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Hello, I’m Craig, and this is Crash Course Film History. You probably know Thomas Alva Edison as the inventor of the light bulb or the phonograph, But that’s not entirely true. Gasp! He’s an icon of American innovation, and personally came up with dozens of new devices, but he was also one of those guys with too many ideas to accomplish all by himself. Just like me. So he hired a batch of talented assistants and put them to work in the world’s first industrial research lab at Menlo Park, New Jersey. and with their help, Edison made some major contributions to lots of technologies, including the technology of film. Hey, that’s what we’re talking about! One of those engineers was a young man named William, also known as W.K.L Dickson, or, Wkl Dickson, as I like to call him. His assignment was to create something that would animate photographs, something Edison hoped would do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear. Within a few years, Dickson invented a couple of devices: The world’s first motion picture camera, and a peep-show style device that let people watch movies. I love movies. Just like that, film production was born, and audiences hungry for movies weren’t far behind. { Theme music } Before Edison and his lab had even built the viewing machine, He applied for two preliminary claims with the US Patent Office, one for his plans for the device, and one for it’s name. Thomas Edison, ever the patenter. The idea was to create a coin operated entertainment machine that produced images to go along with music or speech that played from a phonograph. Edison wanted to call it the “Kinetoscope”. I would have called it the Coin-operated-entertainment-machine… o-graph. But, whatever. For William Dickson and his team working in Edison lab, the pressure was on, And there were a few technical challenges right away. First, they needed to invent the camera to capture the images that would play in the kinetoscope, duh! While Edison was on a trip to France, he ran into our old friend Etienne-Jules Marey, Remember him? that guy with the chronophotographic gun? Awesome! who shot motion studies of all those animals? Edison raced back to New Jersey and gave Dickson the scoop on the chronophotographic gun Awesome! And they decided to develop their own camera based on that design. But, there was another problem. Rolls of paper film just weren’t durable enough to capture a long series of images and be played back over and over again. After some experimentation, Dickson found that celluloid filmstrips that were coated in light-sensitive emulsion did the trick. It’s a technology that’s still being used today. When in doubt, coat in light-sensitive emulsion, as the saying goes. So Edison hit up his old entrepreneur buddy George Eastman of Eastman Kodak. Remember him too? And Eastman began making lots of celluloid film in 50 ft rolls, which gave Dickson all the material he needed. The last technical hurdle was figuring out a way to stop the film very briefly and at regular intervals. Their devices needed to capture and project a series of distinct images, instead of an indecipherable blur, which is what you’d get if you ran a roll of film straight through a camera or a kinetoscope. So both the camera and the viewing device had to be able to grab and hold a frame of film long enough for it to be exposed to light, and then move it along a grab the next one. To do this, Dickson took one of those long rolls of celluloid film and cut holes along the edges. We eventually called these “sprocket holes”. Then he fashioned an intermittent stop-and-go device inspired by the inner workings of a pocket watch. This device was kind of like wheel with tiny teeth that grabbed the perforated film strip by the holes and pulled it forward. The teeth stopped for a split second, before grabbing the next set of holes and moving the film forward again. This way, the viewer would see a sequential series of still images, that created that delicious illusion of motion, as long as the stop-and-go device was moving fast enough. In 1881, at the National Federation of Women’s Clubs in New York city, Edison unveiled his prototype for the kinetoscope. It was basically a cabinet with a peep hole on top, so you can look inside and watch pictures move. Movies! I love movies. And it was the first device which allowed for film exhibition, which is how a film is shown to an audience. But, as innovative as Edison was, there were limits to his vision. Unlike me. He thought of motion pictures as an add-on to phonographs, Which people listened to in their homes or at commercial phonograph parlors. He didn’t foresee the power of projecting film to a huge audience of people. And he was exactly right. That didn’t happen, ever. In fact, some scholars think he discouraged Dickson from pursuing film projection, which eventually fractured their relationship. But for now, Edison and Dickson were chummy, and worked together to create this pair of sister inventions, each with their own limitations. The kinetograph was the first motion picture camera, which worked because they figured out how to synchronize the shudder of the camera to a single frame of film, using the sprocket holes and the intermittent stop-and-go device. But it could only record images inside the studio, because it was too big to haul around and needed electrical power to work. No vlogs yet, but soon! Not that soon. The kinetoscope, on the other hand, was a peep-show device used to view the film developed from the kinetograph. It could only show movies to one person at a time, and held 40-50 ft rolls, so the movies themselves could only be about 16 seconds long. It’s basically the Twitter of movies. And even though Edison and Dickson originally hoped to synchronize the sound from a phonograph to the images in a kinetoscope, they never quite figured out how to do it. In fact, true synchronous sound, or matching up sounds to images, would elude technicians for decades. Now, some of the keys to Edison’s success were his aggressive pursuit of patents, and his interest in mass production, which was transforming industry at the time. Even Henry Ford’s large scale, relatively cost-effective assembly lines were made possible thanks to Edison’s innovations in electric power. After