But imagine the surprise and the shock that people felt when they saw the first films in 1895. There was no sound, no colour and the films were very short: they lasted from 60 to 90 seconds! Besides, they didn’t tell a story. They were episodes of real life: a military parade, a running horse, a boxing match, the ocean...
One of the first films showed a train coming towards the camera. The audience panicked and ran away! The frightened people were sure that the train was coming into the theatre.
The early films were shown in music halls, theatres, cafes and even shops. Travelling projectionists brought the films to smaller cities and country towns.
The cinema became a new form of entertainment. It wasn’t expensive and, at first, the audience consisted mainly of workers. The rich and intellectual classes ignored it.
Gradually films became longer and started to tell stories. As soon as it happened, they began to film the classics.
As the industry developed, it created a new phenomenon: the international star. World travel was still slow and difficult in those days, but millions of people in different countries could see the same actors and actresses at the cinema. Their faces, and later their voices, were familiar to people in the countries they never visited. It was an entirely new experience to see a ‘star’, someone to identify with and love from a distance.
The popularity of the cinema led to the first attacks against it. Church leaders condemned the new form. They thought that the cinema would steal souls and lead people away from religion. Indeed, early cinemas looked like temples, and people worshipped their favourite film stars.
The era of the talking film began in 1927 with the enormous success of Warner Brothers’ The Jazz Singer. The film mostly told its story with titles, but it had three songs and a short dialogue. The silent film was dead within a year.
The introduction of colour was less revolutionary than the introduction of sound. The silent film soon disappeared, but the black-and-white films are made even today.
The most important aspect of the cinema was that, for the price of a ticket, people could dream for a few hours. A little boy could imagine he was a brave cowboy. A lonely girl could imagine she was Scarlett O’Hara in the arms of Rhett Butler.
Today, no one disputes cinema’s place as the ‘seventh art’. Cinema has produced as many great artists as literature, the theatre, and any of the other arts.