A motion picture is any work of art that depicts an object or objects in motion, and actually creates the illusion of motion. The classical method of creating this illusion is by the showing of a sequence of photographs or drawings, each showing the putative moving object(s) in a slightly different place than the one previous, at such a speed that the viewer is not conscious of anyone showing him a set of pictures in sequence and can actually believe that he is watching things move, just as he would if he were in the presence of an actual moving object in nature.
History of Motion Pictures as a Medium
Motion pictures (often called "film" or "films" for short) began in 1867 with the invention of the zoopraxiscope (from the Greek zoô I am living, praxis what one does, and scopoô I am watching) by William Lincoln. This device used the rapid-sequence-of-photographs technique. Of far more practical value was Thomas A. Edison's kinetoscope (literally, "I watch things move"), which took a rapid sequence of photographs on a single very long roll of film and projected them just as rapidly for a single viewer. Edison would go on to perfect a device that allowed the exhibition of such a picture to a group of persons. Because he did not secure patent protection for his work in Europe, various European imitators were able to reverse-engineer Edison's device, and eventually Auguste Lumiere would build the first cinematograph, a self-contained device that could shoot a sequence, develop the film, and then project it. Thereafter, cinematography became the standard term for the actual shooting of a motion picture.
The first motion pictures were silent, and gave rise to a new form of theater much given to histrionics and hyperbole to make up for the lack of audible dialog. Eventually, however, Edison invented sound track that would reliably produce moving pictures and sound, including spoken words, in perfect synchrony. From then on, motion picture as theater once again shared with the traditional stage the conventions that have governed theater almost since its inception.
Initially all motion pictures were monochromatic or "black-and-white." A small number of motion pictures were initially made with a two-strip color process. This was expensive, and the colors were not true-to-life by any standard. But after the invention of sound came the further invention of a three-strip color process that, for the first time, produced realistic colors. Monochromatic filming remained popular, primarily because color filming was still too expensive to be routine, but also because monochromatic filming required its own conventions in set-dressing and costuming. A director of a monochromatic film sought to use colors that would project best as shades of gray, and thus would often choose the sort of colors for sets and costumes that a totally color-blind person might choose without the proper education and training in color coordination. (This also explains why the later attempt to tint a monochromatic film ended in universal rejection by the film-viewing public and by the original actors and directors of monochromatic films. Many of these professionals sought in vain to ask the United States Congress to forbid the "colorization" of their projects as a violation of their intellectual-property interests in their "image" or initial "vision" for their respective projects.) But as color filming became less expensive, and as viewers demanded color in the films that they patronized, color filming became an almost universal rule.
Motion pictures are now so old (more than a hundred years) that many of the original films have deteriorated to total non-viewability. The celluloid of which most film is made was never intended as a long-term storage medium. This has led to two major developments:
- The restoration of many especially well-loved films, often necessitating a frame-by-frame rebuilding of the entire project, typically by electronic means.
- The decision to develop a means and an infrastructure to record a film as a set of digital signals, store these signals on magnetic or preferably optical recording media, and transmit them to exhibitors through a dedicated communications channel on demand.
Uses of Motion Pictures
Motion pictures have typically found the following uses:
- As an aid in education, by recording for later projection certain laboratory demonstrations, animals in their natural habitats, and other scenes that a teacher would be unable to stage convincingly, inexpensively, or safely in a classroom. Instructors have also recorded their own lectures for later playback by absent students.
- As a means of disseminating current events. These "newsreels" were highly popular, especially during the Second World War, before the widespread popularity of television made them obsolete.
- As a tool of propaganda.
- As a form of theater.
The last use is by far the most popular and the most famous use of motion pictures--and today, motion pictures are the most popular form of theater today, with television running a close second. Here, "theater" is defined broadly as any public spectacle involving persons pretending to be other persons they are not, and acting out a story that might or might not be true. In this sense, motion pictures are one of what are now three different media of theater.