35 Mm Film - Early History

Early History

In 1880 George Eastman began to manufacture gelatin dry photographic plates in Rochester, New York. Along with W. H. Walker, Eastman invented a holder for a roll of picture-carrying gelatin layer coated paper. Hannibal Goodwin's invention of nitrocellulose film base in 1887 was the first transparent, flexible film; the following year, Emile Reynaud developed the first perforated film stock. Eastman was the first major company, however, to mass-produce these components, when in 1889 Eastman realized that the dry-gelatino-bromide emulsion could be coated onto this clear base, eliminating the paper.

With the advent of flexible film, Thomas Alva Edison quickly set out on his invention, the Kinetoscope, which was first shown at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on 9 May 1893. The Kinetoscope was a film loop system intended for one-person viewing. Edison, along with assistant W. K. L. Dickson, followed that up with the Kinetophone, which combined the Kinetoscope with Edison's cylinder phonograph. Beginning in March 1892, Eastman and then, from April 1893 into 1896, New York's Blair Camera Co. supplied Edison with film stock. At first Blair would supply only 40 mm (1-9/16 in) film stock that would be trimmed and perforated at the Edison lab to create 1-⅜ inch (34.925 mm) gauge filmstrips, then at some point in 1894 or 1895, Blair began sending stock to Edison that was cut exactly to specification. Edison's aperture defined a single frame of film at 4 perforations high. Edison claimed exclusive patent rights to his design of 35 mm motion picture film, with four sprocket holes per frame, forcing his only major filmmaking competitor, American Mutoscope & Biograph, to use a 68 mm film that used friction feed, not sprocket holes, to move the film through the camera. A court judgment in March 1902 invalidated Edison's claim, allowing any producer or distributor to use the Edison 35 mm film design without license. Filmmakers were already doing so in Britain and Europe, where Edison had failed to file patents.

At the time, film stock was usually supplied unperforated and punched by the filmmaker to their standards with perforation equipment. A variation developed by the Lumière Brothers which used a single circular perforation on each side of the frame towards the middle of the horizontal axis. It was Edison's format, however, that became first the dominant standard and then the "official" standard of the newly formed Motion Picture Patents Company, a trust established by Edison, which agreed in 1909 to what would become the standard: 35 mm gauge, with Edison perforations and a 1.33 aspect ratio. Scholar Paul C. Spehr describes the importance of these developments:

The early acceptance of 35 mm as a standard had momentous impact on the development and spread of cinema. The standard gauge made it possible for films to be shown in every country of the world… It provided a uniform, reliable and predictable format for production, distribution and exhibition of movies, facilitating the rapid spread and acceptance of the movies as a world-wide device for entertainment and communication.

The film format was introduced into still photography as early as 1913 (the Tourist Multiple) but first became popular with the launch of the Leica camera, created by Oskar Barnack in 1925.

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