One of the great things about film, is that it has a self documenting history by its very nature. Fortunately many important historical (some relating to film itself) events have been captured on this medium. This is, at least in the present time, the closest we can come to travelling back in time. This is a selection of the most incredible significant firsts in the history of film.
1. Michel Eugene Chevreul 1886
While this is not technically a film, the series of photographs in this montage give the impression of a slow moving picture. The thing that makes this so amazing is that the man in the pictures, Michel Eugene Chevreul (1786 – 1889), was born the year that Mozart wrote the Marriage of Figaro (and was five when Mozart died), and he lived during the entire French revolution. He was born a mere 10 years after the signing of the American Declaration of Independence. He was 100 years old at the time of filming. Chevreul created an early form of soap from animal fats and salt, and invented margerine. This sequence of images predates the first film by 2 years.
2. Roundhay Garden Scene 1888
Historic films are very popular and they all attempt to recreate the period in which they are set. This film is the first celluloid film created and it gives us a true look at how people looked and, more importantly, carried themselves (in the case of the women in full corseted gowns). The film only lasts for two seconds but it is enough time to see the characters walking. It was recorded at 12 frames per second by French inventor Louis Le Prince. It was filmed at the home of Joseph and Sarah Whitley, in Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England on October 14 and the people who appear are Adophe Le Prince (Louis’s son), Sarah Whitley, Joseph Whitley, and Harriet Hartley. Ten days after filming, Sarah Whitley (Le Prince’s mother-in-law) died. Two years later Le Prince vanished mysteriously from a train traveling between Dijon and Paris. Another two years later, Alphonse was found shot dead in New York after testifying at a patent trial against Edison by the American Mutoscope Company.
3. Monkeyshines 1889 or 1890
This is the first American film ever made. It was originally designed as a test and was followed by two more. It was not intended for public display. The film was made by Edison and Dickson to test the original cylinder Kinetograph format.
4. Dickson Experimental Sound Film 1895
This is the first film made with a combination of sound and motion. It was made by William Dickson, a Franco-Scottish inventor who is credited with inventing the motion picture camera while employed by Thomas Edison. The film was produced at the “Black Maria,” Edison’s New Jersey film studio. There is no evidence that it was ever exhibited in its original format. The man playing the violin is Dickson.
5. Annabelle Serpentine Dance 1895
Annabelle Whitford’s Serpentine Dance was the first publically released color film. It was tinted by hand so it is not the first film recorded in color, but it was still a landmark for its time – 15 years before Hollywood was established. Whitford was a modern dancer. Like the clip above, this was filmed at the Black Maria.
6. The Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II 1896
This is one of the first significant news events recorded – the Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Tsar Nicholas was to be the last Russian Tsar, making this film the only existing moving images of a Russian coronation. 22 years after this day, the Tsar, his wife, and their children would be shot to death by communist revolutionaries. He is seen as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church where he is known as Saint Nicholas The Passion Bearer. This would make him the first saint captured on film.
7. Pope Leo XIII 1890s
Pope Leo XIII was the first Pope to be captured in moving pictures. William Dickson made this historic film. After the filming took place, Pope Leo XIII blessed the camera that had been used. During his reign (one of the longest in the history of the Papacy), Leo caused upsets by demanding that Catholic Italians not vote in the public elections (he did not recognize the state of Italy), and by stating that man does not have a natural right to freedom of thought or speech. Pope Leo XIII gave special permission for Theresa Martin to enter the convent despite the fact that she was only 15. Theresa eventually became known to the world as Saint Theresa of Lisieux and is recognized as a Doctor of the Church.
8. Fantasmagorie 1908
Fantasmagorie was the very first animated cartoon. It was created by French caricaturist Émile Cohl and is made up of 700 drawings, each of which was double-exposed, leading to a running time of almost two minutes. Cohl was working for the French studio Gaumont when he produced this cartoon.
9. The Toll of the Sea 1922
The Toll of the Sea was the first Hollywood feature film to be broadcast entirely in color without need for a special projector. The film was created using the Technicolor 2 process. Except for the final reel, the original negatives still exist. The plot of the film is loosely based upon Madame Butterfly, but it is set in China instead of Japan. The leading lady is Anna May Wong, the first notable Chinese American actress.
10. The Jazz Singer 1927
Here we see Al Jolson singing “My Mammy” from the film “The Jazz Singer”. This was the first film in history to include synchronized human voices. At the start of the film when the sounds were first heard, the audience erupted in to a standing ovation. Half way through the film, Jolson speaks the first words, which were (prophetically): “Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” A mere two years later, the world would see the first full color, full sound movie with the release of “On with the Show”.