all, something had to keep those conveyor belts moving. In 1894, a Canadian entrepreneur named Andrew Holland opened the first Kinetoscope parlor In New York City, charging 25 cents per person. Edison got dollar signs in his eyes, and before long kinetoscope parlors were opening up all over the United States. People were lining up to get a brief glimpse at a moving picture, as music played from a phonograph and refreshments were served. Just like film exhibitors today, kinetoscope parlor operators made most of their money from concessions, since they had to lease or buy the kinetoscopes and the films themselves. Meanwhile, Edison was intent on collecting every single penny he was owed. Of course he was. As more kinetoscope parlors opened their doors, more and more people were hungry for movies. Crash Course does not condone or recommend eating movies. Edison put Dickson in charge of film production, or, everything involved in the making of a film, from writing and casting actors, to building sets and capturing the images, Dickson was pretty busy. And together, they built the first film production studio in the world, in West Orange, New Jersey. They didn’t really have to start from scratch, the space already existed, because that’s where they made the first films with the kinetograph. But they poured more time, and just over 600 dollars into it, to make it a full fledged studio. They covered the interior walls with tar paper strips to make the performers stand out against the stark black background. That, combines with complaints that it was cramped, stuffy and hot earned the studio its name: Employees called it The Black Maria, after a local expression for police vans or paddy-wagons, which gives you some idea how they felt about working for a guy like Edison. And because the kinetograph needed a lot of light to record an image, they built a retractable sun roof and a set on circular railroad tracks, so that it could be spun around to follow the sun’s light. Did they add a hot tub as well? Would be nice, to have like a sun roof and a hot tub, that’d be nice. William Dickson served as producer, director, and camera operator for hundreds of kinetograph films from 1893-1895. Most of them featured Vaudeville performers and slapstick physical comedy, favoring movement over story. See, the Vaudeville Circuit was the mass entertainment of the 1800s to the 1930s before radio was widespread, and before movies came along. Performers would travel together, set up shop at the local theater, and put on a variety show, everything from music, comedy and acrobatics, to sketches, trained animal and excerpts from stage plays. People like Harry Houdini, The Marks Brothers, Bob Hope, and Buster Keaton all spent time on the Vaudeville stage. The most famous Vaudeville performers would only play the most exclusive theaters in big cities, making it impossible for the far flung masses to see them. So they’d have nothing to do. What would they do? They’d probably just sit around a punch eagles. But with kinetoscope parlors, one star studded performance by, say, Sandow the Strongman could be reproduced dozens of times as a seconds-long film. That way, audiences all over the country could get a glimpse of his bulging pecks and that sweet stache! Can I do a… a performance? Can I do a Sandow the Strongman performance? -No.
No? Okay, No. Using Vaudeville talent had lots of advantages for kinetograph filmmakers. Dickson had only 16 seconds to work with, and couldn’t record synchronous sound, so the performances had to be brief and interesting to watch. Name recognition helped, as did performers who’s acts were reliable and well rehearsed. Just like mine. Right, Nick? Plus, there were lots of them, and a steady supply of talent helped meet the growing demand for content unleashed by the kinetoscope. At least… for a while. Because, as powerful an revolutionary as the kinetograph and the kinetoscope were, their limitations threatened Edison’s grip on motion picture production and exhibition. I mentioned some of these earlier, but they’re about to become very important. So pay attention! First, the kinetograph was static, the camera couldn’t move, it was too big, and required electricity to run, so you could only shoot movies from one perspective. Second, the kinetograph required lots of light, so it could only capture images well when the sun was shining. In New Jersey. Third, the kinetoscope peep-hole viewing system meant that only one person at a time could watch a movie, which is fine if you’re like me and you don’t like to be around other people, but not for everyone. That meant a lot of waiting your turn to watch, limiting the number of costumers a kinetoscope parlor could admit each day. Finally, there wasn’t any editing yet, so each kinetograph movie was just one single uninterrupted shot. this wasn’t nessecarily a limitation, throughout the history of cinema there have been extraordinary films made from single long takes, but until filmmakers could edit different shots together, the kind of stories that could be told had to begin and end inside one brief shot. Despite this laundry list of drawbacks, film had arrived, thanks to Thomas Edison, and especially William Dickson. Whatever else filmmakers were gonna do, whatever else movies were going to become, this was their start. Today we talked about two key inventions: the kinetograph and the kinetoscope, that were used to capture and exhibit the very first moving pictures. We discussed how the principles of industrial mass production helped spread their inventions, altering the landscape of mass entertainment forever. We introduced the first film studios and talked about how the first movies showcased the action of swanky Vaudeville performers rather than stories. And next time we’ll learn about the first projected movies, and how entire audiences of people began experiencing motion pictures together. Crash Course Film History is produces in association with PBS Digital Studios, You can head over to their channel to check out a playlist of their latest amazing shows like “It’s Okay to be Smart”, “PBS Idea Channel”, and “Deep Look”. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio, with the help of these swanky Vaudeville performers, and our amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.

