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SPECIAL MILLENNIUM ISSUE: 100 Years of Wizardry / Hollywood
at the Close of the 20th Century | BEEN THERE

The Way We Watched

November 07, 1999|Susan King

1893--The Brooklyn Institute physics department witnesses Thomas Edison's Kinetograph. An optical lantern projector, it shows moving images of a blacksmith and his helpers forging a piece of iron.

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1895--Edison exhibits hand-colored movies, including "Annabelle, the Dancer," at the Cotton States Exhibition in Atlanta.

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1896--Paying moviegoers watch Edison's Vitascope project a ballet sequence at the Koster and Bial's Music Hall in New York.

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1902--The 200-seat Electric Theater opens in downtown Los Angeles, charging patrons of the cinema a dime.

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1922--An adventure, "The Toll of the Sea," gives viewers a crude notion of what Technicolor will bring.

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1926--"Don Juan," starring John Barrymore, is released with Vitaphone (sound synchronized with disc phonograph records) music and sound effects.

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1927--The talkie speaks. "The Jazz Singer" stars Al Jolson, who performs musical numbers and even speaks.

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1927--Sid Grauman's palatial Chinese Theatre opens in Hollywood, with Cecil B. DeMille's "King of Kings" screening for 2,000 viewers.

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Late '20s--David Wallerstein, a manager with Balaban & Katz theaters in Chicago, introduces buttered popcorn as a moviegoing snack.

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1929--Transcontinental Air Transport shows a newsreel and two cartoon comedies 5,000 feet up. Regular in-flight screenings begin 32 years later on TWA with the melodrama "By Love Possessed."

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1930--"The Big Trail," starring newcomer John Wayne, is shot in a wide-screen process called Grandeur. The film flops and so does Grandeur.

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1933--With 6,200 seats, New York's Radio City Music Hall surpasses Paris' Gaumont Palace as the world's biggest movie theater. More important, the Rockettes entertain before the show.

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1934--"Sit in your car . . ." So begins the instructions to spectators at Los Angeles' first drive-in, at Pico and Westwood boulevards in Los Angeles.

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1935--Technicolor gets better with "Becky Sharp."

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1939--James Edwards Sr., founder of the Newport Beach-based Edwards Theatres, creates the multiplex when he guts a grocery store to erect a second screen next to his movie house in Alhambra. (Stan Durwood of AMC Entertainment will later claim he's the father of the multiplex for opening side-by-side theaters in Kansas City, Mo.)

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1940--"Fantasia" is released in stereo sound.

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1944--A two-reel short, "Patrolling the Ether," airs on television, 12 days before MGM releases it in theaters.

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1952--Anxious to attract the progenitors of couch potatoes, Hollywood releases its first 3-D feature, "Bwana Devil." (Its director, Arch Oboler, had only one eye and couldn't even appreciate the 3-D visuals.)

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1952--The travelogue "This Is Cinerama" introduces a big-screen concept, involving multiple cameras and projectors, that ultimately goes nowhere.

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1953--"Forever Female" is shown simultaneously in a movie theater and on 70 Telemeter (pay TV) sets, all in Palm Springs.

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1959--William Castle's horror film "The Tingler" offers two new gimmicks: 1) bloodcurdling screams on screen that trigger a jolt of electricity through the seats 2) human plants in the audience who scream and seem to pass out.

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1959--"Behind the Great Wall," a travelogue of modern China, presents not only the sights and sounds of the country, but also the smells. Scents arrive via ceiling vents, thanks to the Aromarama process.

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1963--Cinerama Dome in Hollywood unveils a nearly 90-foot-wide screen--the world's largest at the time.

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1967--The buzz surrounding multiscreen films at EXPO '67 in Montreal gives the unborn IMAX giant-screen system a push. Toronto gets the first permanent IMAX projection system in 1971, two years before the IMAX "Dome" premieres at the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theatre in San Diego.

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1974--"Sensurround" debuts with "Earthquake." The seats shake. Still, Universal's subgenre peters out after "Midway" and "Rollercoaster."

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1974--The Z Channel, targeting film buffs with an eclectic mix of commercial hits, vintage and foreign films, is launched in Los Angeles.

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1975--Sony produces the first videocassette recorder, the Betamax.

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1977--"Star Wars" features Dolby stereo.

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1981--Fans play along with John Waters' "Polyester," scratching and sniffing Odorama cards as numbers appear in the corner of the screen.

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1985--A bitterly fought colorized version of "It's a Wonderful Life" hits video stores.

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1987--"Million Dollar Mystery" offers a cool million to the moviegoer who guesses where the film's hidden loot is stashed. Though there is a winner, the costly film dies quickly at the box office.

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1993--"Wax: Or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees," a science-fiction film directed by David Blair, is broadcast on the Internet.

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1997--The digital video disc (DVD) features crisp pictures, a longer shelf life than a video and a plethora of interactive extras.

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