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The Fight That Started the Movies: The World Heavyweight Championship, the Birth of Cinema and the First Feature Film

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On March 17, 1897, in an open-air arena in Carson City, Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons fought for the heavyweight championship of the world. The contest was recorded by film pioneer Enoch Rector from inside an immense, human-powered camera called the “Veriscope,” the forgotten Neanderthal at the dawn of cinema history. Rector’s movie of the contest premiered two months la On March 17, 1897, in an open-air arena in Carson City, Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons fought for the heavyweight championship of the world. The contest was recorded by film pioneer Enoch Rector from inside an immense, human-powered camera called the “Veriscope,” the forgotten Neanderthal at the dawn of cinema history. Rector’s movie of the contest premiered two months later. Known today as "The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight," it was the world’s first feature-length film. The Fight That Started the Movies is the untold story of Corbett’s and Fitzsimmons’ journey to that ring in Nevada and how the landmark film of their battle came to be made. It reveals how boxing played a key role in the birth of the movies, spurring the development of motion picture technology and pushing the concept of “film” from a twenty-second peephole show to a full-length attraction, “a complete evening’s entertainment,” projected on a screen. The cast of characters in the tale is rich and varied. There are inventors Eadweard Muybridge, Thomas Edison, William Dickson and Eugene Lauste, figuring out how to photographically capture and reproduce motion. There are the playboy brothers Otway and Gray Latham, who first saw the commercial potential of fight films, and their friend and partner Enoch Rector, who pushed that potential to fruition. There are fighters Jim Corbett with his “scientific” methods of boxing; Bob Fitzsimmons with his thin legs and turnip-on-a-chain punch; hard-drinking John L. Sullivan and the original Jack Dempsey and the gifted but ultimately doomed Young Griffo. There are loud-mouthed fight managers and big-talking promoters, and Wild West legends like Bat Masterson and Judge Roy Bean when the story heads to the Rio Grande river. And finally, there is the audience, our collective ancestors, discovering that movies were more than just a curiosity to gape at, but a new and enduring form of entertainment to rival the theater.


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On March 17, 1897, in an open-air arena in Carson City, Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons fought for the heavyweight championship of the world. The contest was recorded by film pioneer Enoch Rector from inside an immense, human-powered camera called the “Veriscope,” the forgotten Neanderthal at the dawn of cinema history. Rector’s movie of the contest premiered two months la On March 17, 1897, in an open-air arena in Carson City, Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons fought for the heavyweight championship of the world. The contest was recorded by film pioneer Enoch Rector from inside an immense, human-powered camera called the “Veriscope,” the forgotten Neanderthal at the dawn of cinema history. Rector’s movie of the contest premiered two months later. Known today as "The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight," it was the world’s first feature-length film. The Fight That Started the Movies is the untold story of Corbett’s and Fitzsimmons’ journey to that ring in Nevada and how the landmark film of their battle came to be made. It reveals how boxing played a key role in the birth of the movies, spurring the development of motion picture technology and pushing the concept of “film” from a twenty-second peephole show to a full-length attraction, “a complete evening’s entertainment,” projected on a screen. The cast of characters in the tale is rich and varied. There are inventors Eadweard Muybridge, Thomas Edison, William Dickson and Eugene Lauste, figuring out how to photographically capture and reproduce motion. There are the playboy brothers Otway and Gray Latham, who first saw the commercial potential of fight films, and their friend and partner Enoch Rector, who pushed that potential to fruition. There are fighters Jim Corbett with his “scientific” methods of boxing; Bob Fitzsimmons with his thin legs and turnip-on-a-chain punch; hard-drinking John L. Sullivan and the original Jack Dempsey and the gifted but ultimately doomed Young Griffo. There are loud-mouthed fight managers and big-talking promoters, and Wild West legends like Bat Masterson and Judge Roy Bean when the story heads to the Rio Grande river. And finally, there is the audience, our collective ancestors, discovering that movies were more than just a curiosity to gape at, but a new and enduring form of entertainment to rival the theater.

