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DFP: History of film

This unit talks about the history of a film.It also looks at the History of Film in Africa

Tracing the History of Film

The invention of photography as stated by Uwakwe (2010) played a big role in the history of film. Joseph Niepce was the first person to make practical use of a film and camera around 1816, though his images lasted for short time. But as regards motion picture, two people were noted to be trying to capture and portray motion between 1870s and 1880s. The first as explained by Hanson (2005) was Etienne – Jules Marey. Marey wanted to measure and transcribe motion, starting with blood and heart and then, moving on to how animals move. She succeeded in doing this. However, Biagi (2003) stated that in 1882, Marey perfected a photographic gun camera that could take 12 photographs on one plate, which happens to be the first photographic gun camera. British photographer, Eadweard Mudbridge, was the second to capture the motion of animals on film. Both Marey and Mudbridge had influence on Edison who is now credited with developing the motion picture industry in the United States of America.

The real stage for the development of a projected image was set in 1877. Leland Stanford, the former California Governor, needed to win a bet he had made with a friend. Convinced that a horse in full gallop had all four feet off the ground, he had to prove it. He turned to Eadweard Mudbridge, a known photographer of that time who worked on the problem for four years before arriving at a solution. So, in 1877, Mdbridge arranged a series of still cameras along a stretch of racetrack. As the horse sprinted by, each camera took its picture. The resulting photographs won Stanford his bet put at 25,000 dollars, (Biagi, 2003).

As a result of this success, Mudbridge began taking pictures of animals and humans and his photos were published in 1887 in a book titled “Animal Locomotion”, (Hanson 2003). In 1888, Mudbridge met Thomas Edison, an inventor who saw the economic potential in what Mudbridge was doing and invented a better projector. Edison and his assistant, William Dickson later came up with a motion picture camera that took 40 photographs per second. Thus Edison’s Kinetograph arrived and this facilitated the development of cinema. Thomas Edison later invented the kinetoscope which was better than the kinetograph but which did not project movies to a large crowd.

The lumiere Brothers, Louis and Auguste, made the next advance. In 1895, they patented their cinematograph, a device that both photographed and projected action, (Baran, 2002). Edison recognized the advantage of the cinematograph over his kinetoscope and invented the vitascope, a machine that projected moving pictures on a screen large enough for everybody in the theatre to view simultaneously

Dominick (2002 :228) stated that Edison’s and Lumiere brothers movies were largely reproductions of “weight lifters lifting, acrobats tumbling, jugglers juggling, babies eating etc and so with time, the novelty become less attractive for the audience. Edison porter, an Edison company cameraman saw that film could be a better storyteller with more artistic use of camera placement and editing. His 12 – minute “The Great Train Robbery” produced in 1903 was the first movie to use editing, intercutting of scenes, and a mobile camera to tell a relatively sophisticated tale.

In 1915, D.W Griffit released the “Birth of a Nation”. The 3-hour epic film took six weeks in rehearsal and nine weeks in shooting. Hanson (2005) said the film portrayed African Americans as nothing but beasts and in response to the ensuing controversy, two African American brothers, George and Noble Johnson made films that presented a more realistic and accurate presentation of the African Americans in the film titled “The Realization of Negro’s Ambition” (Dominick, 2002:229). Other landmark developments soon followed between 1914 and 1925, there were more than 1,500 percent increase for the cost of a feature film. This was also the period at which Hollywood came up with sound films. Although historians disagree on the first sound film, warner Brothers are variously considered the first, and they are: “Don Juan, the Jazz singer and lights of New York” (Baran, 2002:208). By 1927, many theatres were equipped and by 1939, “Gone with the wind” came with new Technocolour film. In 1941, Orson Welles directed “Citizen Kane” which some critics consider “the best American film ever made” (Dominick, 2002: 234). Later 1940’s came with the Second World War but in the late 1950s, the studios started to adjust to the reality that film and television had actually come to stay. The 1960s and 1980s marked a closer affliction between film and television. In 1978 for instance, Hollywood made around 180 films for television and two dozen more produced formotion picture theatres, (Dominick, 2002). The movie industry experienced decline but in 1975, Stephen Spielberg came up with “Jaws” while the production of “Titanic” in 1997 brought great change seen in the movie industry up till this 21st century.

History of Film in Africa

Rouch in Uwakwe (2010) stated that film arrived Africa in 1896 through a Vaudeville magician who stole a theatregraph projector from the Alhambra Palace theatre in London and took it to South Africa where he later introduced the first moving image on the continent. The first films made in Africa were exotic and they reinforced the initial stereotypes about Africa as a “dark continent of wild beasts, cannibals, primitive and backward people who grow tails and idle away time in the jungle” (Rouch in Uwakwe, 2010:105). This distorted image of Africa in the early films has been attributed to selfish motives and ignorance on the part of the Europeans. In fact, “Negro Cruise” was the first film about tropical Africa made by leon a Frenchman, during his first motor-car trip from North Africa to South Africa in 1924 and 1925, (Mgbejume 1989). The film told the story of poirier’s adventure. However, the life of the people he saw enroute was also portrayed in the film. The film revealed details of circumcision rites, and depicted an unusual aspect of pygmy life.