This section contains a number of special presentations on aspects of Victorian cinema. Follow the links on the left-hand menu for individual features.
WHEN THE MOVIES BEGAN...
The world's first film productions, and first film shows, are the subjects of this chronology, originally published in 1994 as a booklet, by The Projection Box. This new web edition is in continuous revision - we welcome your additions and corrections.
Establishing exactly who did what, and when, has always been a contentious area in the field of motion pictures. The facts listed here include findings by researchers in many parts of the world. Today, more than a century after the introduction of the Kinetoscope and Cinematographe, new information is still being discovered.
Limited photographic movement
Photographic motion pictures started before celluloid film was available. In 1853 French photographer Claudet designed an apparatus based on the stereoscope, but with photographs of two phases of an action. A sliding shutter obscured the pictures alternately, giving a crude appearance of movement - a man taking off his hat, for example (BC2). Various proposals were made by experimenters in the 1850s and 60s for producing photographic sequences for viewing in phenakistiscopes and zoetropes, but due to the slow photographic emulsions of that period, movement had to be represented by sequences of photographs of posed action (BC2).
First projected photographic sequences
On 5 February 1870 at the Philadelphia Academy of Music, Henry R. Heyl presented his Phasmatrope, using glass transparencies of a sequence of static poses of a couple waltzing, mounted round a disc fitted with an intermittent mechanism and shutter, and projected by a magic lantern. This was one of the first public demonstrations of projected photographic sequences to give the appearance of motion. The demonstration was repeated at the Franklin Institute on 16 March 1870 (MQ).
Muybridge and Marey
In the 1870s Eadweard Muybridge had taken photographic sequences of a horse galloping and other subjects, using a battery of plate cameras. In 1879 he designed a projector, the zoögyroscope (later known as the Zoöpraxiscope). This used large glass discs around the edge of which were painted silhouette images, traced from his sequence photographs. In the 1880s he travelled extensively in Europe and America, and included zoopraxiscopic projection in his lectures (RH).
Inspired by Muybridge's work, French scientist Etienne-Jules Marey devised, in 1882, a photographic gun - a development of an idea of the astronomer Janssen, who in 1876 had built an 'astronomical revolver' using discs to record the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the sun. Marey's gun took twelve images, and with it he photographed sequences of birds in flight. (Later, in 1891, Marey's collaborator Georges Demeny used sequences taken on a Marey film camera to produce picture discs for viewing, and then shortly afterwards achieved motion projection, from glass discs, with his Phonoscope) (BC2).
In 1885 the Prussian photographer Ottomar Anschütz commenced sequence photography, and in 1887 devised the Electro-Tachyscope, a machine for the public presentation of his picture sequences. The transparencies were mounted on a large disc and a Geissler tube produced the brief flashes of light necessary to illuminate each picture very briefly, as there was no intermittent mechanism. Spectators viewed the images directly. A peep-show arcade version reached London in 1892. A large number of the machines were made, and were widely shown throughout Europe and America (BC2, BC3, FZ1).
Projected motion photographs
In Berlin on 25 November 1894 Anschütz demonstrated a projector designed to show his transparencies. They were shown regularly from 22 February 1895. Both of these dates are within our chronology which follows; but they are not film shows, as the images were still on discs.
Motion analysis on 'film'
Between 1888 and 1890 Marey designed cameras that made use of paper 'film' and later celluloid, which he used to analyse the movements of animals. His attempts at projection met with little success, as the unperforated bands of film made the successive pictures difficult to register on the screen (BC2).
Paper 'films' close to success
Frenchman Louis-Aimé-Augustin Le Prince designed a multiple-lens camera and a single-lens camera for use with paper film. Surviving short sequences shot in Leeds on the latter camera c.1888 show that the picture frequency was quite adequate, but the spacing was uneven, again due to the lack of perforations. There is no record of a successful projection. Le Prince mysteriously disappeared in September, 1890 (BC2, CR).
