May 10, 2007

Monkeyshines, No. 1 (1890)

In 1888, American inventor Thomas Alva Edison had an idea that would serve as the basis to what we now call "movies", that idea was the Kinetoscope and soon a new source of entertainment would be created by the wild imagination of Edison's team. According to history, Edison heard rumors about the invention of motion pictures (they were indeed invented in 1888 by Louis Le Prince in Leeds, England) and quickly his mind began to craft his very own devise to achieve the same effect. Edison figured out that the images had the illusion of movement because they were sequential images over a light source with a high-speed shutter, and soon put the conceptual idea on paper; however, it wouldn't be Edison who would transform Kinetoscope from an idea to a reality, the man in charge of the project would be one of Edison's most rusted workers, a Scottish man named William K.L. Dickson. The series of short films codenamed "Monkeyshines" were Dickson's first attempts to produce motion pictures.

The "Monkeyshines" films were three experimental movies shot in the Edison laboratories in order to test Kinetograph, a camera invented to shot the movies that would appear in the Kinetoscope. With the collaboration of William Heise (who would become a prolific director of Kinetoscope films), Dickson shot one of Edison's workers in front of the camera doing gestures and movements. As actual experiments of their work, this movies do not have a plot or a theme, and only consist of Edison's workers moving in front of the camera to see if their images were captured. Due to age and the poor quality of this early experiments, it is impossible to know who appears in each movie, although it is often considered that G. Sacco Albanese is the one appearing in "Monkeyshines, No. 1". (some say that it is actually John Ott, but the debate continues)

While it was never released to the public (Dickson's second movie, "Dickson Greeting" has the honor of being the first American movie to be shown), "Monkeyshines, No. 1" is indeed the very first movie shot in the United States, marking the birth of the Kinetoscope and the beginning of the age of cinema as entertainment. After this monumental invention, Dickson would dedicate his most of his work in improving his machine (including an attempt to add sound!) although he also started making the kind of short films the people wanted to see in what was now known as "The Peep Show machine". While not exactly real cinema, William K.L. Dickson's amazing invention would be another big step ahead in what would culminate in 1895, with the Lumière brothers' invention of the Cinématographe.


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