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Motion pictures

Motion pictures, the art of interpreting reality and presenting entertainment or information by projecting a series of connected photographs in rapid succession onto a screen. The illusion of motion pictures rests upon the eye's tendency to retain an image for a fraction of a second after that image has been withdrawn. If a series of pictures is prepared showing, in gradual progression, the different phases of an action and the pictures are then viewed in rapid succession, the eye tends to connect the pictures, resulting in the illusion of a moving image. In fact, a movie is a series of still photographs printed on a long strip of celluloid. The strip is run through a proj ector which, by means of a shutter, shows each picture, or frame, for a split second. Modern movies run at a speed of 24 frames per second; silent films ran at 16 frames a second. Thomas A. Edison and his assistant, W.K.L. Dickson, made the first significant step toward the development of a motion picture camera by exploiting this principle. Dickson, using the new celluloid film developed by another American inventor, George Eastman, contrived a method of moving the film through the camera using sprocket wheels. By 1894, Edison had perfected the Kinetoscope, in which a viewer could see minute-long scenes from vaudeville acts and boxing matches. European inventors, adapting the Kinetoscope, devised a means of projecting pictures onto a screen for public showings, and projectors were developed almost simultaneously by Robert Paul in London and the Lumiere brothers in Paris. Nickelodeons were replaced by movie theaters, and soon moving pictures were shown in many of the world's major cities.

Following the work of early pioneers, like the French magician Georges Méliès and the U.S. director Edwin S. Porter, D. W. Griffith brought the art of movie-making to its first maturity. In films such The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), he refined the elements of film language to create a highly effective narrative technique and style. He made conscious use of selective editing, closeups, and carefully considered camera positioning and movement. At about the same time, Mack Sennett produced superb silent comedies starring comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. The studio star system developed.

Relying upon an ever more sophisticated technology and the cooperation of large groups of skilled and semiskilled professionals, the new art form also became a new industry. Until 1912, the U.S. movie industry was dominated by the Motion Picture Patents Company. But as movies attracted rapidly growing audiences, production companies learned they could ensure profits through distributing movies to chains of theaters they had bought or built. Theater owners, for their part, banded together and formed their own studios. Until World War I, the movies were international, but after the war the United States dominated the industry. By 1920, the combination of the star system, distribution monopolies at home, and large markets abroad made Hollywood the world's film capital and the center of a multimillion-dollar industry. Its great stars included Clara Bow, Lon Chaney, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish, Tom Mix, Gloria Swanson, and Rudolph Valentino. Westerns and slapstick comedies were the most popular movies.

Europe did less movie-making in this era, but its work was influential. German directors like F. W. Murnau and G. W. Pabst introduced original and highly expressive techniques into film-making, which were studied and adapted by Hollywood. And in Russia, after the revolution, Sergei M. Eisenstein perfected his montage technique in Battleship Potemkin (1925). In the meantime, technicians were advancing the new art form. An American, Lee De Forest, devised a method for recording sound onto the margin of the film alongside the frames. The innovation was demonstrated in 1923, but it was not until 1927, with the release of The Jazz Singer featuring two songs sung by Al Jolson, that “talkies” revolutionized the movies. Overnight, silent films were abandoned. Studios embraced talking pictures and, a few years later, the technological breakthrough of color films. Joining the ever-popular dramas, costume epics, and screwball or romantic comedies, the new genres of musical and gangster films dominated the movies in the 1930s and 1940s. Joining Garbo and a few other silent stars who made the transition, a new generation arose, among them Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Edward G. Robinson, and Spencer Tracy; the innovative new directors included George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Preston Sturges, William Wyler, and actor Orson Welles.

The end of World War II and the advent of television brought a period of ferment to the movie industry. Hollywood studios turned to making TV films and shooting their movies throughout the United States and abroad. The studio system's virtual monopoly on the international film scene gave way to foreign influences. The Italians and French broke new ground under directors like Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Jean-Luc Godard, and François Truffaut, as did the Japanese with Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. Meanwhile, technology continued to redefine the industry and its markets, most recently with the production of videocassettes for home viewing and the construction of multitheater complexes. The result is an industry and art form that continue to be as dynamic as they were in their formative years.

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