My Two Cents

Biograph 68mm filmmaking, or “Our Ideas About What Early Movies Looked Like Are All Wrong”

July 31, 2019 - 5:44 pm   |   by
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And I wanted to share this with you all this afternoon. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City has created a great video on  the early history of film that’s well with a look today. It’s called How to See the First Movies and it contends that the ideas most of us have about what very early movies looked like are all wrong.

We tend to think of old film as scratchy, blurry, and faded. But MoMA has in their archives a collection of early 68mm films produced by The Biograph Company (formerly the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company) shot between 1895 and 1916. Yes, you read that right: 68mm B&W silent film on nitrate stock, which essentially makes it the IMAX of its day. The reason it exists at all is that William Dickson and Thomas Edison owned the patient on 35mm, so when Biograph jumped into the business they basically had to reinvent the whole process. And the 68mm films that survive offer stunning detail, clarity and contrast that just blows the early 35mm films away.

Filmmaker Sean Yetter has worked with MoMA to create an 11-minute short documentary on these films, and it’s well worth your time. You can watch it here (and be sure to do so in HD)...

There are also text pieces related to this short that appear on the websites Aeon and Kottke – they’re worth checking out too (and I encourage you to do so). There is much to learn and appreciate in this look at early large format filmmaking and the importance of film preservation.

Stay tuned...

-Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)


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