History of cinema 14 – time, length, reels

A frame is a single image. 16 frames makes a second. A reel is a set length of idiom, and therefore, time.

In 1888 Louis Le Prince patented a sixteen inch long device. It combined a camera and a projector into a portable, all-in-one format. This device was used to film the first motion picture, ROUND HAY GARDEN SCENE.

The roll of film it used was 1000 feet long in a 35mm format. Ten minutes of film equaled one reel. Each reel weighed five pounds.

Between 1905-1912 producers and distributors (basically the same entity at this point) limited the length of film to one or two reels per picture. They claimed that an audience would not follow anything longer. This control of film length controlled time and laid the base for the monopoly in early cinema.

Pre-1912, the Motion Picture Patent Commpny AKA Edison’s Trust AKA the MPCC created and maintained the One reel era (1908-1914). A film was aproximately 11-17 minutes in length. They would be shown repeatedly in cinema houses owned by Edison and his company. Multi-reel films existed but were frowned upon and rarely shown.

Wolf Zuckerberg began experimenting with editing during this time, not satisfied with the limitations to storytelling. In 1912 Zucker was using from 3 to 8 reels edited together. This broke the paradigm in 1914 creating the Two reel era.

Two-reelers remained popular in comedy shorts and cartoons up to the 1950s. The length of time a film ran fluxuated as more filmmakers experimented.

Reels were kept in boxes like this in projection booths. This protected the delicate, flammable film from the dangers present in showing a movie.

In the can

The term ‘In the can’ came fro a completed reel of film placed in a metal can, ready for shipping. No further modifications would be made at this point.

Film has perforations that allow sprocketed gears to move through the projector. The standard was four holes per frame. film will be wound onto a metal, or now plastic, spoked device called a reel. Headers, footers, trailers all come on cores. Reels are numbered. This has not changed, even in the digital era. Digital films do not have physical reels but follow the same behaviors.

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