Action!: How Movies Began

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been watching movies. We went to the El Lago to see what was showing each Friday (one screen, one movie, for one week or longer). And then movies were showing on TV. Mostly old movies, sometimes a made-for-TV movie.

Action How Movies Began
Action How Movies Began

And now, throughout the pandemic, we have been watching streaming movies. It’s nice to pop our own corn and not have our shoes stick to the floor.

All of which is to say that movies are of great interest to me. I love learning about the history of movies and we often watch documentaries (catch the six-part “Light and Magic” on Disney+ if you can) that show how the industry began and reinvented itself time and again.

This book, Action!: How Movies Began, is an overview, written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy. It captures that very early “how do we record movement and play it back so people can watch who aren’t anywhere near what’s taking place” fervor. Many people had their brains and pocketbooks involved in the inventions leading up to movies as we know them today … as well as, heaven help us, six-minute TikTok videos.

From Leland Stanford and Eadweard Muybridge to Étienne-Jules Marey to William Kennedy Dickson, there are a number of people who are unfamiliar to me. Thomas Alva Edison and the Lumière Brothers are here, along with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. It’s an energetic introduction to these people, and I believe curious minds will want to do further research to discover more.

illustration from Action How Movies Began
illustration from Action!: How Movies Began, copyright Meghan McCarthy (Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster)

A portion of the book looks at color and how it’s applied on film to enhance our feelings. 

Another area of movies we look at is how one filmmaker pays homage to an earlier filmmaker. 

The illustrator’s warmth for this look at early film and how it influences today’s movies is evident in her vivid color palette and the scenarios and people she chooses to depict. Images are subject to copyright so I imagine actors and movie scenes couldn’t be exact but every one one of them is recognizable and evocative. McCarthy’s signature round, white eyes with small black dots add a bit of humor to the illustrations.

The back matter includes even more intriguing aspects of early films for which there wasn’t room in the narrative. 

I believe this book could ignite imaginations and create continuing discussions in the classroom or at home. A great way to connect generations.

Highly recommended.

Action! How Movies Began
Meghan McCarthy
Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster, 2022
ISBN 978-1534452305

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