100 Fixing the Calendar 1582

  The First Picture Show 1895

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32  The First Picture Show 1895 
IN THE BEGINNING there was nonfiction ("I was chased by a pterodactyl . . .") and fiction (". . . and killed it in one blow"). People told stories, wrote them in words or pictures or acted them out. From cavemen until 1895, that was about it. Then 33 people met in a cafe for the only new storytelling form of this millennium: They watched a movie. 

George Eastman introduced roll film in 1889, which Thomas Edison used to show movies to one person at a time with his Kinetoscope. In France two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumiere, worked on projecting moving pictures to a group. On December 28, 1895, they premiered 10 films. At a later showing of The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, startled viewers ducked from the locomotive. 

With the technology in place, the grammar of movies rapidly developed. Audiences kept up, though many found closeups of intimate acts like kissing to be unnerving. Edison replaced an actor with a dummy to simulate the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, and sci-fi pioneer Georges Méélièès made film magic in A Trip to the Moon (1902). Not so many years later, German expressionists would use weather to convey a character's mood and Orson Welles would sum up Charles Foster Kane's disintegrating marriage by elongating a breakfast table before the viewer's eyes. In the U.S., movies became a giant industry; never before had so few people influenced the culture of so many. The nature of film, as opposed to, say, theater, means that the same images are banked in the consciousness of generations past, future and worldwide--people who would otherwise have little culture in common. After seeing Jurassic Park, kids from Beverly Hills to Bombay could suffer the same nightmare that they, too, were being chased by a pterodactyl. 

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