Stillness and Motion on the Coffee Table: Photochemical Motion Pictures in Gilded Age Periodicals

Amy E. Borden, Portland State University


My research suggests that in addition to local practices, American film historians should continue to be attentive to mass experiences determined not only by location but, in this case, by 19th century periodical reading habits. I focus on the first four years of US public photochemical motion picture exhibition to consider the similarities I found in the use of still photographs to explain and introduce the machines and development processes used to introduce photochemical motion pictures to middle-class reading publics, effectively inviting readers to mentally animate the images themselves in imitatiion of a screening apparatus. I argue that the use of photographs in US magazines, the result of changes in printing practices in the period following the Civil War, shows that in addition to documented exhibitor practices, published magazine accounts also readied potential audience members for the new experience they would encounter by emphasizing the synthesis of individual photographs to create motion pictures. This relationship demonstrates that American periodicals played a crucial role in the way photochemical motion pictures and still photographs were depicted in mass culture to visualize the hidden relationship between photograms once they are placed in motion.