Georgiades and Trajedis, arrived in London with Kinetoscopes purchased in
New York and opened an exhibition in a store in Old Broad Street, E.C.
success of the showing made them wish for more Kinetoscopes to extend their
business. They evolved an enterprising line of action. Instead of importing
more of the expensive Edison machines, at $300 each, F.O.B. New York, they
would have duplicates made in England. They cast about seeking a machine
They found Robert W. Paul, maker of scientific
instruments of precision. Georgiades
and Trajedis asked Paul to duplicate the Kinetoscope. He reflected and
demurred, pointing out that it was undoubtedly patented by Edison and that
it would be illegal to build it.
But when the
Greeks persisted, Paul investigated the British patent records and found to
his amazement that Edison had in fact not patented his machine in England.
Edison had some years before waved aside his
attorney's suggestion of foreign patents.
situation left Paul with a free hand. He forthwith filled the order of the
Greeks and also proceeded to make some of the machines on his own account.
These machines he placed on exhibition in Earl's Court, London, to a large
and immediate profit.
The fame of
Paul and the Kinetoscope spread, and a large demand arose in Great Britain
and extended over to the Continent. Orders for the machines came from all
directions. Edison had not only overlooked foreign patents, but the whole
foreign market as well. When Paul and his assistants appeared at his shop in
the mornings they found the stairway lined with waiting customers, some
asleep on the steps after a night long vigil there in Hatton Garden holding
their places to book orders for Kinetoscopes.
Paul's machines were necessarily dependent on the Edison studio in New
Jersey for films. The only motion pictures in the world were being made at
the "Black Maria." 'This foreign demand soon brought alarmed attention from
Gilmore, Edison's general manager. Gilmore, striving to rehabilitate Edison
finances, were clutching at every asset. He moved quickly to attempt a
recovery of the overlooked foreign market. The supply of films for Paul was
abruptly cut off. Frank Z. Maguire and Joseph D. Baucus, an attorney, went
to London as Edison agents for the Kinetoscope.
with a thriving business under way, was not to be thwarted now. He set about
endeavors at a camera. He immediately recognized the necessity for an
intermittent motion for the recording film, with a pause for each exposure.
The first experimental idea, according to accounts, was adopted by Paul from
a sketch for a machine to print still photographs from a roll of paper fed
past the negative from a roll of stock, interrupted and clamped into contact
for each successive print. This scheme was submitted by Birt Acres, in
connection with his work for an English photographic supply manufacturer,
and had no direct relation to the motion picture in its conception.
to an inquiry aimed at establishing disputed facts and dates, Paul in a
letter to the author July 23, 1924, said:
I find that on March 29, 1895, I made an
agreement with Birt Acres for him to take films for the Kinetoscope with a
camera made by me. It has an intermittent movement of the film, effected by
clamping and unclamping the film at the "gate" while under tension provided
by a spring jockey-roller. This gave unsteady pictures and within a few
weeks (I think, days) was replaced by a sprocket, 7 pictures in
circumference, actuated by a finger wheel and a 7-point star based on the
idea of a Maltese cross.
words, Paul in his second camera arrived at a stop motion device very
similar to that which the Edison-Dickson experiments had evolved in 1888 in
camera differed markedly from the Edison Kinetograph in several important
respects. The Kinetograph with its ponderous housing and battery and motor
drive could only be moved with a horse-drawn wagon. The Paul machine was
small and portable. Also Edison, striving for continuous effect on the eye
and rather unaware of how easily the eye may be imposed upon in the matter
of persistence of vision, used from forty-five to forty-eight exposures or
images a second. Paul decided that twenty were ample to give the effect and
just about half as costly in film consumption.
first Kinetoscope subjects were Bootblack at Work in a London Street
and A Rough Sea at Dover. These pictures went out to his peep show
tried projection with the continuously running
film of the Kinetoscope movement. Some time
before the autumn of 1895 Paul reached the notion of using an intermittent
motion in the projector, permitting the picture to pause for the eye.
