French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumierè are often credited with inventing the first motion picture camera in 1895. While it can be argued that several others made similar inventions around the same time, the Lumierès did come up with an apparatus that was motion-picture camera, processing unit und portable projector in one. And they were the first to project their moving images to a paying audience consisting of more than one person. In effect, the brothers invented cinema.
Sound was still a long way off, so the first thirty odd years, films were silent. And short – film was still developing as a form of art and complex storylines were just as unheard of as pictures with sound. Some pioneers like Georges Méliès experimented with special effects (A Trip to the Moon, 1902) and at around the same time the first animated films appeared.
In 1915, D. W. Griffith achieved a major breakthrough with the three-hour long Birth of a Nation. Viewed today it is a shameful and blatantly racist depiction of the events following the American Civil War, but on a technical level, like its use of cross-cutting, Birth of a Nation was groundbreaking.
In 1927, problems with synchronizing sound and images were finally solved and with The Jazz Singer audiences finally were able to listen as well as watch. The “talkies”, as they were called, revolutionized the film industry. New genres emerged, like the screwball comedy with its emphasis on fast and witty dialogue (It Happened One Night, 1934).
After World War II, the industry went on a downward slope: More and more households were tuning in to the new invention called television and film theatres all over the world went bankrupt. The film studios’ reaction was “bigger is better”: New widescreen formats like Cinemascope were introduced and epics like Ben Hur (1959) and Spartacus (1960) were all the rage. Another gimmick was 3D (The Creature from the Black Lagoon, 1954), but that came and went very quickly.
The Hollywood studio system declined in the 60s and European countries provided film with a breath of fresh air, like The French Nouvelle Vague with directors like Francois Truffaut or the British Free Cinema. The 1970s saw the emergence of New Hollywood and its filmmakers: Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg or Francis Ford Coppola. In the 80s, VCRs were introduced, leading to additional income for the film industries via the home video market. A decade later, DVD replaced video cassettes and now Blu-ray-discs seem to be phasing out DVDs. Lately, even 3D is making a comeback with James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) leading the charge.
For the last few years, cinemas have been facing an even greater threat than TV in the 50s. The internet and its download possibilities have slashed cinema and home cinema revenues alike. But on the other hand filmmakers are also embracing the new medium. For instance, Deutsche Telekom are financing a road movie/thriller called Move On, starring Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) and directed by Asger Leth (Man on a Ledge). The film is produced with input from the online community and will be released across a number of digital platforms. So whatever the future holds, the art form known as cinema is alive and well.