Upon reflecting on our first experiences in studying film histories we found not only that some things surprised us but most importantly that we were aware of several problems and challenges that could arise from such a study, especially when you examine the period 1890-1910.
One of the first problems that can result from studying film histories is that it is nearly impossible to get an impartial view on history, as E H Carr says “study the historian before you begin to study the facts.” Therefore being careful about which historical sources to read and which films to watch is a crucial part of beginning to understand the origins of film.
It is also important as film historians that we don’t forget to study film histories as a continuous and overlapping process that cannot be broken down into a series of events to construct a time line. It is also important to remember the processes and apparatuses that came before and that help the development of cinema.
Furthermore, we need to consider the international aspect of early cinema, from the Lumière brothers collecting footage from around the world to companies such as Pathé Russia establishing continental dominance. Films were being made in many countries and the evolution of cinema should be studied from both a national perspective of each industry as well as a global market since film imports played a huge role in the development of cinema as a form of entertainment on its own.
This development of the cinema is something that surprised us in some ways. It is very important for film historians to be able to, or rather try our best to, put ourselves into the mind set of the people who saw films for the first time in the years 1890-1910; to try to understand what it must have felt like and how those films could have affected them without the preconceived notions of film and cinema we have today.
We were interested in how quickly feature length films developed and how although film started as just another attraction in vaudeville and other shows it soon became an independent source of entertainment. Watching films from early and pre-cinema, it has struck us how quickly people began to use it as an art form. The first films were simply short snippets of life being filmed, more to show off the new technology. However, within only a few years directors who we still study today were making their first films and starting to develop techniques, genres and styles, unique to each of them. This was crucial in the evolution of the cinema into what we know today and it is difficult to understand things were not always that way, specially when, as we said before, historians have different points of views towards the role of early cinema in society.
In conclusion, despite some of the problems and challenges that studying film histories poses, we found it so far fascinating as the period 1890-1910 is a very complex and