125 Years Ago this Friday

If you haven’t been to a movie theater for a while, consider this: 125 years ago, no American had ever gone out to the movies! That all changed on April 23, 1896, when trendsetters took in six very short films at New York’s Koster and Bial’s Music Hall, where Macy’s now stands.

Koster & Bial's Music Hall, Edison's Vitascope
(Source: Wikipedia)

To mark the 125th anniversary of the first publicly projected motion picture show in the U.S., Columbia University’s School of the Arts this Friday, April 23, will host an online evening of free screenings, guest speakers and tributes starting at 7:30 pm ET.

The original 1896 program included three films that are now lost. The 125th Anniversary – Edison’s Vitascope program will take just 2½ minutes to show the three surviving films, including the scandalous-for-the-time Serpentine Dance (1894), starring Annabelle Whitford, a version of which can be seen here:

The event itself, though, is scheduled to take two hours. The first 90 minutes will include:

  • Charlie Musser, Yale University, on “The Vitascope in NYC: Some Highlights”
  • Tom Gunning, University of Chicago, on “All the World on a Screen: Making Up the First Film Program”
  • Andre Gaudreault, University of Montreal, on “All You Want to Know About the December 28 Projection That is False Even Though Everyone Thinks it Was True” (December 28, 1895 is when the Lumiere Brothers in Paris projected films for the first time anywhere.)

The last half-hour will feature “tributes” to other early films from 13 Columbia University faculty and alumni. So, thanks to Nico Baumbach, an associate professor of film, we have an excuse to show Edison’s Boxing Cats (aka the first-ever cat video):

And, thanks to the School of the Arts’ Ron Gregg, we’ll show you the truly historic Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894): 

For more info, visit 125th Anniversary – Edison’s Vitascope.

You can register for the Zoom event here.

(Top image: ‘Serpentine Dance.’ Source: Columbia University School of the Arts)

About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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