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Moving Image Section--Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division



Motion Pictures
arrow graphicThe Silent Era
Women on Screen

Women Behind the Camera
The Studio Era
The Post-Studio Era
Readings, Lectures, and the Performing Arts
PATHFINDER: Barbara Jordan




The Silent Era
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From Show Girl to Burlesque Queen. Camera: A. E. Weed. AM&B, 1903. Paper Print Collection (LC549), Moving Image Section, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.

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At the close of the nineteenth century, a means of capturing and presenting moving pictures was developed at the Edison laboratories in New Jersey. After a brief period of experimentation, these early filmmakers turned to vaudeville, burlesque, and other forms of mass entertainment both for their subject matter and for their performers. On March 10, 1894, when production began on the twenty-eighth kinetoscope—a film viewed through a peep-hole cabinet—a Spanish dancer became the first woman to appear in an Edison film. Carmencita [moving image] was soon followed by numerous risqué films featuring exotic dancers—such as Turkish Dance, Ella Lola (1898) [moving image]—and scantily clad women, as seen in Trapeze Disrobing Act (1901) [moving image].

As the commercial exploitation of the kinetoscope grew, filmmakers realized they needed to produce films that appealed to an audience that included middle-class women. The Hendricks Collection provides a sampling of films produced with this audience in mind, including Annie Oakley (1894) [moving image], where Oakley demonstrated her marksmanship; Imperial Japanese Dance (1894) [moving image], with its Kyoto dance performance; and the famous May Irwin Kiss (1896) [moving image]. At the same time, the public exhibition of films of boxers, wrestlers, blacksmiths, barber shops, cock-fights, and voyeurism allowed women access to a masculine world from which they were usually excluded.4

Motion pictures continued to evolve as cameras were taken out of the studios and filmmakers began shooting scenes of everyday life—as in Women of the Ghetto Bathing (1902) [moving image], scenic views of urban and rural landscapes—such as Panoramic View of Niagara Falls (1899, FLA 3523), or current events—for instance, Parade of Women Delegates; World's Fair (1904, FLA 4812). Such films became known as actualities.
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Birth of the Pearl. Camera: F.S. Armitage. AM&B, 1901. Paper Print Collection (LC1318), Moving Image Section, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.

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Filmmakers also made re-creations of topical events, such as the sinking of the Maine and boxing matches. Temperance leader Carry Nation's (1846-1911) “joint-smashing” of the Carey Hotel Bar in Wichita, Kansas, was reenacted for the camera in Kansas Saloon Smashers (1901, FLA 4194) and Unidentified Coffeyville Historical Society, no.1: Carry Nation (ca. 1905, FEA 7974).

During the first decade of the twentieth century, filmmakers began developing narrative patterns. They enhanced plot and character and used plot conventions and genres, such as comedy, melodrama, crime, costume, social problem, and western. Soon these fiction films, rather than the actualities, dominated the market.

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