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Sunless Temples of New York’s Movies

In 1920, electric lighting was starting to become more popular than natural sunlight for shooting movies.

See, sunlight had a few problems.

The trouble with the sun, as viewed by the efficiency experts of New York’s many picture studios, is not only that its illumination is of an inferior quality, but also that it is undependable. Some days it functions not at all, at other times raggedly, it stands not still upon Gibeon [the ancient Israelite city where the Bible says God made the sun stand still], as it should do during the “shooting” of a big scene, but moves relentlessly across the heavens. It indulges itself in pale reds and yellows (requiring orthocromatic emulations) in the early morning and in the late afternoon; and its elevation even at midday in latitude 40 degrees north has never given satisfaction to discriminating producers. And never in history has the sun been known to function properly when needed for a retake of a bad piece of film.

By contrast, electric light had several advantages.

Thus, in this business, in every respect except the matter of expense, electric light is coming to be regarded as superior to sunshine. Electricity works day or night, at the touch of a switch. An artificial sun can be lowered or elevated at will, and the equality of its rays is absolutely dependable. Your modern picture director, when he is working indoors, can assume a patronizing attitude toward Joshua. In fact, some of the cinema men so much prefer artificial sunlight to the natural product that they bar the sun from doing any more work around their studios.

Yet despite Hollywood’s creation in the first place primarily to utilize yearround filming conditions, the switch to artificial light never moved the global center of film production from the Los Angeles area for a century afterwards. Inertia probably helped. After all, most of the largest modern L.A.-area studio lots weren’t created until after 1920, such as the Paramount lot in 1926, the Warner Bros. lot also in 1926, and the Walt Disney Studios lot in 1940.

 

Sunless Temples of New York’s Movies (PDF)

Published: Sunday, November 7, 1920

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Written by Jesse

November 7th, 2020 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Movies

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