Commenting on this in his letter, Paul remarks:
Early in 1895 I had not realized the necessity
for intermittent movement of the film, but it is certain that I did so by
October of that year; this of course refers to projection, and is the
stranger as I had already made several cameras with intermittent motion.
Once set in
the path of the pursuit of the intermittent motion, Paul soon applied his
camera experience to the projector. The tale of his final triumph is a part
of British film tradition. It was in the pale hour of three o'clock in the
morning in the workshop in Hatton Garden. The machine was finally assembled,
threaded with film, and started. When the picture flashed up on the screen
Paul and his assistants set up a cheer.
arrived at the motion picture on the screen, Paul was still somewhat in
doubt about what to do with it. He appears to have had some dimly prophetic
vision of an evolving career for the new art of the picture.
saw it in the light of a scientific abstraction which might find concrete
utility in the service of art is indicated by the counsel he sought.
attention was arrested by a conspicuous piece of fiction entitled The
Time Machine, which appeared in 1894. There was a striking relation
between the fancy of the story and the fact of the motion picture. The
author of this story was H. G. Wells, a science teacher who had turned from
the class room and lecture platform to fiction for his expression. His story
The Time Machine was helping mightily to establish him as a writer. Wells had only fairly begun to write of his
speculations and forecasts in the evolution of the doctrines and social
opinion which today make him world famous.
story Paul saw an opportunity to use the special properties of the motion
picture in a new and perhaps especially effective method of narration. He
wrote to Wells, who went to confer with Paul at his laboratory at 44 Hatton
A reading of
The Time Machine, even now, leaves one with a strong impression that
the story was born of the direct suggestion of the behavior of a motion
picture film. Wells, in a letter to the writer in 1924, said he was unable
to remember details of the relation. But the evidence is such that if the
story was not evolved directly from the experience of seeing the
Kinetoscope, it was indeed an amazing coincidence.
Machine is a fanciful tale of the adventures of a physicist who built a
machine which could travel in time just as an airplane travels in space. The
Time Traveler tells his story in the first person. In the third
chapter of the Wells story he says:
I drew a breath, set my teeth, gripped the
starting lever with both my hands, and went off with a thud. The laboratory
got hazy and went dark. Mrs. Wachett came in, and walked, apparently without
seeing me, toward the garden door. I suppose it took her a minute or so to
traverse the place, but to me she seemed to shoot across the room like a
paragraph one does not have to stretch his fancy to see what must be taken
as the motion picture influence at the bottom of Wells' concept. The
operation of the Time Traveler was very like the starting of the peep-show
Kinetoscope, and the optical effect experienced by the fictional adventurer
was identical with that experienced in viewing a speeding film.
more strongly is the motion picture character of The Time Machine
idea evidenced in Wells' chapter thirteen, where the Time Traveler,
nearing the end of his narrative, recites :
I saw one little thing that seemed odd to me. I
think I have told you that when I set out, before my velocity became very
high, Mrs. Wachett had walked across the room, traveling, it seemed to me,
like a rocket. As I returned, I passed again across the minute when she
traversed the laboratory. But now every motion appeared to be the direct
inverse of her previous one. The door at the lower end opened and she glided
quietly up the laboratory, back foremost, and disappeared behind the door by
which she had previously entered.
paragraph details precisely the effect of running a film backward with
consequent exact reversal of the action. It is hard to believe that Wells
did not take his notion directly from the peep show film. One of the
earliest novelty effects sought in the Kinetoscope in the days when it was
enjoying scientific attention was in exactly this sort of reversal of
commonplace bits of action. It continues today a somewhat hackneyed bit of
trick camera work. In the early days we saw runners backing up at high speed
and backing locomotives swallowing their smoke in reverse gear. Nowadays we
see Venuses in half-piece bathing suits spring from the pool and retrace the
parabola of the dive to alight on the springboard. Such is the progress of
Wells, there is additional evidence of the motion picture root of The
Time Machine idea in that he stresses the picture reversal effect in the
phrase: "she glided quietly ." Wells seems to have been thinking in terms of
the picture exclusively. He for the moment ignored the fact that his Time
Traveler in recrossing a moment of time should have experienced the
sounds as well as the sights of that moment, both reversed. Mrs. Wachett
might just as well also been heard backing up and closing the door. The
thing had already been done in experimental reversals of the phonograph. It
would seem pretty definite that the Time Traveler was all eyes and
the story all motion picture.
