FROM PEEP SHOW TO PALACE: The Birth of American Film by David Robinson

FROM PEEP SHOW TO PALACE: The Birth of American Film

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A well-detailed examination of the early cinema, from the magic lantern to the watershed year of 1913. While crude slide projecting devices and toys that mimicked cinematic motion have been around since the 18th century, the problem of actually projecting motion remained elusive. Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope of 1891, essentially a film in a box, was only a partial solution--especially since the first films ran only 15 seconds and could be seen by only one viewer at a time. But as with many technological leaps, a number of other inventors were working along similar lines, and vast improvements soon followed. By 1895, the French Lumi≤re brothers had developed the first real projector, the Cin‚matographe (it was also a camera and a film developer and is still regarded as a masterwork of machinery). What had seemed a fading fad quickly became a major new industry. As Robinson (Chaplin--His Life and Art, 1985, etc.) ably chronicles, the next two decades saw an enormous outpouring of increasingly sophisticated films. Theaters were opened, D.W. Griffith invented the medium's visual language, shorts became features, stars were born, there were experiments with sound and color, and Hollywood took its place as the world's leading film producer. By 1913 almost every major aspect of movies as we know them today was in place or in development. While there is much that is new in this account, there is also some material that, inevitably, is overly familiar as Robinson strays into the same rutted paths as every standard history of cinema. But his extensive research, level of detail, and shrewd, fresh insights make this a useful addition to any film library. An intelligent reappraisal of an important but undervalued period of film history.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1996
Page count: 214pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.