In the 1870s and 1880s engineer John Arthur Roebuck Rudge of Bath carried out experiments with moving picture projection using glass slides. Rudge's Phantascope projector was demonstrated on several occasions by photographer William Friese Greene. In 1889 Friese Greene and civil engineer Mortimer Evans designed a camera for producing short sequences of images (BC1, BC2).
In 1890 Friese Greene demonstrated a stereo camera by engineer Frederick H. Varley, and in November 1893 patented a virtually identical apparatus. Surviving sequences show a very low picture frequency. A short sequence of (mono) images by Friese Greene, of King’s Road Chelsea, early 1890s, has subsequently been animated into movement, but there were no successful projections at the time (BC1, BC2).
In 1889/90, Wordsworth Donisthorpe and W.C.Crofts came close to success with a camera and projector of their own unusual design, and surviving frames of film showing Trafalgar Square are evenly spaced and taken at a frequency sufficient to give a reasonable illusion of movement (BC1, BC2).
In 1889 Edison's assistant William Kennedy Laurie Dickson started experimenting with celluloid film. The first tests were on celluloid wrapped around cylinders, with minute images being produced. Later that same year a Patent caveat by Edison mentions the use of perforated film - initially, experiments used a narrow band of film running horizontally. Dickson's work on the Edison kinetoscope continued in 1891, and on 20 May 1891 it was demonstrated at the West Orange Laboratory, for delegates of the National Federation of Women's Clubs. In June 1892 Edison decided on its commercial introduction. In the final arrangement, films were shot vertically with the Kinetograph camera, and exhibited in the Kinetoscope viewer, using a format almost identical to the 35mm film still used in productions today (GH1, GH3 CM2).
There are unresolved questions about other pioneers. In 1892 and 1893 Frenchman Leon-Guillaume Bouly had devised two designs for cameras, which he called the Cinématographe - a name later taken up and made famous by the Lumières. Bouly claimed that the second version could be used for projection, but there is no record of this.
In America, Jean Aimé LeRoy claimed that in 1893 he had projected a short length of Donisthorpe's 1890 Trafalgar Square film on a home-made projector (MC). Did LeRoy project films at Riley's Opticians, New York, on Feb 25 1894? (CC). And elsewhere? This is most unlikely. A surviving February 1895 theatre playbill (FZ1, KM) advertising 'LeRoy's Marvelous Cinematographe' is almost certainly fake. Le Roy claimed showings at Brooklyn Clinton and March Chuck in 1895.
We need to know more about the Russian and eastern European inventors; Kazimierz Proszynski, Iossif Timtschenko, Aleksei Samarsky and Ivan Akimov, as some of their work took place during this period. There has been some research into early activity in Poland (MHe).
So, our chronology begins with the production of the first films for Edison's peepshow Kinetoscope, early in 1893, and follows film production and presentation – initially in the Kinetoscope, and later on screen – cutting off at the end of April 1896, after which film production and projection spread quickly throughout much of the world.
An attempt has been made to include every projected film presentation to an invited or public audience - or the first show of a continuing engagement - between those dates. Only a selection of the films produced worldwide has been listed, but all British productions have been included, and all known sources of world production. There are many variations in titles, since films at this early period were referred to by description rather than by designated title. Where possible, foreign films have been listed by their original titles in the first instance, together with an English translation. There are often variations of title, even before translation, for the same film. There are other complications; for the Lumière films there were not only variations in title - Sortie d'usine/La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière a Lyon and Le Jardinière et le petite espiegle/L'arroseur arrosé, but there were (certainly in the case of these two subjects) several different versions produced.
Key dates in Kinetoscope production have been included; for a listing of Kinetoscope films, readers are directed to the entry 'Motion picture subjects' in the Index of (GH3) OR: Musser’s book. It has not been possible to include the opening of every Kinetoscope parlour, of which there were a considerable number, (some of which featured 'pirate' machines), but published details of non-US kinetoscope parlour openings have been included. As researchers unearth more facts about these establishments opening around the world, they will be added to this chronology. We have omitted information on the production and exhibition of the 'Chinnock Kinetoscope' films described by Hendricks.