For as long as you’ve been seeing movies, you’ve most likely heard them– and the entire market surrounding them– referred to as the silver screen. Perhaps you presumed the term was the work of some long-forgotten Old Hollywood marketeer who thought it imbued black-and-white movies with a sense of glamour that something like “the grayscale screen” couldn’t. However the real origin of the expression is less about the motion pictures than the screen itself.
In the early 20th century, when projection technology was still far from producing the high-resolution images we enjoy in contemporary cinema, market innovators began looking for ways to make the photos pop. They found that covering the screen’s surface area with a layer of metallic paint (though not always actual silver) heightened the contrast and cut down on blurriness.
It’s uncertain who first came across this discovery. Credit is typically provided to Harry C. Williams, a Kentucky-born circus stagehand-turned-projectionist based in Akron, Ohio. Williams began painting screens silver back in the 1920s and eventually did become a leader in screen production. In the 1940s, he developed a vinyl one– whose metallic sheen initially originated from fish scales– that helped usher in the shift to plastic screens. His company, Williams Screen Co., was extremely successful throughout the ’50s. That said, silver screens predated Williams’s early production ventures by a minimum of a couple years. In 1900, the Island of Wight Observer marketed an upcoming exhibition that would include” The Latest Cinematograph(Living Pictures on the Silver Screen).”The technology started to capture on around 1910, when newspapers often reported on the setup of these shiny brand-new screens in theaters across the U.S. and Canada.
“The outcome is highly pleasing as the topics stand out brighter even than in the past, the outlines being clear and sharp,” The Province composed of the screen at Vancouver’s Majestic Theatre in July 1909.
These days, silver screen is typically utilized metonymically to refer to the motion pictures as an entire, instead of a real screen. However silver screens aren’t entirely outdated: They are available in handy for 3D films, and there’s even special silver paint you can buy to create your own.
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