59 review for The Fight That Started the Movies: The World Heavyweight Championship, the Birth of Cinema and the First Feature Film

  1. 4 out of 5

    Yana

    You can find a copy of this review at: https://thequidnuncblog.wordpress.com... As much as I am known for my literary fanaticism among very few of my friends I am also favoured for my movie knowledge extraordinaire. Just kidding, I know bits and pieces of the movie history, but not even close to the understanding I wish I had. Now, having read this wonderful, full of facts book, I can safely say it is an ideal match for students of Movie History, as well as for movie lovers from the common public. You can find a copy of this review at: https://thequidnuncblog.wordpress.com... As much as I am known for my literary fanaticism among very few of my friends I am also favoured for my movie knowledge extraordinaire. Just kidding, I know bits and pieces of the movie history, but not even close to the understanding I wish I had. Now, having read this wonderful, full of facts book, I can safely say it is an ideal match for students of Movie History, as well as for movie lovers from the common public. This is what I'd love to call the ideal read - well written, easy to read, interesting and informative. It doesn't go hard on you with numerous facts, but rather makes you hunger for more with every page. It is an absolutely captivating read! Even if you are not a history geek, or even a cinema lover you'll definitely be grabbed by this wonderful, well-researched, and splendidly written read. It throws light on little known( at least to me) historical tidbits and boxers and early movie people. Absolutely, wonderful!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    I love reading about movies and the history of film, so I thought this book would be a fun and enlightening read. It was enlightening, but it wasn’t that absorbing for me. It was kind of a slow and dry read in some parts. There was just so much information and backgrounds that needed to be delved into that it was easy to get distracted and lose interest with some of the facts. However, there were still a few intriguing details for film buffs from a technical standpoint and boxing fans alike, and I love reading about movies and the history of film, so I thought this book would be a fun and enlightening read. It was enlightening, but it wasn’t that absorbing for me. It was kind of a slow and dry read in some parts. There was just so much information and backgrounds that needed to be delved into that it was easy to get distracted and lose interest with some of the facts. However, there were still a few intriguing details for film buffs from a technical standpoint and boxing fans alike, and the author Samuel Hawley sure knew how to write fight scenes. I got so caught up in the fight between Corbett and Fitzsimmons, it was almost like I was really there or at least watching it in a theater. In the end, the book, overall, may not have been as enthralling as I was hoping, but I do admire the work and research that went into writing this book. I won this book for free in a Goodreads Giveaway. Thank you!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    The Fight That Started the Movies by Samuel Hawley is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-August. 'The Fight' occurred between Jim Corbett (casual stage actor and vaudevillian, had beaten John L. Sullivan) and Bob Fitzsimmons (a New Zealander, beaten Jack Dempsey) in Carson City, Nevada, on St Patrick's Day, 1897, but wasn't edited, copywritten, and released on May 22nd. This book does extremely well to flesh out and colorize the lives of these two 2-dimensional men on film. The Fight That Started the Movies by Samuel Hawley is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-August. 'The Fight' occurred between Jim Corbett (casual stage actor and vaudevillian, had beaten John L. Sullivan) and Bob Fitzsimmons (a New Zealander, beaten Jack Dempsey) in Carson City, Nevada, on St Patrick's Day, 1897, but wasn't edited, copywritten, and released on May 22nd. This book does extremely well to flesh out and colorize the lives of these two 2-dimensional men on film.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ronnie Cramer

    A terrific history of early cinema and its' connection to the nascent business of prizefighting. Even people not particularly interested in those subjects will appreciate the books' considerable amount of research and attention to detail. A terrific history of early cinema and its' connection to the nascent business of prizefighting. Even people not particularly interested in those subjects will appreciate the books' considerable amount of research and attention to detail.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Miller

    One of the most popular and beloved boxing films of all time hands down would be 1976’s Rocky. Without question, it was a cinematic masterpiece from Sylvester Stallone’s gritty screenplay to some of the more innovative boxing scenes (courtesy of Garrett Brown’s Steadicam) ever filmed. It was the kind of film that resonated strongly with viewers, especially the role of Rocky Balboa as the underdog with a shot at the world heavyweight crown. While Rocky joined a long list of films with boxing as a One of the most popular and beloved boxing films of all time hands down would be 1976’s Rocky. Without question, it was a cinematic masterpiece from Sylvester Stallone’s gritty screenplay to some of the more innovative boxing scenes (courtesy of Garrett Brown’s Steadicam) ever filmed. It was the kind of film that resonated strongly with viewers, especially the role of Rocky Balboa as the underdog with a shot at the world heavyweight crown. While Rocky joined a long list of films with boxing as a main theme what’s most interesting is that the theme of boxing for a film has been around for as long as their have been feature length films. Indeed, one of the first “fight movies” was 1897’s The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight which was the world’s first feature-length film that created the cinema. In an impressive and exhaustive study of that film and the events leading up to it, The Fight That Started the Movies: The World Heavyweight Championship, the Birth of Cinema, and the First Feature Film, author Sam Hawley gives readers a ringside seat to the early days of motion pictures. With a colorful cast of personalities from boxing legends John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett, to Thomas Edison, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson, Hawley deftly brings the historical confluence of boxing and movies to the fore and offers numerous insights into how this confluence led to the first feature film. Hawley brings alive this period of boxing and cinematic history with a love and admiration for both. What I found most interesting in Hawley’s writing style is that his book reads more like a film script. From the opening pages to the aftermath of the famous fight, readers will be on the edge of their seats the same way that spectators must have been at the fight in Carson City or in the audiences who had the chance to witness history in the making at one of the venues where the movie was shown. Hawley is a wonderful storyteller with a keen eye for detail and drama. Whether you are a boxing fan or movie buff, you are going to want to add this book to your collection.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Drew Zagorski