Out of the
author-scientist collaborations in Hatton Garden came a screen project to
materialize the human wish to live in the Past, Present and Future all at
once. It is all set forth in clear terms in a British patent application,
No. 19984, drawn up by Paul under date of October 24, 189S, reading:
A NOVEL FORM OF EXHIBITION OR ENTERTAINMENT,
MEANS FOR PRESENTING THE SAME
My invention consists of a novel form of
exhibition whereby the spectators have presented to their view scenes which
are supposed to occur in the future or past, while they are given the
sensation of voyaging upon a machine through time, and means for presenting
these scenes simultaneously and in conjunction with the production of the
sensations by the mechanism described below, or its equivalent.
The mechanism I employ consists of a platform,
or platforms, each of which contain a suitable number of spectators and
which may be enclosed at the sides after the spectators have taken their
places, leaving a convenient opening towards which the latter face, and
which is directed towards a screen upon which the views are presented.
In order to create the impression of traveling,
each platform may be suspended from cranks in shafts above the platform,
which may be driven by an engine or other convenient source of power. These
cranks may be so placed as to impart to the platform a gentle rocking
motion, and may also be employed to cause the platform to travel bodily
forward through a short space, when desired, or I may substitute for this
portion of the mechanism similar shafts below the platforms, provided with
cranks or cams, or worms keyed eccentrically on the shaft, or wheels gearing
in racks attached to the underside of the platform or otherwise.
Simultaneously with the forward propulsion of
the platform, I may arrange a current of air to be blown over it, either by
fans attached to the sides of the platform, and intended to represent to the
spectators the means of propulsion, or by a separate blower driven from the
engine and arranged to throw a regulated blast over each of the platforms.
After the starting of the mechanism, and a
suitable period having elapsed, representing, say, a certain number of
centuries, during which the platforms may be in darkness, or in alternations
of darkness and dim light, the mechanism may be slowed and a pause made at a
given epoch, on which the scene upon the screen will come gradually into
view of the spectators, increasing in size and distinctness from & small
vista, until the figures, etc., may appear lifelike if desired.
In order to produce a realistic effect, I
prefer to use for the projection of the scene upon the screen, a number of
powerful lanterns, throwing the respective portions of the picture, which
may be composed of,
( 1) A hypothetical landscape, containing also
the representations of the inanimate objects in the scene.
(2) A slide, or slides, which may be traversed
horizontally or vertically and contain representations of objects such as a
navigable balloon etc., which is required to traverse the scene.
(3) Slides or films, representing in successive
instantaneous photographs, after the manner of the Kinetoscope, the living
persons or creatures in their natural motions. The films or slides are
prepared with the aid of the Kinetograph or special camera, from made up
characters performing on a stage, with or without a suitable background
blending with the main landscape.
The mechanism may be similar to that used in
the Kinetoscope, but I prefer to arrange the film to travel intermittently
instead of continuously and to cut off the light only during the rapid
displacement of the film as one picture succeeds another, as by this means
less light is wasted than in the case when the light is cut off for the
greater portion of the time, as in the ordinary Kinetoscope mechanism.
(4) Changeable coloured, darkened, or
perforated slides may be used to produce the effect on the scene of
sunlight, darkness, moonlight; rain, etc.
In order to enable the scenes to be gradually
enlarged to a definite amount, I may mount these lanterns on suitable
carriages or trollies, upon rails provided with stops or marks, so as to
approach to or recede from the screen a definite distance, and to enable a
dissolving effect to be obtained, the lantern may be fitted with the usual
mechanism. In order to increase the realistic effect I may arrange that
after a certain number of scenes from a hypothetical future have been
presented to the spectators, they may be allowed to step from the platforms,
and be conducted through grounds or buildings arranged to represent exactly
one of the epochs through which the spectator is supposed to be traveling.
