In the 1977 film The Picture Show Man, a man travels from town to town through rural Australia during the silent-film era and introduces people to a marvelous new form of entertainment called motion pictures. Those days of discovery are long gone, but when Ken Robichaux decided to share his thirst for knowledge about the history of classic cinema with the world, he could think of no better name for his project.
The Picture Show Man isn’t so much a tribute to classic films as it is an academic study of them, from 1890 to 1960. “The history of the motion picture industry vividly mirrors the history of the 20th century,” Robichaux explains. “Through motion pictures, people around the world can experience in a very personal and intimate way the joys, apprehensions, and tribulations of current and past generations from many cultures.”
To that end, Robichaux has crafted essays on everything from “The History of Movie Censorship” to a retrospective on James Dean. He has created a Timeline that traces what he calls “the main trunk of motion picture history”, which traces how the experiments of Edison and the Lumiere brothers led to Hollywood’s Golden Age. His site features a Q&A section, in which he fields questions from people as far away as in Iran about movie history. Need to know who the first actor was to die in a movie with their eyes open? Robichaux has the answer for you.
Another popular section identifies movie cliches, such as the fruit cart getting in the way of a high-speed car chase, or the one-size-fits-all maxim that any stolen clothing will somehow fit the character perfectly. “Most cliches were once clever innovations by truly creative minds,” he says. “Perhaps if we keep identifying certain movie set-ups as cliches, filmmakers and writers will stop taking the easy way out and start using their minds to invent something new.”
Unlike so many of the classic film websites today that catalog the Golden Age of Hollywood out of a sense of nostalgia or disdain for modern cinema, The Picture Show Man does so simply for the exploration of knowledge. “Nothing happens in a vacuum,” he says. “The history of motion pictures is filled with dead-ends, unsuccessful experiments, failed attempts and ridiculous ideas. How did each successful experiment develop into a technique? The history of motion picutres is filled with unexpected facts, interesting characters, and movies that have become part of our cultural heritage. My website is dedicated to finding and revealing that heritage.”Read More