Behind the Motion-Picture Screen

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The latest addition to The Bioscope Library is Austin C. Lescarboura’s Behind the Motion-Picture Screen, published by Scientific American in 1921. I know nothing about the author and I’d not even come across the book before. It’s a voluminous history and guide to the production of motion pictures. As the subtitle puts it, it covers ‘how the scenario writer, director, cameraman, scene painter and carpenter, laboratory man, art director, property man, electrician, projector operator and others contribute their share of work toward the realization of the wonderful photoplays of today; and how the motion picture is rapidly extending into many fields aside from that of entertainment’. With some rather fanciful chapter titles it cover the work of the director (‘The Artist Who Paints the Film Subjects’), producer (‘The Generals of Shadowland’), actors, cinematographers, screenplays, camera technology, special effects, newsfilming, scientific cinema, animation, colour, and and a prescient chapter on the coming of sound. There is a huge amount of interesting material in there.

But perhaps the real appeal lies in its illustrations. There are superb photographs of the production process, and though frustratingly the captions do not name the participants, the images are a rich source of information in themselves, and an indication of how useful these Internet Archive copies are as a source of pictures – as demonstrated by the picture above, which comes with the caption, ‘Scenario writers are notoriously cruel. Without a moment’s hesitation they call for a hero struggling with death among cakes of floating ice – and the actor must do it’. It’s available in DjVu (24MB), PDF (62MB), b/w PDF (39MB) and TXT (529KB) formats.

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