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Cinematography started out as 19th-century science and has evolved into 21st-century entertainment, education, and more.

In the Beginning

The year 1893 saw the first public demonstration of the (Thomas) Edison Company’s Kinetoscope. The Kinetoscope featured a moving-picture viewer and one person at a time could watch the pictures. It soon became a success and there were viewing parlors around the world. In 1895, the Lumiere brothers introduced projected moving pictures in Paris, France. Their Cinematographe device was an all-in-one camera, film printer, and projector. 

These early movies were only a few minutes long. The subjects included foreign travel, newsworthy events, local landmarks and activities, and comedy. Although they did not include dialogue, the presentations were not actually silent (even though they are now referred to as “silent movies”). They were accompanied by music and speakers, and audience participation was welcomed.

Adding Color and Sound

Color was added to films before sound was, and at first it was all done by hand – stenciling, coloring, tinting, and toning. In 1909, the first films were produced with the British Kinemacolor process, which incorporated the principles of color separation. Technicolor was introduced in 1915 and the three-color process in 1932.

Filmmakers first tried to add sound through the use of phonographic cylinders or disks. In 1927, the first full-length film with synchronized dialogue was The Jazz Singer, with Warner Brothers’ Vitaphone system. Next came an optical variable-density soundtrack that was recorded along the edge of the film itself, and it was first used in newsreels.

The Golden Age of Cinema

By the mid-1930s, many feature films were shown in color and with sound. This represented the Golden Age of Hollywood, and cinema was the most popular form of entertainment. Theaters were huge and ornate, with amenities such as cafés and ballrooms.

Once television took hold in people’s homes, moviemakers were spurred to introduce technical advances to make films in theaters more attractive and competitive. These included stereo sound, aspect ratios that felt more immersive, 3-D effects, and specialist wide-screen systems such as IMAX.