How the Human Eye is tricked—Feeling the Way—The Celluloid Film—The Value of the Cinematograph in Science and Industry.

THERE are few modern inventions about which so much has been written as that which we usually call the "cinema", and, with the possible exception of wireless, there is none with so great an element of romance. Although only forty years old, there is hardly any other industry which employs more people or a larger amount of money; there is certainly no other which interests or gives pleasure to a greater number. And yet the invention, with all its wonders, depends for its very existence upon the comparative ease with which the human eye can be tricked.

Let me explain. The eye is extremely sensitive to light, so sensitive that it can catch and see an electric spark which lasts but the millionth of a second. It can, as I say, receive these impressions with extraordinary rapidity, but it cannot get rid of them with equal rapidity. Indeed, the average eye takes probably about a tenth of a second to get rid of an impression. Take a very common illustration. Char the end of a stick so that it glows, then swing the burning stick round your head, and you get the impression of a circle of fire. Or, again, you see a shooting star entering our atmosphere at a prodigious speed, and glowing white-hot by friction as it flashes through the air. To you or me that meteorite appears like a long streak of light, although common sense tells us that it cannot be in two places at once. Mankind recognized this deception a long time ago, but it was not until comparatively recent times that any advantage was taken of the knowledge.

In 1825 a little toy was invented, called the "Thaumatrope." On one side of a card a horse was depicted, and on the other, but upside down, its rider. The card was spun rapidly by means of a twisted string, and the eye was tricked into seeing one picture of a man mounted on the horse. Then about the year 1860 was invented the "Zoetrope", in which a strip with a dozen or fifteen pictures of a man juggling with three balls, or of a child skipping, was placed inside a round box which could be made to spin. In the sides of the box were slits which passed in front of the eye, allowing only one picture to be seen at a time, and the impression was that of a continuous scene of a man juggling or of a little girl skipping. In the "Praxiscope", invented by Reynaud in 1877, and still sold as a toy, the pictures on the strip are reflected in a set of mirrors in the center of the box.

As an improvement on the Praxiscope, Mr. Reynaud, in 1892, opened an "Optical Theatre", which drew large crowds in Paris. On transparent strips 100 to 150 feet long he got artists to draw shadow pictures of the "Felix" kind, which he wound on reels set on a table. The pictures passed in front of a magic-lantern condenser, so as to be brightly illuminated, and a revolving mirror flashed the pictures through a lens. They were thus projected on to a white cotton screen, the spectator sitting on the other side. Another magic lantern projected the landscapes in which the shadow pictures fought duels or otherwise disported themselves. Each scene lasted about ten minutes.

The birthplace of the "movies" was Philadelphia, where in 1870 Henry Heyl of that city showed on a screen a couple dancing a waltz. In 1872 other films showed a galloping horse. In 1881 Eadward Muybridge exhibited at the Paris Electrical Exposition a device showing the movements of animals at rates of between twelve and thirty-two pictures a second.

In the meantime, with the invention of "rapid" dry plates, referred to in Chapter XIV, it had become easy to take photographs in a small fraction of a second. It was evident that for the production of animated pictures progress lay in that direction, and many people were working hard at the problem in Germany, in France (Marey, the brothers Lumière), in England (Mr. Friese-Green), and in America.

In the year 1885 the Photographic Society of London was holding one of its usual meetings, and upon a table stood a small contrivance resembling a magic lantern. The only difference was that, instead of slides mounted on the usual carrier, there was a disc of glass which, when held to the light, was seen to be covered with a large number of small, transparent pictures, and these were arranged in the form of a continuous ring. The lights were lowered, and next moment there flashed upon the screen successive pictures projected so rapidly that the audience saw events in real life passing before them. The exhibit lasted but a few seconds, but it was so amazing that for some moments the gathering was still and absolutely silent. Then every one began to ask questions at once.