After the last scene is presented, I prefer to
arrange that the spectators should be given the sensation of voyaging
backwards from the last epoch to the present, or the present epoch may be
supposed to have been accidentally passed, and a past scene represented on
the machine coming to a standstill, after which the impression of traveling
forward again to the present epoch may be given, and the re-arrival notified
by the representation on the screen of the place at which the exhibition is
held, or of some well-known building which by the movement forward of the
lantern can be made to increase gradually in size as if approaching the
ROBT. W. PAUL
inspired by Wells' story, in this document exactly
anticipated the photoplay, which was not to be born yet for many a year.
viewed from the easy facility of the slowly evolved screen technique of
to-day, a clumsy collection of mechanical expedients. He did not and could
not know then that everything sought by way of revolving stages, combined
stereopticons, projection machines, scenic settings, masked seating sections
and platform rocking devices to simulate travel motion, would one day be
done entirely on the screen. The photoplay of today moves backward and
forward through Time with facile miracle from the Present into the Past and
Future by the cut-back, flash-back and vision scenes. The Paul patent notion
of sliding projection machines to enlarge or diminish the size of the
picture is executed by the camera of to-day while the projector stands still
in its theatre booth. Most amazingly, too, Paul and Wells in 1895 plainly
had the idea of not only the cut. back and close-up but also the fade-in and
fade-out, the overlap-dissolving of scenes into each other and all of the
supplemental tonal effects of sunshine, fog, rain, moonlight and the like,
now common to the screen drama.
of reading Wells' works have rather accustomed us to thinking of him as the
forecaster of most of the scientific wonders which have become commonplaces
of civilization, as for instance the airplane. But even that is no
preparation for the surprising discovery in this long forgotten patent
application that Wells and Paul forecast something infinitely more complex
than any machine--no less than a whole art form.
Wells-Paul feat of 1895 surpasses even that remarkable anticipation by which
Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac completely described the phonograph, two
centuries before its invention, in his Histoire Comique des
Empires de la Lune published in 1656, the year after his death in Paris.
anticipations of the phonograph by de Bergerac in the middle of the
seventeenth century and of the screen drama in the end of the nineteenth are
given still more interest when we realize that these two desires of sight
and sound were fused in the one mind of Edison, and that through his single
agency they were both materialized. The line between Art and Science is
Wells/Paul idea, embodied in the patent application, contained gropings for
a greater and new liberty for art. It sought to liberate the spectator from
the instant of Now. The Now to which our consciousness is chained is but a
mathematical point of no dimensions traveling ever forward, describing the
line which extends behind us as the Past and ahead of us as the Future.
impulse of cosmic adventure which has colored Wells' writing feats of fancy
in tales of other worlds and of hypothetical ages was at work here. He
wanted free range to lead his audiences at will back and forth along the
infinite hyper-dimensional line of Time. It was a plan to give the spectator
possession, on equal terms, of Was and To Be along with
The motion picture was to cut away the hampering fog of the complex sequence
of tenses of thought just as it was to cut back to reality through the misty
attenuations of language.
picture Time-machine idea was artistically at one with Ouspensky's
mathematically mysterious philosophy and Einstein's philosophically
mysterious mathematics. It was a promise of a more concrete application of
their remote intellectual abstractions. The author and the philosopher alike
often in their flights come beating against the walls of Space and Time.
They are just expressions of the human wish to be liberated from the cage of
the eternal Now.
back in the early '70's Nicolas Camille Flammarion, student of stars
and dreamer of dreams, in France, wrote a scientific fantasy tale
embodying related concepts, concerning the adventures of an interstellar
race, masters of Time and Space. Flammarion's
story was widely translated and circulated. In the United States,
by coincidence, two editions were published in the '90's just before
the birth of the motion picture. The peculiar possibilities of the
motion picture's ability to petrify and preserve moments of fleeting
time were here and there recognized even in the earliest days of the
peep show. Witness the following fragment of an editorial from the
St. Louis Post Dispatch:
The Kinetoscope, we are told, has recently been made to run backwards, and
the effects of this way of running it are truly marvelous. In his remarkable
romance, Lumen, the imaginative French astronomer, Flammarion, conceives of
spiritual beings who, by traveling forward on a ray of light, see, with the
keen vision of the spirit, all that ray of light carried from the beginning
of creation. By reversing the process and traveling in the contrary
direction, they witness the events of history reversed, so that men appear
to be rising from the grave, growing young and finally disappearing in the
process of birth.
