The Theatre of Science

The Theatre of Science – hard to imagine a general guide to the cinema having such a title nowadays. But Robert Grau’s The Theatre of Science: A Volume of Progress and Achievement in the Motion Picture Industry was published in 1914, when cinema was seen as a home of knowledge as much as place of entertainment (at least among commentators), a product of science and a technical achievement par excellence.

Grau’s book, published in a limited edition of 3,000, has become a standard reference source for the early cinema period. It provides an extraordinary amount of detail on the history and development of motion pictures in America to 1914 – their technological, economic, social and artistic changes, and the key events and personalities involved. Grau (a theatrical agent) was witness to much of the history he describes, and if his understanding of the development of the pictures towards the ideal of the theatre, he was a keen observer who provides hugely useful factual information on histories such as the rise of the nickelodeons and the emergence of a film trade press which scarcely exist elsewhere. He champions the names of pioneers of the industry who would otherwise be forgotten, the run-of-the-mill performers as well as the stars, and the book is rich in portrait photographs. It has much information on the leading and not so leading film companies of the period, and is at all points particularly interested in the business of making pictures. It is thrilled with how motion pictures were made, sold and exhibited, and for that enthusiasm alone it is strongly recommended.

It’s available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (21MB), PDF (66MB), b/w PDF (23MB) and TXT (711KB) formats, and it’s been added to the Bioscope Library.