July 21, 2010

In the Beginning

The Wreck (1913)
 According to Lisa Kernan in her book Coming Attractions:  Reading American Movie Trailers,
"The precursors to trailers were magic lantern slides resembling posters, each film identified with titles and images of its stars of significant elements of its iconography.  These were projected between features much like today's slides of local restaurant advertising and movie trivia quizzes." 
Kernan goes on to quote Lou Harris, head of Paramount's trailer division in the 1960s as attributing the first trailer to be one shown in 1912 at Rye Beach, New York.

While Kernan's chronology places lantern slide advertising prior to the development of movie trailers, I have been unable to locate any examples of coming attraction slides prior to 1913.  Of course lantern slide projections were a regular aspect of film programming from the very beginning (sing-alongs, entertainment, local advertising, etc.) but the use of slides to advertise upcoming film programs seems by all evidence to begin in 1913.

Were coming attraction slides used prior to 1913?  The search for evidence continues...

1 comment:

  1. Coming Attraction slides' forerunners are the original magic lantern slides. Many thinking lantern slides are a Victorian invention, they date back to 1644, by Athanasius Kircher, who invented the magic lantern. Other innovations of inventors, thinkers and dreamers including Robert Boyle, Johann Zahn, David Brewster and Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau, to name just a few, added to the development of the slides.

    Magic Lantern presentations were an early traveling sideshow, used to teach, warn and entertain the common people, as well as, the crown heads of Europe. Priests would use the slides to warn of the Dabel or Devil, while ancient universities used slides for student lectures just like today. In Victorian times the lanterns became household toys, for children and were the wanted items for Christmas. With the advent of films, slides began to circulate about 1912, but no actual date can be found as to when they were started. By 1913, however, slides were the regular source for advising cinema patrons of what was coming soon.

    Many slides copied the poster design or vice versa, as directors like D. W. Griffith were very particular about the image on the slide, to showcase the best aspect of the film in a single view. Later the art departments of studios took over the selection of graphics. There were numerous studios that made only slides, for "Coming Attractions". Eventually most slides were distributed by National Screen, along with other print material (lobby cards, one, two, three and six-sheet posters, still photographs, etc.).

    The slide continues to this day, having found a resurgence, in the late 1980s early 1990s sort of as trivia but then being projected as 35mm slides as the audiences came into and settled down in their seats. Slides for the most part by the mid thirties had disappeared with the advent of regular trailers in 1927-28. These one minute snippets of action film known as the trailer became the norm. Smaller cinemas and some foreign countries however still continued to use slides and they were made up to and throughout the 1950s and even 1970s.

    Many slides are some of the only links we have to an actual "lost" film having been destroyed due to nitrate, fire or plain neglect.

    If anyone has any further comments or questions I can be reached at kjcsilentfilms@aol.com. All the best, and I remain cinematically yours, Kevin John Charbeneau


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