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Reading an article about the early history of wide films brings to mind formats like Todd-AO and Imax. But this article was published in 1930, so early means REAL EARLY. This is an extract that was published by American Cinematographer from the original S.M.P.E paper. (There wasn't a "T" at that time)

American Cinematographer - January, 1930

Being a Peek into the Past that is Both Interesting and Enlightening


IT HAS been claimed that there is only one standard of measurement which is common to all nations of the earth. That measurement is the width of a piece of standard theatrical size motion picture film.

Many persons actively engaged in the industry seem to be unaware that other widths and dimensions of film were ever used and some even believe that the use of wide film is a recent invention.

History moves in cycles and recent events in the use of the wide film of various gauges show that we are in the midst of a repetition of the unstandardized efforts and struggles that marked the work of so many of the early pioneers of the industry.

To those who have never had occasion to refer to the early history of the motion picture it may come as a surprise that scores of scientists, mechanics and inventors in nearly every civilized Country were working simultaneously during the "90's" to perfect a system for taking and showing motion pictures and while they were all, in the main, working along the same lines, yet each adopted whatever width of film seemed to him to be best suited for his experiments.

That the 35 mm width of film came to be the measurement which survived and eventually became standardized is, so far as the writer has been able to ascertain, a coincidence. It was not foresight that caused Mr. Edison in this country and Lumiere Freres in France to select film widths that were so nearly the same that they were practically interchangeable. It was pure chance, also, that these two firms happened to be the most powerful commercially in their respective countries.

Edison selected 1 3/8 inches as the width of film best suited for his Kinetoscope only after a long series of experiments with films in Cylinders, discs, and narrow ribbon form run horizontally instead of vertically

This measurement coincides within 1/1000 of an inch with the 35 mm. width selected by Lumiere and while Lumiere used only one round perforation on each side of the film and Edison used four rectangular ones it was possible by altering sprockets or by reperforating the Lumiere film to use them interchangeably. Lumiere later reluctantly abandoned the two-hole perforation and copied the Edison standard in order to sell film to users of Edison machines.

An advertisement in Hopwood's "Living Pictures" edition of 1899 offers the "Prestwich" specialties for animated photography-"nine different models of cameras and projectors in three sizes for l/2-inch, 1 3/8-inch and 2 3/8-inch width of film." Half a dozen other advertisers in the same book offer "cinematographs" for sale and while the illustrations show machines for films obviously of narrow or wide gauge no mention is made of the size of the film.

During 1899 there were in England and on the Continent Mutograph films 2 3/4 inches wide, Demeny Chronophotographe 60 mm wide, Skladowsky film 65 mm wide, Prestwich wide film 2 3/8 inches wide, Birtac films 11/16 inch wide, Junior Prestwich 1/2 inch wide, besides the present standard established by Paul, Edison and Lumiere.

Henry V. Hopwood in 1899 described more than fifty different models of projectors made by different manufacturers and gives the names of about seventy more. Curiously enough the size of film used in the various machines is mentioned only in two or three instances. It is probable that most of them used the Edison standard although it is obvious from the descriptions that many of them used other sizes,

Probably the first example of motion picture "film" as it is photographed today was a scene taken in the Champs Elysees in Paris in 1886 by Dr. E. J. Marey. Although the "film" was paper, sensitized celluloid not being available until a year or two later, and cine projectors having not yet been invented: this paper negative could be printed as a positive film and run as a Fox Grandeur film today.

In May, 1889, William Friese-Green, 92, Piccadilly, London, made a motion picture negative of a scene on the Esplanade, Brighton, England, using paper film negative 2 1/2 inches wide and 1 1/2 inches height to each frame. Later in the same year he used celluloid film displacing the paper used earlier.

One of the first to project successfully upon a large sized screen was Mr. Woodville Latham, inventor of the Latham Loop which caused much patent litigation in the early days. Latham called his machine the Eidoloscope and used wide film 2 inches wide with frames 3/4-inch high by 1 1/2 inches long.

Oval holes cut through the frame line at each side alternately served to make electrical contact to light the arc each time the intermittent brought the picture to rest. This intermittent lighting of the arc served in place of a shutter but was not very successful as the electrical spring contacts scratched the film and the arc responded irregularly to the quick make and break.