    The Fight that Started the Movies was a very interesting read. I would have rated it higher had I been more deeply interested in the technology and business aspects of developing the process of creating moving pictures and how to market them at the dawn of the industry. Those elements of the story, while interesting, didn't really draw me in and I found myself at times scanning over some of those pages. For anyone interested in that aspect of the story, there's plenty here! That said, what reall The Fight that Started the Movies was a very interesting read. I would have rated it higher had I been more deeply interested in the technology and business aspects of developing the process of creating moving pictures and how to market them at the dawn of the industry. Those elements of the story, while interesting, didn't really draw me in and I found myself at times scanning over some of those pages. For anyone interested in that aspect of the story, there's plenty here! That said, what really captured my attention and drew me in was the boxing side of the story. As a fan of classic boxing, reading about the early days of the sport made the book a worthy read. Starting during the reign of John L. Sullivan, the story brings us to his eventual defeat by Gentleman Jim Corbett and the title fight between Corbett and Fitzsimmons, and beyond. I found it fascinating how the fighters and their promoters had to chase after safe havens to stage their title fights. Also, the interplay between the fighters, pre-fight, was especially entertaining. A strong recommendation if you have an interest of the birth of the film industry and especially if you're a fight fan.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

    Fascinating. The author ties the birth of motion pictures in the late 1800’s to the public’s interest in seeing boxing matches. Boxing was illegal in much of the U.S. so it wasn’t easy to hold title matches, nor to get to watch them. But where there’s a will there’s a way. And there’s a dollar or two to be made. There was a lot to be done to create motion pictures: the film, the recording device, the developing process, a device to project the film, not to mention standardized electricity. So ma Fascinating. The author ties the birth of motion pictures in the late 1800’s to the public’s interest in seeing boxing matches. Boxing was illegal in much of the U.S. so it wasn’t easy to hold title matches, nor to get to watch them. But where there’s a will there’s a way. And there’s a dollar or two to be made. There was a lot to be done to create motion pictures: the film, the recording device, the developing process, a device to project the film, not to mention standardized electricity. So many creative people were involved. It’s unfortunate that the only person involved whose name is still familiar is Thomas Edison - and he pushed much of the work on to his employees while he worked on more important things. All in all, a surprisingly interesting book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Fascinating account of how it all began. The boxing aspect was enjoyable and the filming aspect heartbreaking - as it probably still is today for many in the industry. I think movie buffs and art house theatre lovers would love to read this - as well as anyone interested in Aussie and Irish boxing history and those that like vaudville history. Took me a long time to read this, I'm embarrassed to say, but it was an ebook and I just didn't pick up my iPad and click on the book often enough. One lo Fascinating account of how it all began. The boxing aspect was enjoyable and the filming aspect heartbreaking - as it probably still is today for many in the industry. I think movie buffs and art house theatre lovers would love to read this - as well as anyone interested in Aussie and Irish boxing history and those that like vaudville history. Took me a long time to read this, I'm embarrassed to say, but it was an ebook and I just didn't pick up my iPad and click on the book often enough. One long flight to the US from Australia and I finished it!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    Oh - how to rate this book? It's a METICULOUSLY and thoroughly researched account of the history of professional boxing and also of moving pictures. I'm not sure what I expected from this but what I got was too much detail for my level of interest. If you're deeply interested in either of those subjects (I particularly found the boxing bits engrossing), or writing a paper on one of those topics, this is the book for you. All of your research is in one place in these pages. It's not that I didn't en Oh - how to rate this book? It's a METICULOUSLY and thoroughly researched account of the history of professional boxing and also of moving pictures. I'm not sure what I expected from this but what I got was too much detail for my level of interest. If you're deeply interested in either of those subjects (I particularly found the boxing bits engrossing), or writing a paper on one of those topics, this is the book for you. All of your research is in one place in these pages. It's not that I didn't enjoy reading this book - I did, but it was just too long for my interest level.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    I won this book in contest. The subject matter is very interesting, but unfortunately the book takes too long to get to the point. If you like books by Erik Larson you will like the back and forth style between the stories of the birth of cinema and boxing and how they converge. However, it's a little dryer than you may like. Interesting anecdotes keep you reading, but you may find yourself bored at points. I won this book in contest. The subject matter is very interesting, but unfortunately the book takes too long to get to the point. If you like books by Erik Larson you will like the back and forth style between the stories of the birth of cinema and boxing and how they converge. However, it's a little dryer than you may like. Interesting anecdotes keep you reading, but you may find yourself bored at points.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Leroy Erickson