100 thoughts on “The First Movie Camera: Crash Course Film History #2

  1. All the talk about kinetoscopes made reminded me about Bioshock Infinite and how Jeremiah Fink resembles Thomas Edison. Not like they are totally the same, but they definitely have some similar traits.

  2. Why didn't you mention Louis Le Prince? He invented a single lens camera which he used to shoot his first film in 1888, years before Edison…

  3. Can I suggest that you find a way to make all these episodes easy to find from any of them – at present I can't easily click on episode 1 from the second, and it's a bit convoluted to follow the course. Excellent course idea and awesome quality as always guys! 🙂

  4. Movies started like YouTube videos started out in 2005: short videos of small moments in someone's life. But both eventually became more sophisticated and more thought provoking(but I guess that depends on which movie or video you're watching…).

  5. Stop praising Edison he doesn't deserve any of his accolades. Edison was an egocentric copyright bandant , taking others hard work and copyrighting it for himself before others had a chance to . This is especially true of film. As he rose to fame the inventors were destroyed .

  6. Edison propaganda in USA is never going to stop is it? He was better at stealing ideas than actually thinking of them. Also had no follow through. First to Market, not First to complete properly was his philosophy.

  7. Oh we don't need the recap at the end guys, come on. Is there gonna be a test at the end? Just let people watch it over again ffs. Love Craig tho!

  8. i studied photography, and teve-production in high-school. i studied film for 5 years in uni, i would have totally done this series for like 5 bucks a video.

  9. this series i hope will be as good as the psych one, the philosophy, and the lit series, and i hope the same about the myth series. goddamn. CC be steppin up they game boii

  10. I find it very disturbing. Why do you have to talk fast, insert a lot of text and effects? I think the "invisible art" of editing just died!

  11. "You probably know of Thomas Alva Edison as the inventor of the light bulb, or the phonograph…"

    No, I know him as a liar and a cheater and practically a thief, but not as an inventor, and I'm glad you gave us the real story behind something that he would otherwise have us think was something he did.

  12. This guy is fantastic. I choose to believe there have been no outtakes and he isn't even reading off a script.

  13. thx for this ha bisky vid and eating movies made out of chocolate is fine they might still have those around

    these history lessons are very interesting

  14. There are a lot of short films of those avaiable legally on Youtube, you should put some link in the description, maybe some playlist. It would be awesome to learn about films and have the opportunity to watch them directly to have an idea.
    I suggest my favourite: BOXING CATS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k52pLvVmmkU

  15. this helped me immensely in my film class! I am so happy that crash course exists! Makes studying more fun for me!!!!

  16. To be honest, I think the script of the recent crash courses is getting too complex, the explanation could have been more concise and short.

  17. Does anyone know why did they chose the National Federation of Women's Club in NYC to show their work for the first time?

  18. You guys are missing that La Prince invented the motion picture years before Edison, Edison stole the idea after La Prince mysteriously disappeared before his paten could go through

  19. Louis Le Prince is the real inventor, the only problem is, his patents registered in France and Britain were not considered international patients as he did not demonstrate to the Public of his device, he of course planned to go the US and demostrate his camera, taking along him all the papers involving of his patent working Camera in which it along with him disappeared never to be seen again. While the Camera didn't disappear since he was not taking the camera with him when he disappeared, legally by law his wife couldn't be allowed to demonstrate his product until after a certain period of time, but by then Thomas Edison had demonstrated his camera to the world.

  20. Why werent the sprocket holes only spaced the length of a frame rather than having lots of sprocket holes either side of one frame?

  21. EDISON IS A THIEF he took credit for inventions that were not his — INCLUDING the film camera, the original inventor of which vanished before Edison presented the idea as his own (not entirely impossible that Edison was the cause of the disappearance). While he may have been smart and an inventor of some things, Edison was a con and a horrible person overall who took far more credit than was his to have. Tesla is always better and Edison is a steaming trash bag.

  22. i really like the knowledge you put in those videos! The only thing that you can improve on is to talk slower so everyone can folllow.

  23. I have a question. You said that the most famous performers on the vaudeville circuit were not accessible to most people because they only played major cities. However I imagine that the kinetoscope exhibitions would have only been available to people who lived in cities as well. I understand that kinetoscope exhibitions would have made entertainment accessible to more people because the specific performer didn't need to be in a specific location for someone to see his or her work. But I don't how the same people who went to kinetoscope exhibitions would not be able to go a show on the vaudeville circuit. Can you elaborate on the reasons that the kinetoscope exhibitions made vaudeville performances more accessible?

  24. I thought after high school i couldn't use crash course for help with studying anymore… thank god i was wrong

  25. Thomas Edison did not make the first motion picture camera
    The first film/movie was done in Leeds about a 15 minute walk from my house
    The true man who invented it was the Frenchman prince

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