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Inventing Film Language

In any new technology, it's the early adopters whose innovations and discoveries begin to map out what is possible. The first filmmakers had a lot to learn, but with eager audiences to please, they learnt quickly. 

Most of the techniques we know today were in place by the end of the Victorian period: close-ups, pans and travelling shots; editing and principles of continuity, and numerous tricks and effects, from jump-cuts, to double-exposure and even split screen. Generations of later filmmakers would refine these methods, but the groundwork had already been done.

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As Seen through a Telescope
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As Seen through a Telescope

Comedy19001 minsSilent

A peeping Tom gets a shocking glimpse of stocking in this early take on film voyeurism.

Countryman and the Cinematograph
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Countryman and the Cinematograph

Comedy19010 minsSilent

A country yokel gets a shock in an early example of a 'film within a film'.

Fire!
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Fire!

Drama19015 minsSilent

A dramatic rescue from a burning building by heroic firemen is one of our most important films

Undressing Extraordinary; Or, The Troubles of a Tired Traveller
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Undressing Extraordinary; Or, The Troubles of a Tired Traveller

Trick film19012 minsSilent

Entertaining example of early 'special effects'

Grandma's Reading Glass
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Grandma's Reading Glass

Trick film19001 minsSilent

A boy examines things through his Grandmother’s magnifying glass, and early film takes a huge step forward.

The Big Swallow
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The Big Swallow

Comedy19011 minsSilent

A classic early film gag - and a big leap forward for a fast-evolving new art

Let Me Dream Again
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Let Me Dream Again

Comedy19001 minsSilent

Harsh reality interrupts an older man's reverie of flirting with a pretty young woman

The Kiss in the Tunnel
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The Kiss in the Tunnel

Comedy18992 minsSilent

A snatched kiss in a railway tunnel, played by real-life married couple GA Smith and Laura Bayley

The Kiss in the Tunnel
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The Kiss in the Tunnel

Comedy18991 minsSilent

A classic saucy sketch, a chance for canoodling in the carriage as the train hits a tunnel

The Magic Sword A Mediaeval Mystery
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The Magic Sword A Mediaeval Mystery

Fairy tale19013 minsSilent

This innovative 'trick' film is a fantastical children's pantomime in miniature

The House That Jack Built
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The House That Jack Built

Comedy19001 minsSilent

All's well that ends well - which is exactly what happens when movie magic undoes a boy's wanton vandalism

Comic Faces - Old Man Drinking a Glass of Beer
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Comic Faces - Old Man Drinking a Glass of Beer

Comedy18971 minsSilent

How many faces can one man pull while drinking one glass of beer? Far more than you might think

Spiders on a Web
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Spiders on a Web

19000 minsSilent

Dare you watch this footage of larger-than-life spiders - one of the earliest nature films of its type?

Are You There?
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Are You There?

Comedy19011 minsSilent

Innovative early film, which invents its own 'split-screen' effect

Cheese Mites; Or, Lilliputians in a London Restaurant
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Cheese Mites; Or, Lilliputians in a London Restaurant

Trick film19011 minsSilent

Discovering an infestation in a restaurant has never been as much fun as in this early trick film

The Puzzled Bather and His Animated Clothes
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The Puzzled Bather and His Animated Clothes

Trick film19011 minsSilent

An entertaining early film 'trick'

The Haunted Curiosity Shop
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The Haunted Curiosity Shop

Fantasy19012 mins

The strange objects in this shop are brought uncannily to life thanks to a series of early camera tricks

Waif and the Wizard; or, The Home Made Happy
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Waif and the Wizard; or, The Home Made Happy

Trick film19012 minsSilent

A boy asks a magician to entertain his sick sister in this edition of RW Paul’s Sentimental Songs with Animated Illustrations.

Artistic Creation
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Artistic Creation

Trick film19012 minsSilent

This burlesque film fantasy has striking sexual overtones - and a surprising feminist twist