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1910s Movies & Theater


Making Movies

the trust
From the very beginning, the movie companies fought over who should control the motion picture patents. This was unrealistic. If the entire industry was based on the contributions of many inventors, how could just one studio control and benefit from it?

In 1908, Thomas Edison and 12 other studios formed the Motion Picture Patents Company (the "Trust"). They laid aside their legal battles and pooled their patents in an attempt to regulate the industry. Independent studios that didn't belong to the Trust had to acquire licenses and pay royalties to use movie cameras and projection equipment. Sometimes the Trust used threats, vandalism and even violence to enforce their rules.

The independent film companies fought back. By 1912, so many of them had eluded the grasp of the Trust that it began to lose power. The courts ordered the Trust to disband in 1915.

coming to California
Before the 1910s, most movie studios were located on the East Coast, usually in New York or New Jersey. The technology was invented there and most actors and technicians were based there. In the 1900s, some studios also opened branches in midwestern and southern cities.

In 1907, Selig was the first film company to shoot scenes in California. In 1909, the Biograph company began to spend winters in the Los Angeles area. Other companies arrived, and by 1911 they were building permanent studios near the pretty little village of Hollywood.

Besides having the perfect climate for filming, California was considered a haven from the heavy-handed tactics of the Trust. By 1914, there were 52 movie companies in the Los Angeles area.

Ince Studio, built in 1918

the studios
In the 1910s, the movie companies were just as famous as the actors who appeared in their films....sometimes more so.

Click here to learn about the studios and their stars!

actors & the star system
In the 1900s, movie studios didn't identify the actors who appeared in their films. They were afraid that if they did, they'd have to pay them more money. This wasn't really a problem, because most of the people appearing in films were stage actors who considered it beneath them to do movies.

Performers who appeared in many films were given generic names like "The Vitagraph Girl" and "The Biograph Girl."

Around 1910, the public was beginning to recognize and request their favorite performers. The first two stars to benefit from this were Florence Lawrence ("The Biograph Girl") and Mary Pickford ("The Girl With The Curls").

In 1910, Carl Laemmle of the IMP company lured Florence Lawrence away from Biograph with an offer of more money and a promise that he'd reveal her name. When he delivered on his promise, she became the first movie star to be identified by name on posters and in the credits.

Mary Pickford became the next "Biograph Girl." IMP also lured her away with promises of more money and fame. Soon, other studios were identifying their stars and the "star system" was born.

Stars Of The Hollywood Silents


silent? no indeed!
Silent films were never truly silent! They were always accompanied by sound effects, live music, live singers, speakers, phonograph recordings or any combination thereof.

When it came to sound, there were three types of movies in the 1910s:
1) silent: a film that did not have an accompanying soundtrack. Sound effects and music were provided by live actors and musicians.
2) sync-sound: a soundtrack was provided by synchronizing the film with a cylinder or disc sound recording.
3) photophone: an early sound-on-film process.

silent movie dialogue
Many movies were accompanied by actors who stood on the stage and spoke the dialogue that was being mimed on the screen. Between 1908 and 1912, the talking picture play was popular. These were troupes consisting of two men and one woman, who traveled with the films and performed rehearsed dialogue for audiences.

silent movie music
Every movie theater provided some sort of musical accompaniment, whether it was a phonograph, mechanical music machine, piano, theater organ, vocalist or full orchestra. Sometimes the musicians were free to choose their own music, and sometimes the films came with sheet music and directions for when it should be played.

Music was used to comment on the action. This was done by using the most obvious, cliched musical selections possible: fast-paced "chase music" for chase scenes, "The Light Cavalry Overture" for galloping horse scenes and sinister piano music to mark the villain's entrance.

Click on the image of the dastardly villain to hear his theme music! (.mp3)


The first moving pictures were produced in 1889. From the very beginning, filmmakers experimented with ways to combine moving pictures and recorded sound. Between 1894 and 1913, they came up with a variety of gadgets that synchronized movies with cylinder and disc sound recordings.