    This book has a lot of information about the early attempts to make "moving pictures", plus a lot of info about the sport of boxing in the late 1800s. It is very well written and is very readable. I can recommend. This book has a lot of information about the early attempts to make "moving pictures", plus a lot of info about the sport of boxing in the late 1800s. It is very well written and is very readable. I can recommend.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Aimee

    Goodreads giveaway

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    Sports fans, those interested in boxing history, and those interested in film history will enjoy this book. #GoodreadsGiveaway

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jay Phillippi

    Hawley has two completely distinct stories that he needs to tell in this book. First, there is the slow development of the technology to make movies. Thomas Edison did several pivotal things to create the movies, but he didn't see them as a money maker. And in the end, if it wasn't going to make Edison money, he wasn't interested. So the Edison connection moved in random spurts. But he wasn't the only person interested in the movies. There were the playboy Latham brothers, innovative photographe Hawley has two completely distinct stories that he needs to tell in this book. First, there is the slow development of the technology to make movies. Thomas Edison did several pivotal things to create the movies, but he didn't see them as a money maker. And in the end, if it wasn't going to make Edison money, he wasn't interested. So the Edison connection moved in random spurts. But he wasn't the only person interested in the movies. There were the playboy Latham brothers, innovative photographer Eadweard Muybridge, Eugene Lauste, a man forgotten by history but creator of what might be the single most important change in projection technology of all time, and William Dickson, who Edison believed betrayed him and never forgave the betrayal. On the fight side, you have the two contesting heavyweights "Gentleman" Jim Corbett with his "scientific" approach to boxing, the gangly Australian Bob Fitzsimmons, the "Great" John L. Sullivan, and boxing promoter Dan Stuart. Add in the characters that seem to flock to the boxing world then add in western icons like Bat Masterson and the "hanging judge" Roy Bean. What he creates is a fascinating look at the amazing history of the earliest days of the movies. The incredible hurdles that had to be overcome. Once those challenges were defeated, the movie makers had to seal themselves into a lightproof box for the duration of the shooting and pray everything worked. Finally, literally at the end of the biggest fight of the day, the action disappears from view. From the distance of over a century, the incredible frustration of all the primary characters makes you shake your head and chuckle in disbelief. If they made a movie of it, as the old saying goes, nobody would believe it. Check out all my reviews and media commentary at The View From the Phlipside

  15. 4 out of 5

    BridgitDavis

    This is well written, easy to read, interesting and informative. The description and facts balance each other well to make this a page turner from beginning to end. The writing style and choice of content combine to capture the imagination convincingly. I received this as a LibraryThing Early Reviewer.

  16. 5 out of 5

    The Reading Bibliophile

    This book is packed with information but you can read it as a novel. A must-read for cinema and history lovers.

  17. 5 out of 5

    jan andrews

  18. 4 out of 5

    Randy Beegle

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kristie

  20. 5 out of 5

    Robert Heath

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dave Dinuoscio

  22. 4 out of 5

    Debee Sue

  23. 5 out of 5

    richard curley

  24. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Cheresnick

  25. 5 out of 5

    S. Daisy

  26. 5 out of 5

    James M. Fitzpatrick

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark Jackson

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael Schneider

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elliot Mazer

  30. 4 out of 5

    V

  31. 4 out of 5

    Micielle

  32. 5 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  33. 5 out of 5

    Lorra

  34. 5 out of 5

    SALLY WHITE

  35. 4 out of 5

    Manda

  36. 4 out of 5

    Betty

  37. 4 out of 5

    Richard Dobinson

  38. 4 out of 5

    Stacia Chappell

  39. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  40. 5 out of 5

    Annette Slater

  41. 4 out of 5

    Joel Voth

  42. 4 out of 5

    Katharine Adams

  43. 4 out of 5

    Christa Bengtsson

  44. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

  45. 4 out of 5

    Joy Adams

  46. 5 out of 5

    Carly

  47. 4 out of 5

    Pamela Miller

  48. 4 out of 5

    Janice

  49. 5 out of 5

    Angelia

  50. 4 out of 5

    Roxanne

  51. 5 out of 5

    James

  52. 4 out of 5

    Paul C. Stalder

  53. 5 out of 5

    Pam

  54. 5 out of 5

    Michael Chance

  55. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

  56. 4 out of 5

    Carol

  57. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Bingham

  58. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Heare Watts

  59. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

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