Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of the birth of the Agoraphobic Reviewer. What better way to celebrate than to begin an epic history of cinema, ranging from the nineteenth century to the present day. And who better to narrate such a history than I, John Le Baptiste, a man who has never seen a single film:
PART 1: THE ROOTS OF CINEMA
The first film ever shown in public was projected on to the wall of a Paris basement in 1870-8 (or thereabouts). Featuring a lithe gentleman in a washing bonnet hanging over the English Channel from the side of a hot air balloon’s basket, wiggling his little Gallic legs and appearing to shout ‘mere’, ‘merde’ or ‘mer’, this film established the blueprint for everything that would follow. Indeed, when any film of the last 150 years (e.g. Vertigo, Easy Rider, The Rush Hour Trilogy) is boiled down to its core, what remains except a little wiggly man in a perilous situation calling for his mother, shouting about faeces or exclaiming that he can see the sea?
(As a footnote, the Le Baptiste family had a holiday tradition involving the spotting of the sea. Basically, whichever family member first saw the ocean from the car window, and then exclaimed ‘I can see the sea’, was rewarded with 1 pound sterling from the Le Baptiste paterfamilias. I have long suspected that this contest would make for a great film).
In general, the visual quality of the early films was very poor. This is because the first movie cameras were made out of wishes and were powered by the radioactive bones of Marie Curie. On the whole, however, this blurriness and fuzziness was a mercy, since most films just involved dogs jumping through hoops, women dancing, dogs dancing, women jumping through hoops and/or antisemitism. As an added affront to the refined sensibilities of the fin-de-siecle viewer, all dialogue was conveyed by means of post-it notes stuck to the lens of the camera at inopportune moments. What a crock!
IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT: HOLLYWOOD, THE STUDIO SYSTEM AND ‘THE TALKIES’.