Alexandra Jacobs
February 02, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

Plush seats, long lines, overpriced concessions: Ever wonder why your local cineplex has such delusions of grandeur? It turns out that the ”magic of the movies” isn’t just a tacky marketing slogan. The origins of film, as painstakingly uncovered by David Robinson in From Peep Show to Palace: The Birth of American Film, are laced with mysticism and illusion. From the shadowy ”magic lanterns” of the 17th century to the perplexing, unwieldy optical instruments and parlor games of the 19th century, it appears that the motion picture — contrary to the book’s title — wasn’t so much born as muddled into existence. Focusing on the 20 years bookended by Thomas Edison’s 1893 peep show- style kinetoscope and the opening of New York’s luxurious Regent Theatre in 1913, Robinson’s chronicle features an eclectic cast of characters (Jesuit scholars, profiteering inventors, the first studio stars, and pioneer directors like D.W. Griffith) and a plot as labyrinthine and mesmerizing as a Tarantino flick.

You May Like