These systems had names like the Vivaphone, Animatophone and Projecting Kinetophone. They usually consisted of modified phonographs that played from the front of the theater, using a primitive compressed-air amplification system. Some were linked to the film by a dial, while others were cranked by the projectionist in time to the movie.

Each system had its brief period of popularity, but the results were mediocre at best. Without modern electrical recording and amplification methods, these systems weren't really practical for large theaters. By the mid 1910s, most of these processes had been abandoned.

The sound-on-film process transforms sound waves into light rays, which are filmed on the edge of the picture. The basic technology was developed by Alexander Graham Bell in the 1880s. Eugene A. Lauste improved on it and patented his photophone system in 1910. He made many sound films with this method between 1910 and 1914, but his work was halted by World War I.

70 Years Of Synch-Sound
Motion Picture Sound 1910-1929
The Development Of Color Films
Silent Movie MIDIs
Sam Fox Motion Picture Music

Filmmakers tried many different ways to add color to their films. Their efforts fell into two categories:
1) colorizing: tinting the frames by hand after the film was developed.
2) true color photography: using the two-strip method.

The first experiments with true color photography were conducted around 1900. During the 1900s and 1910s, a variety of primitive two-strip methods were developed that did a fairly good job of reproducing natural color. The Technicolor Corporation was founded in 1915 and introduced their first two-strip color system in 1917.


Watching Movies

Actuality films captured real-life events on film. Twice a week, newsworthy tidbits were packaged into newsreels for release in theaters. The first newsreels were shown in Paris in 1909. In 1911, the Pathe Weekly was the first newsreel shown in the United States. At this early date, movie cameras rarely caught a breaking news story when it was happening, so much of the footage was recreated especially for the newsreel cameras.

*Selig-Tribune News Pictorial
*Vitagraph Monthly Of Current Events
*Hearst-Selig News Pictorial
*Pathe Weekly
*Hearst-Vitagraph Weekly News Feature

film speed
There was no standard silent film speed. The best speed at which to show a silent movie is the speed at which it was filmed. In the silent era, movie cameras were hand-cranked, and the speed of filming varied from movie to movie, sometimes even from scene to scene! Films arrived at the theater with cue sheets specifying the speed at which the projectionist should show it.

film length
Before 1910, movie makers assumed that audiences wouldn't sit still for any film that lasted longer than one reel (approximately 12 minutes). In 1910 and 1911, the multi-reel movie was born when a handful of longer films were released that could be shown either in one sitting or broken into installments. The first feature-length films that were designed to be shown in their entirety were released in 1912. The success of these films proved that movie-goers had no problem watching movies that lasted two hours or more.

a trip to the picture show
At most theaters, the show consisted of the main feature and one or two lesser reels. The lineup was usually different each day. Newspaper advertisements listed the schedule for the week, including the feature ("a 2-part Vitagraph drama"), the extra reels ("an Edison comedy and another good reel") and any other attractions ("a Burton Travelogue").

Admission generally ranged from 5 to 15 cents, although larger theaters showing epic blockbusters could charge as much as 25 cents. Afternoon matinees were the cheapest; evening shows and longer films cost more.

Audiences were extremely vocal in response to the action unfolding on the screen. They often entered the theater long after the movie had started, and stayed until the next showing reached the point at which they came in. Between reels, various slides were projected onto the screen. Some featured advertisements for local businesses, while others were strictly informational ("please remove your hats"). While reels were being changed, the pianist took the opportunity to lead everyone in a sing-along.


extra features
In the beginning, most movies were shown in vaudeville houses, where they were part of a longer variety bill. This practice was still alive and well in the 1910s. Rarely was a film shown alone. In larger theaters they shared time with singers, musicians and variety acts. Nickelodeons and smaller theaters featured sing-along slides, newsreels, travelogues and slide lectures.

Illustrated Song Slides
Silent Films: What Was The Right Speed?

as good as it gets
Movie-going audiences didn't consider themselves deprived because their movies lacked soundtracks. Quite the contrary....movies were perfect just the way they were.

