The first moving pictures were developed in the 1890’s by W.K.L. Dickson, an Englishman working in the USA. He called his system the Kinetoscope. It wasn’t the cinema as we know it at all. The pictures were very small and only one person at a time could watch.

Edison Kinetoscope 1913 Model
Edison Kinetoscope


The earliest Kinetoscope used sound separately recorded on a phonograph (an ancestor of the gramophone and record player). But there were many problems involved in getting the picture and sound together, that is, synchronising. As a result, the Kinetoscope was popularised in its silent form. The same principle was developed by the Frenchmen, Auguste and Louis Lumiere. They called their system the Cinematographe and, between 1895 and 1900, succeeded in exporting it to other parts of Europe, to India, Australia and Japan.

Edison Home Phonograph


The Cinematographe used a large screen, but the films were still very short – only about a minute long. Like the popularised Kinetoscope, it was a silent system. The early films were all made with fixed cameras. This greatly limited what could be achieved and made these early films more like the theatre than the modern cinema. So, an important improvement was the use of a moving camera, which could turn from side to side  and also move about to follow the action.

The Great Train Robbery was the first important experiment in the use of a moving camera. It was made in 1903 by Edwin Porter, an American, and lasted eight minutes. In the following years, films became much longer and the screens larger. Other changes were introduced too, but it was not until  the early 1920’s that an effective sound system was developed.

Lee de Forest, another American, found a way of photographing the sound waves which accompanied the action. This solved the major problem of sound-picture synchronisation. A strange consequence of having sound was that, for a few years, the cameras were once again made a part of a complex device and this sound-proofing system was so large that it could not be moved about easily.

The last major change in the cinema was the development of colour. Coloured photography had been possible from the 1860’s, but early films were normally black and white and any colouring was painted on by hand – an expensive, slow and not very effective technique.

In 1922, the first real colour films were produced, using a two-colour system called Technicolor. In this system, they filmed whole sequences in one colour but the attempts to mix colours to get realistic effects were not very successful. In 1932, Technicolor was improved by the use of three main colours and the same system is used today. Colour took longer to be generally accepted than sound. It was expensive and people often felt that it was less realistic than black and white. This was partly, of course, because the quality was not always very high and so the pictures could look very strange. Since the 1930’s, there have been many improvements in the techniques of the cinema, and the style of acting has changed a good deal. But after fifty years, the basics – moving pictures, colour and sound – are still the same.


A. What do the following refer to?
1. ‘It’ (line 21):
2. This* (line 27):
3. ‘it’ (line 31): 4. ‘the same system’ (line 40):
B. 1. In what ways were the Kinetoscope and the Cinematographe similar and different? (Give one example for each.)
2. Why were the early films more like the theatre than the modern cinema?
3. What are the two improvements in the techniques of the cinema mentioned in the second paragraph?
a) : b) 4. Why was the achievement of Lee de Forest important?
5. What was the disadvantage of using the Forest’s system?
6. How were black and white movies made coloured?
7. What was the purpose of mixing colours in the Technicolor system?
8. Did people accept colour films immediately? Why / Why not?

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