“Actualities” were short films of everyday life, particularly street scenes and mundane activities, generally made between 1888 and 1910. These played both in kinetoscope machines (found in storefront parlors, these were coin-operated and accommodated only one customer at a time) or in vaudeville theaters (with blank screens added behind the stage), and initially elicited both popular fascination and some degree of trepidation.
Watch these short films, which represent the chief type of motion pictures then available: All these videos are silent, links to transcripts are provided for the visually impaired.
New York City Street Scene, Easter (1900)
Lower Broadway, Manhattan (1902)
Immigrants Landing at Ellis Island (1903)
Thinking in terms of what people living during this period knew and routinely experienced, what made these plotless films so interesting? Was it the films’ content or did it have more to do with context (sheer novelty, fascination with modernity, etc.)?
Finally, watch The Great Train Robbery, made in 1902-1903, and assess what audiences at that time would’ve found most fascinating about it, especially considering that movies as we know them were still a long way in the future and the media wasn’t quite so powerful.
The Great Train Robbery
Turabian format, CITE SOURCES!
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