They had good stories, beautiful leading ladies and handsome heroes. They had musical accompaniment, sound effects, and sometimes even spoken dialogue and color. They were easy to make, because movie crews could travel and film anywhere. All they needed was a movie camera and enough light to film by. There was no language barrier. Everyone could enjoy them, even recent immigrants who didn't speak English.


Movie Genres & Online Media

Charlie Chaplin
Gentleman Max
Fatty & Mabel
Keystone Kops
Lonesome Luke
Ham & Bud
Happy Hooligan

Tom Mix
William S. Hart
Broncho Billy

movie sites
Welcome To Silent Movies
Filmsite's Greatest Films Before 1920
The Serials: An Introduction
Classic Cliffhanger Serials

star filmographies
Mary Pickford
Buster Keaton
"Fatty" Arbuckle
Lon Chaney
Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Charlie Chaplin
Lillian Gish

my YouTube playlist

1910s Movies


other genres
Oz Films
Krazy Kat
Northwest Dramas
Titanic Films
Sennett Bathing Beauties
Winsor McCay & His Moving Comics
Universal Boy Series

cliffhanger serials
Serialized dramas had long been a staple of magazines and newspapers. In 1912, when McClure's Ladies World decided to produce a serial film to accompany their latest story, a whole new film genre was born.

During this decade, the hero of a cliffhanger serial was quite often female. Damsels in distress were certainly popular, but most serial ladies were feisty, intelligent and quite capable of saving the day.

Cliffhanger serials became wildly popular with moviegoers. Before too long, the films themselves became the focal point, overshadowing the magazine stories they were designed to promote. Film production became the first priority, with novelized versions suitable for printing in local newspapers taking second place.

The Perils Of Pauline
What Happened To Mary?
The Adventures Of Kathlyn
The Masked Rider
Trail Of The Octopus
The Exploits Of Elaine
Peg O' The Ring
The Hazards Of Helen
The Million Dollar Mystery
The Trey O'Hearts


1910s Movies

In Old California
The Life Of Moses
Aeroplane Flight & Wreck
What The Daisy Said
The House With Closed Shutters
Wilful Peggy
The Stenographer's Friend
Uncle Tom's Cabin

Dante's Inferno
Fighting Blood
Enoch Arden
The Lonedale Operator
Winsor McCay & His Moving Comics
Her Crowning Glory
An Irish Honeymoon

Oliver Twist
The Prisoner Of Zenda
Under Burning Skies
An Unseen Enemy
The Musketeers Of Pig Alley
Hoffmeyer's Legacy
The Girl & Her Trust
The County Fair
The New York Hat
From The Manger To The Cross
Quo Vadis

Traffic In Souls
Queen Elizabeth
Fatty Joins The Force
The Bangville Police
The Battle At Elderbush Gulch
Mabel's Dramatic Career
The Speed Kings

Tillie's Punctured Romance
The Squaw Man
The Last Indian Battles
Making A Living
Kid Auto Races In Venice
Gertie The Dinosaur
Mabel's Busy Day
Judith Of Bethulia
Laughing Gas
Uncle Tom's Cabin
The World, The Flesh & The Devil
Tess Of The Storm Country

Birth Of A Nation
Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde
A Jitney Elopement
Fatty & Mabel At The Fair
The Tramp
Pool Sharks
A Christmas Carol
Ambrose's Nasty Temper

Where Are My Children?
The Melting Pot
The Vagabond
Carew & Son
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
The Rink
Fatty & Mabel Adrift
Krazy Kat Goes A-Wooing
His Bitter Pill

Bucking Broadway
The Immigrant
Easy Street
The Butcher Boy
Straight Shooting
Fatty At Coney Island
Poor Little Rich Girl
A Clever Dummy
Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm

Tarzan Of The Apes
Stella Maris
A Dog's Life
Shoulder Arms
Amarilly Of Clothes-Line Alley
Hearts Of The World
Out West
The City Slicker

Blind Husbands
Broken Blossoms
True Heart Susie
A Day's Pleasure
Back Stage
Ask Father
A Romance Of Happy Valley
The Miracle Man


On Stage

still to come!


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