Kinetoscope Parlor

Kinetoscope Parlor is one of the first versions of cinemas, appeared in 1894 under the impulse of the American inventor and industrialist Thomas Edison . At the entrance, “you pay twenty-five cents, which is not cheap, but you can watch as many films as desired 1 . “


A kinetoscope is in the form of a chest that is taller than broad pine wood, surmounted by a double eyecup which allows the spectators, leaning on the machine, to attend, alone or in pairs, the passage of a film less than a minute. Inside the box, Edison and his assistant, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson , are working in a continuous, electric-powered , light-flooded, 35-mm film with four perforations per image. transparency by a strong lamp. A movable disk shutter , rotating at high speed between the film and the light source, causes in the manner of a stroboscope, a flashwhich, thanks to the perforations of the film driven by toothed debtors coupled to the shutter, is synchronized with the scrolling of the photograms . It allows the observer to capture each image and connect it to the next by the effect of the retinal persistence that erases the interruption of illumination when the solid disc of the shutter is interposed between the film and the lamp. This erasure is necessary, otherwise the images would be confused with each other, a defect that is called in professional jargon a “spinning” 2 , as Jacques Aumont explains  :”The detailed information would be temporarily removed with each black between successive frames (note: the black which corresponds to the passage of the shutter in front of the lens of the camera to hide the movement of the film, and which records a black separation between each photogram) and this masking would be precisely what would explain that there is no accumulation of persistent images due to retinal persistence 3 . ”

The great dream of Thomas Edison was to couple the image to the corresponding sound. It was he who had in 1877 developed and marketed the first phonograph . That is why he ordered Dickson in 1895 to concentrate all his research efforts on a sound version of the kinetoscope, the kinetophone (or phonokinetoscope, or, as Dickson called him, the phono-phonograph), while his assistant offered him rather to develop a screen projection version of the kinetoscope, which then did not pose any technical impossibility. But Edison was somewhat blinded by the immediate commercial success of the Kinetoscope Parlors and strongly rejected Dickson’s idea.”No, if we make these image projectors, as you ask us, we will ruin everything … Let’s not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs! ” 4 . In the Parlors Kinetoscope , some machines equipped, in addition to the viewing system, appeared with an engraved wax cylinder phonograph that would start automatically as soon as the film started.

In April 1894 , the Holland family, according to Edison opened his first Kinetoscope Parlor in New York, on Broadway , at the corner of 27 th  Street. Ten machines were arranged on two parallel lines 5 .

Each Kinetoscope Parlor presented to his audience several films, each looped in a different kinetoscope. It is Edison who, first, adopted the English word film to designate the rolls of cellulose nitrate coated on a face of photosensitive dry emulsion , impressed by the first camera of the cinema  : the kinetograph . The entrance fee allowed to pass from one machine to another. At the back of the room, a little out of the way and for a fee,”Some copies presented reels reserved for gentlemen alone, where we could appreciate ladies who remove their dress and dare to present themselves, supreme audacity at the time, in pantyhose and jersey! All the other reels were films visible to a family audience. ” 6

The success of the Kinetoscope Parlor exceeded US borders and was originally in the 1894-1895 years of frantic searches for inventors around the world, modifying or copying, the process that led to a remarkable improvement: the cinema of the Lumière brothers , giving back to Dickson (who left Edison) in retrospect by rendering the Kinetoscope Parlors completely obsolete in favor of the projection rooms . Edison followed the general trend and, in turn, set out in 1896 to exploit rooms equipped with a projection screen , buying from a ruined inventor a model of a projector which he renamed theVitascope .

In 1894, the first Kinetoscope Parlor of France is installed in Paris, 20 boulevard Poissonnière 7 .


  1. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588  p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  26
  2. ↑ Filming , cinematographic term designating a defect of the image
  3. ↑ Jacques Aumont, The Image – the case of cinema , Nathan editions, Paris, 1990
  4. ↑ ( in ) Charles Musser, “Introducing Cinema to the American Public: The Vitascope in the United Sates, 1896-1897”, in ( on ) Gregory A. Waller (edit.), Moviegoing in America: a sourcebook in the history of exhibition , Malden, MA, Blackwell Publishers,, 351  p. ( ISBN  978-0-631-22591-1 and 978-0-631-22592-8 , OCLC  928325625 ) , p.  13 and 14
  5. ↑ To learn more about the Holland family, see Peter Morris, Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema, 1895-1939 (Montreal and Kingston, Canada, London, Buffalo, and New York: McGill – Queen’s University Press, 1978), Morris stated that Edison had sold him the kinetoscopes for $ 200 each. But in fact, in general, the price was around $ 250 .
  6. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  26
  7. ↑ “Do you know the cinema? “, The World Special Occasion Games , 2011, page 72. Quoting Georges Sadoul , General History of Cinema , Volume I, Denoel, Paris, 1948.

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