- Also check our best rated Photography Book reviews
Living Pictures: The Origins of the Movies (SUNY series, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video) Hardcover – 30 Apr 1998
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
This book synthesizes multiple histories that constitute the origin of the movies: invention, technology, social history, aesthetics, business, science. In this it is unique. There have been many histories of the beginning of the movies (and, in what is a priceless bibliography, the author lists all of them), but none so far has gone beyond national borders. None has combined European with American contributions, and none has told the story from so many vantage points. I felt that I was finally reading the true story for the first time, told by an author that I could trust. Marta Braun, Ryerson Polytechnic University"
"This book synthesizes multiple histories that constitute the origin of the movies: invention, technology, social history, aesthetics, business, science. In this it is unique. There have been many histories of the beginning of the movies (and, in what is a priceless bibliography, the author lists all of them), but none so far has gone beyond national borders. None has combined European with American contributions, and none has told the story from so many vantage points. I felt that I was finally reading the true story for the first time, told by an author that I could trust." -- Marta Braun, Ryerson Polytechnic University
About the Author
Deac Rossell is the former National Special Projects Officer for the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles, and former Head of Programme Planning at the National Film Theatre, London. He is currently working on a book on German cinema before 1900.
|5 star (0%)|
|4 star (0%)|
|3 star (0%)|
|2 star (0%)|
|1 star (0%)|
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The book is a very careful and meticulous contribution to a very complex subject. The study of 19th century moving image faces major difficulties because of the commonly held preconceptions and misconceptions about both the moving image and the historical period. As Rossell points out early in his book we often "[...] project backward in time the later characteristics of 'the movies' drawn from an era well after the period of invention and exploration."
The book does an excellent job in presenting the attitudes that the innovators themselves held about the moving image and its projected variety that became cinema; the ideas they had about what it was they were working on; what uses they imagined it could have; how they could exploit it; Most early moving image histories imply that the researchers had a pretty good idea of what they were doing and that they were trying consciously to invent cinema. Well it seems that no one actually had any clear idea of what cinema was to become. At best they wanted to cash-in on the attraction that technological miracles had at the turn of the century. All moving image machines before cinema had enjoyed such a more or less brief period of popularity until their novelty faded. It appears that nobody thought that projected moving image would have a different fate.
Another debate that Deac Rossell presents very well is the long-standing issue about who is the so-called inventor of the "cinema". This quarrel has lasted since late 19th century and here is thoroughly debunked as a pointless effort to usurp an invention that doesn't belong to any one specific individual. The research presented in the book (bringing together material from publications, patent applications and newspaper articles in several languages) makes amply clear that cinema came about through the efforts of a huge number of people in several countries. A lot of the writings since 1895 on these matters was allied with one or other of the warring factions and constantly and often intentionally misrepresented facts and have thrown a thick fog over the real development of the moving image technology and arts.
Rossell has worked hard to dispel all the fog. The references to original applications from patent offices from all the major countries in moving image development are important in establishing who did what and when. This international aspect of his work is of immense value. Especially his facility with German sources has opened to the non-German speaker invaluable access to otherwise inaccessible material. It should be noted however that the back page notes that describe the book as the "first book in English in nearly half a century to tell the story of the international development of the first films" is not correct. Perhaps it is the first such book by a USA scholar but not the first in English. This ignores books by at least two British writers: David Robinson and Michael Chanan; and the publications by film festivals devoted to early moving image and silent cinema.
Deac Rossell's ability to move beyond the conception of "cinema" as we think of it today and present clearly and succinctly the characteristics of the wide variety of different cinemas, or moving image practices, that came about in the 19th Century is also very significant. These different cinemas present possibilities and routes not followed up or marginalized after the classic Hollywood model acquired the position of dominance it still enjoys. It is enlightening to consider the different ways moving images were used and viewed, and the different ideas their development envisioned in the period before 1895.
On the minus side is the small number and very poor quality of the illustrations. This aspect is important, as several of the devices described can only be understood if demonstrated with drawings and photographs. Another negative aspect is the curious absence of any mention, in a very small number of cases, of some key figures like von Uchatius, the person who possibly manufactured the first machine to successfully project motion pictures - even though they were drawings.
"Living Pictures" was one of the names used in the 19th century to describe the new phenomenon of moving images before "cinema" or "motion pictures" became established. Deac Rossell aptly chooses it as the title of his book as recently these early moving images have come back to life again. Through the efforts of a small number of dedicated scholars and aficionados, like Deac Rossell, the early history of moving image has managed to gain more attention. Through publications, museums, festivals and more recently web sites moving images made before cinema have come back to life to haunt us and to pose very pertinent questions about "what is cinema", what is its relation to a more general category like moving image (or the living pictures). These questions are becoming acute, as "cinema" and "film" will be affected profoundly and inevitably by the rapid technological development of digital imaging and the Internet.