The Early Days of Film

The reading about narrative this week got me thinking way back to my first semester at Penn when I took Cinema History Pre-1945. Film started as a completely non-narrative medium, instead emphasizing visual spectacle and movement. Audiences responded strongly to these films, like this one by the Lumiere Brothers, due to the simple fact that they had never seen photographs set in motion before. Just a few years later, however, as this sense of novelty began to wear off, Georges Melies, the Lumiere Brothers, and others introduced narrative into their shorts. Like the reading emphasizes, it certainly seems that story-telling is human nature, for it didn’t take long to become apparent that directors wanted to tell stories, and audiences wanted to watch these stories. Nevertheless, the undeniable beauty of this brief yet hypnotic film from 1899 suggests the possibility of a non-narrative type of movie-making, a possibility that avant-garde directors have been exploring since.

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