To Capture “Life Itself”–The Very Early Days Of Cinema

Roundhay Garden Scene (1888) – The Public Domain Review

A Mind Exercise

Imagine that you’re an average person living in the late 19th century. Try hard to really put yourself in the right mindset. You’re probably thinking: “Okay, well, there’s no electricity in my house or smartphones and there’s no modern medicine and…” Those things always leap to our minds first. But what about other everyday details? For instance, what would you do for entertainment? What resources would you have had at home, or nearby?

Long before television and radio, newspapers would’ve been important, with their humor writers, cartoons and other amusements, and there were always various magazines with similar features. There were novels, games, music if you or a family member played an instrument, and of course singing was the freest, most basic form of entertainment of all. Dances, socials, picnics, and other amusements would no doubt be on your schedule too. But your most memorable entertainment experiences of all were probably at the theater.

Traveling with Vaudeville Performers | Historic theater, Cincinnati,  Cincinnati ohio

Theaters, whether they were gigantic with gilt decorations or tiny with just a few rows of seats, were the heart of the entertainment industry–as they had been for thousands of years. Like the generations before you, you crowded inside with dozens of others, found your seats, and–if the show was good–you were transported by a great story, a fine performance, or a beautiful melody. You watched the performers carefully, your imagination filling in the gaps of the stage’s limitations–painted scenery could be a forest, that wall of faux stone could belong to a castle. Perhaps you were in the back rows where you squinted to see the performers; maybe you paid more for a clearer view up front, where you could even see the makeup on the actors’ faces.

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Obscure Films: “The Merry Skeleton” (1898)

The Merry Skeleton (S) (1898) - Filmaffinity

It’s less than minute long, was filmed over 120 years ago and simply shows a dancing skeleton who keeps falling to pieces and magically reassembling itself. Silent film fans, any guesses about the director?

Georges Méliès - Wikipedia
“…Duh?”

Nope! It would actually be these staid gentlemen:

Auguste and Louis Lumière - Wikipedia
“…Oh.”

Who probably never pictured themselves being part of a Halloween-themed month, gravitating more towards the documentation of departing factory workers, arriving trains and the like. But they filmed a skeleton, and skeletons are great Halloween decorations, so if you ask me that counts.

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