In the fall of 1897 Enoch J. Rector, an inventor and promoter, showed pictures of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons prize fight in the Academy of Music on 14th Street in New York City. His apparatus was called the Veriscope and the same mechanism used to show the pictures was employed in the camera with which 11,000 feet of film were taken at Carson City, Nevada, March 17, 1897. Thereafter about twenty machines for projecting this large size film were manufactured and these fight films were exhibited all over the country.

In the late 90's the motion picture was regarded as a great novelty which would soon die out. Conditions were chaotic and everyone who went into the business worked with frantic eagerness to reap the rich harvest before the fickle interest of the public should pass on to some new fancy. Just as there was no standard of film size, no rate of frames per second was established and the taking rate varied from 8 per second to 60 per second among the different systems, each of which was distinguished by some fantastic and polysyllabic name. Out of the hundreds of such coined trade names only a few are remembered today: such as Kinetoscope, Vitagraph, Biograph and Mutoscope.

Subjects were confined almost entirely to news events, prizefights, short scenic shots and theatrical or spectacular bits many of which were considered very risqué in those conservative days. The May Irwin Kiss, Little Egypt, Loie Fuller's fire dance, Bridget Serves Salad Undressed and many others brought gasps of amazement at their audacity.

On November 3, 1899 the Jeffries-Sharkey fight was held at Coney Island at night. Wm. A. Brady, now well known in the theatrical and motion picture world, and a promoter named O'Rourke sponsored the bout and induced the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company to film the fight.

The film used was 2 3/4 inches wide and each frame was 2 1/4 inches high. Three hundred and twenty feet of this wide film was used per minute, the perforations being made in the camera at the instant of taking.

The fight lasted for twenty-five rounds of three minutes each and more than seven miles of film were exposed. Four cameras were on the job so as to obtain a continuous record. Buckling of the film in the cameras was frequent although the film could be watched through a red glass peephole by the light of a small ruby lamp inside the camera box.

The perforations in the large Biograph film were used in printing but not in projecting. The projector pulled the film down by means of a set of mutilated rubber rollers and the projectionist had to watch the frame continuously to prevent creeping of the frame line on the screen.

Oscar B. De Pue, partner of Burton Holmes, in 1897, purchased a machine in Paris from Leon Gaumont for taking 60 mm wide film then put up in one hundred foot lengths, unwinding and rewinding inside the camera on aluminum spools; not a daylight proposition, but a dark room model. This machine he took to Italy and the first motion picture turned out on the machine was of St. Peter's Cathedral with the fountain playing in the foreground and a flock of goats passing by the machine. He then took other pictures of Rome and from there visited Venice, where pictures of the canal and Doges Palace and the waterfront along the canal with views of feeding the pigeons at St. Marks with the great cathedral in the background. From there to Milan for a scene of the Plaza in front of the Milan Cathedral: thence to Paris where pictures of the Place de la Concord with its interesting traffic and horse-drawn busses, fountains, obelisks, statues, bicycles, wagons, trucks and carriages were made. All the life of that day, after thirty-two years, is in striking contrast to the present.

These negatives are still in his possession although the prints for them have long since been lost track of on account of our having changed from that size of picture to the standard size.

This Gaumont wide film camera was used for five years by Mr. De Pue and most of the negatives, many of which are of great historic value, are still in good condition, so that either full size or standard sized reduction prints can still be made from them.

Spoor and Bergren have worked for more than ten years upon a 63 mm film called Natural Vision pictures.

Widescope first sponsored a double frame picture on standard film with the film travel horizontal instead of vertical: after that an Italian patent was acquired in which a wide film of about 2 1/4 inches width is held in cylindrical form about the axis of rotation of a revolving lens so that the succeeding frames are photographed on the same principle as in a panoramic still camera. Unfortunately this method of taking pictures introduces the same curvilinear distortion often noticed in cirkuit and other panoramic still photographs.

Fox Grandeur pictures are 70 mm. in width with a frame 48 by 22.5 mm. leaving space available for a sound track about 10 mm wide.

Lorenzo Del Riccio, a member of the society, is perfecting for Paramount the Magnafilm. This film is 56 mm wide and the frames are 19 1/2 mm high.

Several other sizes of wide film are being used experimentally and other new sizes are being advocated but these are current and not early history and do not properly belong in this chronicle.

Provided by David Mullen
©1930 American Cinematographer.