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

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  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:

  • Published:
    Jan 2018, 448 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Birth of Moving Pictures

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.

Article by Donna Chavez

This article is from the March 7, 2018 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • 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 $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...
  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Tara Westover had the kind of upbringing most of us can only imagine. She was the youngest of seven ...
  • Book Jacket: The Girls in the Picture
    The Girls in the Picture
    by Melanie Benjamin
    Melanie Benjamin's fine historical novel about the relationship between two women in the early ...
  • Book Jacket: The Driest Season
    The Driest Season
    by Meghan Kenny
    On a summer afternoon in 1943, an almost sixteen-year-old Cielle Jacobson walks into the family barn...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano

    A charming, bighearted novel starring Auntie Poldi, Sicily's newest amateur sleuth.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The House of Broken Angels
    by Luis Alberto Urrea

    The definitive Mexican-American immigrant story from an acclaimed storyteller.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Y L D W D, Y'll G U W Fleas

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.