Sunday, December 03, 2006

Early developments in technique, form and business
Paris stage magician Georges Méliès began shooting and exhibiting films in 1896. His stock-in-trade became films of fantasy and the bizarre, including A Trip to the Moon (1902), possibly the first movie to portray space travel. He pioneered many of the fundamental special effects techniques used in movies for most of the twentieth century, demonstrating the revolutionary point that film had unprecedented power to bend visible reality rather than just faithfully recording it (Cook, 1990). He also led the way in making multi-scene narratives as long as fifteen minutes.

Edwin S. Porter, Edison's leading director in these years, pushed forward the sophistication of film editing in works like Life of an American Fireman and the first movie Western, The Great Train Robbery (both 1903). Porter arguably discovered that the basic unit of structure in a film is the shot, rather than the scene (the basic unit of structure in a play).

These developments helped establish the medium as more than a passing fad and encouraged the boom in nickelodeons, the first permanent movie theaters. There were 10,000 in the U.S. alone by 1908 (Cook, 1990). The previously anarchic industry increasingly became big business, which encouraged consolidation. The French Pathé Frères company achieved a dominant position worldwide through methods like control of key patents and ownership of theaters. In the U.S., Edison led the creation of the Motion Picture Patents Company, which achieved a brief, virtual monopoly there, using not just aggressive business tactics but sometimes violent intimidation against independent competitors (Parkinson, 1995).
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