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Peepshow Pioneers: 1889-1907 

Audiences were watching projected images as early as the 18th century. But the pictures were drawings, and they didn't move. That would come in the 1880s. The first movie pioneers were ... See full summary »




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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Narrator (voice)
Terry Borton ...
Himself - Magic Lantern Historian
Paul Israel ...
Himself - Thomas Edison Biographer
Charles Musser ...
Himself - Film Historian
Himself - Critic and Film Historian
Anthony Slide ...
Himself - Film Historian
Himself - Sleight-of-hand Entertainment Historian
Jim Zukor ...
Himself - Grandson of Adolph Zukor (as James Zukor)
Herself - Niece of Carl Laemmle
Richard Kozarski ...
Himself - Film Historian
Himself - Grandson of Jack Warner
Marc Wanamaker ...
Himself - Film Historian and Photo Archivist
Susan Fox-Rosellini ...
Herself - Great Granddaughter of William Fox
Daniel Selznick ...
Himself - Grandson of Louis B. Mayer (as Daniel Mayer Selznick)
Steven J. Ross ...
Himself - Film Historian


Audiences were watching projected images as early as the 18th century. But the pictures were drawings, and they didn't move. That would come in the 1880s. The first movie pioneers were self-taught engineers and tinkerers, itinerant entertainers and street-smart showmen. The first film producer was probably the man known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park," Thomas Edison. He perfected a machine that created pictures that moved, although much of the credit belongs to his assistant, W.K.L. Dickson, the industry's first director. From the beginning, American movies were special, but they were influenced by breakthroughs overseas. From France, the brothers Lumiere, owners of a family photography lab, brought scenes of everyday life to the screen, while an ingenious magician, George Melies, created special visual effects that still have the power to amaze. In America, early moviegoers were astonished and amused by almost anything that moved - from vaudeville acts and boxing matches to ... Written by Turner Classic Movies

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Release Date:

1 November 2010 (USA)  »

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Covers lots of ground in just one hour
7 November 2010 | by See all my reviews

This first installment in the seven part documentary on Hollywood up to the year 1970 covers not only motion pictures as we understand them today from 1889 to the year 1907, but also tries to give some background on what came before. It talks about "magic lantern" shows that date back to the 18th century with painted glass being projected to a screen and then pieces of the glass being moved around to give the illusion of movement. It covers the early years of the founders of the big Hollywood studios - Louis B. Mayer, William Fox, the Warner brothers, and Carl Laemmle, among others. The main thing they shared was the immigrant experience in which there essentially was no childhood. As soon as you were old enough to work, you worked. It talked at length about the first successful motion picture maker who was in fact its official inventor - Thomas Edison. Edison's early films were in fact "actualities" and only a few minutes long, often resembling newsreels or even just experiments more than what we today call movies. In the end these films lost sway with the public as more dramatic productions became the norm. D.W. Griffith is mentioned, along with how he thought that becoming a director was a risky proposition and made Biograph promise to give him his job back as an actor if it didn't work out.

The end of this first installment talks about how the moguls headed west after just a few years of producing films primarily in the Northeast in search of a better outdoor climate in which to shoot, more open land, and cheaper prices for both land and labor.

There is much packed into this first installment and one hour isn't nearly enough time to talk about the work of these early pioneers. After all, there are commercial multi-disc DVD sets available that are dedicated to the work of Melies, D.W. Griffith, and of Edison. If you viewed the original broadcast on Turner Classic Movies, there were excerpts from all of these sets played after the documentary illustrating the work of these "peepshow pioneers" although it can be argued that the work of Griffith is one of the things that led the industry out of the peepshow era and into the next - that of the first feature films.

I'd recommend this as a very short introduction to the birth of the film industry. Do realize though that you could spend hours on just this 18 year period of the birth of film, but TCM has to split the difference between being entertaining and informative, which is something that they've excelled at over the years with their original productions.

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