I use the title Early Cinema because I do not want to make an individual posting for each of the films I watched. Most are very short, some are only a minute in length, and few of them even attempted to be narrative. These were the building blocks of modern motion pictures and as fascinating as they are to watch from a historically significant point of view, they strike a quick sense of fear in me.
It will be my job to convince sixty-some students why they should care about these cinematic corner stones and already these students know the typical replies. There is little I can do to make them appreciate these films as anything more than a footnote in movie history. The work of early pioneers like Edison, Porter, Lumiere, and Melies and the technological inventions at the turn of the 20th century just cannot compete with the technological advances that most of these students have witnessed. They went from Tron to T2 to Toy Story. They’ve been inside The Matrix and they’ve witnessed The Return of the King. They are jaded by a steady diet of digital media that makes early sci-fi films like Trip to the Moon seem as old as the moon itself.
While I would not argue that today’s technology can run circles around early cinematography, my greater fear lies in the self-assigned sense of superiority that I find in so many people who watch these artifacts of early cinema. Students and other surly souls act as if in a million years they could never have been entertained by the simple motions captured on early bits of celluloid. Their modern experiences blind them from seeing that they really are no different than those seemingly antiquated audiences that screamed at the sight of a train pulling into a station or an audience that might pay just to see a woman undress, a couple kiss, an elephant get electrocuted, or to see two chickens go beak to beak. Well, in my opinion, a century later, we really aren’t that different. For those who do not believe me, I have five simple words:
Monkey drinking its own urine.
I am sure most Internet users know what I am talking about. A few years ago a video clip popped up on-line and spread like wild fire. Everyone told everyone else to check it out and next thing you know, millions of humans are watching a clip of a monkey drinking its own urine. Yes, we’ve come a long way baby!
If you haven’t seen the monkey than maybe it was something else. An fat kid swinging a lightsaber, a massive car accident, brainless backyard wrestling, a hotel heiress performing a sexual act, a brutal act of terrorism, a kid on skateboard destroying his chance of having kids…The list goes on and on. In fact there are hundreds of sites dedicated to these weird clips, and thousands just dedicated to porno clips. But, it’s all simple minded attractions that make for great water cooler conversations and college dorm debates.
Sure, today’s clips are stranger, more shocking, more obscene, more offensive, more technologically advanced, but thanks to this computers and the Internet we sit squarely were our ancestors did during the invention of motion pictures. One only has to wonder at the advancements that will take place in the next hundred years and how our offspring will laugh at the silly things that we watched via the Internet.
For the record, here is a quick list of the films I watched, by some of the titles alone you can almost compare them to videos you’d find on the Internet: The Kiss, Serpentine Dances, Sandow (Strong Man), Glenroy Brothers (Comic Boxing), Cockfight, The Barber Shop, Feeding the Doves, Seminary Girls, Leaving the Factory, The Baby’s Meal, Demolition of a Wall, The Sprinkler Sprinkled, Arrival of Congress, Arrival of a Train, The Countryman and the Cinematographer, The Kiss in the Tunnel, Grandma’s Reading Glasses, Peeping Tom, How It Feels To Be Run Over, Explosion of a Motor Car, Dewar’s – It’s Scotch, The Gay Shoe Clerk, Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, Trip to the Moon, The Untamable Whiskers, Life of an American Fireman, The Great Train Robbery