The three most important places in the story of cinema are France, America, and the United Kingdom. France had A Trip to the Moon and America had The Great Train Robbery, but between 1896 and 1906, the films of England were the most innovative.
When an Englishman named R.W. Paul displayed his Animatograph, other inventors and photographers were drawn to the machine and began experimenting with their own moving pictures in a group that became known as the “School of Brighton.”
This group experimented with editing and composition and included Cecil Hepworth, editor of an influential 1905 film called Rescued By Rover that used editing to build suspense in a moment that pre-dates the heroic exploits of Lassie. The films of these British directors were the most visually imaginative on the big screen until D.W. Griffith came along ten years later.
The School of Brighton had discovered the importance of editing for building story and driving rhythms in film, and they were some of the pioneers in the usage of the close-up, the cross-cut, the traveling shot and the pan shot.
Of course these cinematic techniques would mean nothing if the story was not compelling. By the year 1900, films were already becoming formulaic and derivative of each other, and before the film industry could be successful, this problem would have to be solved.
Fortunately, there were two new kinds of screen entertainmenment originating from the theatre that saved the movies: melodrama and farce.
Compared to the static and unconvincing early attempts at screen narrative from Thomas Edison, melodrama, a simplistic good-vs.-evil drama, and farce, a series of comic mistakes, were sophisticated pieces of cinema.
At the same time narrative was becoming more sophisticated, so too was the business side. As early as 1896, people like Charles Pathé and Léon Gaumont were building huge film empires in France, although much like the entertainment moguls of today, many did not care about artistic merit as much as profit and conquest. Pathé’s film company “Pathé Frères” even copied the cinematic techniques of the Lumières.
Because the film industry was so new, it was still the wild west when it came to patents and ownership, until 1908 when law and order came to the industry in the form of the Motion Picture Patents Company. I will talk about that in my next blog.
Imagine being around during this period!
LikeLiked by 1 person