’s ideas is what we have to look to in order to see how long motion pictures have come. From being nothing more than “toys” to being considered our society’s largest business and source of economy and entertainment. Perfecting film in order to make it clearer and detailed, as if seeing it in person with your own eyes, to film cameras that can film in up to 6K resolution. (Behar) Although filmmaking can be largely thankful for inventors and their desire to innovate and improve the film, the camera, lenses, and production, the motion picture industry’s growth can be heavily attributed to the creativity and ideas of magicians. The argument behind science and magic, the rational and irrationally explanations, usually remains in constant debate. However, the film industry is an optimal example of how both these notions can create harmony. Scientists create the tools, and magicians utilize them in order to create magical worlds that couldn’t really be reached if not for both parties. Méliès took us to the moon in 1902. Chaplin showed us the hardships of American life. Hitchcock strikes fear into the hearts of millions. It has been more than a hundred years since the first idea of moving pictures came to birth, and since then, we not only have pictures that move but pictures that manage to actually appear off-screen. But no matter how much it may continue to expand, one thing will remain. Walt Disney said, “You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality”. It’s the magicians, the dreamers, and the idealists that have created the magical world of Motion Pictures.
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