Talking about movies in 1860

Suppose you were to take a time machine back to 1860. While you are there you meet Charles Dickens. Knowing him to be an intelligent and literate person, you try to describe to him the future medium of cinema.

You know that he would already know about photography, which was about two decades old at the time, and he would certainly know about theater. So you might tell him, imagine a combination of photography and theater — a kind of play consisting of thousands upon thousands of photographs one after the other. So far so good.

But then you start to explain that the faces of the actors may be up to twenty feet tall. Also that every few moments the point of view will suddenly change, perhaps from very far away to mere inches from an actor’s face, and then back again.

As you start to describe the conventions of movies, Mr. Dickens gradually gets a look of disbelief on his face. At some point, he realizes that you are probably insane.

“Nobody in their right mind,” he tells you, indignant that you have wasted his time, “would ever sit through something like that.”

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