Movies were still relatively new technology in 1910, but filmmakers were already figuring out how to do special effects. This article exposes some of the secrets of “film tricks,” but also talks about how the profession of acting was changing as a result of this new technology. For centuries, acting meant being on stage before a live audience. But not anymore. It reminds me of what publishers are going through now, as eReaders and digital newspapers threaten to make printed paper obsolete. New technology requires new skills, and new ways of thinking. Some actors saw film as an opportunity, while others saw it as the end of their careers.
From the article:
In every town in the United States there are moving picture shows that give excellent entertainment every night of the week, with two matinée days thrown in. The performances projected on the screen are the same as those which please audiences in the New York houses where third-rate melodrama artistes feared to tread. There are thrillers galore, with pistol shots, piano accompaniment, and all the effects to make the dumb show more real — and all for a nickel, or “one dime, ladies and gentlemen and little children! Two nickels! The tench part of a dollar! Amusing, instructing, and entertaining alike to man, woman, and child! Why pay more and see worse?”
Why, indeed? The old melodramatic companies put on a more or less crude performance with the aid of more or less crude scenic effects — such as the “op’ry house” or town hall happens to boast. The dramatic show comes to town twice or four times a year and charges up to 30 cents. The picture shows, running all the time, allow selection and leisure in attendance. The village moving picture theatregoer can choose from a trip through Switzerland or the streets of Cairo… Why pay 30 cents to see a rehash of an ancient theme by an obsolete troupe of archaic players when for 10 cents [you can see] a play by Shakespeare with all the appearances and vanishings of Banquo’s ghost, or Puck effectively wrought by the film art?
The times they were a-changing.
MOVING PICTURES SOUND MELODRAMA’S KNELL: Tricks of Films Explained and Method of Making Told by Those On the Inside (PDF)
From March 20, 1910