Perhaps one of the main reasons that so many of us, myself included, fail to “get” certain films, or certain aspects of film as a whole, is that we have not spent sufficient time studying the beginnings of the art form. We have not looked to the past. This, then, is a look at the first few decades of the cinematic arts, and the influence of these early films on what we see onscreen today.
When Louis and Auguste Lumiere first showed their short film, “The Arrival of a Train”, in 1895, they certainly had no inkling that, almost 100 years later, it would be the film-within-a-film in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Nor could Carl Theodor Dreyer have suspected that his 1928 feature The Passion of Joan of Arc would one day be the major inspiration for Mel Gibson’s hugely successful The Passion of the Christ (2004). But no matter where these and other early filmmakers envisioned the medium in 100 years, or whether they even believed it would last that long, the films we see today are undeniably the legacy of these pioneers of a nascent art form.
Besides the Lumiere brothers, who basically invented the scene with their early one-reelers, the earliest major influence on today’s cinema was the French magician turned movie-maker, Georges Melies. His cinematic sleight-of-hand in short films like “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) brought about the innovation of stop-motion photography, a precursor of today’s animated films, as well as a noticeable influence on special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen (the 1981 Clash of the Titans) and Czechoslovakian puppet animator Jan Svankmajer (1988′s Alice). “A Trip to the Moon” was also the first science fiction film, which eventually led to more scientifically grounded films like alien (1979) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).