austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

With wealth and fame your reward

Photographic film was made necessary by the invention of the camera in the middle 19th century, when people would pay for the experimental process, pose for hours, and then come away sorely disappointed that there was nothing to actually record the image. Many early photographers barely escaped without broken noses. Some tried drawing very quickly, but these attempts failed when the customers noticed the paint on their ``photographs'' was still wet. Photographers started insisting they could only take black-and-white pictures, which could be forged with ordinary pencil, and got away with that for decades.

But the need for photographic film was obvious. It was only good luck that the need would be filled by celluloid, which was invented because of the elephants of that time. The growing popularity of billiards put pressure on the elephants, whose tusks were made of sometimes as many as three billiard balls, so ordinary wear and now and then the gang getting a bit rowdy at night and tossing balls into the lake was understandably trouble. When elephants gave up billiards in favor of court tennis the game was in danger of collapse.

But the synthesis of celluloid made for an excellent substitute, even if older competitors grumbled that real elephants were not nearly so small and flat and foldable. Worse, the sheets of film were almost impossible to get to bounce off the edges of the table and would fly off the table as often as slide into a pocket. But it was easier than arguing with the elephants.

The earliest films were slow, requiring abundant light and long exposures, so many early pictures are very blurry as their subjects fell asleep for up to eight hours in the middle of the exposure. Only people with naturally sunny dispositions could generate enough light to appear well on early film stock. Photographic astronomy suggested that if there simply a convenient nova during the exposure then fast pictures would register. Work on the project to detonate the sun collapsed when the organizing committee realized there was no agreement on what to take a picture of with what would be a one-time chance.

The next big breakthrough with film came thanks to Edward Muybridge, who wanted to know if there is ever a time during a horse's gallop when all four hooves are off the ground. The determined Muybridge set up an intricate apparatus and spent over ten years interrogating horses, not one of whom would admit to anything he demanded to know, though one palomino admitted to changing the photographer's first name to Eadweard. Another claimed to have started the Great Chicago Fire of 1878, but was thought to be making that up. A third admitted to holding for ransom the body of deceased department store magnate A T Stewart, but that was years before.

Experiments would soon create the commercially successful moving pictures, pioneered by that guy who was the man in the moon in that film where the cannon shoots a bullet-ship and hits the man in the moon in the eye. These ``movies'' filled an obvious public demand where earlier experiments like the ``rubbies'' made people feel uncomfortable and imposed-upon, or the ``trippies'' which were a safety hazard particularly at the top of stairs, or the ``bumpies'' which could easily make a walking person fall into the lap of someone else (although it is this trait of the ``bumpie'' which lives on as the basis for the romantic comedy).

The earliest movies were silent, reflecting the shyness of many of its actors, many of them from overseas who never felt at home in West Orange, New Jersey. Things changed with the first extroverted movie star, in 1912, and experimental sound systems added a new dimension as audiences could appreciate how loud the rattling noise of the camera was. With better recording methods of the late 1920s movies let exposition and dialogue be carried by the actors themselves regardless of shyness, and we were able to put away the era of having all the performers signalling using semaphore flags to the audience.

Film was discontinued in 2004 in favor of online videos. The elephants are appreciative.

Trivia: Thomas Edison's ``Black Maria'' film studio was designed by William Kennedy Laurie Dickson. Source: The Film Encyclopedia, Ephraim Katz.

Currently Reading: Crazy `08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, Cait Murphy. Maybe the best book I've read this year, not counting Robert Benchley and Peanuts works.


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