Early Silent Cinema

Early Silent Films

We begin with a lecture on "How Motion Pictures Became the Movies" looking at the years 1908 - 1920:


And to expand this narrative and context, please view the Rise of the Studio by the Timeline of Cinema: 

For further viewing, here is a selection from some of the earliest silent films (1896 - 1912). They are not completely identified, but the first, The Car, looks like it came from Melies while the second, The Derby, is probably from the Lumiere Brothers. There is also a paper print from Edison and a very telling shot of Tsar Nicholas and entourage parading in front of the peasants in 1911.

Below are some well known scenes created by George Melies:

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Below are several surviving short films that typify early cinema. Please watch the short films and read the articles that are on the right side of the video as well:

The Great Train Robbery 1903

Filmed in November 1903 at Edison's New York studio, at Essex County Park in New Jersey, and along the Lackawanna railroad and released in December 1903, The Great Train Robbery is considered to be one of the first significant early US narrative films. It introduced many new cinematic techniques (cross cutting, double exposure, camera movement and location shooting) to American audiences.

The Great Train Robbery from the Archives

The Birth of a Nation 1915

The Birth of a Nation is a 1915 silent film directed by D.W. Griffith. The film is based on the novel and play entitled The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, Jr. (The Clansman was also the original title of the film.)

While there are racist themes and a revisionist rewriting of history, the innovative movie making techniques make this a classic commercial film. Many of the film’s stars were well known, with each having over 100 movie credits to their name. Lillian Gish later was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for “superlative artistry” and “distinguished contribution” to motion pictures. (The Academy Awards, also known as the “Oscars”, was not created until over a decade after The Birth of a Nation was filmed.)

The link below goes to the full film at the Library of Congress Archive:

The Birth of a Nation from the Archives
(If you have Amazon Prime you can view it in the recent Kino Restored Version. The version found at Netflix is an older restoration with a short interview of D.W. Griffith before the actual film.)


The Cutting Edge is a documentary about film editing and the following links dig deeper into the importance of editing in film production and cinematic storytelling:


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