Press Contact: Kristin Knauth (202) 707-4337

May 20, 1996

Library of Congress Publishes New Book on the Turbulent Birth of American Cinema

The Library of Congress's new book From Peep Show to Palace: The Birth of American Film recounts the enchanting early years of film, beginning with the primitive motion of the "magic lantern" in the 15th century and continuing through the explosion of research and development that occurred from 1893 to 1913, when the modern motion picture -- and the multibillion-dollar industry based upon it -- was born.

Respected British film historian and critic David Robinson "tells with verve the fascinating story of the transition from pre-cinematic forms . . . to the major world industry that motion pictures became" by 1913, writes Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in his preface to the book.

The book also features a foreword by renowned film director Martin Scorsese. The men who invented movies -- especially Thomas Edison, Louis and Auguste LumiSre and Georges M,lies -- were "scientists with the spirit of showmen," Mr. Scorsese reflects. "They were visionaries who attempted to convert science into a magical form of entertainment . . . . For the past 100 years, we have all been the children of their cinema."

Just 211 pages long, From Peep Show to Palace traces a clear path through a complex story. The motion picture as we know it today was never "invented," nor did it evolve in a straightforward progression, writes Mr. Robinson. "Rather it was like the assembling of a puzzle . . . over a very long period of time."

Mr. Robinson focuses particularly on the years 1893 to 1913, a period during which the future structures of the industry were definitively shaped, particularly in the United States. The period began with the perfecting of the Kinetoscope, the first animation device, in Thomas Edison's laboratory. By 1913, the film industry was diverse and competitive; motion pictures (though still silent) had become multi-reel and featured sophisticated content and technique; movie theaters were plentiful, plush and profitable; the "star system" had taken root; and the American motion picture industry was migrating from the East Coast to Southern California. In just 20 years, motion pictures had evolved from a homegrown business to an international industry.

From Peep Show to Palace: The Birth of American Film can be obtained for $29.95 from Columbia University Press, (800) 944-8648, or from the Library of Congress Sales Shop, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540-4985, (202) 707-0201.

The Library of Congress contains one of the largest collections of film and television in the world, from the earliest surviving copyrighted motion picture to the latest feature releases. Founded in 1942 by Archibald MacLeish, who was Librarian of Congress from 1939 to 1944, today the Library's collection contains more than 250,000 films, 300,000 television broadcasts, 500,000 radio programs, and 3 million sound recordings.

# # #

PR 96-49
ISSN 0731-3527

Back to top