Author: Punam Sharrma

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The Entertainer’s Footprints – A Brief History of Films

The Entertainer’s Footprints – A Brief History of Films

Tucked in the plushest seat with caramel popcorn, catching up with your Friday-released flick, experiencing the blockbuster on a multiplex screen and walking away with the feel of Dolby DTS, 3D and virtual reality. Cut to Grand Café in Paris on 28th December, 1895. The Lumiere brothers, Louis and Auguste Lumiere screened a series of short scenes from everyday French life and charged admission for the first time. The first commercial motion picture was featured. Thus, began the journey of  world’s favorite entertainer-the cinema.

Let us begin from the beginning. Movie technology has its roots in the early 1830s, when Joseph Plateau of Belgium and Simon Stampfer of Austria developed a device called ‘phenakistoscope.’ It was considered precursor of modern motion pictures. In 1895 Louis Lumiere’s ‘Cinematographe’ was patented which was combination of a camera and a projector.

Thomas Edison invented moving pictures which were silent. Audiences enjoyed movies without audio or music for a long time unless Sam Warner of Warner Brothers, in the quest of trying to produce more successful movies, aspired to give audio a shot. Sam used the phonograph to record voices and made the movies where the actors talked to each other. The new sound based movies were called ‘Vitaphone’ movies, denoting “the sound of life.’’ The first Vitaphone movie, named ‘Don Juan’ was a romantic adventure. ‘The Jazz Singer’ was another classic example of a primitive talkie. Even when sound movies got better, one iconic actor still chose to speak to the world through his eyes, face and body. Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp remained silent forever.

The cinema has evolved over the years. Kinemacolor system was patented in 1906 followed by Technicolor, introduced in 1932. To make viewing more dramatic Cinerama was invented in 1952, followed by Cinemascope in 1953 and Omnimax in 1970. Even in audio system, the once made silent movies now boast of Dolby Atmos-the newest cinema sound technology. It allows the film-makers to precisely place and move sound anywhere in the theatre.“Gravity”-the current blockbuster is ideal example of this technology. From 3D to virtual reality to depth sensors, movie making is undergoing a revolution. Technology is offering exciting ways to consume information and entertainment.

The journey is incomplete without the mention of few key films. Charles Tait’s ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang’ (1906) was the world’s first full length movie. World’s first color moving pictures dating from 1902 have been found by the National Media Museum in Bradford after lying  abandoned in an old tin for 110 years. These films were made by pioneer Edward Raymond Turner who patented his color process on 22nd March, 1899. D.W. Griffith’s “Pippa Passes” was the first film whose film review published in the New York Times in 1909.  Raja Harishchandra, produced and directed by Dadasaheb Phalke, was the first full length feature film in India. Men would play female characters then as it was considered inappropriate for women to work in movies. Lanka Dahan in 1917 was India’s first major box office hit where people would fight for tickets at long queues in Majestic cinema, Bombay and toss coins at the ticket counter because the film was mostly houseful. The road of movie hits and flops began with Lanka Dahan and paved its way to the current grosser “Sultan” starring Salman Khan and is a proud member of 300crore exclusive club.

India produces the largest number of films worldwide; over 1,700 films a year in 32 languages but its record of film archiving and preservation is abysmal. Of the 1,700 silent films made in the country, we only have five or six complete films. We lost a solid 80% of our films by 1950, and there is absolutely no record of India’s first talkie, Alam Ara. These statistics are unnerving. The Film Heritage Foundation aims to create an indigenous resource of film archivists and restorers that will work towards film preservation.  They have put an initial framework in place by preserving not the oldest movies but the most talked about movies of renowned directors like Raj Kapoor and Bimal Roy. Cinema is rich cultural heritage, we live in films unless we know from where we come we will never know where to go. Cinema has been beautifully summarized by Martin Scorsese, “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.’’


So Long VCR, Long Live the Content

So Long VCR, Long Live the Content

A usual afternoon. As Zoya was arranging her collection of movies and music, she suddenly laid her hands on an old box. Curious, she ripped the box open and was instantly transported to her childhood – when living room was ruled by bulky colored television sets with few channels and programs till midnight.

One of those days, Zoya fondly remembers, her excitement doubled when her dad brought home a new system. Video Home System (VHS) – he called it. Next Sunday they had a family get-together. After lunch, the whole family assembled in the living room while her dad inserted a video cassette recorder (VCR) into the system. The whole family watched in amazement as The Sound of Music came to life on television screen. Soon, it became a routine. Every Sunday, the living room was transformed to a movie theater and afternoons were spent together watching movies.

Couple of  years later, when Zoya graduated to high school and then to college, she got permission to rent VCRs from a neighborhood video parlor. A parlor that had film posters pasted all over its walls and the owner always managed to suggest the recent VCR she could rent. Watching movies with friends meant calling them over at home, renting the latest VCRs while mom had endless supply of chai and snacks.

Much later, one day her cousin brought home a DVD player. Though she was still a regular customer at the neighborhood video parlor, she realized latest movies came in CDs and DVDs. The parlor also filled its racks with CDs and DVDs, and rented out VCRs only when someone specifically asked for it.

Nostalgia gripped Zoya. How time flies! From VCRs to DVDs, and now to mobile. As she ransacked through the old box  to find her favorite VCR, she realized the VHS is lying discarded somewhere in the storeroom. With video-on-demand and Internet television, she never felt the need to get it repaired to watch her childhood favorites. Whatever she wants to watch is only a search and a click away.

Searching through the contents of the box, Zoya discovered the video tapes with recordings of her childhood memories, including her first birthday party. Dusting them, she realized some of these recordings might not be in a condition to play.  As she Googled how to restore old VCRs, she realized that VCR-manufacturer Funai Electronic have stopped manufacturing VCRs, which means restoring the contents of these recordings will be an uphill task.

Which made Zoya wonder, since the time VCR was introduced in 1970s with movies like M*A*S*H, Patton, and The Sound of Music available on tapes costing around $70, there has been large amounts of content that has been produced and stored in this format. And with VCR no longer commercially available, what will happen to those content?

Zoya read about content digitization somewhere before, but began to realize the value of it only now. With new technologies coming every day, content owners need to digitize the existing content and store them in reusable format to prevent any losses. Otherwise, as happened with her childhood recordings, as formats became archaic and content old, a generation of valuable content will become history.