by Jeffrey Oberman
In recent years, I have come to an appreciation of film as the greatest embodiment of the human spirit in an art form. No other medium has shown itself to be so available to people everywhere in so many walks of life. Throughout history, art was typically produced by an elite for the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. While theatre has often sought an audience beyond the privileged few, there are only so many places in any theatre and each production is essentially unique. Film was different: from the outset it attracted a mass viewership many times larger than that of the stage. It soon grew into a universal language of expression with an impact on humanity that cannot be overstated.
At its birth late in the 19th century, film was a novelty, a social as well as visual experience for the population, like nothing ever seen before. Soon, with the advent of film editing and the continuous narrative, film rivalled theatre as a medium for telling stories. The first feature-length, multireel film was a 1906 Australian production called The Story of the Kelly Gang. It traced the life of the legendary, infamous outlaw and bushranger Ned Kelly (1855–1880) and ran for more than an hour with a reel length of approximately 1,200 metres. It was first shown at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Hall during Australia’s gold rush in December 1906 and opened in Britain in January 1908.1 In the years that followed, artists of vision and creative force migrated to this new and compelling medium and the history of film as a true art form began.