The Birth of Moving Pictures: Background information when reading The Girls in the Picture

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Girls in the Picture

by Melanie Benjamin

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin X
The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 448 pages

    Jan 2019, 464 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Birth of Moving Pictures

This article relates to The Girls in the Picture

Print Review

Although the main characters in Melanie Benjamin's historical novel The Girls in the Picture are just breaking into the nascent film industry in the early 1900s, actual moving pictures had been around for decades. It all began in the United States, shortly after the American Civil War.

Eadweard MuybridgeIn the early 1870s, British born Eadweard Muybridge – a.k.a. Eadweard "Helios," Ted Muggeridge, Muygridge or E.J. Muggridge – then living in the States, was busy experimenting with the fascinating new art of photography. Described as solitary, peripatetic, unpredictable and nervous, Muybridge attracted the attention of staid, shrewd and ruthless California businessman Leland Stanford. The former California governor and founder of Stanford University also raised racehorses. One legend (for what legends are worth) has it that Stanford had a bet with an associate that in the course of their stride, at one point horses had all four hooves off the ground. Of course this was preposterous. Observers could see with their own eyes that this was impossible.

Eadweard Muybridge's Horse in MotionSo Stanford presented the dilemma to Muybridge, laying resolution of the question in his lap. According to an article in Videomaker, eventually Muybridge "worked out an elaborate trip-wire system by placing 12 stereoscopic cameras 21 inches away from each other over a 20-foot stretch using a 1/1000th shutter speed; a remarkable speed and amazing feat for the time. This 20-foot stretch covered the length of a horse's full stride and when all the pictures were strung together the experiment worked, and showed that a horse does – at some moments in its stride – have all four feet off the ground while trotting." Though ingenious, this was a far, far cry from the Star Wars series.

Word spread, crisscrossing the ocean as one inventor after another stayed up nights working out how to replace Muybridge's unwieldy multi-camera system with a single camera that could capture multiple pictures in sufficiently quick succession to appear as if they were moving. Men with familiar names such as Thomas Edison, Auguste and Louis Lumière, Georges Méliès, George Eastman and many more, each working on his aspect of the challenge to improve equipment for filming and replaying moving pictures, advanced the technique and equipment from Muybridge's cumbersome beginning. Key words here are technique and equipment. The art of film-making was yet to enter the picture.

Up until the 1890s the new medium mainly produced depictions of things in motion – horses, birds, and people walking, dancing or performing magic tricks – filmed from a single camera angle. But in 1896, Méliès is credited with creating the first movies with a narrative. From there motion pictures began to soar in popularity. Because, as Fran Marion says in The Girls in the Picture, "I glanced around at the audience, people just like me – lost, lonely people, perhaps, or maybe housewives who'd just dropped in after shopping because they didn't want to go to their chores or their children. Or husbands putting off going home to nagging wives...And together we were all staring rapturously at the screen, laughing, poking one another in the side, forgetting about the outside world and our troubles and disappointments – all because of these movies."

Georges Méliès' famous 1902 silent science fiction film, A Trip to the Moon:

Eadweard Muybridge
The Horse in Motion (1878)
The Horse in Motion by Eadweard Muybridge: The horse, Sallie Gardner, owned by Leland Stanford, running at a 1:40 pace over the Palo Alto track, June 19, 1878.

Filed under Medicine, Science and Tech

Article by Donna Chavez

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Girls in the Picture. It originally ran in March 2018 and has been updated for the January 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Hello Beautiful
    Hello Beautiful
    by Ann Napolitano
    Ann Napolitano's much-anticipated Hello Beautiful pulls the reader into a warm, loving familial ...
  • Book Jacket: The West
    The West
    by Naoíse Mac Sweeney
    It's become common for history books and courses to reconsider the emphasis on "Western Civilization...
  • Book Jacket
    A Death in Denmark
    by Amulya Malladi
    Can a mystery novel be informative, intriguing and deeply comforting all at once? Amulya Malladi ...
  • Book Jacket
    Shrines of Gaiety
    by Kate Atkinson
    A few years ago, magazines ran pieces about how the 2020s were likely to be the 1920s all over again...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    by Costanza Casati

    Madeline Miller's Circe meets Cersei Lannister in this propulsive and richly drawn debut.

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Such Kindness

30 Copies to Give Away!

Few writers paint three-dimensional characters with such verve and humanism.
Booklist (starred review)



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.