There is no singular person or organization that could be identified as the one who invented cinema. An early account, though, is the development of the Kinetoscope by Thomas Edison and William Dickson in the year 1891. This innovation enabled a person to view moving pictures through perforated celluloid film strips. This was the predecessor of the soon-to-be projector. This became a commercial success and, soon after, in 1895, the Lumière brothers from France developed the Cinématographe, a film projector, printer, and camera, which they used to project over 1000 moving pictures to an audience. Most of these depicted scenes from everyday life, with Workers leaving the Lumière Factory being the first. When the pioneers saw cinema as nothing more than a scientific innovation, more and more filmmakers, such as Georges Méliès and Edwin Porter, were given the platform to experiment and develop its potential through effects and methods of storytelling.
“Photography and the cinema on the other hand are discoveries that satisfy, once and for all and in its very essence, our obsession with realism.”(Bazin, p. 12, 1967)
“Seeing people immobile in space, the photographers realized that what they needed was movement if their photographs were to become a picture of life and a faithful copy of nature.”(Bazin, p. 20, 1967)
The fascination with cinema began with the desire to explore how to better capture reality. It was an experimentation with photography that succeeded in furthering existing technology. Man’s natural inclination towards creation has led to this obsession with, not just capturing reality, but recreating it. This obsession is evident in the evolution of art, mainly paintings, that for many centuries tried its best to place nature and humanity on a canvas. It was only during the expressionist era where art began to be more expressive rather than imitative. With cinema, early films were more for exhibitionism. When people got used to the idea of freezing, not only moments, but a duration of movement, narrative came into play. From here on, both cinema as an art form and cinema as business developed. But in terms of content, cinema has always been about projecting reality or a version of reality in one way or another. In the context of this projection, as stated by Bazin, “in spite of any objections our critical spirit may offer, we are forced to accept as real the existence of the object reproduced, actually represented, set before us, that is to say, in time and space” (Bazin, pp.13-14, 1967) Cinema has evolved from the concept of reality, and is continuously progressing towards perfecting this purpose. Not only has it been successful in projecting reality, but it has also developed so far as to tweak, alter, and reimagine it. Given this, can we already assume that the essence of cinema is reality? I would argue not.
Cinema’s initial, not primary, purpose is to represent and recreate reality. Reality is, indeed, a solid part of its identity, but it is not its essence because it has evolved and expanded away from realism just as much as art in paintings and sculptures did. One good argument is that the essence of cinema is time because, in cinema, “time is manipulated. It’s controlled. And in the end, it’s what we capture, as well as what we experience” (Renée, 2013). This argument further distinguishes cinema from photography, as photography freezes time, while cinema works with it and shapes it. While I agree with this, I would also like to propose that the essence of cinema also lies in its ability to communicate.
Cinema is almost everything one could ever look for in a work. It is a very vast art form that makes use of a whole lot of combinations of other art forms such as music and sound, illustrations, photography, coloring, etc. Through these, it is able to construct the perfect illusions and representations of life. By this, cinema is able to communicate reality. It is also able to communicate time, whether it be by its stillness or its passage. In fact, it is able to communicate a lot of other things, among which are emotions, psychology, and spirituality. Cinema has long advanced from its sole identity of being a method of imitation towards being a method of communication.
“The real primitives of the cinema, existing only in the imaginations of a few men of the nineteenth century, are in complete imitation of nature…Every new development added to the cinema must, paradoxically, take it nearer and nearer to its origins. In short, cinema has not yet been invented.”(Bazin, p. 21, 1967)
If we are to take this logic that an object or a concept has never been invented because everything that it has gone through has only contributed to reaching its future potential, then any object or concept will cease to exist. Say for example, in the context of the Philippine National Cinema, scholars are finding it extremely hard to define it because its evolution has been influenced by so many factors which make it hard to determine what is solely ours. There have been studies that limit “national cinema” to films produced either in the Philippines or by Filipinos only. There are also those who argue that “national cinema” does not exist because it is still being developed or defined. However, I would like to quote Prof. Nick Deocampo in his statement that one cannot have a national cinema without acknowledging all the historical and international influences that it has acquired throughout its years of existence. National Cinema is defined by Filipino-made and produced films, but it is also defined by the Hollywood influences, the early Spanish ideologies, the imported technologies, as well as the cultural preferences that the nation has inherited from its colonizers. Its identity should be taken as a whole, in all its developments, rather than being isolated for what it was initially made for. Going back to the context of cinema, with the logic that has been illustrated, cinema has, therefore, been invented. It has just evolved to fully capture its essence, rather than to go nearer its origins, contrary to what Bazin claims.
“Today, the making of images no longer shares a question of survival after death, but of a larger concept, the creation of an ideal world in the likeness of the real, with its own temporal destiny”(Bazin, p. 10, 1967)
Cinema’s origins lie in its function to imitate. But with times changing and technologies rapidly growing, cinema has expanded into being a tool for creation, adaptation, as well as criticism. It’s creation aspect is rooted in man’s natural tendency to build. However, it is also a nod to the artistic inclination that seeks to produce a new reality, rather than emulate one. Cinema as a form of adaptation stems from its history of recreating existing moments. However, beyond simulation, it is also a form of creative expression and retelling of stories that have been told countless times. Lastly, cinema has progressed to being a form of criticism, seeking to evaluate and push further the art form, as well as the world that surrounds it.
“If cinema in its cradle lacked all the attributes of the cinema to come, it was with reluctance and because its fairy guardians were unable to provide them however much they would have liked to.”(Bazin, p. 21, 1967)
With this diversion away from its original purpose, did cinema actually evolve backwards? I would disagree. The cinema that we know now, with all its history, does not only imitate reality, but it also bravely addresses it. The concept of a total cinema is, indeed, a myth, primarily because it is ever changing. To attempt to redirect which path cinema should take or what cinema should be is to limit it. As with any other form of art, it should evolve freely, getting closer and closer to what it is meant to be at a particular period of time. It does not have to stick to its original purpose and form because its identity is constantly being defined by the circumstances it goes through. This does not mean that it will never be what it is just because it is constantly “being”. Rather, it should be set free from any historical and contextual limitations so that it can explore the fullness of its potential and possibly, like photography, give way to the discovery and development of another form of art with another purpose.
- A very short history of cinema. (2020). Retrieved 25 October 2020, from https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/very-short-history-of-cinema
- Bazin, A. (1967). The Evolution of the Language of Cinema. In A. Bazin, What is Cinema? (pp. 23-40). California: The Regents of the University of California.
- Bazin, A. (1967). The Myth of Total Cinema. In A. Bazin, What is Cinema? (pp. 17-22). California: The Regents of the University of California.
- Bazin, A. (1967). The Ontology of the Photographic Image. In A. Bazin, What is Cinema? (pp. 9-16). California: The Regents of the University of California.
- Renée, V. (2013). The Essence of Cinema: Exploring Richard Linklater’s Relationship with Film & Time. Retrieved 25 October 2020, from https://nofilmschool.com/2013/12/exploring-richard-linklaters-relashionship-with-film-and-time
- The History of Movies. (2020). Retrieved 25 October 2020, from https://open.lib.umn.edu/mediaandculture/chapter/8-2-the-history-of-movies/