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It would be impossible to tell the entire story of film in 100 films—1000 films would be better, and 10,000 would probably be necessary—but this is a stab at making an introduction to the history of film.

The Dalenberg Library continues its Sunday film series with a look at 100 films over the next 100 weeks intended to exemplify 100 years of film heritage, 1901-2000. These are not necessarily the best or most popular films from each year, but each film is intended to be somehow representational of some facet of the history of the medium. The entire list is not set in stone here at the outset. It will no doubt evolve over the next 100 weeks. There is no preference toward U.S. or foreign films, fictions or documentaries, comedies or dramas–just a desire to pick a film to represent each year that somehow says something about film in general, something about the year it was released, or maybe just to screen a film we have always wanted to see and never got around to.

One of the first things that emerges from a viewing of 20th Century film starting in 1901 is how rapidly and profoundly the medium evolved in its early days. At the dawn of the 20th Century, film had barely graduated from a novelty watched by one viewer looking into a Kinetoscope machine circa 1894 to an attraction viewed by a paying audience projected on a screen. The first public film screening was December 28, 1895. By 1901, the first permanent movie theater in America was still 4 years in the future, and the first feature length film was still 5 years away.


  1. The Impossible Voyage. Directed by Georges Méliès. France.


Two years after his famous “A Trip to the Moon,” Georges Méliès continued his tongue-in-cheek riff on Jules Verne with “The Impossible Voyage.” A group of inept geographers take off on a comic voyage of exploration and manage to crash or destroy every conveyance they employ in their journey, including a train, dirigibles, and a submarine. Like the previous moon trip, “The Impossible Voyage” remained a huge hit for years in an era when there weren’t even regular movie theaters yet. This was Méliès the magician at his most extreme, employing trick photography, garish colors, and whimsical animation.

After 1904, Georges Méliès lasted another 10 years in the film business, but he met many challenges dealing with the financial complexities and productivity demands of the fledgling industry, was bankrupt by 1914, and spent the last 24 years of his life not making movies.