With the invention of cinema, the phenomenon of home cinema also emerged. Most early film recording devices could be converted into projectors by means of a magic lantern, which was already a popular domestic screening technology at the time. In the 1900s and 1910s, various optical toys came out for screening movies at home. Most of these devices, such as Ernst Plank's Kinematograph, combine 35mm film and magic lantern projection.
A Kinematograph and magic lantern projection device with slides, ca. 1910
The Kinora was one of the first motion photography technologies and home cinema viewing devices. It was originally invented and patented by the Lumière brothers in 1896, a year after the release of their Cinématographe.
Unlike the Cinématographe and other film-based domestic projection devices, such as the Kinematograph, the Kinora functions as an individual viewing machine. It is often compared to the Mutoscope, which makes use of a similar flipbook mechanism. In the Kinora viewer, a series of paper-based, unperforated photographs are attached to a wheel. By turning the wheel and looking through the lens of the viewer, one can watch the series of photographs in motion. On a Kinora reel, 640 photographic image cards are attached. Depending on the speed of rotation, this enables a viewing experience of about 30-40 seconds.
A Kinora viewer from ca. 1907 with a Kinora reel.
Demonstration of the Kinora viewer in use. Source: C2DH, University of Luxembourg.
The Kinora quickly evolved into a popular device for home entertainment. In the 1900s, hundreds of Kinora reels were produced. They featured a wide variety of subjects and genres, including child portraits, moving trains, comedy sketches, sports events, nature, newsreels, trick films, and public parades. Most Kinora reels were printed reproductions of professionally recorded films, which people could buy or rent for home viewing purposes.
Kinora reel London, no. 314. Single person skating on a frozen lake. Source: C2DH, University of Luxembourg
A selection of Kinora reels from ca. 1911-1914. The reels can be displayed in a Kinora motion picture viewer.
A special Kinora camera for amateurs was introduced around 1908. It was promoted as an instrument for families to make their own home movies. Ultimately, the Kinora system could not keep up with the various changes in the early film landscape and home cinema practices, in which longer narrative feature films were preferred over short-running titles.
The Kinora motion picture camera in use, demonstrated by film collector Michael Rogge. Source: C2DH, University of Luxembourg
One of the main obstacles to home cinema and amateur filmmaking in the early 20th century was the film carrier, which was based on cellulose nitrate. Nitrate film was the standard for professionals – and would remain so until the 1950s. However, it was highly flammable, making it unsafe for domestic use. During the first few decades of the 20th century, various attempts were made to produce a non-flammable film base that could be used in amateur film cameras and projectors. In 1909, Eastman Kodak developed a film carrier that was based on cellulose acetate. It was called 'safety film" to make clear that it could be used safely for screening films at home.
A Pathé KOK Home Cinematograph, first released in 1912.
Kodak's safety film was used in two film projection systems that were designed for home cinema, both released in 1912. The American inventor Thomas Edison introduced the Home Kinetoscope, which made use of 22mm safety film. The French film production company Pathé released the Pathé KOK Home Cinematograph, a hand-cranked film projector that ran on 28mm safety film. Edison's home projection system provided reduction prints of historical dramas, documentaries and comedies. Similarly, the Home Cinematograph could be used for the projection of prints from professional Pathé productions. Unlike Edison, Pathé offered a camera for making home recordings as well. It was therefore the first company to release, as film historian Alan Katelle wrote, a ‘complete system of safety film, camera, and projector for the amateur’.
A Pathé 28mm film: Métamorphose. Source: C2DH, University of Luxembourg
The Edison and Pathé safety film projection systems were not very widespread, mainly because of their high cost. It would take another decade before home cinema practices, including the distribution of 'reduction prints' from professional film titles, became widely available and affordable.
In 1922, Pathé introduced a new safety film format that was significantly smaller in size: 9.5mm film. It was the smallest sub-standard film format on the market at the time. Three strips of 9.5mm film could be produced from one 35mm film strip. Its central perforation is a remarkable characteristic of Pathé's 9.5mm film.
A 9.5mm film strip with the Pathé Baby title.
Pathé's new 9.5mm film was released together with the Pathé Baby film projector. The Pathé Baby, like the Pathé KOK 28mm film projector, was initially marketed as a system for home cinema: le cinéma chez soi. In 1923, the Pathéscope library offered more than 100 films in its catalogue, including documentaries, dramas, comedies and cartoons. For screening, the 9.5mm film was inserted into a metal cassette or spool, called bobines in French, originally holding 30 feet of film. After 1925, 60 feet and 300 feet reels were released in order to extend the film’s running time.
A hand-cranked Pathé Baby 9.5mm film projector.
Advertisement for the Pathé Baby system (Le cinéma chez soi) from January 3, 1924.
Various 9.5mm film reels and cassettes produced by Pathé for their home cinema system (Le cinéma chez soi).
Soon after the release of the Pathé Baby projector, the company also released a 9.5mm film camera. This made it possible for amateurs to not only screen reduction prints of professionally produced films at home, but also to record and screen their own films. During the 1920s and 1930s, 9.5mm film was widely used and gained popularity internationally. Besides France, it was used in, among others, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, Spain, India, and Brazil.
Together with the release of Kodak's 16mm film system and film equipment in 1923 (which you can read more about in the next chapter), Pathé's 9.5mm film system effectively changed the screening, distribution and production of home cinema and amateur films. A new era began, in which amateur filmmaking developed into an increasingly popular cultural practice.
A hand-cranked Pathé Baby 9.5mm film camera from ca. 1924.
Various handbooks, manuals and film libraries for the Pathé Baby system.
The family film Gladly Breaking Bread ('Graag gebroken brood'), made by the Dutch amateur filmmaker Jos A. Huygen, ca. 1935. Source: Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision
The documentary film 9 1/2, produced by INEDITS Association - Amateur Film / Memory of Europe and executive produced by Home Movies - Archivio Nazionale del Film di Famiglia for the centenary of 9.5mm film. Source: INEDITS Association, Home Movies - Archivio Nazionale del Film di Famiglia, 2022.