It now seems that the Kinetoscope is to make this wondrous vision possible
to us. Already, by allowing it to turn backwards, the actions can be seen in
reverse order. The effect is said to be almost miraculous. In the process of
eating food is taken from the mouth and placed on the plate.
It has taken
the motion picture more than a quarter of a century to grow from the Edison
Kinetoscope into the photoplay's modem approximation of The Time Machine
and the Paul/Wells concept of 1895!
the first writer, in other words the first professional re-creator of
events, to come into contact with the motion picture. This circumstance led
nearly to the attainment, at a single stroke, of the photoplay construction
which has since come only by tedious evolution.
No writer or
dramatist has since made so bold a gesture with reference to the screen as
resulted from this tentative joining of Paul's invention and Wells' fancy.
They were hampered by no precedent or built-up tradition of the screen
industry, such as has affected the thought of every writer or dramatist of
subsequent connection with the art. When, more than a decade later, the
screen reached for the aid of the writing craft, it had established an
audience and precedents of practice which did I not permit the scenario
writer to be a free agent of expression. The project of '95 conceived the
motion picture as a tool and servant in the business of story telling, while
the writers who came in after the lapse of years were to be the tools and
servants of the then entrenched motion picture business.
processes of the evolution which was to realize some measure of this early
vision did not well begin until some thirteen years later, in 1908, when D.
W. Griffith began to assemble the mechanical and optical properties of the
motion picture into a new dramatic technique peculiar to the screen.
extraordinary machinery of the Past, Present and Future embodied in the Paul
patent application was never built because there was no money available to
carry out the daring idea. Paul dropped the project and did not proceed with
the formalities necessary to the issuance of the patent. He was utterly
forgotten until the researches of this history caused Paul to bring it to
light to establish an incidental date. In the third specification of the
proposed methods of the patent Paul defined the intermittent principle of
the motion picture projection device included. The patent application
therefore establishes the fact that it was some time prior to October 25,
1895, that he arrived at the idea of an intermittent motion in screen
projection. Now by the date of the Acres agreement we have seen that in
March of that year Paul's camera building, which preceded projection
efforts, had just begun. The essential invention of the intermittent motion
therefore fell between those dates, closely paralleling Armat's identical
efforts in Washington.
Wells-Paul Past-Present-Future machine came to naught the whole Paul screen
notion became dormant for a period awaiting the vitalizing influence to
developments to come. Some months later Paul, who was still inclined to view
his machine as a scientific instrument, decided to show it to a scientific
audience. On February 20, 1896, Paul's projector was demonstrated before an
audience at Finsbury Technical College, and on February 28 it was shown in
the library of the Royal Institution. These showings were accepted with due
and grave appreciation. After two whole generations a British scientist had
demonstrated an application of certain elements of that paper on
Persistence of Vision with Regard to Moving Objects read by Dr. Peter
Mark Roget before the Royal Society. That was that, and the Royal Society
proceeded with the regular order of business.
student of contemporary literature this near motion picture adventure of
Wells is of interest in that it appears to have been a part of his
experience when he was laying down the foundations of his writing career,
which became an outgrowth of his work and considerations as a teacher of
science. He broke from the class room for the greater liberty of the printed
page. If he had given attention to the motion picture and its larger
opportunity of mastery over Time by translations into the Present he might
have set the screen's progress forward many a year.
motion picture is a triumph over tenses. It is a time
machine in which we all ride with Lumen.
Brockway, December 26, 2001 (updated October 12, 2004)
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