The Best and Worst of Moving Pictures

KinetoscopeOne hundred and twenty years ago today (May 9, 1893), Thomas Edison presented the Kinetoscope, the first film-viewing device, at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. The first film publicly shown on the system was Blacksmith Scene, the earliest known example of actors performing a role in a film.

In InfoCulture, Steven Lubar reports that in 1908, the Nation called film “the first democratic art” and that Jane Addams wrote in 1909 that for “hundreds of young people… going to the show is the only possible road to mystery and romance.” The poet Vachel Lindsay wrote in the The Art of the Moving Picture (1915): “Whitman brought the the idea of democracy to our sophisticated literati, but did not persuade the democracy itself to read his democratic poems. Sooner or later the kinetoscope will do what he could not, bring the nobler side of the equality idea to the people who are so crassly equal.” Says Lubar: “Movies, Lindsay suggested, would be the first truly American cultural form.”

Also today, in 1961, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Newton N. Minow delivered a famous speech to the convention of the National Association of Broadcasters, in which he said:

When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

See also First Showing of Vitascope and First Showing of Commercial Motion Pictures and From recording sounds to projecting moving pictures



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