The birth of the 'Seventh Art'.
Can you imagine life without films or television, cinema's little sister?
Today we can watch television 24 hours a day, we can go to the cinema or put a cassette into our video when we want. We can even make video films ourselves.
But imagine the surprise and the shock that people felt when they saw the first films in 1895! There was no sound, no colour and the films were very short: they lasted from 60 to 90 seconds! Besides, they did not tell a story.
They were glimpses of real life: a military parade, a running horse, a boxing match, the ocean ... One of the first films showed a train coming towards the camera. The audience panicked and ran away! The frightened people were sure that the train was coming into the theatre.
The early films were shown in music halls, theatres, cafes and even shops. Travelling projectionists brought the films to smaller cities and country towns.
The cinema was the perfect popular entertainment. It was not expensive and, at first, the audience consisted mainly of workers. The rich and intellectual classes ignored it. They didn't think it was art.
Gradually films became longer and started to tell stories. Edwin Porter was one of the first directors who made such a film in 1903. It was The Great Train Robbery, the first Western in the history of the cinema. This 11-minute film became a sensational hit.
As soon as the films learned to tell stories, they began to film the classics.
Silent films had orchestras or pianists. Later, printed titles were invented.
Film-makers soon learned how to use special effects. The first known special effect was created in 1895 by Alfred Clark in The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. It was a simple trick: the camera was stopped and the actress replaced with a doll.
In 1911 the first studio was opened in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Filmmakers soon realised that the place was perfect for shooting nearly any film — it had mountains, desert and ocean. Soon nearly all important American studios were in Hollywood. The next thirty years became Hollywood's greatest years.
The era of the talking film began in 1927 with the enormous success of Warner Brothers' The Jazz Singer. The film mostly told its story with titles, but it had three songs and a short dialogue. There were long queues in front of the Warner Theatre in New York... The silent film was dead within a year.
The first colour films were made in the 1930s. The introduction of colour was less revolutionary than the introduction of sound. The silent film soon disappeared, but the black-and-white films are made even today.
The most important aspect of the cinema was that, for the price of a ticket, people could dream for a few hours. The little boy who went to a Saturday matinee in Manchester or Marseilles could imagine he was a courageous cowboy. The mother in Birmingham or Berlin could imagine she was Scarlett O'Hara in the arms of Rhett Butler.
Today, no one disputes cinema's place as the "seventh art". It has provided as many great artists as literature, the theatre, and any of the other arts.

Last Updated (Sunday, 21 February 2010 12:52)