I dream for a living.
       - Steven Spielberg

What is Cinema?

lumiere poster cinematographe

Cinema, or motion picture, is the art of moving images; a visual medium that tells stories and exposes reality.

Created in the dusk of the 19th century, cinema is the world’s most recent art form. It is also, by far, the world’s most complex, collaborative, and costly artistic expression.

At their inception, the first two versions of the film camera (the kinetograph and its European counterpart, the cinematograph) were used to record daily events such as a train arriving at a station and an elephant being electrocuted. Documentary filmmaking was then born and tremendously explored. Average men were instructed on how to use the recently-created camera and hired to undertake journeys around the globe and capture exotic images like the pyramids in Egypt and the waterfalls in Niagara.

Film Scholar's Insight

To say that the first movies were documentaries is a fallacy. And a big one. The first one-reelers were no more than a minute long, and they were called actualities. They were recordings of almost pointless daily events.

Documentary filmmaking – something far more elaborate than actualities – was developed later. Documentaries are complex films with a different structure and purpose. Read more on Documentary Cinema.

Perhaps the only valid argument for calling those first actualities “documentaries” is on the account of a specific style of documentary – cinéma vérité (French for “truthful cinema”). Cinéma vérité is characterized by a naturalistic approach to filming. Those first actualities were indeed naturalistic because the camera operators shot natural scenes without any intent to neither distort them nor ennoble them.

Artists, however, quickly realized the camera’s potential to record actions and tell scripted stories, so the camera started shooting play-like events. Narrative filmmaking was born. Scriptwriting, set design, and editing became the norm.

Entrepreneurs promptly found a way to monetize the newly-invented art. Theatres were built, and admission tickets became mandatory to enjoy that show of lights and shadows. With the high demand and increasing profits, the market became favorable for filmmakers. Soon, studios were raised. Cast and crew signed contracts. Producers became gods. And in the 1930s, the American film industry peaked, churning out dozens of movies a month.

Cinema evolved. Movies became longer. Sound was added. Hollywood was built. Color film became economical. Hitchcock lived, prospered, and died. Specials effects were created. Digital was invented. A century passed, and the motion picture industry still flourishes.

Nowadays, cinema can be defined as the art of colorful moving images enhanced by voices, sounds, and music, still telling stories, still entertaining, and most importantly, still selling popcorn.


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