The early days of cinema, explained

Turns out banking on technological spectacle is the backbone of movie making. Cool.

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By Meg Shields Published on July 17, 2022

Welcome to The Queue – your daily diversion of curated video content sourced from the web. Today we take a look at a video essay that depicts the early days of movie making, from gramophones to the Cinématographe.


It can be hard to wrap your head around the early days of cinema; that exploratory period between the 19th and 20th centuries when innovators pioneered an entirely new medium of creative expression.

Only, as anyone with an interest in early film will tell you, movies weren’t originally considered “creative” in the way we think of them today. Not even by the big names (Thomas Edison, The Lumière Brothers, etc.) who made them. Movies were seen as disposable entertainment, which is one of the reasons why so many have been lost to history. And yet, as the following video essay argues, filmmakers, despite their best efforts, inadvertently forged the language of a new artistic medium.

The following video essay describes not only the technologies that made the earliest films possible, but also the emergence of business strategies and creative trends that define the art form to this day. We still see studios relying on the lowest common denominator these days to make the most money. And while in the late 1800s that meant “showing people entropic static photos of people doing a single task,” the principle is the same. The trajectory of cinema is connected with technical spectacle. There’s a straight line between a 19th-century Parisian audience that goes crazy with the sharp image of the cinématographe and a contemporary audience that says, “You have got to see Top Gun: Maverick in IMAX if you can.”

Watch “The First Movies”:


Who made this?

This video about early cinema’s first steps into the public sphere was made by Luiza Liz Bond and Lewis Michael Bond, the duo behind The film cartography. Her videos explore the interfaces of film and philosophy. You can check out The Cinema Cartography’s website here. You can check out their back catalog of videos here.

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Related Topics: Movie History, History, The Queue

Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior staff member at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How’d They Do That? and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer. Meg has been raving about John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ on Twitter can be found here: @TheWorstNun. (she her).