The exhibitor, quite a young man, was Mr. William Friese-Green, at the time a well-known portrait photographer, with a studio in the West End of London, and he had been working for several years on the invention which, now first exhibited, created so great a sensation. The difficulties to be faced were very great, for at that time the modern celluloid film was unknown, and so, too, were metol-hydroquinone developers. Many great inventions have had their origin in very slight beginnings, as we have seen, and so it was with Mr. Friese-Green’s. One night, when using a magic lantern, he inserted in rapid succession two of those comic slides which used to be so popular. The first represented the face of a man sound asleep; the second, the same face with the eyes wide open. Moving these rapidly to and fro, and watching them with one eye closed, Mr. Green observed a certain lifelike action, and the idea flashed into his mind that, if he could get a sequence of pictures passing at a rapid pace before the eye of the lantern, he might be able to portray motion instead of still life.

After his first exhibition before the Photographic Society, the inventor continued his experiments, and a couple of years later exhibited the apparatus in the window of his studio in Piccadilly. Within half an hour a crowd blocked the entire pavement, and people almost fought to get a glimpse of the new photography. The pictures set working in the window were not particularly exciting, being merely a representation of the Marble Arch with people passing up and down, yet the police had to request the photographer to remove his too attractive window show because the traffic of Piccadilly was being held up.

Several scientific societies requested Mr. Friese-Green to exhibit his new invention at their meetings, but for a long time this first cinema in England remained no more than a scientific toy. The great handicap to further progress was the glass plates, which were not only heavy and cumbersome, but also very breakable. Mr. Friese-Green had already discovered that in order to obtain successful results it was necessary to expose sixteen photographs a second, and the weight of the glass plates made any prolonged exhibition an impossibility. He realized that he must find some substitute for glass, and, like Edison in search of an electric-light filament, he set himself to the task. He prepared scores of different kinds of material, using sheets of gelatine and all kinds of flexible substances, and spent an immense amount of time and money before he suddenly bethought himself of celluloid.

Celluloid, which was at first called "Parkesine", was made in 1856 by Mr. A. Parkes of Birmingham, and is simply a compound of guncotton and camphor or other ingredients. It can be made up to resemble ivory, horn, tortoiseshell, and other substances, and can not only be molded and pressed into any desired form, but also turned, planed, or carved. It is elastic, and is not affected either by air or by water. It has a thousand different uses, for it can be made into billiard balls, piano keys, combs, buttons, napkin rings, brush backs, cardcases, and many other objects of common use. It can be colored to represent coral, or made to imitate linen for collars or shirt fronts.

Mr. Friese-Green found it perfect for his purpose, for it was flexible, durable, and could be rolled and packed into quite a small compass. Also, it could be made into rolls of any desired length. The next task was to devise a method of feeding this roll into the camera and jerking it sharply into position behind the lens during the fraction of the second in which the shutter is closed. In this the inventor eventually succeeded, and at last was able to prepare for a real exhibition. Just at this time he was asked to lecture before a learned society, and in this lecture he spoke of the possibility of taking a series of pictures on a long film, but did not assert that he himself had already solved the problem. As soon as he had finished speaking, a distinguished member of the Society rose and proceeded to pull the lecturer’s arguments to pieces. It was, he said, absurd to make such statements as Mr. Friese-Green had made, for no one could possibly take photographs in the way that had been described. The whole thing, he said, was a fairy tale.

Mr. Friese-Green got up. "I have given you my arguments, gentlemen," he said. "I may save time if I now hand you my proofs." With that he took from his pocket one end of a roll of film and threw the other among the audience. Never did a man look more
Ross Cinematograph Camera
Ross Cinematograph Camera
foolish than the doubter who had declared that the lecturer’s statements were fairy tales.

Mr. Friese-Green gave his first demonstration of moving pictures in the year 1890. In the year 1887 Mr. Edison had tried to produce animated pictures by a method similar to that by which he had made sound records on a phonograph. He used a cylinder around which was rolled a sheet of sensitized celluloid, on which were printed a line of tiny photographs. This method not proving convenient, Edison abandoned it in favor of one similar to that first shown by Mr. Friese-Green, and at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 small "Peep Show" machines of Edison’s invention were exhibited and worked on the penny-in-the-slot principle. Mr. Edison then perfected the "kinetoscope", in which little photographs, each no larger than a postage stamp, and printed on celluloid film, passed at the rate of no less than forty-six per second. According to Mr. F. A. Talbot, Edison did not patent his kinetoscope in England, so credit for the invention of the "movies" in England must be given to Mr. R. W. Paul, well known as a maker of scientific instruments. The story goes that late one evening in the year 1895 a policeman, hearing loud cries in a house in Hatton Garden, called assistance and burst in, expecting to find that a murder was being committed. Instead, he found a small crowd furiously applauding Mr. Paul’s first moving picture projected on a screen.

