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Movies

The invention of the motion picture camera and projector soon led to the growth of a new industry: the movie industry. Early films were entirely silent and relied on visual depictions and sometimes printed text to tell the story; dialogue could not be reproduced because the first movie cameras and projectors were not capable of synchronizing sound recordings with the moving images.  Movie theater owners often hired pianists and other musicians to play the screen’s music score live so as to add dramatic effect to key scenes. Many silent movies were published with music scores which would then be played the by the house musicians of the local movie theater.

Despite the primitive quality of the early films, their novelty captivated the American public and the world.  Movies led to a common culture of fashion and behaviour across the United States as fans in different cities watched their favorite screen idols and then emulated their style of dress, makeup and mannerisms.

Although these silent movies were primitive by today’s standards, they nevertheless pioneered many movie making techniques which are still used today, including the use of camera angles and camera movement.

The photographs that follow offer a glimpse into  the early movie studios was set up, and the techniques used by the actors and pioneer film makers.

The Lasky Studio of the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, Hollywood, California

The Lasky Studio of the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, Hollywood, California

A movie scene being filmed in the open. The cameras and lights are mounted on a platform on the right of the picture. Note the large number of extras.

A movie scene being filmed in the open. The cameras and lights are mounted on a platform on the right of the picture. Note the large number of extras.

The Film Drying Room

The Film Drying Room

The picture above shows workers feeding the newly printed copies of the film, which literally consisted of thousands of still photos arranged in sequence on a large roll of film, through equipment designed to dry the film so that it could be made ready for shipment and use in the movie projectors.

Building a Movie Set

Building a Movie Set

Movie Extras Waiting on Set to Go On Stage

Movie Actors Waiting on Set to Go On Stage

Print Frame Where Movie Scenery is Painted

Print Frame Where Movie Scenery is Painted

Checking "Extras" Used in Rex Beach's Photodrama, "The Brand." Produced for Goldwyn at its Culver City Studios

Checking "Extras" Used in Rex Beach's Photodrama, "The Brand." Produced for Goldwyn at its Culver City Studios

Filiming a Movie on a Sound Stage

Filiming a Movie on a Sound Stage

Wardrobe Room in a Movie Studio

Wardrobe Room in a Movie Studio

Many of the first movies were based on historical incidents or characters. This made it easier for the studio writers to churn out movies quickly since the plot did not have to be created from scratch.

Many of the first movies were based on historical incidents or characters. This made it easier for the studio writers to churn out movies quickly since the plot did not have to be created from scratch.

This picture depicts the same scene as above but viewed from a different angle. Here you can see the camera men and other technicians.

This picture depicts the same scene as above but viewed from a different angle. Here you can see the camera men and other technicians.

Film Makers

Film Makers

A Movie Director

A Movie Director

Movie Lighting

Movie Lighting

A Dressing Room

A Dressing Room

Preparing to Shoot a Scene

Preparing to Shoot a Scene

Although a lot has changed since these early silent movies, it is interesting to see that a lot is still recognizable. In fact, many of the film making techniques developed at the beginning of the 20th century are still in use today.

Old Photographs

In this photograph contruction workers balance precariously on the exposed girder of a skyscraper under construction. Note the complete lack of safety equipment or harnesses.

In this photograph contruction workers balance precariously on the exposed girder of a skyscraper under construction. Note the complete lack of safety equipment or harnesses.

IllustratedPast.com is an archival project which collects and catalogs photographs and drawings showing what life was like from the 1800s to the early 1900s. These photographs and  illustrations document a world very different than our own: the American Western Frontier was still untamed and Native Americans continued to live traditional lifestyles. In the great cities of the American East Coast, electric lights and trolleys were just beginning to replace gas lights and horse drawn carriages. Technology was advancing at a dizzying pace, compared to the previous centuries, but it was still steam based and very primitive by today’s standards. There were no airplanes or computers, and the telegraph was the main means of communication. The horseless carriage had been invented but it was still not clear if it would ever be practical enough to replace the horse or the steam locomotive.

Russian peasants in pre-Revolution Russia draw water from a well.

Russian peasants in pre-Revolution Russia draw water from a well.

In Europe, the great capitals such as Paris and London were as now the centers of fashion and culture, but there was also great disparity in wealth and social status. Photographs of London and Paris show the contrast between the glittery world of the high society, and the squalor in which the poor and disenfranchised lived.

In the East, many societies such as China and India had not yet broken with their feudal past. Photographs made by travelers reveal a world very different than the technologically advanced West.

This website is still taking shape but when it is completed you will be able to take a photographic tour of the past.

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