It happened today - December 28, 2015 Perhaps you’d like to celebrate Dec. 28 by buying a movie ticket. There are apparently lots of major films. Or anyway a Star Wars one. And you can buy a ticket. Indeed you’ve been able to for exactly 120 years now.

The story of moving pictures dates back to clumsy animation projectors in the 1830s. But it took nearly 60 years for an actual movie camera, invented by Thomas Edison in 1890. And then a year later he invented a peephole display machine. (Within a few years humans had of course found a pornographic application; you could watch “What the Butler Saw”, predictably a woman partially undressing, through a simulated peephole.)

Edison’s work semi-impressed a Frenchman with the oddly à propos name of Antoine Lumière, who convinced his sons who were already in the photographic plate business that they could invent a better one. And they did, sort of, a combination camera and projector called the Cinematographe.

Hey, don’t laugh; it might have been a useful combo. And in any case it was lighter, smaller and more efficient than Edison’s Kinetograph, though arguably its name lacked a certain originality.

In March 1895 the Lumière brothers exhibited a film of workers leaving their factory. Forget the Death Star exploding. That’s real entertainment. Not. But at the time it was stunning. And so nine months later, on Dec. 28, the exhibited a series of short scenes from everyday life (maybe Frenchmen actually turning up for work didn’t qualify) and, yes, charged admission.

Oh, the commodification of art, some leftists might cry. But in fact creating something people want, and then getting a bit of what you need in return, namely money to buy groceries, film stock, and your new-fangled “cinema,” which was this building dedicated to showing films, requires money. And better willing paying patrons than a government grant financed by taxes.

Obviously these early films are clumsy by our standards, not to say boring. Actually I did say it. But I was a bit unfair. The miracle of actually capturing moving images rightly thrilled people, even if the specific images were initially a bit mundane, because they could see the potential.

Within a year the Lumières were sending crews around the world to shoot interesting footage. And directors began experimenting with techniques that may seem obvious today, like cross-fades and pans and so forth, but were legitimately revolutionary at the time.

None of it would have happened without technical ingenuity and dedication bordering on fanaticism. But it also wouldn’t have happened without the invention of paid tickets to the movies. It didn’t just fund the supplies necessary for the Lumières and others to produce film. It allowed all sorts of weirdo cranks and dreamers to try to finance visionary things instead of relying on a bureaucracy that reliably strangled novelty and eccentricity in red tape. Decentralization and competition led to the flowering of the industry, including of course the production of no end of bad, lurid or smutty films but also one masterpiece after another from Buster Keaton to Casablanca to John Wayne to Tatooine and your cellphone and beyond. It’s the miracle of free markets once again, on Dec. 28 and every day.

Put that in your Death Star and zap it.

It happened todayJohn Robson