As has been the case with so many modern inventions, a number of people were working at the same time, though on somewhat different lines, to solve the problem. The first public exhibition of moving pictures in London was given by two distinguished Frenchmen, the brothers Lumière of Lyons, in the year 1896, and since that date scores of different patents in connection with film photography have been taken out by different inventors.

The greatest contribution to the art has been made by C. Francis Jenkins of Richmond, Indiana, in the invention of the phantascope which provided for the winding of the film from one spool to another by means of an electric motor. His latest work deals with the sending of motion pictures by radio. He has already perfected the sending of "still" pictures by this method.

The modern cinematograph machine still resembles in its essentials the older magic lantern. The film, which is now much narrower than formerly, has holes along the top and bottom to enable wheels with projecting teeth to catch it and pass it through the machine. It goes, of course, in a series of jerks. A disc pierced with a number of holes revolves in front of the lantern, and this disc is geared so that, as each section in succession is jerked into position, a ray of light passes through it to the screen, carrying the picture with it.

The growth of the cinema has been one of the most amazing features of the present century. At least twenty millions of people go to the "pictures" every week in the British Isles, and in North America more than double that number. Hardly a day passes without the opening of a new moving-picture house; and not only all towns but nearly all large villages have their picture halls or theaters. Enormous fortunes have been made. To give just one example. A good many years ago one of the first of the really big films was produced in Italy. It was from Sienkiewicz’s great novel "Quo Vadis?" and was first shown in Rome. An
Ross Cinematograph Camera Projector
The Ross Cinematograph Camera Projector
American named Charles Klein bought up the American rights, and opened a theater in Chicago with seats for four thousand people. This was packed at every performance, and at the end of the first week the far-sighted Klein was $5000 in pocket. At the end of twelve months he had netted nearly $500,000.

Some people think that the "movie" does harm, and it is, of course, a fact that films which picture criminals and their doings are far too frequently exhibited. On the other hand, the moving picture may be of the highest educational value. Take, for instance, a travel film like that showing the Mount Everest Expedition. No book could give anything like such a vivid impression of the mighty Himalayas and the strange people who live among their snow-clad heights as does the moving picture. You can sit in your chair and travel over land and sea; you can see an Antarctic blizzard or a sweltering tropical swamp. There pass before you the real people, animals, and scenery of every part of the earth.

Films teach us how to fight disease. We may see how consumption can be treated, how teeth can be kept sound; we may be taught the proper way of getting safely in and out of vehicles and of crossing crowded streets. The wonders of surgery are revealed, and the dangerous activities of the house fly are brought vividly before our eyes. We can follow a bullet in flight, and see it pierce a soap bubble. In this wonderful picture it is seen that the soap bubble does not burst as the bullet strikes it, but as the bullet passes out on the far side. I might mention that in photographing a bullet in flight five hundred exposures are made in one tenth of a second.

In the so-called slow-motion films the pictures are taken at high speed, but when thrown upon the screen the pace is greatly reduced. Consequently, if the picture presents, say, a man jumping over a hurdle, we see him float leisurely in the air as if he were as light as thistle-down. Or, if he is swinging a golf club, the swing appears to take ten times as long as was actually occupied in the stroke. Thus, any mistakes the jumper or golfer may have made are clearly seen, and this makes correction easy.

It is said that students at West Point gained a clearer idea of the making of bombs by watching a fifteen-minute film presentation of the process than they did from a whole course of lectures.

The chief value, however, of the slow-motion camera is its use in industry. For example, it enables managers in factories to study the motion of men loading trucks or working machines, to see just where wrong movements are being made and energy being wasted. By finding out mistakes and correcting them, work is made easier for the employes, and at the same time the output is increased. At present we are but at the beginning of motion study, but already the debt of industry to the camera is a very heavy one.

Chapter 24
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© 2000, 2001, 2002 by Lynn Waterman